March 31/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site

 News Bulletin Achieves Since 2006
Click Here to go to the LCCC Daily English/Arabic News Buletins Archieves Since 2016

Bible Quotations For Today
I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 04/31-44/:"He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’ And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation
Letter to the Philippians 02/12-19/:"Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 30-31/17
Freedom of expression, Another Lebanese myth/Kareem Chehayeb/Middle East 30/17
Christian President of Lebanon controversially declares Christians are 'no longer in direct danger' in Middle East/James Macintyre/Christian Today/March 30/17
Letter By Five Former Lebanese Presidents, PMs To Arab League Summit Conveys Opposition To Hizbullah's Weapons And Involvement In Syria, Iran's Involvement In Arab World/MEMRI/March 30/17
The Muslim Brotherhood: Peddling Sharia as Social Justice/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 30/17
Ireland: Undermining Academia, Implementing Anti-Semitism/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/March 30/17
Palestinians and the Balfour Declaration at 100: Resisting the Past/by Alexander H. Joffe/BESA Center Perspectives
Iran Is the ‘Greatest Long-Term Threat to Stability,’ Army General Warns/Cristina Silva/Newsweek/posted 29 March/17
Persecuted Christians Suffer “Worst Year Yet,” Mostly Under Islam/Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/March 30/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 30-31/17
Aoun back from Jordan pledges to continue supporting Lebanese, Arab cause
Aoun's Arab Summit Speech Resonates Well in Arab Circles
Israel Prepares for Next War with Hizbullah in Mock Village
Hariri Meets Saudi Defense Minister in Riyadh
2 Syrians Killed as Blast Rips through Their Pickup in Arsal
Hizbullah Bloc Urges Agreement on Electoral Law within 'Few Days'
Hizbullah Praises Aoun's Arab Summit Address
British Ambassador Visits Sidon, Shukeen and Inaugurates UK Funded Project in Sarafand
Khalil: New 'Transparent' Budget Put Lebanon on 'Track for Reforms'
Security Forces Detain Suspect in Bourj Barajneh Bombings, Monitoring Hizbullah
Army Arrests Two Suspects in Hermel Raids
Berri chairs meeting for Parliament's bureau, receives Norwegian Ambassador
Loyalty to Resistance bloc: President Aoun's stance in Arab summit based on deep, rational, balanced visionary
Raad: We are open to discussion if principle of proportionality is adopted
Nadim Gemayel visits Audi
Bassil starts Australia visit in Perth, says honorary consuls to be appointed worldwide
Rahi praises Aoun's speech at Arab Summit
Sami Gemayel meets Lassen
Freedom of expression, Another Lebanese myth
Christian President of Lebanon controversially declares Christians are 'no longer in direct danger' in Middle East
Letter By Five Former Lebanese Presidents, PMs To Arab League Summit Conveys Opposition To Hizbullah's Weapons And Involvement In Syria, Iran's Involvement In Arab World/MEMRI/March 30/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 30-31/17
Tillerson from Turkey: Assad's Long-Term Status to be Decided by Syrian People
U.S. Envoy to U.N.: Removing Assad 'Not Our Priority'
Hundreds Flee Clashes for Control of Syria's Tabqa
Syrian Opposition Rejects 'Any Role' for Assad
At Least 14 Dead in IS Truck Bomb at Baghdad Checkpoint
Number of Syrian Refugees Passes Five Million
In Iraq, UN Chief Guterres Calls for Protection of Civilians
Maduro Tightens Grip in Venezuela with High Court 'Coup'
Bahrain Jails, Strips 3 of Citizenship for 'Terrorism'
Palestinian Rights Groups Demand Hamas Reopen Border
Church bus crash death toll rises to 13

Links From Jihad Watch Site for 
March 30-31/17
Silicon Valley Community Foundation gives $330,000 to Hamas-linked CAIR, Islamic Relief
BBC whitewashes Islamic motivation of Westminster jihad attack
Saudi, Islamic State, Iranian activity in Latin America “major security threat” to US
American Christian pastor imprisoned in Turkey asks Trump to fight for him
Robert Spencer in PJ Media: UN Human Rights Chief: ‘Legal Obligation to Stop Hate Speech’
Italy: Three Muslims arrested for Islamic State plot to blow up historic Rialto Bridge in Venice
Australia: Muslim MP wants to make offending Muslims a criminal offense
Iran sentences man to death for insulting Islam after promising pardon if he confessed
North Chicago: Muslim cop who claims “Islamophobic” harassment made anti-Semitic remarks
Pakistan: Prosecutor tells jailed Christians he’ll acquit them if they embrace Islam
UK cops actively sought out “Islamophobia” reports after Westminster jihad attack
Georgetown University’s Qatar campus hosts lecture by former Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader

Links From Christian Today Site For March 30-31/17
Christian President of Lebanon controversially declares Christians are 'no longer in direct danger' in Middle East
12,000 homes, $200 million: The cost of rebuilding just part of Iraq's shattered Christian community
Jailed in Turkey, American pastor begs Trump: 'Please help me'
Church minibus crash leaves 13 dead, congregation in mourning
Judge throws out class action against Christian group brought by LGBT activists
Pakistani Christian killed in the street had refused to work on a Sunday
Six men arrested for 'trying to force a woman to convert to Christianity' in India
Will Northern Ireland's political meltdown scupper Pope Francis' visit next year?
US pastor charged for 'illegal' Bible study in Russia appeals to European Court of Human Rights

Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 30-31/17
Aoun back from Jordan pledges to continue supporting Lebanese, Arab cause
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, is back in Beirut after winding up his trip to Jordan, where he chaired a Lebanese delegation to the 28th Arab Summit. Chitchatting with the press aboard the plane transporting him to Lebanon, Aoun thanked the Lebanese for the sympathy and compassion they revealed after he tripped whilst taking a souvenir photo with participating delegations. "I will keep supporting the Lebanese and Arab cause because we are part and parcel of the Arab nation and members of the Arab League," the President added, hoping that the Arab world will restore its unity and efficiency.

Aoun's Arab Summit Speech Resonates Well in Arab Circles
Naharnet/March 30/17/Aoun's speech at the 28th Arab summit in Jordan echoed well among Arab circles and was assessed as “positive,” al-Akhbar daily reported on Thursday. Arab diplomatic sources told the daily the speech did not go unnoticed, it “left a positive influence on heads of the delegations who considered that Lebanon should play a leading role,” said the sources on condition of anonymity. In his speech, Aoun highlighted the aggravating refugee burden and warned that Lebanon is reeling under the pressure of around two million Syrian and Palestinian refugees on its soil. The President said that alleviating the misery of the displaced and their salvation from the harshness of their mandatory migration, in addition to sparing Lebanon the social, economic, security and political repercussions, can only be achieved through their safe return to their homeland. Aoun urged an end to “wars between brothers”, expressing Lebanon's full readiness to help in bridging the differences and reviving the language of dialogue.

Israel Prepares for Next War with Hizbullah in Mock Village
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 30/17/Between a collection of concrete buildings with Arabic graffiti that are designed to simulate a typical Lebanese village, dozens of Israeli officers are gearing up for their next battle with Hizbullah guerrillas. It's a mission the Israeli military has focused on intensely in the decade since it fought an inconclusive month-long war with the Iranian-backed group. But this drill at a base in northern Israel takes on added significance in the wake of rising tensions between the old adversaries. The friction includes a rare clash along the Syrian border this month in which Israel shot down an anti-aircraft missile fired at its planes as they were carrying out an airstrike on a suspected Hizbullah weapons convoy from Syria to Lebanon. In the past month alone, Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has also threatened to strike Israel's nuclear facilities if Israel were to attack, and Israel has detailed a contingency plan to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks from Hamas, Hizbullah or other Islamic militant groups. In another sign of the escalating feud, Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, revealed intelligence that Hizbullah's top military commander was killed in Syria in May 2016 by rivals within the group — perhaps even on “orders from Nasrallah himself.” Though officers taking part in the drill insisted their training was business as usual, the backdrop clearly offered a reminder of what could await.
"We are trying to give the commanders and the soldiers the environment that looks like the real war so that they can have the feeling, when they will have to go to war, they will feel that they did it before. This is the purpose of the training — to prepare for the real thing," said Col. Kobi Valer, commander of the Elyakim Military Base in northern Israel. "The forces need to know that this could be their last training before the war." Hizbullah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities in the 2006 war, while Israel bombarded targets across Lebanon. The month of fighting killed an estimated 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, as well as 44 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli soldiers. The Israeli airstrikes caused massive destruction to residential areas in south Lebanon and Beirut's southern suburbs — areas where Hizbullah maintains a presence and has large support among the predominantly Shiite population. They also flattened entire blocs of residential apartments and destroyed roads, bridges, ports and power plants across the country. Despite its military superiority, Israel ended the monthlong war with a feeling that it had not delivered the crushing blow it had sought. A commission of inquiry found the military to be inadequately prepared for the battle, which broke out after Hizbullah carried out a surprise cross-border attack and captured two Israeli soldiers, and many troops acknowledged that they had underestimated Hizbullah's capabilities.
Still, the war was credited with re-establishing Israel's deterrence and ensuring more than a decade of calm on the northern front. In recent years, Hizbullah has been bogged down in Syria's civil war fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, where the group has suffered heavy casualties.
Although Nasrallah appears to be in no rush to resume hostilities with Israel, his group has gained valuable battle experience that has worried Israel, which says Hizbullah has significantly built up its weapons stockpile since 2006 and upgraded its arsenal to about 150,000 missiles, including longer range and guided systems capable of striking anywhere in Israel.
Israel has repeatedly stated it will act to prevent Hizbullah getting advanced munitions and is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on weapons convoys destined for the militant group. Just recently, it made a rare admission of such a strike after Syria fired missiles at its jets. Still, Israel fears some advanced weapons like surface-to-sea weapons or anti-aircraft missiles might already have reached Hizbullah. Israel, meanwhile, has been building up its missile defenses. A system called "David's Sling" to intercept medium-range missiles from Hizbullah is due to become operational in early April. That would mark the completion of a multilayer missile defense system that includes "Iron Dome" for short range rockets and "Arrow," designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles high in the stratosphere.
Israeli intelligence does not believe Hizbullah is interested in sparking war this year, but an unplanned escalation as a result of all the developments could happen.
In the mock village in Elyakim, the reserve officers focused on the type of urban warfare that their comrades struggled with in 2006.
Using paintball pellets to simulate battle, they raided structures featuring colorful murals of Nasrallah and other top Hizbullah figures and opened fire at fellow officers playing the roles of guerrillas. Moving in swift formations, commanders hollered orders as the troops ascended the various structures firing yellow paint pellets toward their supposed adversaries. "All of this facility is meant to give us a more realistic feeling," said Capt. Ofek Sinai, a 26-year-old reserve platoon commander. "Undoubtedly, doing this a few weeks every year makes people more confident about fighting in a real war."

Hariri Meets Saudi Defense Minister in Riyadh
Naharnet/March 30/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a meeting on Thursday with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman at the latter's office in Riyadh, Hariri's press office said in a statement. The meeting with the Saudi deputy, who is leading a massive campaign to introduce reforms to the world's largest oil exporter, reviewed the bilateral relations between the two countries as well as latest developments in the Middle East. In an indication of warming relations between Riyadh and Hariri, the PM had accompanied Saudi King Salman to Riyadh aboard a royal Saudi plane after the end of the Arab Summit in Jordan on Wednesday. Hariri had also traveled with the monarch onboard a helicopter that carried them from the Arab Summit's venue in the Dead Sea region to the Jordanian capital Amman. President Michel Aoun, Economy Minister Raed Khoury, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Hariri attended the Arab League Summit at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Hariri's trip to SA is the first official announced visit since his Saudi Oger company started facing major financial difficulties in the kingdom in 2015. Hariri's visit represents a significant return to Saudi Arabia after a long absence due to financial difficulties faced by Saudi Oger, forcing it to lay off hundreds of employees in Saudi Arabia, which negatively affected the institutions he owns in Lebanon.

2 Syrians Killed as Blast Rips through Their Pickup in Arsal
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 30/17/Two Syrians were killed on Thursday when a blast ripped through a pickup truck they were riding in the Bekaa border town of Arsal, media reports said. The agency identified the dead as Hawwa al-Zuhouri, 20, and Nour al-Husseiki, 25, saying they hail from the Syrian town of Qusayr. A Lebanese woman from the Kranbi family and two other Syrians who hail from Qusayr were also wounded in the blast, NNA added. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) meanwhile said the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of a suicide vest that Husseiki was wearing. Lebanese officials said the blast on the outskirts of Arsal burned the small truck that the five people were using. The five were taken to a clinic controlled by Syrian militants outside the town, officials added. Members of al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria and the Islamic State group control areas between Arsal and the Syrian border where the explosion occurred.The two groups often clash in the area.

Hizbullah Bloc Urges Agreement on Electoral Law within 'Few Days'
Naharnet/March 30/17/Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc on Thursday urged all political forces to agree on a new electoral law “in the next few days.”“The bloc considers that the political forces have taken enough time to mull the proposed electoral law formats, and it has become obligatory for all parties to agree on a final format in the next few days,” said the bloc in a statement issued after its weekly meeting. It said that the new law should “consolidate and protect coexistence, equal power-sharing between Christians and Muslims, and correct, fair, effective and comprehensive representation.”“In this regard, the bloc stresses that the national interest for all of the country's components requires a national approach that rises above the details of numbers and sizes that have never represented a guarantee for any component,” Loyalty to Resistance added. It also reiterated that a law fully based on proportional representation is the format that conforms to “the stipulations of the constitution and the Document of National Accord and grants equal opportunities to all components while abiding by equal power-sharing.”

Hizbullah Praises Aoun's Arab Summit Address
Naharnet/March 30/17/Hizbullah party has welcomed President Michel Aoun's speech at the Arab summit in Jordan, describing it as message urging the Arab leaders to mind their major causes and to stop interfering in other states, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. “The President appeared at the summit more keen on Arab solidarity, urging the Arabs to attend to basic issues and preventing interference in each others affairs and to put an end to the wars,” Hizbullah Youth and Sports Minister Mohammed Fneish told the daily. Fneish pointed out that Aoun's speech implied a reference to the responsibility of some Arab countries in the wars ravaging in the Arab world. “In his speech he affirmed Lebanon's uniting, defending and keen role on the Arab causes. Unlike others who want to turn our internal differences into a predicament for Arab interference in Lebanon's affairs,” added Fneish. Praising Aoun, the Minister said the president reflected an image of a “responsible statesman” putting himself and Lebanon in a “decent location at the regional level and at the level of the Arab summit.” In his speech, Aoun highlighted the aggravating refugee burden and warned that Lebanon is reeling under the pressure of around two million Syrian and Palestinian refugees on its soil. The President said that alleviating the misery of the displaced and their salvation from the harshness of their mandatory migration, in addition to sparing Lebanon the social, economic, security and political repercussions, can only be achieved through their safe return to their homeland. The president urged an end to “wars between brothers”, expressing Lebanon's full readiness to help in bridging the differences and reviving the language of dialogue. “It is a position that not only reflects that of the President, but also reflects the Prime Minister's view who participated in the summit along with parties represented in the cabinet,” concluded Fneish.

British Ambassador Visits Sidon, Shukeen and Inaugurates UK Funded Project in Sarafand
Naharnet/March 30/17/In a southern visit to Sidon, Sarafand and Shukeen, British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter reiterated “the UK’s support to Lebanon’s host communities, the unsung heroes at the forefront of the Syrian refugee crisis,” a British Embassy statement said. The visit comes ahead of the Brussels conference next week where world leaders, and Lebanon, will come together to assess where the international community stands collectively in fulfilling commitments made at the London Conference in February 2016. The inauguration of the Non-Organic Waste Facility in Sarafand was held in the presence of Shorter, UNDP Country Director Luca Renda, Adviser to the Minister of Social Affairs Mario Abou Zeid, representatives from the UK embassy, Sarafand municipal chief Ali Haidar, members of the municipal council, stakeholders and beneficiaries from the area. The project was implemented within the Lebanon Host Communities Support Program (LHSP). Funded by the UK, the project provided equipment to support the center and held an awareness campaign on the importance and benefits of sorting from the source in order to reduce critical health and environmental risks resulting from random incineration. The project also held similar campaigns in surrounding villages. Villages like Addosiyeh and Kfarjarra have already started sorting from source and are benefiting from the facility which is being operated by 13 workers. Sarafand's municipal chief welcomed the attendees and thanked the UK, the social affairs ministry and UNDP for their support. At the end of the visit, Ambassador Shorter said: “As the Lebanese proverb goes 'a small stone supports a jar', I am optimistic but also realistic. Much more needs to be done. But I believe that local communities and municipalities with their resilience and with our support and that of the international community make a success out of the current crisis. It makes me proud to see how the UK is supporting Sarafand on the ground with actions not words. Our support shows that the UK continues to be outward facing and committed to our global partnerships.”
“Next week in Brussels, representatives of 70 countries -- including Lebanon represented by PM (Saad) Hariri -- will come together to review progress since the London conference in 2016. I am very proud to say that in February 2016 $12 billion was pledged to support the Syria crisis for Syria and the region – more than has even been pledged before for a humanitarian crisis in a single day. International funding for Lebanon amounted to $1.9 billion in 2016. The UK is playing its part as the third largest bilateral donor to Lebanon, and our commitment will continue in the years to come,” Shorter added.
Shorter also met with Sidon's ex-municipal chief Abdel Rahman El Bizri where discussions focused on local and regional issues. At Shukeen, the head of ‘Medrar’ Abdallah Berri welcomed the ambassador and the accompanying delegation at the facility which offers support to Lebanese and Syrian refugees alike. The work of ‘Medrar’ is particularly focused on the short and long-term, direct and indirect impacts of human conflicts or war.

Khalil: New 'Transparent' Budget Put Lebanon on 'Track for Reforms'
Naharnet/March 30/17/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil stressed on Thursday that Lebanon's new budget plan will put the country on the right track to begin reforms as he assured that none of the taxes imposed have an impact on poor segments of the society. “The latest cabinet discussions about the draft budget plan were not arbitrary and many reforms and amendments were made,” Khalil said in a press conference. “The wage scale and all its expenditures and revenues will be included in the budget as soon as it is approved. It will have a positive effect on reducing the budget deficit,” he added. Affirming the transparency of the plan he said: “The new budget is transparent it did not hide any expenditures or deficits. We reviewed the proposal to impose new taxes which saw no levies imposed on the poor.”Touching on foreign loans and grants, Khalil said: “We have applied the provisions of grants agreements and foreign loans and subjected them to control according to the rules.”The Minister affirmed that efforts were keen to reduce unexplained squandering. “The budget was based on improving collection of bills away from burdening the people with additional taxes. We have also added some measures to improve the Customs performance and to transfer the port's funds to the treasury,” he explained.

Security Forces Detain Suspect in Bourj Barajneh Bombings, Monitoring Hizbullah
Naharnet/March 30/17/Security forces arrested a Syrian national suspected of having links to the deadly Bourj al-Baranjneh twin bombings and of monitoring Hizbullah positions, media reports said on Thursday. The State Security agency arrested Aa.R. for having links to the Islamic State militant group, said LBCI. He is also suspected of involvement in the twin bombings that rocked Beirut's southern suburbs of Bourj al-Barajneh and of monitoring Hizbullah positions, it added. No further details were given. On November 12, 2015 two suicide attacks rocked a busy shopping street in Bourj al-Barajneh, killing 43 people and wounding over 239 others. The extremist Islamic State group claimed the attack.

Army Arrests Two Suspects in Hermel Raids
Naharnet/March 30/17/Security forces in the eastern town of Hermel arrested two wanted fugitives late Wednesday, the State-run National News Agency reported on Thursday. Army and Intelligence units conducted late-night raids in Hermel and neighboring areas that resulted in the detention of N.H. in Hermel and Aa.H.H. in al-Shawagir neighborhood, NNA added. Both suspects are wanted on a number of charges. They were transferred to nearby barrack to be later handed over to related judiciary.

Berri chairs meeting for Parliament's bureau, receives Norwegian Ambassador
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - House Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday chaired a meeting for the panel of Parliament's bureau in presence of MPs Antoine Zahra, Michel Moussa, Wael Abu Faour, Ahmad Fatfat and Serge Tersarkissian, secretary general of the Parliament Adnan Daher, and director general Mohammad Moussa. After the meeting, MP Zahra said that all agreed to hold a parliamentary session next week to discuss the performance of the cabinet. Separately, Speaker Berri received Norwegian Ambassador Lene Lind and discussed with her ties.

Loyalty to Resistance bloc: President Aoun's stance in Arab summit based on deep, rational, balanced visionary
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - Loyalty to Resistance bloc hailed President Michel Aoun's stance in the Arab summit, saying that it expressed a deep, rational and balanced visionary. The bloc's stance came Thursday in the context of the regular weekly meeting for the bloc in Haret Hreik under the chairmanship of MP Mohammad Raad. The renewed its support for an electoral law based on total proportionality as such law would abide by the Constitution and the national pact.

Raad: We are open to discussion if principle of proportionality is adopted
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - Head of Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary Bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, said, "If the principle of proportionality is adopted, we will be open to set discussions over the electoral zones...We have moved a quite forward distance in this regard. Those who opposed proportionality are now accepting it. We will continue discussing the law issue after the return of President Michel Aoun to come out with a new law able to guarantee fair popular representation at the Parliament."MP Raad reiterated Hezbollah's adherence to the principle of proportionality, with Lebanon as a single zone.

Nadim Gemayel visits Audi
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - The Metropolitan bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church for the Archdiocese of Beirut, Elias Audi, welcomed on Thursday, MP Nadim Gemayel. Gemayel dismissed the new electoral law as neither positive nor objective.
"There are a thousand ways to finance the salary scale instead of increasing and imposing taxes on Lebanese citizens," he added.

Bassil starts Australia visit in Perth, says honorary consuls to be appointed worldwide
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday met with the Lebanese Diaspora in the capital of Western Australia, Perth, where he started an official tour in the continent. "We are making efforts and connections with the Lebanese here, and this a crucial thing so that we preserve Lebanon, whose identity is at jeopardy," Bassil told a reception ceremony hosted by Lebanon's Chargé d'Affairs in Australia's capital, Canberra. In his word, Bassil called Lebanese expats to come to Lebanon "without, however, losing their presence in Australia."
"We must all work together in solidarity; we are here to represent Lebanon, with all its sects, regions, and families," he underlined. "Soon enough, we will start appointing honorary consuls worldwide," he revealed. "We are preparing for the Diaspora Energy Conference, which will be held in forthcoming May in Beirut, under the auspices of President Michel Aoun," he concluded.

Rahi praises Aoun's speech at Arab Summit
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, received on Thursday a telephone call from Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, for his speech during the Arab Summit held in Amman. The prelate deemed Aoun's speech as a "courageous, frank and convivial". Discussions also focused on the President's recent visit to the Vatican, his meeting with Pope Francis and the positive atmosphere of the visit. On another level, Cardinal Rahi contacted President of Higher Islamic Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdul Amir Kabalan, for his election as head of the Council.

Sami Gemayel meets Lassen

Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA - Head of Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayel, received on Thursday at Kataeb headquarters in Saifi Ambassador of European Union to Lebanon, Christina Lassen, with talks touching on Donors' Conference to be held in Brussels on April 5, 2017 and the necessity to support Lebanon in bearing the burden of Syrian displacement. According to a statement issued by EU, the pair also tackled most recent developments, in particular the need to combat corruption through clear steps to protect people of low income. Both agreed that the parliamentary elections should be held on time to enable Lebanese people to exercise their democratic right and choose their representatives, according to the statement.

Freedom of expression? Another Lebanese myth
Kareem Chehayeb/Middle East 30/17
The arrest of a man who compared Lebanon's leaders to animals on Facebook is not a fluke, but a reflection of much broader problem
"There are three different animals ruling the country: the speaker of parliament is a crocodile, the prime minister is a donkey, and the president is an animal that has yet to be discovered. #Jungle_Republic"
That's what Ahmad Amhaz posted on Facebook in February, which led to his arrest on 21 March. He was detained for nine days and, though he was released on bail, he will still stand trial, and can face up to two years in prison. No date has been scheduled yet, and like many other cases, this burden could linger for months or even years.
According to his father, who burst into tears while speaking to local media, Amhaz was frustrated over the lack of job opportunities, and the expensive healthcare that both his parents need.
Lebanon is often viewed as a beacon of freedom when it comes to human rights and civil liberties compared to its regional counterparts, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt.
But Amhaz's case is the second since President Michel Aoun took office in last October and left many people, both in and out of Lebanon, shocked to hear the news.
They shouldn't be: the suppression of free speech and expression is neither circumstantial, nor coincidental. It’s all within the frameworks of the law.
Everyone is a sitting duck
The lack of transparency when it comes to state affairs between the Lebanese political and economic leadership is part of the political culture that is embedded in Lebanese society.
In short, you have a civil war-era ruling class that still controls the country, and you have a disenchanted population that has nothing but contempt for them. But not everything deplorable has happened because of that. Much of the authoritarian practices that happen in Lebanon are all done within the law, both in ambiguous or clear-cut forms.
When it comes to freedom of expression, the Lebanese constitution guarantees that freedom of speech and expression is protected under the law. But what exactly is the law?
First, there are three laws under Lebanon's penal code, which in different ways suppress freedom of expression, and protect political and religious officials from slander or defamation, two terms often used when pressing charges.
There’s also the 1962 press law, which according to Lebanese human rights organisation Alef and Lebanese digital rights organisation Social Media Exchange, has been widely used to suppress dissent on social media platforms, even in the form of posts and tweets by individuals who are not journalists.
An interesting and related development is that Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, back in February, signed a document that prevents authorities from pressing charges against individuals over political posts on social media. This decision, however, was not announced publicly. Instead, the document was leaked through Lebanese activists while Amhaz was in jail.
So why was Amhaz detained in the first place? Why does he still stand trial? Why did he have to pay bail to be released? This is yet another case of legal ambiguities and lack of transparency.
Outdated laws
The problem is that the penal code has not been amended for the 21st century. In the era of social media, where posts on Facebook or Twitter are accessible one way or another, anyone can be charged with defamation or even creating sectarian strife.
Take web developer Jean Assy. In 2014, he was sentenced to two months in prison for “defaming and insulting” Michel Suleiman, who was president of Lebanon at the time. Here’s the catch: it was done through a tweet.
“I wrote that the president is castrated, politically castrated, and I wrote the minister of interior is stupid, and things like this,” Assy said.
Despite the fact that Twitter or social media in general wasn't exactly part of anyone's consideration back in 1943 when the penal code was legislated, it is possible, under the antiquated law, to be sentenced over a post of 140 characters (or less) today.
There’s also the case of activist Assad Thebian, whose profile skyrocketed during the “You Stink” protests. Supporters of the current president’s political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, dug up some of his old social media posts. In one of them, Thebian mocked the Easter holiday using sexual innuendos, and was nearly put on trial for it.
And intentionally or otherwise, this incident successfully muzzled many ordinary citizens from expressing their thoughts on social media, especially when it comes to politics.
A new era of censorship
Lebanon is no longer ashamed of its repressive actions. In fact, it embraces it.
In December 2016, journalism student Bassel al-Amin, who posted an angry Facebook post over a racist segment on a television show, was detained for insulting the president, desecrating the flag, and inciting strife. Six days later, he was released on bail, but a trial still awaits him – just like Amhaz recently.
During a recent wave of protests that brought people by the thousands to protest proposed tax measures and increased corruption in banks and the state, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Farid Makari tweeted a statement calling on the police to crack down on and arrest people carrying signs that insult politicians. With thousands of people calling the government “corrupt”, “thieves”, and “thugs” with little-to-no hesitation, is this the next trick the state has up their sleeve?
But on the other side of the spectrum is the so-called benevolent authoritarian. While attending the Arab League Summit in Amman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri tweeted that he and President Aoun absolved themselves of their ‘personal freedoms’ to open up the opportunity for Amhaz to be released on bail.
While Hariri's supporters showered him with praise for being so forgiving, others considered this tweet a warning, sealed with a friendly smile.
The Social Media Exchange, Alef, protest movements, and Human Rights Watch have all been active and vocal against the series of human rights abuses across the country, but will there be a day when Lebanon’s Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau of the police won’t be handling cases related to a political Facebook post?
The only light at the end of the tunnel is when freedom of expression becomes a right - not a privilege.
- Kareem Chehayeb is a Lebanese writer and musician based in Beirut. He is the co-founder of Beirut Syndrome, a grassroots media platform. You can follow him on Twitter @chehayebk

Christian President of Lebanon controversially declares Christians are 'no longer in direct danger' in Middle East
James Macintyre/Christian Today/March 30/17
Lebanese flag flutters near a picture of Christian president Michel Aoun.Reuters
The President of Lebanon has declared that Christians in the Middle East are 'no longer in direct danger' during an interview in which he also opened up about his own Christian faith.
President Michel Aoun, the general and former prime minister of the country, told the Catholic news site Aleteia: 'I believe that Christians in the region are no longer in direct danger, but the danger remains in the form of terrorist cells that target everyone, Christians and Muslims. Everyone has been affected, [for example] both mosques and churches have been attacked in Syria.'
Aoun, who met with Pope Francis in Rome this week, was asked who Jesus represents to him.'For me, Jesus Christ is the first rebel in history and probably the only one, because he changed the world,' the President said.
Aoun went on to outline at length his views on the break Jesus made with the Jewish religion of the Old Testament.
'Christianity arose in the world as an ideology when Judaism was the first religion and the Jews believed that God was for them alone,' he said.
'The commandments were prohibitions, for example: "Do not take the name of God in vain," but Christ came to give God, Christ did not make a special God, he made him God for everyone.
'People do not pay attention to the fact that the law of Moses is not the same as Jesus Christ's commandments, although there are many examples that prove this.
'The law said, "Do not take the name of God in vain." Christ did not say that, but he said, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"
'Christ did not say, "Do not kill," but he said, "Love one another." Killing is a negative behaviour, while love is the fundamental relationship between human beings.
'He did not say, "Do not be sad," but he said, "anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Christian teaching is positive for man. It shows him what he has to do, not what he should not do.
'Jesus did not say, "Do not steal," rather he said, "Go, sell what you have."
'Jesus did not say "Do not give false testimony," he did not sit idly by, but he said, "I have come into this world for judgment."
'This is what Christianity represents for me, and whereas the law of Moses is based solely on "non-aggression" ,the Christian message is a message of peace for the whole world; there is a difference between the two, and Christianity has created peace in the world.'
Elsewhere in the interview, Aoun described Lebanon as a melting pot of Islam and Christianity and a 'model' for the world.
'Lebanon is the meeting place of different cultures and civilisations, and its social fabric includes all the confessions of Islam and Christianity that live in harmony, respecting freedom of belief and political balance, and this is proof that it has been a sophisticated model throughout the Muslim conquest up until today,' he said. Describing the plight of Christians in the Middle East in recent years as a 'disaster', he went on to say of Lebanon: 'Fear is now behind us; we have overcome one of the most dangerous phases in our history. The threats to our security that take place today, like car bombs for example, are very little in comparison to our past history.' Aoun was almost certainly referring to the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990 and resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities. Almost a million people are believed to have fled Lebanon as a result of the civil war, which was between Phalangist militia and Palestinians. 'We have resisted, our national unity is still intact, and the internal danger in Lebanon has been suppressed,' Aoun said. 'The current situation is much better; what remains is the bad economic situation in the world. The world must reconsider the regulations it has made, and reflect on the false steps taken by the new international regime in regard to the economy, so that many things can be solved.'
The President also compared the plights of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, declaring their 'right to return' to their homelands. 'One and a half million Syrians and half a million Palestinians, they must all go back when the situation in their country becomes secured,' he said.

Letter By Five Former Lebanese Presidents, PMs To Arab League Summit Conveys Opposition To Hizbullah's Weapons And Involvement In Syria, Iran's Involvement In Arab World

MEMRI/March 30/17
Ahead of the March 29, 2017 Arab League summit in Jordan, five former Lebanese presidents and prime ministers – Amine Gemayel, Michel Suleiman, Najib Mikati, Fuad Al-Siniora and Tammam Salam – sent a letter to Jordan's King 'Abdallah, who chaired the summit, and to the other Arab leaders who attended it.
In the letter, which was published March 28, 2017 in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, the five set out the principles which they believe should inform Lebanon's domestic and foreign policy, including: avoiding affiliation with various regional and international axes and involvement in the Syrian crisis; condemnation of any outside interference in Arab affairs; commitment to Arab League and UN resolutions, especially UN Security Council Resolution 1701; upholding the exclusive authority of the Lebanese state and its security apparatuses to wield arms and opposing illegal arms; and upholding the exclusive sovereignty of the Lebanese state over all Lebanese territories.
These principles implicitly express the five figures' opposition to Hizbullah's possession of weapons, its control of various parts of Lebanon and its involvement in Syria, as well as their rejection of Iran's involvement in Arab affairs. Drafted and sent without coordinating with Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun, who represented Lebanon at the summit along with Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, the letter reflects the dispute within Lebanon between Hizbullah's supporters and opponents regarding this organization's weapons and its fighting in Syria, and regarding Iran's interference in the Arab world. It also appears to convey the signatories' opposition to the statements recently made by 'Aoun in support of Hizbullah's weapons, statements that sparked criticism from the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag.[1]
The letter came against the backdrop of tense anticipation in Lebanon ahead of Aoun's speech at the summit and regarding the position Lebanon would take on the intention to condemn Iran for its interference in Arab affairs. This, especially after Lebanon's failure to condemn Iran at previous Arab and Islamic forums sparked anger from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and even led to a disconnect between the countries and to the taking of economic measures against Lebanon.[2]
It should be noted that the letter triggered harsh condemnations against its signatories from Hizbullah's supporters in Lebanon.
The letter's signatories (right to left): former presidents Michel Suleiman and Amine Gemayel; former prime ministers Najib Mikati, Tammam Salam and Fuad Al-Siniora (image: Al-Nahar, Lebanon)
The following is a translation of the letter:[3]
"To His Majesty King 'Abdallah bin Al-Hussein, monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and chair of the Arab summit.
"In light of the dangers threatening our homeland Lebanon and our Arab ummah, we, former presidents and prime ministers of Lebanon, saw fit to present you with an appeal to the Arab leaders who are to attend the summit in Jordan several days from now, clarifying our position on the situation in Lebanon and the region, on the dangers facing Lebanon, and on the need to confront [these dangers]. Therefore, we emphasize [that Lebanon must adhere to the following principles]:
"1. Complete commitment to the Taif Agreement and to the full implementation of all its clauses, as well as to the [Lebanese] constitution and to coexistence among all Lebanese – for these are the principles that safeguard Lebanon and the relations among the Lebanese.
"2. Lebanese commitment to its Arab affiliation, to the Arab consensus, and to the resolutions of the Arab League and of the legitimate international [bodies] regarding Lebanon and the Arabs – first and foremost [UN] Resolution 1701 that guarantees Lebanon's security vis-à-vis Israel and upholds its right [to regain] its territories that remain under Israeli occupation.
"3. Commitment to the 2011 [sic] Ba'abda Declaration,[4] which pronounced Lebanon neutral vis-a-vis the policies of [regional] axes and regional and international crises, in order to spare it the negative consequences of regional tensions and crises and safeguard its supreme interests, its national unity and the security of its citizens. This, with the exception of [Lebanon's] commitment to international resolutions and to the Arab consensus, as well as to the just Palestinian cause, including the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their lands and their homes rather than be naturalized [in Lebanon]; [as well as] commitment to refrain from interfering in the Syria crisis and to condemn foreign interference in the affairs of Lebanon and [other] Arab [countries].
"4. The Arabs must show solidarity with Lebanon [in the following matters]: the liberation of its lands [the Shab'a Farms, held by Israel]; the rejection of illegal arms [i.e., Hizbullah's arms]; and the need for the Lebanese state and its military and security apparatuses to exercise sole control over all Lebanese territory, as entailed by [the principles of] sovereignty, rule of law, and legitimacy. [The Arabs] must also support Lebanon so it can meet the challenges [posed by] the crisis of the Syrian refugees [living] in Lebanon and extend it political and material assistance until the [refugees] return to their homes.
"5. We, the undersigned, believe that the security and unity of Lebanon are based upon several foundations, chiefly support for a [Lebanese] state that exercises full and exclusive control over all Lebanese territories; rejection of illegal arms; opposition to all forms of terror; and respect for the Arab and international legitimacy [i.e., resolutions] and the principles of coexistence. We fervently hope that, in the present circumstances, the Arab League summit in Amman will address the urgent problems of the ummah and especially of the Mashraq countries [the Arab countries in the eastern Mediterranean basin]. We also expect [this] convention of the Arab leaders to open up a broad new horizon for solidarity with Lebanon in light of the threats it faces from within and without."
[1] On 'Aoun's statements and Kaag's criticism, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6783, Lebanese Daily 'Al-Akhbar' Attacks UN Special Coordinator For Lebanon Over Opposition To Hizbullah Weapons, February 14, 2017.
[2] On this crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf states, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1232, Lebanon's Failure To Support Saudi Arabia In Struggle With Iran Sparks Crisis Between Lebanon And Saudi-Led Gulf, March 7, 2016.
[3] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 28, 2017.
[4] A declaration issued in 2012 by the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah, in which they agreed, inter alia, that Lebanon would avoid affiliation with any regional axis and involvement in any regional conflict. The declaration was initiated by then-president Michel Suleiman in light of the Syria crisis and the dispute in Lebanon regarding the position it must take on this crisis.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 30-31/17
Tillerson from Turkey: Assad's Long-Term Status to be Decided by Syrian People
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad was up to the war-ravaged country's people. Speaking after talks in Ankara, he added there was "no space" between Turkey and the U.S. over fighting the so-called Islamic State group -- even as his Turkish counterpart reiterated a key point of discord. "I think the .. longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," Tillerson told a joint news conference with Mevut Cavusoglu in Ankara.
Under Barack Obama's administration, the U.S. made the departure of Assad a key policy aim, but new U.S. President Donald Trump has put the accent firmly on defeating IS. Ties between Ankara and Washington were strained under Obama particularly over U.S. cooperation with Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State group. Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as a "terror group" linked to Kurdish separatists waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, but Washington regards them as the best force fighting the IS.
Turkey has suggested it wants to join any operation to capture the IS bastion of Raqa but without involvement of Kurdish militia. Tillerson hailed Turkey as a "key partner" in stabilization efforts in the fight against IS jihadists. "There's no space between Turkey and the U.S. and our commitment to defeat Daesh, to defeat ISIS," he added, using other names for IS. But Cavusoglu said Ankara expected "better cooperation" with the Trump administration on the issue of Syrian Kurdish militia, adding that any U.S. support for YPG would mean a risk for Syria's future. "It is not good or realistic to work with a terror group while fighting another terror group," he added. Years of diplomatic efforts have failed to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions since it started in March 2011 with protests against Assad's regime. Tillerson met Turkish leaders Thursday for talks clouded by differences over Syria, a day after Ankara announced the end of its military offensive there. The trip comes after Turkey announced "Euphrates Shield", its operation in northern Syria, had ended but did not say if troops had been withdrawn from the war-torn country.

U.S. Envoy to U.N.: Removing Assad 'Not Our Priority'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday that Washington is no longer focused on ousting President Bashar Assad as it seeks ways to end Syria's civil war. "You pick and choose your battles," Nikki Haley told reporters. "And when we're looking at this it's about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out."Haley was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had signalled a change in the U.S. stance by admitting that Assad's eventual fate was up to the Syrian people. Speaking at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, which is about to assume the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, Haley said Washington will focus on the push for a political solution. "Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done? Who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria," she said. "We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way the previous administration maybe did. Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes," she said. "Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No." Haley said she would focus on ways to remove the influence of Assad's ally Iran, which has supported him in his civil war against rebel forces. And she said Washington would work with other players in the conflict, including Turkey, to seek a long term solution.

Hundreds Flee Clashes for Control of Syria's Tabqa
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/Hundreds of civilians fled their homes Thursday as fresh clashes erupted between Islamic State group jihadists and a Kurdish-Arab alliance near the town of Tabqa in northern Syria. Women, children and men crossed through the village of Suwaidiya Saghira on tractors, pickups, motorbikes and donkeys to take shelter in areas seized by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting to close in on the jihadists' Syrian bastion of Raqa. Hundreds of civilians also fled Tabqa and nearby villages by boat, crossing to the north of the Euphrates River, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Dozens of the displaced took temporary shelter at a school in al-Mahmudli village, where the SDF searched the men and women in separate lines. "We've fled bullets and blows. They made us hate life!" said 50-year-old Ahmad Ibrahim, referring to the jihadists. "It's a miracle we've been able to escape," said Mussa Issa, 70, protesting that IS had threatened to burn down tents of displaced villages.

Syrian Opposition Rejects 'Any Role' for Assad
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/The Syrian opposition to the Damascus regime said Thursday it would reject "any role" now or in the future for current President Bashar Assad, even as the United States now says Assad's departure is no longer a priority to end the conflict.
"The opposition will never accept any role for Bashar Assad at any phase... there will be no change in our position," said Monzer Makhos, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, composed of key Syrian opposition groups attending talks in Geneva.

At Least 14 Dead in IS Truck Bomb at Baghdad Checkpoint
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/At least 14 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at an entrance to Baghdad, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group, officials said Thursday. The blast, which hit the checkpoint at the main southern entrance to the city on Wednesday night, also wounded at least 36 people, the officials said. IS issued a statement claiming the attack, saying it was carried out by a suicide bomber driving a truck "carrying several tonnes of explosive material." The jihadist group overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost. Iraqi security forces are now battling IS in west Mosul, the last city in the country in which the jihadists hold significant ground. But even the full recapture of Mosul will not do away with the threat of IS bombings that have plagued Iraq for years. The jihadist group still holds territory in the country's west, as well as in Syria. And even the loss of all that territory would not prevent it from reverting to underground insurgent cells carrying out bombings against civilians and hit-and-run attacks on security forces.

Number of Syrian Refugees Passes Five Million
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/"As the number of men, women and children fleeing six years of war in Syria passes the five million mark, the international community needs to do more to help them," the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement. The total of Syrian refugees abroad stood at 4.6 million at the end of 2015 and rose to 4.85 million by the end of last year, according to the agency's data. The first three months of 2017 saw more than 250,000 additional Syrians register as refugees, UNHCR said on its website, without providing an explanation for the apparent surge. Turkey continues to host the highest number of Syrians displaced by the conflict -- nearly three million.
Lebanon has over a million Syrian refugees, while Jordan has 657,000, with others spread across Iraq, Egypt and other North African countries. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also fled to Europe, but not all of them have been granted refugee status.

In Iraq, UN Chief Guterres Calls for Protection of Civilians
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/UN chief Antonio Guterres called Thursday for protection of civilians to be the "absolute priority" as he visited Iraq, where hundreds of thousands are caught up in the battle for Mosul. More than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since the operation to oust the Islamic State group began last month, and officials and witnesses say that air strikes have taken a devastating toll on civilians who remained in the city. "Just arrived in Iraq to focus on the dire humanitarian situation on the ground. Protection of civilians must be the absolute priority," a post on the UN chief's official Twitter account said. After his arrival in Baghdad, Guterres met parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi and Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the UN's mission to Iraq said. He was also due to hold talks with other top officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, before flying to Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. His visit comes at a critical time for Iraq, which is fighting to retake Mosul in a battle that has sparked myriad humanitarian concerns. Widespread displacement is one, with Iraqi authorities saying that more than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since February. Camps have been set up around the city to provide shelter for the displaced, while others are staying with relatives, renting accommodation or residing in makeshift shelters or unfinished buildings. Displacement from Mosul has not reached the worst-case scenario of a million or more people that had been feared, but that has come at the cost of huge numbers of civilians being trapped in the middle of the battle. The UN said earlier this month that some 600,000 civilians were still in west Mosul, 400,000 of them trapped in siege-like conditions in the Old City.
- Civilians killed in Mosul -Remaining in the city has posed deadly danger to residents -- the UN human rights office said that more than 300 civilians were killed in west Mosul in a little over a month. Gunfire, shelling, bombs and air strikes have all taken their toll. The US-led coalition carrying out strikes against IS said it had "probably" played a role in civilian deaths in west Mosul, while the Iraqi government has sought to blame them on the jihadists. Both the UN and Amnesty International have called on Iraqi forces and the coalition to do more to protect civilians in Mosul.
Amnesty's Donatella Rovera said field research in east Mosul -- which was recaptured from IS in January -- showed "an alarming pattern of US-led coalition air strikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside".
"The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces... have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law," she said. IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost. Iraqi forces launched a major operation to retake Mosul in October, retaking its eastern side before setting their sites on the smaller but more densely populated west. The fighting has inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqi security forces, according to the head of US Central Command, General Joseph Votel. Votel told a congressional committee that 490 Iraqi security personnel were killed and more than 3,000 wounded in the battle for east Mosul, while 284 have been killed and more than 1,600 wounded in fighting for the west.

Maduro Tightens Grip in Venezuela with High Court 'Coup'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/President Nicolas Maduro and his allies tightened their grip in Venezuela on Thursday as the Supreme Court seized legislative powers from the opposition-majority National Assembly, whose speaker declared a "coup."
The high court, whose judges have staunchly backed the leftist president in a power struggle with the legislature, based its decision on an earlier ruling that the opposition majority was in contempt of court. "As long as the National Assembly's contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by (the Supreme Court's) constitutional chamber or by the body it designates to safeguard the rule of law," it said late Wednesday night. Political analysts warned the ruling was a sharp authoritarian turn for the South American oil giant, where a crushing economic crisis has caused food shortages, riots and an epidemic of violent crime. The speaker of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, called the decision "rubbish.""Nicolas Maduro has staged a coup in Venezuela," he said in a fiery speech outside the National Assembly. He urged the army, which has thus far supported Maduro, to take a stand. "The Venezuelan armed forces cannot remain silent as the constitution is breached," he said, appealing to soldiers who are also suffering through what he called the "chaos" of the economic crisis.
Contempt of court
The court's argument cited its own ruling in January 2016 that the National Assembly leadership was in contempt for swearing in three lawmakers who were banned over alleged electoral fraud. The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) condemns the fraud charges as a trumped-up bid to curb its power after it won a landslide in legislative elections in December 2015 with a promise to oust Maduro. The elections forced the president and his allies in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to share power for the first time since its founder, the late Hugo Chavez, launched Venezuela on the path of leftist "revolution" in 1999. But the Supreme Court scuttled the opposition's powerful two-thirds majority when it suspended the three investigated lawmakers. Since then, the court has overturned every law passed by the legislature. Venezuelan political analyst Carlos Romero warned that "democracy is in danger" in the country. "We're talking about an indiscriminate and illegal use of the Supreme Court's powers to do away with the legislative branch," he told AFP. "To legally overtake the functions of a branch of government is a coup," said Latin America specialist Christopher Sabatini of Columbia University in New York.
'Middle finger' to OAS
The ruling came a day after the Organization of American States (OAS) held a special meeting where 20 countries voiced concern about the situation in Venezuela, drawing a furious reaction from Maduro. The meeting was the international community's latest effort to get to grips with Venezuela's unraveling, which has the rest of Latin America worried. Sabatini said the timing was no coincidence. "It's a giant middle finger to the OAS," he told AFP. "They're like, 'You know what? Screw you, we're still going to do whatever we want.'"On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stripped lawmakers of their legislative immunity, clearing the way for them to face prosecution. Maduro has accused opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the OAS to consider suspending Venezuela for violating democratic norms.
Treason carries a sentence of up to 30 years in Venezuela.
Oil deals at stake
The court's sweeping expansion of its own powers came midway through a ruling on the law governing Venezuela's state-run oil industry. Under the law, the government needs legislative approval to launch joint ventures with private oil companies.
The court ruled that it had no choice but to take over congressional powers, having deemed the National Assembly unable to fulfill its duties. The stakes are potentially enormous for the struggling state oil company, PDVSA, where debts have soared and production has plunged amid a sharp decline in global oil prices since 2014. Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, but the price collapse has laid bare its overwhelming dependence on its chief export. Lacking the oil dollars it once used to import nearly everything else, the country has been hit by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods like deodorant and toilet paper.

Bahrain Jails, Strips 3 of Citizenship for 'Terrorism'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/A Bahraini court on Thursday sentenced three Shiite Muslims to jail and stripped them of their citizenship over terrorism-related charges, as the Gulf kingdom toughens its stance against dissent. One of the defendants was jailed for 15 years while the two others were sentenced to 10 years in prison each, said a judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity. The three were found guilty of forming a terrorist cell and receiving Iranian funding aimed at destabilizing Bahrain, the source said. They were also convicted of training with the Iraq's Ketaeb Hezbollah, one of the main groups in that country's Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella organization. Since the outbreak of protests in Bahrain, Sunni authorities have accused Shiite Iran of mobilizing anti-government protests among the country's majority Shiite population. Iran has consistently denied involvement. Thursday's trial came a day after two Shiites were handed the death sentence and 20 others jailed in connection with a 2015 bombing that killed two police officers in Sitra, south of the capital Manama.  A Bahraini court last week sentenced three people to death over another string of bombings that targeted police patrols in the majority-Shiite village of Kurayat, west of Manama. Ruled for two centuries by the Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain has increasingly tightened its grip on dissent in the country, which lies across the Gulf from Iran and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including high-profile activists who have been charged with publicly insulting authorities via social media. Authorities have also stripped opposition leaders and religious clerics of citizenship and banned opposition groups in the country. Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite opposition group, was dissolved by court order in late 2016. The justice ministry this month filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society (Waad), the country's main secular opposition party. Access to foreign journalists in the kingdom is severely restricted.

Palestinian Rights Groups Demand Hamas Reopen Border
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 30/17/Palestinian NGOs and rights groups on Thursday called on Hamas to reopen the only foot crossing into Israel, after the Islamist movement closed it following an assassination. The Palestinian NGOs Network, a coalition of more than 100 charities and rights groups, demanded the "lifting of restrictions and restrictive measures which violate human rights", a statement said."Security goals should not come at the expense of human rights," it added. Hamas, which runs Gaza, shut the Erez crossing into Israel on Sunday after blaming the Jewish state for assassinating Mazen Faqha, 38, in his home last Friday. On Monday, they reopened it for people going into Gaza, but people under the age of 45 are still largely prevented from leaving. Reports said Hamas were looking for the alleged assassins, who they believe remain in Gaza. Hamas said Faqha formed cells for their military wing in the occupied West Bank. Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade, largely restricting residents from entering. However, Israel grants hundreds of permits for medical, educational, business and other reasons per week.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Church bus crash death toll rises to 13
Thu 30 Mar 2017/NNA/USA NETWORK /The death toll from a church bus collision with a pickup rose to 13 late Wednesday, authorities said. The church van was carrying members back from an annual spring retreat when the accident occurred. Initially, 12 people were killed and two others injured. Late Wednesday, the Bexar County Medical Examiner confirmed one of the injured people sent to University Hospital in San Antonio died. Sgt. Conrad Hein of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the head-on collision happened around 12:30 p.m. CT Wednesday on U.S. 83 outside Garner State Park, about 75 miles west of San Antonio. Hein said Wednesday evening that the pickup truck veered into the oncoming lane and collided with the van belonging to the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels. It had not been determined what caused the driver to cross into the other lane. The spokesperson said there were 14 people on the bus at the time of the crash. Only two survived. The driver of the truck also survived. It was not clear late Wednesday which of the injured had died. Two of the victims were transported to University Hospital in San Antonio for treatment after the crash, according to a spokesperson for the hospital. One other victim was taken to San Antonio Military Medical Center. Hein said the small bus was a 2004 Turtle Top, though he did not know the specific model. Turtle Top’s website features shuttle buses with capacities ranging from 17 to 51 passengers, which they bill as “a great alternative to the standard 15-passenger van.” Safety concerns have long surrounded the 15-passenger vans, also frequently used by churches and other groups, with advocates saying they can be difficult to control in an emergency.
Tesla 'autopilot' car hits Phoenix police motorcycle
The Uvalde County Sheriff's Office said the major crash caused Highway 83 north to be closed near Garner State Park. The church acknowledged on its website that its vehicle was involved in the crash: "We understand there have been some fatalities, but we do not yet know who. All activities for tonight are canceled. The Sanctuary will be open [Wednesday] evening for prayer and support. Please be in prayer for all involved."KENS-TV's crew at the scene reported the trip was an annual spring retreat for church members 55 and older. The church wrote in a post on the website that the group was returning from a three-day encampment at the Alto Frio Baptist Camp and Conference Center in Leakey, Texas, about 130 miles west. Counselors will be on hand at the church Thursday, according to the website. "If you're a Christian, you can pray for those who lost their loved ones and for the church family," the church wrote.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 30-31/17
The Muslim Brotherhood: Peddling Sharia as Social Justice
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 30/17
Human Rights Watch, an organization that is supposed to look out for victims of human rights abuses, not abusers of human rights is begging US decision makers not to designate the Muslim Brotherhood -- which, if it had its way, would take away everyone's human rights and substitute them with sharia law -- a foreign terrorist organization.
"Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope". — Muslim Brotherhood motto.
Conveniently, Hamas -- which according to article two of its charter, is "one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine" -- is, it seems, working on a new charter. The new charter would declare that Hamas is not a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite its always having been so. That way, is the Muslim Brotherhood's "narrative" of newfound "nonviolence" suddenly supposed to become believable?
Gehad el-Haddad, official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), is on a mission to rewrite the terrorist and radical history of the MB. He seems to be doing this for the consumption of naïve Americans. These seem only too willing to believe -- in the name of tolerance, diversity and trying to be non-judgmental -- that an organization whose ultimate goal is the supreme reign of Islamic sharia law everywhere -- if necessary through violent jihad -- could possibly value anything even approximating equality and the rule of (non-sharia) law.
"We are not terrorists," wrote el-Haddad in a recent article in the New York Times.
"The Muslim Brotherhood's philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law... We believe that our faith is inherently pluralistic and comprehensive and that no one has a divine mandate or the right to impose a single vision on society... Nothing speaks more to our unequivocal commitment to nonviolence than our continued insistence on peaceful resistance, despite unprecedented state violence".
The "faith", which el-Haddad avoids naming, is Islam. The very essence of Islam, as sanctioned in the Quran and the hadiths, however, seems to be the belief in a divine mandate to impose the single vision of Islam on the world -- if necessary, through violent jihad. Its motto is:
"Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope".
Even dawa, the Islamic call to conversion, or proselytizing -- as explained by the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, host of one of Al Jazeera's most popular programs, Sharia and Life, which reaches an estimated 60 million viewers worldwide -- is an Islamic summons for the non-violent conquest of non-Muslim lands. As Qaradawi told a Muslim Arab Youth Association convention in Toledo, Ohio, in 1995, "We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America! Not through sword but through Da'wa."
Qaradawi, in a recording from 2007, says that the aim of this "peaceful" conquest consists mainly of the introduction of Islamic law, sharia. According to Qaradawi, sharia should be introduced in a new country gradually, over a five-year period, before implementing it in full. Sharia includes the end of free speech under "blasphemy laws"; the oppression of women, including women being worth half as much as a man in court and inheritance; polygamy, and the persecution of Jews (Qaradawi advocates killing all of them). Qaradawi has explained in TV recordings how sharia also includes chopping off hands for theft, killing apostates and homosexuals, as well as beating women as a means of "disciplining" them.
The New York Times, ostensibly concerned with "fake news", evidently has no qualms about lending its pages to such straightforward propaganda as El-Haddad's piece on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to a recent report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the MB recently launched a lobbying offensive in the United States to charm decision-makers in the Trump administration and Congress to give up on the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2017, re-introduced on January 9, 2017, by Senator Ted Cruz.
According to the MEMRI report, the Muslim Brotherhood's lobbying efforts include:
"Launching a widespread informational media campaign, including the hiring of U.S. lobbying and legal firms, outreach to the press in the U.S., and dissemination of informational content aimed at improving its image in the West, particularly in the U.S."
The purpose is "to convey that it is not a terrorist organization, but rather an ideological movement whose methods of operation are peaceful".
Human Rights Watch, an organization that is supposed to look out for victims of human rights abuses, not abusers of human rights, also jumped on that bandwagon. Human Rights Watch is begging US decision makers not to designate the Muslim Brotherhood -- who, if they had their way, would take away everyone's human rights and substitute them with sharia law -- a foreign terrorist organization.
The MEMRI report also cites former MB official Tareq Abu Al-Sa'ad's claim that, as part of its efforts to improve its image in the U.S., "the MB relies on specific American families who are members of the MB and have close ties to the U.S. administration... to contact human rights organizations to help improve its image in Washington".
Conveniently, Hamas -- which according to Article Two of its charter, "is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. The Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times..." -- is, it seems, working on a new charter which would declare that Hamas is not a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite always having been so. That way, is the MB's "narrative" of newfound "nonviolence" suddenly supposed to become believable?
The Muslim Brotherhood evidently considers the West filled with utter dupes, willing to take anything at face value that is served up to them. One can hardly blame them. The West has swallowed whole the propaganda of Islam as a "religion of peace". Why should the US not buy the equally false idea that the MB is a non-violent, pluralistic, social justice movement?
According to the MEMRI report:
"Evidence of the lobbying moves could be seen in comments by a London-based MB official, Mohamed Soudan, who said in late January that the Muslim Brotherhood was speaking to American politicians, State Department officials, members of Congress, and academics, in order to explain the nonviolent history of the movement since its establishment in 1928".
Left: The emblem of the Muslim Brotherhood. Right: While being hosted by the State Department on a visit to Washington in January 2015, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood judge Waleed Sharaby flashed the organization's four-finger "Rabia" sign.
Also according to the MEMRI report:
"On February 5, the Saudi website Elaph reported that the MB had signed a contract with an American lobbying firm, paying it $4.8 million to help it establish ties with Trump administration officials in order to improve its image in U.S. media. According to the report, the contract included organizing meetings with Trump administration officials, submitting documents on Egyptian government mistreatment of the movement and its members, publishing articles in American media, and providing platforms for MB officials in the American print and TV media. Elaph added that elements close to the Obama administration had helped the movement sign the contract with this firm, whose officials include figures close to Obama's election campaign and to Hillary Clinton. According to Elaph, the firm employs dozens of former White House and State Department staffers who have extensive ties to members of Congress and political and strategic research centers in the U.S".
Is anyone doing anything substantial to counter the Muslim Brotherhood's lobbying offensive in the United States?
**Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 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.

Ireland: Undermining Academia, Implementing Anti-Semitism
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/March 30/17
It has from the beginning been designed to denounce Israel as an illegal state, all under the cover of supposed neutral academic inquiry.
It is not, however, in the least surprising that an Irish government would pass a motion like that so wholeheartedly. After all, links with the PLO and other terrorist groups were connived at or even encouraged by the Irish government itself.
The conference put itself in the welcoming hands of the city council, a body thoroughly in agreement with the aims of the event, to find spurious legal arguments for the delegitimization and eventual destruction of Israel.
Readers may remember a controversy reported in January. It was proposed that an international "academic" conference about the legitimacy of Israel would take place in University College Cork in the Republic of Ireland. There have been several developments in this sorry enterprise since then.
What the conference, which goes under the revealing title, "International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism", was about may be summed up in a few sentences. It has from the beginning been designed to denounce Israel as an illegal state, all under the cover of supposed neutral academic inquiry. The organizers had previously tried to hold the event at Britain's Southampton University and, reportedly, other European universities, each time without success.
The new plan was to hold the conference with virtually all the same speakers and papers at Cork's University College from March 31 to April 2 this year. When that plan became known, several people in Ireland and elsewhere, including this author, contacted the college in an attempt to persuade its administration to cancel the event. We did so on two principal grounds. One, that it proposes to be an anti-Semitic event according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. That definition, like two earlier international versions, includes several clauses in which overt demonization of Israel and attempts to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination are treated as equally anti-Semitic as previous figures of speech in classical anti-Semitism. Here are the relevant clauses from that Definition:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
The IHRA definition has been recognized by 32 countries, including the UK and the Irish Republic.
Secondly, we argued that the unrelieved presence of speakers with documented bias against Israel -- participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (including the boycotting of Israeli academics), or even more heavy-handed political involvement supporting Palestinian terrorism -- undermined the notion that this was in any sense a balanced academic event. Since the formerly-planned event was first mooted, that high level of politicization has become even more marked.
Throughout the period when protests were made, representatives of the small Irish Jewish community advanced concerns about the anti-Semitic nature of the advance, and for some time they believed they were making progress on the diplomatic front. Others engaged with the administration on this and the political level. Our efforts were confused when the existing president of the college was replaced by a new man, Professor Patrick O'Shea. This meant we had to start our representations more or less from scratch. In the meantime, the conference organizers were aware of the growing opposition to their event.
A letter advancing our two main arguments, and signed by several academics belonging to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), was sent to President O'Shea towards the end of February. So far, no reply has been received. However, some of our joint representations seem to have made an impact. One of the things we had all emphasized was that we had no wish to prevent the organizers and panelists from exercising their right to free speech. Our problem was, and still is, that, as a thoroughly political event, the conference should not take place on the UCC campus. This seems to have made some impact. On March 8, it was announced that the event would take place, but that only one day would be held on College premises. This seemed (and as it turned out, was) a step forward. Not surprisingly, we read in the same place, that "UCC Professor of Computer Science James Bowen, who is one of the conference organisers, said he believed the university had become alarmed after pressure was brought to bear by international zionist lobby groups."
The problem, however, was not really solved by this shift. A second problem emerged, and that was the identity of the new premises. The conference is now to take place chiefly in Cork City Hall. Now that may seem an improvement, but in some ways it is even worse. Cork City Council, who have permitted the organizers to hold the event in their City Hall, has thirty-three members. These individuals represent most of Ireland's several political parties. Fifteen belong to either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, Ireland's two leading parties, eight are Sinn Féin, a republican party with considerable support in both the Republic and the North, three representing the Anti-Austerity Alliance (Chomhghuaillíocht in Aghaidh na Déine-Daoine Roimh Brabús (renamed Solidarity in March), a socialist party, one from the Workers' Party (Páirtí na nOibrithe), a Marxist-Leninist republican group linked to the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA), and another three with the right/far right National Party (An Páirtí Náisiúnta).
The City Hall of Cork, Ireland. (Image source: Klaus Foehl/Wikimedia Commons)
At first glance, this might seem reasonably balanced. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, for example, are center-right parties who dominate the Oireachtas, the two houses of the Irish Republic. In terms of Irish politics that is a reasonable state of affairs. But when it comes to Israel, a very different picture emerges.
In 2016, the ruling party, Fine Gael, joined with Fianna Fáil to agree on a "Programme for Government", committing Ireland to honor "our commitment to recognise the state of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict". This was repeated last February, forcing the Israeli embassy to attempt a diplomatic intervention. Ireland's Foreign Minister, Charles Flanagan, declared that the country "constantly considers recognizing a Palestinian State". In the same month, Fianna Fáil voted to fast-track the motion to recognize Palestinian statehood:
Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien said the party intended to bring its motion forward by a number of weeks, and table it before party leader Enda Kenny travels to the US for St Patrick's Day in order to make the Dáil's position clear.
O'Brien, a TD [Teachta Dála, member of parliament] for Dublin Fingal, said every Opposition TD in the Dáil supported the motion, which means it will almost certainly pass, given the extreme minority nature of the government.
The motion was supported by, among many others, Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell TD in response to the embassy's call for reconsideration. Her arguments for doing so are entirely well intended, with expressions of sympathy for Israel and condemnation of Palestinian violence, yet a poor understanding of the justifications for that violence and the total absence of legal grounds for such a unilateral recognition.
So far, the motion has not passed, and things may change should the new American administration apply pressure to prevent the move. It is not, however, in the least surprising that an Irish government would pass a motion like that so wholeheartedly. After all, links with the PLO and other terrorist groups were connived at or even encouraged by the Irish government itself:
From its inception in 1964, the PLO enjoyed generous support from the Irish government, which turned a blind eye to the IRA's growing relationship with Palestinian terrorist groups. Ireland also played a major role in the UNIFIL peace-keeping force on the Lebanon-Israel border, creating tensions between Dublin and Jerusalem.
Those ties continue. Speaking of Michael Higgins, the current Irish president (the Uachtarán na hÉireann), Shimon Samuels, the director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote:
Higgins' record is unambiguous: mourned for Arafat; denied Hamas is a terrorist organization; in 2007 shared a platform with Ibrahim Mussawi of Hezbollah's Al Manar TV; in 2008 spoke at a march surrounded by Hezbollah banners; and in 2010 proclaimed in Parliament his support for the Gaza flotilla.
Back in 2010, Vincent Dowd wrote a piece for BBC News, citing Irish senator Eoghan Harris, a rare pro-Israel voice in the Irish parliament. Harris's comments are striking:
For three years journalist Eoghan Harris has been an independent member of the Irish Senate.
How does it feel being avowedly pro-Israel in today's Republic of Ireland?
The Senator sighs. "I would probably be the only voice currently in the upper house of the Irish parliament to support Israel.
"The fact is there's a whole consensus now in Ireland against Israel."
This enduring link between Ireland and the Palestinians has been well analyzed in an article in Crethi Plethi.
Since we have mentioned the legal situation, let us go back to Cork. We have referred to Sinn Féin's membership on the Council, and it is worth a further look at the negative role this particular party and its allies have played in the debate about Israel and the Palestinians. Sinn Féin is, in reality, the political wing of the IRA, a terrorist organization that has committed many crimes in Ireland and the UK mainland. It is a revolutionary party that has linked itself to some of the most appalling regimes and organizations on the planet for many decades. Extremist Irish republicans and the IRA allied themselves with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, have had links to North Korea and Cuba, and have been directly involved with innumerable terrorist entities from Colombia's FARC and Baader Meinhof, to the Basque ETA and the Kurdish socialist PKK.
In the present context, however, we should note the close link between Sinn Féin/the IRA and three of Israel's greatest enemies: Hamas, the PLO, and Hezbollah. For example:
"In 2005, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met members of Hamas - the largest militant group in the region - in the Palestinian parliament and laid a wreath at the tomb of the former president Yasser Arafat."
And again, from last year:
"The latest delegation to Istanbul at the weekend was headed by Sinn Fein's national chairperson Declan Kearney who met one of the main Hamas leaders, Musa Abu Marzouk, among others."
At the time, a Democratic Unionist member of the European Parliament, Diane Dodds commented: "The reality is that those they met in Istanbul have as their number one goal the destruction of the State of Israel."
It should not come as a surprise that the organizers of this anti-Israel conference chose to head to Ireland as its new venue, selecting not the leading university there, Trinity College Dublin, but a college situated in the heartland of nationalist sentiment. Nor is it strange that, having been outfoxed by the college itself (see below), the organizers put themselves in the welcoming hands of the city council, a body thoroughly in agreement with the aims of the event. Their joint purpose was to find spurious legal arguments for the delegitimization and eventual destruction of Israel. There is no other country in Europe where a conference like this could have been held under the auspices of a political body.
Ireland is a small country, Cork is a small city, and UCC ranks only at 283 in the QS Top Universities list. Given the high level of anti-Israel sentiment and activism on university and college campuses around the world, especially in the United States, we can predict that many eyes will focus on the papers delivered in Cork. Those papers have not yet been published, but a list of their titles has just been made available online. The majority are couched in the vague jargon beloved of so many modern academics, and do not give away very much about their likely contents. But several are less concealing and are worth a look:
Dr. Ghada Karmi, University of Exeter
How Legitimate is Israeli Statehood? Factors and Implications of the UN Creation of Israel
(This in itself shows a basic misunderstanding of international law. Israel was not created by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It is founded on the San Remo decisions of April 1920, the League of Nations Mandate of July 1922 and the Covenant of the League of Nations, Article 22.)
Dr. Blake Alcott, Unaffiliated Researcher, London
Denial of Self-determination as a Sufficient Condition for Illegitimacy
(But on what grounds can one deny the legal concept of self-determination, which is one of the foundation-stones of all modern sovereign states? Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2 states that purpose of the UN Charter is: "To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.")
Dr. Markus Gunneflo, Lund University
"But we have a state": The International Law of Settler Colonialism in Palestine
(Although frequently bandied about in anti-Israel circles, the concept of "settler colonialism" is meaningless in the Israel-Palestinian context. Israel is not an imperial power. The presence of Israeli settlers in Judaea and Samaria is legal under several international rulings. Settlements are not intended to create a colony, have never been declared as such by the Israeli government, and are the subject of negotiations under the Oslo Accords and UN resolutions 242 [1967] and 338 [1973].)
This use of the term is repeated in Panel 4, entitled "Zionism/Israel & Settler Colonialism: Exceptional or Typical. Here are the titles of three papers from that Panel:
Dr. Ronnen Ben-Arie, Tel Aviv University
Settler Colonialism in Palestine and the Logic of 'Double Elimination'
Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Hebrew University
Israel's Settler Colonialism, Stolen Childhood, and the Creation of Death Zones
Adv. Leah Tsemel, Israeli lawyer and human rights activist
The Israeli Legal System: The Practice and Ideology of Eternalizing the Occupation
"Death Zones"? "Eternalizing the Occupation"? Are these really papers in an "academic" conference?
There are several more of these inflammatory and ill-advised papers, with titles citing Israel "apartheid" and anti-Zionism (e.g. "Britain's Responsibility for the Apartheid in Israel-Palestine Today: From Balfour to the Nakba", "We Fight, Therefore we are! A Muslim DeColonial Critique of Zionist Epistemology", "An Essentialist Critique of Zionism", and more).
Two final points should be mentioned. The first and keynote paper is to be delivered by none other than the notorious international extremist, Professor Richard Falk, whose name may be well-known to all readers. His reputation as an apologist for dictators, Islamists, terrorists and the Palestinian hatred for Jews and Israelis goes before him. His racism has been cited as reason for the UK government to expel him from the country. He has advanced conspiracy theories about the United States and Israel. He has carried on his work against human rights and democracy through several appointments to senior positions within the United Nations, notably his function as a Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
A report by him on behalf of the UN Economic and Social Commission was published in March this year to wide acclaim. In the report, Falk condemned Israel as an "apartheid state", but his extremism was quickly identified and the entire document was withdrawn and deleted by UN Secretary-General Antonió Guterres. In consequence, Under Secretary-General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf was obliged to resign her post.
There is no room here to delve further into Falk and his prejudices. But while writing these words, news has just come in that one of the two pro-Israel speakers slated to speak in Cork, Professor Alan Johnson, has withdrawn in protest at the presence of Falk as the keynote speaker. That is recognition of the fact that the tenor and purpose of the Cork conference can be summed up by Falks's role as a figurehead for anti-Israel extremism. That is a reputation it will not live down.
And just to make matters worse, University College Cork has completely distanced itself from the event by stating that the university authorities confirmed last month that "it is not a university-sponsored or promoted event". The organizers have rented a room on college premises, but they are not entitled to brand the conference as a UCC event. That must be a serious blow to their reputation as academics and to their claim that the conference is a valid commentary on the realities of Israel and the Palestinians.
**Dr. Denis MacEoin shares Irish and British citizenship. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Edinburgh and Cambridge universities, he is currently a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
© 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.

Palestinians and the Balfour Declaration at 100: Resisting the Past
by Alexander H. Joffe/BESA Center Perspectives
The Balfour Declaration in the Times of London, 9 November 1917.
A striking aspect of Palestinian culture is its resistance to the realities of the past.
On September 22, 2016, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN. He said, "100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people." He went on to demand an apology from Britain. Abbas has had previously threatened to sue London for damages resulting from the declaration and the creation of Israel.
This storm against the past was also on display at a recent conference at University College London that brought together British Islamists and revisionist Israelis to demand that the British government apologize for the Balfour Declaration, with the ultimate aim of exposing "the illegality of the state of Israel while giving practical steps in campaigning towards an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine."
What do such efforts tell us about Palestinian culture and the prospects for peace?
The Balfour Declaration is a singular datum for Israelis and Palestinians alike. After lengthy negotiations between the British government and the Zionist movement, Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his famous statement on November 2, 1917. Balfour's letter to Zionist leader Lord Rothschild, in which he stated that the Cabinet viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," was only one of a series of British wartime communications regarding the fate of the Levant. The correspondence between the British High Commissioner for Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, and Hussein Ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, and the secret Anglo-French agreement between Sir Mark Sykes and Charles Georges-Picot were no less consequential in the shaping of the contemporary Middle East.
The 1915-1916 McMahon-Hussein correspondence (left), and the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement were no less consequential than the Balfour Declaration in shaping the contemporary Middle East.
It took the Arabs some time to voice their opposition to the Declaration. The British report on the 1921 Palestine riots noted that "The Mayor of Tulkarem talks about the Balfour Declaration, and, whether he has or has not a clearer notion of its import than other people, he certainly expresses his opinion about it very definitely." Palestinian objections to Balfour are neatly captured by historian Bayan al-Hut: "This is a promise that was made by someone who had no right to give it to those who had no right to receive it."
The British establishment itself was divided and began to respond negatively to Zionism and Balfour in the early 1920s. This reflected the fusion of the establishment's traditional anti-Semitism with its growing realization that the League of Nations' mandate for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration was an impossible encumbrance on an empire bled white and financially exhausted by war. This attitude was a pronounced undercurrent throughout the Mandate years. According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, one British official, Acting District Commissioner for the Galilee Blenkinsopp, used to circulate a "refutation" of the Balfour Declaration to his colleagues every year on November 2.
Palestinians have cast the British Mandate as the illegitimate exercise of imperialism.
In the past, Palestinians have cast the Mandate as the illegitimate exercise of British imperialism, where, as al-Hut put it, "One people grant[ed] a second people what belong[ed] to a third people." Nowadays, the opposition to the Balfour Declaration describes it as the beginning of "settler-colonialism."
This innovation neatly saddles Britain's carefully cultivated sense of post-imperial guilt with responsibility for "Israeli crimes," including "complicity" in the supposed "cultural repression" of the Palestinians. At the same time, the approach promises to redeem the long-standing Palestinian sense of besmirched honor at having failed to "resist" Zionism.
But the current effort against Balfour also illustrates other standard Palestinian responses. For one thing, it unironically emphasizes Palestinian powerlessness and Arab weakness in both the past and the present. "Resistance" against the British Empire and the Zionists, both non-violent and violent, failed – and therefore, consistent with historical Palestinian practice, the issue must be internationalized.
The irony, however, is that Balfour's wholly legal commitment, ratified by the League of Nations in 1920, is assailed much the same way the 1947 UN Palestine partition recommendation was condemned: as illegitimate and unfair. For Palestinians, internationalization must produce the result they want, despite the historical record of its rarely doing so.
A British apology would have little direct value in helping to establish a Palestinian state.
There are other traditional elements in the campaign against the Balfour Declaration, not least the mistaking of symbolism for practical action. Presumably an apology would achieve a partial restoration of Palestinian national honor and comprise another step towards the complete eradication of Israel. However, despite vague talk from Palestinian activists demanding "compensation for Balfour" – which would be set against competing claims for compensation by Jewish refugees from Arab countries – it is difficult to see what direct value an apology would have in helping to establish a Palestinian state.
Demands for apologies and compensation have changed little since the UN's Economic Survey Mission reported on a visit to Gaza in 1949: "In one of the camps, the refugees staged quite a demonstration. A large sign had been printed in English on which were the following, numbered as indicated: 1. Send us back home. 2. Compensate us. 3. Maintain us until we are refreshed. Just what they had in mind by 'refreshed' I leave to your imagination."
The current Palestinian leadership's sense of timing, and commitment to symbolism, deserves comment. Whereas from the 1960s onward Yasser Arafat navigated the Palestinian movement through the shifting currents of Third Worldism and the Cold War, today that skill is nowhere evident. Protests over the Balfour Declaration anniversary are emerging just as the Arab state system finds itself at its lowest ebb. Syria, Yemen, and Libya are effectively no more, Iraq is divided between an Iranian rump, a shrinking ISIS entity, and an independent Kurdistan (in all but name), and Lebanon is a Shiite-dominated shell. The Palestinian Authority is a pseudo-state that exists only thanks to foreign aid and Israeli security assistance.
The tone of the Balfour Declaration protests – "What is happening in Palestine is the biggest social injustice of our time," as a conference organizer put it – is therefore not simply a lament for an era when Palestinians were ostensibly at the center of Arab and Muslims politics, but resistance to empirical reality.
The Balfour apology campaign is yet another Palestinian effort to deny and rewrite historical facts.
The Balfour apology campaign is thus another element in the Palestinian wars against inconvenient historical facts that must be denied, attacked, rewritten, or otherwise assailed, rather than debated, conceded, or shared. This approach accounts for such extraordinary Palestinian claims as Arafat's denial that there was ever a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; Saeb Erekat's statement that the Palestinians are descendants of Epipaleolithic inhabitants, and thus the "real" indigenous population of the land; and the more consequential insistence that Jews are only adherents to a religion and not members of a nation.
Here "resistance" elides into stubborn fabulism. Reality must be made to conform on the basis of both religious ideology and fantastical invented elements. Palestinian examples must be set into broader contexts, from religious claims regarding perfidious and cursed Jews to plaintive historical claims regarding the Muslim discovery of America, the invention of flight, and, more darkly, Zionist attack sharks or the "conspiracy to destroy Islam."
These concepts – redeeming fallen honor, perpetual victimhood, international responsibility, and achieving through guilt what politics and force of arms cannot – are cultural ideas, transmitted endlessly by Palestinian leaders and through their educational system and media. But they are also reflected in Palestinian politics. At every turn, negotiations get to a stage and then stop because compromise would preclude full "restoration" of what never was. Fighting century-old events and hoping to produce another outcome is consistent with this pattern. It is unlikely to build either a stable Palestinian society or peace with Israel.
**Alexander H. Joffe, a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum, is a historian and archaeologist. He is co-author, with Yaya Fanousie, of Monumental Fight: Countering the Islamic State's Antiquities Trafficking.

Iran Is the ‘Greatest Long-Term Threat to Stability,’ Army General Warns
Cristina Silva/Newsweek/posted 29 March/17
Iran increasingly poses a threat to U.S. interests because of its "destabilizing role" in the Mideast, the nation's top military official in that region told House lawmakers Wednesday. Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran's behavior was provocative and potentially "unsafe."
Votel told the House committee that Iran's behavior has not improved since Tehran and Washington agreed to a deal limiting Iran's nuclear development.
"I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone," he said. "And it's an area between normal competition between states—and it's just short of open conflict."
He cited Iran's "lethal aid facilitation," the use of "surrogate forces" and cyber activities, CNBC reported. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said.
Votel, who oversees more than 80,000 soldiers on land, sea and air in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as operations to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, said the U.S. must do more to counter Iran's military ambitions.
"We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities," he said. "We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing.
"We must make sure that we are postured for purpose in this region," Votel said. "We must have a credible, ready, and present force."
In 2016, there were 300 incidents where Iran harassed U.S. military and other vessels in international waters off its coast. The exchanges could be considered "unprofessional" or "unsafe," he said.
"We are paying extraordinarily close attention to this, but I feel very confident in our ability to protect ourselves and to continue to pursue our missions," he said, adding, "Iran has a role in the region. I want to be clear that we think differently about the people of Iran than we think about the leadership of Iran—the Revolutionary Council that runs Iran. Our concern is not with the people of Iran, it is with their revolutionary government."
Most recently, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at five Iranian vessels in January after the boats approached the USS Mahan and two other U.S. ships entering the Strait of Hormuz.

Persecuted Christians Suffer “Worst Year Yet,” Mostly Under Islam
Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/March 30/17
The persecution of Christians around the world, but especially in the Muslim world, has reached an all-time high—with 2016 being the “worst year yet,” according to Open Doors, which recently released its annual ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.
Among some of its more significant findings:
“Islamic extremism” remains the dominant force responsible for the persecution of Christians in 40 of the 50 worst nations;
Nine of the ten worst nations are Muslim (North Korea being the only non-Islamic);
“In the top 21 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List [18 of which are Muslim], 100 percent of Christians experience persecution”;
1,329 churches were attacked, damaged, or destroyed, mostly in Muslim nations;
Islamic Somalia is now the second worst nation; there, “If their [Christians’] faith is discovered it means instant death, executed without trial and often on rumor alone”;
In Nigeria—where more Christians have been slaughtered by Muslims than possibly in any other nation—the killing of Christians went up by 62 percent;
The nation where the most violent and sexual attacks on Christians take place—Muslim majority Pakistan—rose to the number four spot.
While everything points to Islam—or “Islamic extremism,” as Open Doors puts it—as the chief factor behind the global persecution of Christians, what does one make of the fact that North Korea continues to rank as the number one worst persecutor of Christians? Surely this suggests that Christian persecution is not intrinsic to the Islamic world but is rather a product of repressive regimes and other socio-cultural factors?
Here we come to some critically important but rarely acknowledged distinctions. While Christians are indeed suffering extreme persecution in North Korea, something as simple as overthrowing Kim Jong-un’s regime could lead to a quick halt to that persecution—just as the fall of Communist Soviet Union saw the end of religious persecution. The vibrancy of Christianity in South Korea, a nation virtually identical in ethnicity, culture, and language to its northern counterpart, is suggestive of what may be in store—and thus creates paranoia for—North Korea.
In the Islamic world, however, a similar scenario would not alleviate the sufferings of Christians by an iota. Quite the opposite; where dictators fall (often thanks to U.S. intervention)—Saddam in Iraq, Qaddafi in Libya, and attempts against Assad in Syria—Christian persecution dramatically rises. Today Iraq is the seventh worst nation in the world in which to be Christian, Syria sixth, and Libya 11. A decade ago under the “evil” dictators, Iraq was ranked 32, Syria 47, and Libya 22.
The reason for this is that Muslim persecution of Christians is perennial, existential, and far transcends this or that regime or ruler. It is part and parcel of the history, doctrines, and socio-political makeup of Islam—hence its tenacity; hence its ubiquity.
To further understand the differences between temporal and existential persecution, consider Russia. Under communism, its own Christians were persecuted; yet today, after the fall of the USSR, Russia is again reclaiming its Orthodox Christian heritage.
North Korea—where Kim Jong-un is worshipped as a god and the people are shielded from reality—seems to be experiencing what Russia did under the Soviet Union. But if the once mighty USSR could not persevere, surely it’s a matter of time before tiny North Korea’s walls also come crumbling down, with the resulting religious freedom that former communist nations have experienced. (Tellingly, the only countries that were part of the USSR that still persecute Christians are Muslim, such as Uzbekistan, #16, and Turkmenistan, #19.)
Time, however, is not on the side of Christians living amid Muslims; quite the opposite.
In short, Muslim persecution of Christians exists in 40 nations today as part of a continuum—or “tradition”—that started nearly 14 centuries ago. As I document in Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, the very same patterns of Christian persecution prevalent throughout the Muslim world today are often identical to those from centuries past.
A final consideration: North Korea, the one non-Muslim nation making the top ten worst persecutors list, is governed by what is widely seen as an unbalanced megalomaniac; conversely, the other nine nations are not dominated by any “cults-of-personalities” and are variously governed: including through parliamentarian democracies (Iraq), parliamentarian republics (Pakistan and Somalia), one-party or presidential republics (Eritrea, Sudan and Syria), Islamic republics (Afghanistan and Iran). Looking at the other Muslim nations that make the top 50 persecutors’ list and even more forms of governments proliferate, for example transitional/disputed governments (Libya #11) and monarchies (Saudi Arabia #14).
The common denominator is that they are all Islamic nations.
Thus, long after North Korea’s psychotic Kim Jong-un has gone the way of the dodo, tens of millions of Christians and other “infidels” will continue to suffer extreme persecution, till what began in the seventh century reaches fruition and the entire Islamic world becomes “infidel” free.
Confronting this discomforting fact is the first real step to alleviating the sufferings of the overwhelming majority of Christians around the world; for seldom can anything be fixed without first acknowledging the root of the problem.