May 04/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 06/41-47/:"Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?’Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught by God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin
First Letter of Peter 04/01-11/:"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 03-04/17
Lebanese terror group condemns revised charter, says Gaza rulers must ‘liberate’ all territory from Mediterranean Sea to Jordan River/Times Of Israel/May 03/17/
Will Lebanon's president keep parliament from 're-electing' itself?
Josephine Deeb/Al-Monitor/May 03/17
Following Church Bombings, Egyptian Researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher Slams Al-Azhar Teachings: Vile Deformed Jurisprudence/MEMRI/May 03/17
A Palestinian state on 1967 borders: Is Hamas going to Hajj as everyone is leaving/David Hearst/Middle East Eye/May 03/17
Promises: Tricks Used by Assad’s Allies/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17
France: What is the Presidential Campaign Really About/Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/May 03/17
The Death of Facts/Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/May 03/17
Populism Has Not ‘Peaked’ in Europe. The Fight Continues/Charlotte McDonald-Gibson/The New York Times/May 03/17
If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret/Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/May 03/17
The Real Bomb Is in Islam’s Books’/Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/May 03/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 03-04/17
Lebanese terror group condemns revised charter, says Gaza rulers must ‘liberate’ all territory from Mediterranean Sea to Jordan River
Berri: Legislative Session Won't Convene Unless Accord is Reached on Electoral Law
Berri to Lawmakers: Parliament Term Extension 'Impossible'
Aoun Draws to Burden of Refugees, Demands Syria Political Solution
Report: High Anticipation Ahead of Cabinet Meeting
ISF Arrest Father after Selling his Infant Daughter for LL 1.8 Million
Jumblat Hails Nasrallah's Remarks on 'Importance of Consensus'
Fugitives Arrested during Army Raids in Hermel
Mashnouq, Abi Ramia discuss current situation
Two Held as Captagon Manufacturing Machines Seized in Baalbek
Franjieh, Shorter tackle current developments
Shaar, US Ambassador discuss Tripoli related affairs
Hasbani underlines keenness on maintaining food safety standards
Jumblatt meets AL former chief, Egypt Ambassador
Barras visits Tyre within Swiss funded Disaster Risk Reduction Project
Will Lebanon's president keep parliament from 're-electing' itself?

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 03-04/17
Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on World Press Freedom Day
Iran’s crown prince: Khomeini’s revolution was a big trick
Syria Rebels Suspend Participation in Talks on ‘De-escalation Zones’
Car bomb kills at least five in Syrian border town of Azaz
Aid convoy enters Syrian town of Douma, first time since October
German Official Proposes Expanding Syria Peace Talks
Iraqi Forces Kill 3 Prominent ISIS Commanders in Mosul
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince: Iran is trying to control the Muslim world
White House source: Trump to press Abbas to halt payments to terrorists
Trump assures Abbas Israeli-Palestinian peace
Trump Tries to Make Progress in Mideast Peace by Meeting Abbas Wednesday
UNESCO: Jerusalem is Occupied, Israel Has No Sovereignty over City
Human Rights Watch blasts Hamas for holding 3 Israelis in Gaza
King Mohammed VI, Francois Hollande Reiterate Trust in Bilateral Partnership
Libya’s rivals eye ‘strategy’ for ‘unified army’
N. Korea State Media Confirms Arrest of US Professor
Powerful IS-Claimed Blast Targets NATO Convoy in Kabul

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 03-04/17
Lebanese terror group condemns revised charter, says Gaza rulers must ‘liberate’ all territory from Mediterranean Sea to Jordan River
Times Of Israel/May 02/17/The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group on Tuesday slammed a new policy blueprint issued Monday by the Gaza-based terror organization Hamas, rejecting the paper’s acceptance of a Palestinian state in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. During a meeting with a Palestinian delegation in Lebanon, Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy to Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese terror group’s head, also stressed that the terror group must “liberate” all of the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, which today includes the Jewish state and the West Bank, according to a report by Israel Radio. He emphasized that Palestinians should be allowed to return to their former homes in Israel, the radio report said. The new Hamas policy presents softened language on Israel while still calling for its destruction. While accepting the idea of a Palestinian state in areas captured by Israel in 1967, it dismisses the establishment of the State of Israel as “illegal,” asserting a Palestinian claim to the entire land of Israel and a right of return for all descendants of refugees. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” the document states. “However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.” The new platform unveiled Monday was touted as a moderation of the terror group’s previous stance, which did not accept even the temporary idea of a Palestinian state only within the 1967 lines. The document also purged some language deemed anti-Semitic. Israel dismissed the new document as an attempt to “fool the world.”For Palestinians, the right to return to homes they fled or were forced out of in 1948 is a prerequisite for any peace agreement. Israeli governments have rejected the notion of a “right of return” for Palestinians, arguing that a mass influx of Palestinians would spell the end of the Jewish state. Israel has called for Palestinian refugees to be absorbed into a future Palestinian state, just as Israel took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa.Earlier Tuesday, Osama Kawasmehezboll, a spokesman for the Fatah party, which controls the West Bank Palestinian Authority, demanded Hamas apologize to its rival Fatah, saying that the new position was “identical to that taken by Fatah in 1988. Hamas is required to make an apology to Fatah after 30 years of accusing us of treason for that policy.” In the past, Hamas has sharply criticized Fatah’s political program, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, but allows for the existence of an Israeli state. The Palestinian Authority’s news agency, Wafa, carried a statement from Fatah on Tuesday which said the Hamas document contained “nothing new,” and that its acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders was “contrary to its behavior on the ground.”Political realism was a “good thing” if it was within the framework of national consensus, the statement continued, and if policies were “in harmony with international resolutions and not ambiguous and inconsistent.”There were no signs that Hamas was moving toward Palestinian national unity, the statement concluded. Repeated attempts by Hamas and Fatah in recent years to reconcile have failed to secure any progress. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has engaged in peace talks with Israel on the basis of seeking a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. although the last, US-mediated round collapsed three years ago. Abbas is due to meet in Washington with US President Donald Trump Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks, with the PA leader hoping the billionaire businessman’s unpredictable approach can inject life into long-stalled peace efforts.Agencies contributed to this report.

Berri: Legislative Session Won't Convene Unless Accord is Reached on Electoral Law
Speaker Nabih Berri voiced a warning statement that the anticipated May 15 parliament session will not convene shall consensus between political parties fail on a new electoral law, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. “I don't agree on an extension (of the parliament term). If an agreement on a new law is not reached before May 15, the legislative session will not convene,” warned Berri. The daily added that the Speaker is “seriously mulling the postponement of the parliament session for the inability of an agreement.”Sources of Ain el-Tineh told the newspaper that “Berri insists on holding the parliamentary elections, and he alone has the keys to holding the legislative session either to approve the new law or to amend the deadlines of the law in force.”Addressing his visitors on Tuesday, Berri reiterated adherence to his law proposal, assuring that the format he presented falls in the interest of the country and to “protect the term” of President Michel Aoun, “while other parties are only suggesting formats that destroy the term.”Berri's proposal calls for electing a senate under a sectarian voting electoral system and a parliament under an electoral law fully based on proportional representation. Referring to a “sectarian” format presented by Free Patriotic Movement Jebran Bassil without mentioning him, Berri stated: “They said they want to represent the Christians, but it turned out that that they want to represent the Christians of their choice while excluding others. “I have presented my project for the fair and correct representation of all, especially Christians. If they do not believe it, let them try it.”Berri stressed that a vote on a law will not take place during a cabinet meeting on Thursday, “Let them know, there will be no voting on an election law.”On the vacuum at the legislative authority if all endeavors fail to reach a voting system, he warned: “If a law is not formed and the polls were not staged before June 20, there will be no country or institutions.”

Berri to Lawmakers: Parliament Term Extension 'Impossible'
Naharnet/Associated Press/May 03/17/Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated on Wednesday that an extension of the parliament's term is “absolutely impossible.”Addressing lawmakers during his Wednesday meeting with deputies in Ain el-Tineh, he said: “Rest assured, I speak on behalf of the council. A parliament mandate extension is absolutely inconceivable. “My words are also addressed at those who accuse us of seeking an extension,” he added. The Speaker stressed the need to agree on a new voting system for Lebanon's parliamentary elections, he said: “We have to reach an agreement on a new law for the polls."In April President Michel Aoun invoked his constitutional powers to adjourn the parliament for one month to give the legislators time to craft a new election law and hold the elections as quickly as possible. Lebanon's deputies were set to vote in parliament to postpone national elections and extend their term for a third time since 2013. A parliament session is set to be held on May 15. Rival political parties are still bickering over an electoral law format for the upcoming parliamentary polls despite numerous high-level meetings and consultations to reach consensus on a law to replace Lebanon's current 1960 majoritarian system.The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law.

Aoun Draws to Burden of Refugees, Demands Syria Political Solution
Naharnet/May 03/17/President Michel Aoun pointed out to the negative implications as the result of refugees influx into Lebanon, media reports said on Wednesday. Aoun drew before his visitors to the negative repercussions of the number of displaced people in Lebanon and stressed that Lebanon wants a political solution to the Syrian crisis, said the reports. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report that the number of refugees who have fled the civil war in Syria since it broke out in 2011, now exceeds five million. There are more than 1 million Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon. The government estimates the true number to be 1.5 million. Prime Minister Saad Hariri had once said that the “refugee influx has stretched Lebanon's economy to its limit.”

Report: High Anticipation Ahead of Cabinet Meeting
Naharnet/May 03/17/On the eve of a cabinet meeting set to discuss a draft electoral bill for Lebanon's parliamentary elections, things seem to be worsening in light of the absence of initiatives and deliberations between political parties mainly between the two Shiite parties (AMAL and Hizbullah) and the Free Patriotic Movement, al-Joumhouria daily reported Wednesday. The latest effort made in that regard was a meeting between head of the FPM Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, PM Saad Hariri's adviser Nader Hariri of al-Mustaqbal Movement, said the daily. There was no agreement to schedule a meeting between the four-party panel -formed by the cabinet earlier for the purpose of discussing a voting system, it added. Sources following up closely on the elections file, told the daily that Thursday's meeting is going to be a “test for intentions as for an electoral law and the May 15 parliament session.”They said discussions on an electoral law, which tops the cabinet agenda could either be postponed, or discussed in a “similar rhetoric to the one lingering currently between political parties without the submission of solutions.”The cabinet will meet on Thursday at the Baabda Palace to deliberate an electoral draft bill, ahead of an anticipated May 15 parliament session that is set to either “make-or-break” the polls' fate. The parliament's session is set to extend its term for one year. The extension is strongly rejected by the FPM, LF and the Kataeb party. Al-Mustaqbal Movement has also rejected the extension. Rival political parties are still bickering over an electoral law format for the upcoming parliamentary polls despite numerous high-level meetings and consultations to reach consensus on a law to replace Lebanon's current 1960 majoritarian system.

ISF Arrest Father after Selling his Infant Daughter for LL 1.8 Million
Naharnet/May 03/17/The Internal Security Forces arrested a man in the eastern town of Zahle who had sold his infant daughter in return for LL 1.8 million, an ISF statement said on Wednesday. The mother of the child, R.S., filed a complaint at Zahle Judicial Unit claiming her husband, Lebanese Aa.H., have sold their one-year old daughter in return for 1.8 million Lebanese pounds. Investigations were kicked off into the incident, and the authorities succeeded at arresting the mediator, a Lebanese who was identified by his initials as S.Aa, in al-Kark neighborhood. The police also arrested the buyers, a Lebanese man Aa.R. and woman A.G in the same aforementioned area. They were riding a BMW which was confiscated by the police. The man who put up his daughter out for sale was arrested a few hours later. He admitted to have put his two daughters, the eldest of two-year and the younger of one-year, out for sale. The infant was handed over to her mother. Police are investigating into the case further.

Jumblat Hails Nasrallah's Remarks on 'Importance of Consensus'
Naharnet/May 03/17/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat swiftly lauded on Tuesday remarks by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about the importance of reaching a “consensual” electoral law. “Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's remarks were very accurate and comprehensive about the importance of consensus and the need to exit the current vicious cycle and avoid its alarming aspects,” Jumblat tweeted shortly after a televised speech by Nasrallah. In his address, Nasrallah stressed that his party is not seeking to “impose” the proportional representation electoral system on the country, while warning that Lebanon is “on the brink of the abyss” regarding the issue of the electoral law. “It is not possible to impose an electoral law on Christians or on Druze should they reject a certain law,” Nasrallah stressed. He noted that Lebanon's consensual democracy system “must be applied to the electoral law.”“We must convince each other in order to reach a settlement over the electoral law,” Nasrallah urged.“Let us all be modest and offer concessions to rescue our country,” he added.

Fugitives Arrested during Army Raids in Hermel
Naharnet/May 03/17/The Lebanese army arrested a number of wanted fugitives on Wednesday during raids it staged in the northeast Lebanon town of Hermel, the National News Agency reported. The Airborne Regiment and elements of the Army Directorate of Intelligence staged the raids early Wednesday and arrested a number of fugitives some of whom were identified by their initials as N.H and M.H, NNA said. The detainees were transferred to one of the barracks in the area for investigation. They will be handed later to the related authorities. The army deployed in the area and erected checkpoints at the entrances leading to the town.

Mashnouq, Abi Ramia discuss current situation
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Nohad Mashnouq, met on Wednesday with Change and Reform bloc's MP Simon Abi Ramia, with whom he discussed the current situation on the local scene, and latest developments regarding the new election law.

Two Held as Captagon Manufacturing Machines Seized in Baalbek
Naharnet/May 03/17/State Security agents on Tuesday managed to seize three machines for manufacturing Captagon narcotic pills in the eastern city of Baalbek, state-run National News Agency reported. “The machines were being transported by a crane towards the al-Assireh neighborhood in Baalbek,” the agency said. Two people were arrested during the operation, NNA added.

Othman, Marotti tackle overall situation
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Internal Security Forces chief Imad Othman received on Wednesday at his Barracks office Italian Ambassador to Lebanon, Massimo Marotti, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on means of bolstering cooperation and coordination. The overall security situation in the country also topped their discussions.

Franjieh, Shorter tackle current developments
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh met on Wednesday at his Bnachai residence with British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, with talks reportedly touching on most recent developments.Former Minister Reymond Araiji was also present.

Shaar, US Ambassador discuss Tripoli related affairs
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Mufti of Tripoli and the North Malek Shaar met on Wednesday at his Tripoli residence with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, with talks reportedly touching on an array of matters related to the city of Tripoli in terms of development and infrastructure projects.
Ambassador Richard was accompanied by a delegation from the Embassy. Speaking in the wake of the meeting, Ambassador Richard described talks with Sheikh Shaar as "very important" centering on the predicaments and challenges facing Tripoli, and how the US can contribute in manifesting the beautiful aspects of the city. Sheikh Shaar, for his part, called on the Ambassador to multiply the US support for the Lebanese army to enable it to spread its authority and presence across all Lebanese territories, starting from the South till the last iota of the North.

Hasbani underlines keenness on maintaining food safety standards
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani on Wednesday stressed the Ministry's keenness on maintaining food safety standards, calling on all sides concerned to observe food regulations."The Ministry is closely following up on food safety issue in all its respective chain, starting from agricultural pesticides to farms, slaughterhouses, transportation, cooling, storage and restaurants," Minister Hasbani said, urging all concerned sides to fully abide by the Lebanese laws and regulations in effect, to ensure public safety and public health in Lebanon.

Jumblatt meets AL former chief, Egypt Ambassador
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Democratic Gathering head, MP Walid Jumblatt, met on Wednesday at his Beirut residence with former secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, accompanied by Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon, Nazih al-Najjari. Talks reportedly featured high on latest political developments in Lebanon and the broader Arab region.

Barras visits Tyre within Swiss funded Disaster Risk Reduction Project
Wed 03 May 2017/NNA - Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Francois Barras, visited on Wednesday the city of Tyre to have a firsthand look at the already accomplished phases of the Swiss Embassy-funded Disaster Risk Reduction Project in Tyre Municipalities Union. Ambassador Barras was accompanied by the Projects Director at the Swiss Embassy International Cooperation Department, Robert Nicola. The Project is funded by the Swiss Embassy International Cooperation Department. Barras was greeted by head of Tyre Municipalities Union, Tyre Municipality head, Hassan Dbouk, and Director of Disaster Management Unit in Tyre Municipalities' Union, Mortada Muhanna, at the Union's headquarters. Talks touched on the already accomplished phases of the Project and the forthcoming phase. The delegation then moved to the Lebanese Civil Defense Center, whereby Ambassador Barras handed the keys of two fire engines to the Center officials, as part of the disaster management project funded by the Swiss Embassy.

Will Lebanon's president keep parliament from 're-electing' itself?
Josephine Deeb/Al-Monitor/May 02/17
To some legislators' consternation but to no one's real surprise, Lebanon's parliamentary elections have been delayed yet again for at least three months.
Despite four years' worth of extensions already, Lebanon's parliament could keep itself in office even longer because it's unable to break a deadlock over a proposed change in the electoral law.
On April 12, the day before parliament was scheduled to meet, President Michel Aoun invoked Article 59 of the Lebanese Constitution, which allows him to postpone a parliamentary session for one month. He may do so once during the legislative term.
Speaker Nabih Berri had called for the session to discuss extending parliament’s term, as members failed to agree on a new electoral law before a constitutional deadline expired. Aoun wants a new law implemented before elections are held for parliament, whose term ends June 21. He doesn't want the legislature to extend its own term without elections, which he considers illegal, but he also doesn't want a legislative vacuum. However, the constitution requires that voters be given 90 days to prepare for an election, so — because of repeated delays — one now can't be scheduled before August at the earliest.
In a televised speech, Aoun addressed the Lebanese people, saying, “I have warned repeatedly against the extension since it is unconstitutional and will definitely not be the path toward the recovery of the government and its authorities and institutions on a sound constitutional basis.”
Minutes after Aoun announced his decision, Berri set another session for May 15. In the meantime, Lebanese political forces continue their quest to agree on an electoral law by then. Simon Abi Ramia, a member of parliament's Change and Reform bloc, told Al-Monitor that despite differences between the parties, political forces seek to agree on a new electoral law and his political bloc will strive to prevent a parliamentary extension by all means.
Aoun wants to replace the contested 1960 Electoral Law, which is based on a majoritarian (winner-take-all) district electoral system with limited exceptions. That law allows Muslim leaders to select Christian parliament members in some constituencies. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, along with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, are insisting on a "total proportionality" system, while others want either a hybrid law or the majoritarian system.
On the eve of April 13, the date set for the session to discuss the extension, the specter of civil war came back to haunt the Lebanese amid a sharp division of political forces and a serious threat by Christian political forces to take to the streets to prevent the session. They threatened to block the roads to prevent legislators from even reaching parliament.
The mounting tension might have escalated into a sectarian rift in the country if Aoun hadn't moved to contain the situation.
Adel Yamin, a constitutional expert and law professor at Lebanese University in Beirut, noted that the April 13 parliament session would have coincided with the anniversary of the outbreak of the Lebanese war. "Aoun defused political and popular tension that risked turning into a sectarian division," he told Al-Monitor.
But what if parliament fails to pass a new electoral law? And what if, during the May 15 session, it approves the urgent draft law submitted by member Nicolas Fattoush to extend parliament’s term for an additional year? Does the president have other constitutional cards up his sleeve?
Yamin said Aoun has several options.
Aoun may address a letter to the parliament urging it to reject the extension and approve a new electoral law that takes into account the requirements of the constitution and the 1943 National Pact. Parliament would then have to consider the letter within three days and take action.
Yamin noted that to consider the extension draft bill, parliament would need a quorum, which is the attendance of at least 65 of the 128 members. The proposal would then need a majority of the members present to pass. If parliament were to approve the extension, Aoun could ask — one time only — for parliament to reconsider the draft within five days. Then, to pass, the reconsidered draft law would need an absolute majority: 65 of the 128 members.
Yamin explained that if parliament passes the extension draft law, Aoun will have the right to appeal before the Constitutional Council within 15 days after the law is published in the Official Gazette. The council has the option to void the law, and its decision is final.
If the parliament’s term expires without any consensus being reached on the new electoral law, Aoun — with the assent of the prime minister and the minister of the interior and municipalities — can hold an election based on the amended law of 1960 at least 90 days after the decree is published, despite the vacuum it would create, Yamin added.
The parliamentary elections situation has hit a new low amid the threats of protests, in particular by the Christian political forces objecting to the extension. But Yamin noted that the environment gives the president another option: Go directly to the voters and ask them to express their opposition to parliament's attempt, as he sees it, to violate the constitution and control the state by an extension.
Lebanon's last parliamentary elections were held in 2009. After a four-year term during which they couldn't agree on the electoral law, they voted to extend their term for 17 months. Another extension in 2014 has kept them in office until this year.
**Josephine Deeb is a presenter on OTV's morning political show "Hiwar al-Yom" and a field correspondent for the station's news bulletin. She has done field reports on Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. She also worked as a field correspondent for Al-Jadeed TV.
Translator: Pascale el-Khoury

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 03-04/17
Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on World Press Freedom Day
Ottawa, Ontario/May 3, 2017
The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement for World Press Freedom Day:
“Every year, on May 3rd, we celebrate the fundamental principle of freedom of the press, and the important role journalists play in promoting democracy around the world. On this day, we take a hard look at the current state of press freedom, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of truth.“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.’ It reminds us that peace, justice and inclusiveness are foundational values for any society that empowers individual citizens and promotes government transparency and accountability. “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – now in its 35th year – established the freedom of the press as a fundamental freedom. Journalists start conversations, shine light on stories that would otherwise not be told, and give Canadians the facts they need to engage in public debate and shape events around them. A free and open press is crucial to an informed and engaged citizenry, which is at the heart of a healthy democracy. “While journalistic freedom is widely recognized and respected in Canada, we cannot ignore the censorship, intimidation, false arrests and violence that many journalists face in other parts of the world. These acts give rise to fear and self-censorship, stifle societies, and undermine the right to freedom of expression. Canada will continue working to promote a vibrant and free press here and abroad. “Today, we recognize the many journalists who seek out the truth, challenge assumptions and expose injustices, often at great personal risk. They are the cornerstones of any strong and healthy democracy, informing and challenging us all to think more critically about the world around us.”

Iran’s crown prince: Khomeini’s revolution was a big trick
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 2 May 2017/Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, criticized the revolution that dismissed his father, saying it was a great deception. Al Arabiya conducted the below interview with the son of the Shah of Iran:
Do you see yourself as an heir to the Kingdom in Iran? In other words, do you see yourself as the future Shah of Iran? I have said it several times that my only goal is freedom for the citizens of my country so that they can quickly determine their political fate. I am not concerned about the type of governance in the future. Do you have relations with national parties such as Kurds, Turks, Arabs or Baluch? What is your proposed solution for such diversity problems?
I believe that within real democratic conditions all the country’s citizens can acquire their individual and collective rights. As what happened in the gathering that took place on the birthday of Cyrus the great Shah of Iran, where we saw the diversity of groups of citizens of different dialects, traditions and various sects. This event showed that the Iranians are committed and proud of their national and historical culture; they are united under the greatness and glory of the land of their ancestors.
You are aware that many countries in the region, including Arab countries, accuse the Iranian regime of interfering and supporting sectarian militias. How can Iran reassure these countries not to interfere in their affairs in the future?
Iran in the past (before the revolution) has always been committed to a policy of good neighborliness and mutual respect with our brothers in neighboring countries; this policy was beneficial for us. What has changed is the emergence of the Islamic Republic, which caused tension and insecurity in order to achieve its sectarian goals and expand its influence in the region. The problem of the countries of the region existed due to the presence of the Iranian regime and not the Iranian people.
You are against a military interference from abroad or local armed operations to change the regime in Iran. What is the alternative in your opinion to have change in your country?
A democratic solution can never be obtained through a military attack, so I have always opposed and rejected such solution. I believe that this is possible through civil disobedience and peaceful revolutions. There are people who claim that they are your supporters or loyalists to establish a Kingship in Iran. They have an anti-Arab speech and this is reflected in the Arab press. What is your message to the Arab world and your supporters?
This speech, excluding what some extremist say, is not hostile to the Arabs, but they declare through it their hatred and opposition to the ruling religious regime that continues to captivate them even though 39 years passed.

Syria Rebels Suspend Participation in Talks on ‘De-escalation Zones’
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/Syrian rebels on Wednesday suspended their participation in talks in Kazakhstan on a Russian plan for “de-escalation zones,” demanding an end to regime bombardment of the areas under their control, an opposition official said.“The delegation has suspended its participation after presenting a memorandum for a total commitment to stopping (regime) bombardments,” said political opposition SNC spokesman Ahmad Ramadan. A rebel source in the Kazakh capital Astana also told AFP that “the rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent air strikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria.”A Kazakh Foreign Ministry official expected the Syrian armed opposition to return to the table on Thursday. “I hope that tomorrow the opposition will again take part (in the talks),” Aidarbek Tumatov, a department chief at the ministry, told reporters in Astana. Russia’s proposal calls for the creation of “de-escalation zones” in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib, in parts of Homs province in the center, in the south, and in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. The aim is to “put an immediate end to the violence” and “provide the conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees”. The designated zones would also see the immediate delivery of relief supplies and medical assistance. Also Wednesday, a car bomb explosion killed at least five people in the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz along the border with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead were four civilians and a police officer, the Britain-based monitor said, adding that the toll could rise because a number of those wounded were in serious condition. The blast hit near a mosque and the headquarters of the opposition’s provisional government, formed in November 2013, which administers some areas under rebel control. A video of the aftermath of the explosion posted online by the Azaz Media Center showed burnt-out cars and firefighters struggling to put out a blaze. Gunfire rang out as people gathered at the scene and ambulances arrived. The Turkish Dogan news agency said some of the wounded were taken to the state hospital in the Turkish border town of Kilis for treatment.

Car bomb kills at least five in Syrian border town of Azaz
AFP, Beirut Wednesday, 3 May 2017/A car bomb blast killed at least five people on Wednesday in the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz by the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead were four civilians and a police officer, the Britain-based monitor said, adding that the toll could rise because a number of those wounded were in serious condition. The blast littered the ground with debris and set an enormous fire that sent thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the air. Civil defense workers and residents tried to put out the blaze. The dead were placed in black body bags, next to which grief-stricken mourners sat weeping or staring in shock. The blast hit near a mosque and the headquarters of the opposition’s provisional government, formed in November 2013, which administers some areas under rebel control. Azaz has regularly been targeted in bomb blasts, including on January 7, when at least 48 people were killed in a tanker truck blast. Most of those killed in that attack, which rebels blamed on ISIS, were civilians. More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Aid convoy enters Syrian town of Douma, first time since October
Reuters, Beirut Wednesday, 3 May 2017/An aid convoy of food and medical supplies has reached the besieged Syrian town of Douma for the first time since October, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday. Along with the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC went into Douma with 51 trucks loaded with aid for 35,000 people, it said on Twitter. A UN official in Syria said the convoy had entered late at night, carrying food rations, health supplies and other emergency items, and the mission was still ongoing. The UN had said in March that fighting around Syria’s capital, Damascus, cut 300,000 people off from aid in the rebel-held suburbs of eastern Ghouta, under siege by government forces since 2013. Food stocks are dwindling and informal supply routes were cut in the pocket of farms and towns near Damascus. Douma has not received any UN aid since October and supplies have not entered Kafr Batna since last June, the UN has said. UN Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland, who had called on the warring sides to allow aid in, said last month it was “very, very urgent” to get to eastern Ghouta where 400,000 people live.

German Official Proposes Expanding Syria Peace Talks
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/Berlin – Increasing the number of countries taking part in the Russian-backed Syria peace talks could provide the opportunity to resume negotiations aimed at reaching a political solution to the conflict, said Germany’s top official for Russia policy in an interview published on Tuesday. Gernot Erler suggested that German Chancellor Angela Merkel could have raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday. “We have to acknowledge that all previous peace efforts have failed,” Erler told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, noting that neither the UN initiative led by diplomat Staffan de Mistura nor the Russia-brokered ceasefire had led to tangible results. “As a result we have to think of something new. I think the German side should ask Putin if he can imagine including more countries in the negotiations. That could offer an opportunity to at least organize a negotiating process,” he said. He said it was clear that a solution to ending the war in Syria was now unthinkable without the participation of Russia, whose military intervention has shifted the course of the six-year-old war in favor of its ally, regime leader Bashar al-Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told news agencies on Saturday that Moscow was ready to cooperate with the United States on settling the Syrian crisis. Erler rejected a suggestion by Jordan’s King Abdullah that the West should accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and stop criticizing Moscow to encourage Putin to drop his support for Assad. “I consider that a dubious idea. It would mix up two issues that have nothing to do with each other,” Erler said. He said US President Donald Trump initially appeared to favor such a “deal” but had since realized that foreign policy crises could not be handled like real estate transactions. Russia has vetoed eight resolutions on Syria to shield Assad’s regime from action, most recently blocking condemnation of a chemical weapons attack last month that killed dozens of people, including many children. China has backed Russia and vetoed six resolutions. Erler said Merkel would also press Moscow to uphold its written commitments under the Minsk peace process aimed at ending the violence in eastern Ukraine. He said Merkel would assure Putin that sanctions against Moscow could be lifted quickly if Moscow demonstrated its resolve to implement the Minsk agreement. “But Moscow has known that for some time, so the ability to add pressure is very limited,” he said.

Iraqi Forces Kill 3 Prominent ISIS Commanders in Mosul
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/Mosul – ISIS executed 12 of its foreign and non-Iraqi Arab militants on the right side of Mosul, including prominent commanders accused of espionage for the Iraqi government and coalition forces, according to a Kurdish official. Media official of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Gaith Surji said that ISIS executed 12 of its militants accused of espionage for the Iraqi government, adding that based on the information they received, a number of military and security commanders were among the executed. Since ISIS took over Mosul in 2014, a large number of its Iraqi, Arab, and foreign militants have deflected from the organization. In addition, ISIS militants regularly fight internally over money and positions. Many of Iraqi ISIS militants are trying to escape with families leaving Mosul or go undercover as sleeper cells, according to civilians, adding that most of the remaining ISIS militants fighting security forces in Mosul are foreigners. Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat, head of the Iraqi federal police, stated that Iraqi forces killed ISIS leader Abo Ayoub after attacking his vehicle on the Fifth Bridge. Jawdat told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that according to intelligence, the police killed other commanders; Abo Abdallah in Rifai area and Nafei Abdallah and two of his bodyguards in Hawi area. Federal police’s drones and artillery continue to target ISIS clusters and movements in the strategic July 17 neighborhood, west of Mosul. In addition, 17 militants were killed during the bombardment on an ISIS outpost behind al-Sahaba mosque.Jawdat pointed out that since the initiation of the liberation operation of the right side of the city, police drones killed 859 ISIS militants, including prominent leaders, destroyed 284 booby-trapped cars and 253 booby-trapped motorcycles, and liberated over 274 kilometers so far. As for humanitarian effort, Iraqi forces rescued 265,000 civilians in combat areas, while 30,000 were able to go back to their liberated residential areas. Lieutenant General Jawdat concluded that the military included several new tactics on the military plans and updated their accuracy factor in targeting the enemy, in addition to using developed techniques to avoid civilian casualties.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince: Iran is trying to control the Muslim world
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 2 May 2017/Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said in an interview broadcasted on Al Arabiya TV in parallel with Saudi TV that Iran is trying to control the Muslim world.“The regime is based on an extremist ideology, so how can it be understood?” he added, while stating that Saudi Arabia is a key target of the Iranian regime.
The Deputy Crown Prince said that, “Saudi-Egyptian relations run deep,” and that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to promote differences between the two nations. He added that specialized teams are working on the King Salman bridge, linking Saudi Arabia to Egypt’s Northern Sinai, and that the stone foundation should be complete before 2020. “There is no Saudi-Egyptian dispute over the Maritime Borders Convention,” he said. Yemen. The Saudi prince said that the war in Yemen was not an option for Saudi Arabia, pointing out that if the Arab coalition forces did not intervene, the alternative would be “much worse.” He stated that the Houthi militias were a threat to international shipping and neighboring countries to Yemen. Terrorist activity in Yemen have also begun to exploit the work of these militias. “If we waited longer, the danger would be inside Saudi territory,” he added.
“We can stop the Houthis and Saleh loyalists in a few days, but we do not want civilian casualties,” he asserted. He emphasized that the Saudi armed forces achieved a great victory explaining that at the beginning of the operations the legitimacy controlled zero percent of the territory while today they have regained over 85 percent of the land. Prince Mohammed bin Salman hinted that the international coalition, which includes more than 60 countries, has been fighting ISIS and was only able to recover one third of the territory of Iraq and Syria since 2014. While the 10 countries led by Saudi Arabia achieved a major accomplishment in just a short period of time, which in itself is a major achievement for Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi prince said that the situation in Syria “very complex” and that former US President Barack “Obama missed important opportunities to make changes there.”“Escalated tensions between major powers in Syria could lead to international crisis,” he added.

White House source: Trump to press Abbas to halt payments to terrorists
Reuters/Jerusalem Post/May 03/17/WASHINGTON - Donald Trump’s national security adviser described his boss’s foreign policy approach as "disruptive" on the eve of the US president’s first White House meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying his unconventional ways could create an opportunity to ultimately help stabilize the Middle East. Trump faces deep skepticism at home and abroad over his chances for a breakthrough with Abbas, not least because the new US administration has yet to articulate a cohesive strategy for restarting long-stalled peace talks. Seeming to brush aside such concerns, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told an Israel Independence Day celebration in Washington on Tuesday night that Trump “does not have time to debate over doctrine” and instead seeks to challenge failed policies of the past with a businessman’s results-oriented approach. Trump’s unpredictability has rattled friends and foes alike around the world. Some analysts doubt Trump can succeed where experienced Middle East hands failed for decades, especially when trust between Israelis and Palestinians is at a low point. “The president is not a super-patient man,” McMaster said. “Some people have described him as disruptive. They're right. And this is good – good because we can no longer afford to invest in policies that do not advance the interests and values of the United States and our allies.”Trump’s meeting with Abbas, the Western-backed head of the Palestinian Authority, will be another test of whether Trump, in office a little more than 100 days, is serious about pursuing what he has called the “ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace that eluded his predecessors. Abbas’s White House talks on Wednesday follow a mid-February visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who moved quickly to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama. Though expectations are low, plans are being firmed up for Trump to visit the Israeli leader in Jerusalem and possibly Abbas in the West Bank, possibly on May 22-23, according to people familiar with the matter. US and Israeli officials have declined to confirm the visit.
Questions have been raised about Trump’s choice of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who entered the White House with no government experience, to oversee Middle East peace efforts, along with Trump’s longtime business lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as on-the-ground envoy. A decorated Army general, McMaster said “arduous circumstances,” including Islamic State militancy and a growing regional threat from Iran “may allow us to resolve what some have regarded as intractable problems, problems like disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.”“President Trump has taken a typically unconventional and fresh approach to this problem,” McMaster said in a rare public speech. Having campaigned on an "America First" platform, Trump has acted forcefully against Syrian President Bashar Assad with no clear policy prescription and engaged in brinkmanship with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
The White House has been vague about what Trump hopes to accomplish with Abbas. US-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2014. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump would press the Palestinian leader to halt payments by the PLO to families of militants jailed by Israel and to stop anti-Israel incitement by Palestinian media. The administration seeks to enlist Israel's Sunni Arab neighbors, who share Israeli concerns about Shi'ite Iran, to help rejuvenate Middle East peacemaking.

Trump assures Abbas Israeli-Palestinian peace
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Wednesday, 3 May 2017/US President Donald Trump welcomed Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to the White House Wednesday for what he hoped would be “terrific” talks on relaunching the Middle East peace process. Trump assured Abbas that he sees a “very good chance” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and that “we will get it done.” He added: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”The US president greeted Abbas on the White House lawn, barely two and a half months after having received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Hopefully something terrific can come out between the Palestinians and Israel,” the Republican president said as their meeting got underway in the Oval Office. Meanwhile, Abbas said “peace” would allow Israel an opportunity to normalize ties with the Arab states. He also added that a peace deal based on a two-state solution would aid the fight against terrorism.(With agencies)

Trump Tries to Make Progress in Mideast Peace by Meeting Abbas Wednesday
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/US President Donald Trump is set to hold talks at the White House on Wednesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he bids to achieve steps towards peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, the self-styled deal-maker-in-chief will host Abbas for the first time since coming to office. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. That long-shot effort — which has eluded US presidents since the 1970s — got off to a rocky start early in Trump’s administration when the president renounced US support for a Palestinian state and vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, breaking two tenets of US policy held for decades. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said Trump is still “giving serious consideration into moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”That move would likely spark Palestinian fury and is privately seen by many in the Israel and US security establishments as needlessly inflammatory. At the same time, Trump has urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world. Pence said Trump is “personally committed to resolving the Israeli and Palestinian conflict” and “valuable progress” is being made. “Momentum is building and goodwill is growing,” he said at an Israeli Independence Day event at the White House. Abbas makes the trip to Washington while politically unpopular back home, with polls suggesting most Palestinians want the 82-year-old to resign. His term was meant to expire in 2009, but he has remained in office with no elections held. But he will be hoping Trump can pressure Israel into concessions he believes are necessary to salvage a two-state solution to one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. Palestinian officials have seen their cause overshadowed by worry over global concerns such as the war in Syria and ISIS terror group, and want Trump’s White House to bring it back to the forefront. A group of three influential Republican Senators — Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham — have called on Trump to ask Abbas to stop funding Palestinian prisoners and their families. That could prose major domestic political headaches for Abbas, as he battles unpopularity and challenges from rival factions. The issue of stipends for families of Palestinians killed or jailed in the context of the conflict with Israel is sensitive. Israel considers such payments a reward for terrorists, but stopping them seems untenable to Abbas, especially at a time of broad Palestinian support for a mass hunger strike of prisoners held by Israel. While Abbas will be challenged on the payments, Trump will also use their meeting to recommit the United States to helping the Palestinians improve their economic conditions, said the US officials, who weren’t authorized to publicly preview the talks and demanded anonymity. But according to former White House official Dennis Ross, Trump is in some ways helping Abbas by extending the White House invite. But mutual distrust between Palestinians and Israelis will be a formidable, if not impossible, barrier for Trump to overcome. The peace process has been stalled since 2014 when former Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to lead the sides into peace talks collapsed. Since then, there have been no serious attempts to get negotiations restarted. The Obama administration spent its last months in office attempting to preserve conditions for an eventual resumption. “We hope this will be a new beginning,” Abbas told Palestinians at a meeting in Washington on the eve of the talks. He blamed the lack of dialogue in recent years on the Israeli government, saying its leaders “have no political vision,” and reiterated his demands for an independent Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital. “Without this we will not accept any solution,” said Abbas, who touted an Arab League peace plan that offers Israel diplomatic relations with the Muslim world for a Palestinian state. “There is no alternative.”Israel rejects the 1967 lines as a possible border, saying it would impose grave security risks. Netanyahu hasn’t outlined an alternative demarcation. Abbas also criticized ideas for a “one state” peace agreement, saying it could mean “racial discrimination” or an apartheid-like system. Left unspoken was the apparent reference to Trump.

UNESCO: Jerusalem is Occupied, Israel Has No Sovereignty over City
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/Ramallah – Amid a Palestinian applaud and an Israeli dismay, the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted on Tuesday on considering Jerusalem an occupied city. The majority of the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board voted on a Palestinian-Arab draft resolution, which stated that Jerusalem’s Old City is “entirely Palestinian” and described Israel as an “occupying power” that has no sovereignty over the city. The text of the resolution reaffirmed the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls to the three monotheistic religions. It also affirmed the Islamic character of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) and Rachel’s Tomb in the city Bethlehem. The resolution was backed by 22 countries. The United States, Germany, Italy and seven other board members voted against it. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki mocked the Israeli campaign launched against the resolution. “We will defend our heritage and culture, our past and our future,” Malki said. Instead, the UNESCO decision strongly angered Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We reject UNESCO,” claiming that “throughout Jewish history, Jerusalem was the heart of our nation.” In a separate development, the Fatah Movement quickly commented on the Hamas movement’s new political platform that was announced on Monday and which accepted the idea of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 border. As head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal was discussing some details of the new program at a hotel in Doha on Monday night, Fatah spokesperson Osama al-Qawasme said: “Hamas’s new document is identical to that adopted by Fatah in 1988. It took Hamas 30 years to come out with our same position,” by accepting the idea of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 border. Al-Qawasme said Hamas is required to make an apology to Fatah “after 30 years of accusing us of treason for that policy.”

Human Rights Watch blasts Hamas for holding 3 Israelis in Gaza
Tovah Lazaroff/Jerusalem Post/May 03/17 /In a report released on Wednesday, the international NGO called on the terror group ruling in Gaza to release the three men that are believed to be forcibly held in the Strip.
Human Rights Watch called on Hamas to release three Israeli men believed to be forcibly held in Gaza: Avera Mengistu (30), Hisham al-Sayed (29) and Jumaa Abu Ghanima (19).
The plight of the missing men, who suffer from mental illness, has received little media attention in Israel. Mengistu is a Jewish Ethiopian immigrant and the other two men are Beduin. There is nothing “heroic” about the forced disappearance of men with mental illness that belong to marginalized communities in Israel, HRW said. The international NGO released a report about the men on Wednesday, based on interviews it conducted with their friends and family as well as Israeli and Hamas officials. It also reviewed medical and military documents. “Hamas’s refusal to confirm its apparent prolonged detention of men with mental health conditions and no connection to the hostilities is cruel and indefensible,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director. “No grievance or objective can justify holding people incommunicado and bartering over their fates.” In its report, the group separated out Mengistu and al-Sayed, saying that there is stronger evidence that the two are held by Hamas, as opposed to Abu Ghanima for whom the case is much weaker. There is photographic and technological evidence that Mengistu crossed into Gaza in September 2014 and al-Sayed in April 2015, HRW said. According to Abu Ghanima’s family, the young man crossed into Gaza in July 2016, but there is no indent evidence from Israel or Hamas to corroborate that account, HRW said. The report did not focus on two IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, presumed to be casualties of the 2014 Gaza war whose bodies are believed to be held by Hamas. HRW’s call to Hamas in its report referred solely to the three men presumed to be alive. Under international law, Hamas is obligated to release these men who entered Gaza for reasons unrelated to the conflict, HRW said.“The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the state of Palestine ratified in April 2014, also provides protections for people with psycho-social, or mental health, disabilities, including freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment and equal access to justice, which may include reasonable accommodations that take into account their disability,” HRW said. “Enforced disappearance violates many of the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the state of Palestine ratified in 2014, including the requirement to bring detainees promptly before a judge,” HRW said. “International human rights law would require authorities to detain [the men] solely according to clear domestic law, which would mean either to charge them with a recognizable crime or release them. The same principles would apply to Abu Ghanima if he is in custody,” HRW said. It dismissed Hamas attempts to portray Mengistu and al-Sayed as IDF soldiers. “An April 2016 video issued by the Hamas military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, refers to both Mengistu and al-Sayed as soldiers, showing each in photographs, which appear to be photoshopped, in military uniforms, alongside photographs of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin,” HRW said. “Documents Human Rights Watch reviewed indicate that an Israeli Defense Forces medical committee found Mengistu 'unfit for [military] service]' in March 2013 and exempted him from mandatory conscription," the NGO stated, going on to say that "they also indicate that al-Sayed volunteered for military services in August 2008, but was discharged less than three months later after the military determined him 'incompatible for service,' and is not part of the reserve forces."Hamas, according to HRW, has insisted that it will not divulge any information about the missing men until Israel releases 54 of its members imprisoned in Israeli jails. Those men were released as part of the 2011 deal between Israel and Hamas to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, but were then arrested again by the IDF in 2014. Their arrest was conducted as part of Israel’s crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank in response to the group’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

King Mohammed VI, Francois Hollande Reiterate Trust in Bilateral Partnership
Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17/Rabat – Moroccan King Mohammed VI held talks with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday at the Elysee Palace as the two parties reiterated the depth of partnership between their two countries. Elysee sources said that the talks discussed political and cultural affairs and lasted for 20 minutes before the king and the president headed to a luncheon in the presence of members of the governments, friends of Morocco and France and members of civil society, in a symbol of the strong and multifaceted ties between the two countries, said a statement by the Moroccan Royal Office. The statement noted that the two heads of state expressed their mutual feelings of esteem and respect, which they said were the basis of the renewal of French-Moroccan partnerships in security, sustainable development, culture and education. The two leaders expressed their confidence in the vitality of this exceptional partnership, which maintains a strategic scope for the two countries bilaterally and also at the level of Euro-Mediterranean and African development, the statement added. Hollande congratulated King Mohammed on his Kingdom’s return to the African Union and welcomed Morocco’s strong initiatives towards the development of the continent. For his part, King Mohammed VI thanked the French president for his personal commitment to French-Moroccan friendship and assured him of Morocco’s support in strengthening and deepening relations between the two countries, the statement said. The Moroccan King was the first head of state to be received by Hollande following the latter’s election in May 24, 2012. This visit comes during Hollande’s final days in the Elysee Palace as his mandate is expected to end in mid-May.

Libya’s rivals eye ‘strategy’ for ‘unified army’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Wednesday, 3 May 2017/Libya’s rivals have called for efforts to end crisis, the head of UN-backed unity government and a rival military commander said Wednesday, with the former adding that the two agreed on a “strategy” to “form a unified army.”The breakthrough came after the government of National Accord (GNA) leader Fayez al-Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control most of eastern Libya including key oil ports, held rare talks Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates. On Wednesday, they called for a resolution to Libya’s political and economic crisis and for joint efforts to battle extremist groups in separate statements. During the talks, the issue of how to form a new Libyan army also loomed large. Sarraj, whose unity government has struggled to impose its control across Libya since it was formed in 2015, said Wednesday the two sides had agreed to put in place “a strategy... to form a unified Libyan army” under civil control. Meanwhile, Haftar’s statement said the two sides had agreed to allow “the military establishment... to fully play its role in the fight against terrorism.”Haftar, who commands a self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), is accused of wanting to install a new military dictatorship in Libya, rocked by a complex multi-sided conflict since the fall and death of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Both men said they had agreed to put an end to violence in southern Libya, where LNA and pro-GNA forces have clashed in early April around an air base on the edge of the southern city of Sebha. Haftar is backed by Libya’s parliament based in the country’s east, as well as by the UAE and Egypt. That parliament has refused to recognize the GNA, formed under a United Nations-backed deal that gave no role to Haftar and his forces. There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days to try to reconcile the rival administrations Libya’s east and west. On Sunday, UN envoy Martin Kobler held talks in Sudan, a supporter of Sarraj’s administration. On Monday, he met Mahmud Jibril, who headed Libya’s interim government during the NATO-backed rebellion that toppled and killed Qaddafi.(With AFP)

N. Korea State Media Confirms Arrest of US Professor
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 03/17/North Korea on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of a US professor for trying to "overturn" the regime, as tensions spike between the isolated nuclear-armed nation and Washington. Kim Sang-Duk, or Tony Kim, became the third American held in the North when he was detained at the capital's airport on April 22 as he tried to leave the country, after teaching for several weeks at an elite university. In the North's first confirmation of the professor's detention, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said he had been held for "committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn the DPRK", using an abbreviation for the country's official name. It added that Kim was "under detention by a relevant law enforcement body which is conducting detailed investigation into his crimes". The confirmation of Kim's detention comes as Pyongyang issues increasingly belligerent rhetoric in a tense stand off with the administration of new US President Donald Trump over its rogue weapons programme. Kim had been teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which said last month that the professor had been held. The school -- founded by evangelical Christians from overseas and opened in 2010 -- is known to have a number of American faculty members and pupils are generally children from the country's elite. In a statement in late April the university said the arrest was "not connected in any way with the work of PUST". It added that the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang -- which handles issues involving US citizens as Washington has no diplomatic ties with the North -- was "actively involved" in talks. Kim is a former professor at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China, close to the Korean border. Its website lists his speciality as accounting. South Korea's Yonhap news agency has given Kim's age as 55 and said he had been involved in relief activities for children in rural parts of North Korea. It cited a source familiar with the matter who described Kim as a "religiously devoted man". Two other US citizens -- college student Otto Warmbier and Korean-American pastor Kim Dong-Chul -- are currently being held in the North after being sentenced to long prison terms. The pastor was sentenced last year to 10 years of hard labour for spying. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in 2016 for stealing a propaganda material and for "crimes against the state". North Korea has arrested and jailed several US citizens in the past decade, often releasing them only after high-profile visits by current or former US officials or former US presidents. Pyongyang, which has conducted a string of nuclear tests and missile launches, warned Monday that it was prepared to carry out another atomic test "at any time and at any location" set by its leadership unless Washington scraps its hostile policies. Trump has suggested military action could be on the table in the past but on Monday seemed to soften his message, saying he would be "honored" to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.

Powerful IS-Claimed Blast Targets NATO Convoy in Kabul
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 03/17/A powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy in Kabul killed at least eight people and wounded 28 Wednesday, including three coalition members, officials said in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. The explosion, which came during morning rush hour on a busy road near the US embassy and NATO headquarters, killed "mostly" civilians, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP without giving a breakdown. NATO said three coalition service members had received "non-life threatening wounds" in the attack.
"(They) are in stable condition, and are currently being treated at coalition medical facilities," a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan said, without confirming their nationalities. IS claimed responsibility for the blast via its Amaq propaganda agency, saying the eight dead were all American soldiers. The militants are known to exaggerate their claims. The attack comes three weeks after the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on the jihadist group's hideous in eastern Afghanistan. NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said the strike, which triggered global shockwaves, showed there was "no space" for IS in the war-torn country. Monday's attack comes as the US seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan and NATO mulls boosting troop levels as they face a "stalemate" against the resurgent Taliban. The blast, which IS said was a suicide car bomb and NATO said was an improvised explosive device (IED), damaged two of the heavily armoured vehicles in the convoy and left a small crater in the road, witnesses and an AFP photographer said. MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, which are designed to withstand large explosions, are routinely used by international forces moving around Kabul. At least three civilian cars were also damaged, with one ablaze, while windows were shattered up to several hundred metres away. Firefighters and ambulances rushed stunned survivors to hospital. Nicholson has said the US decision to drop the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast on IS hideouts in Nangarhar province last month was a "very clear message" to the group: "If they come to Afghanistan they will be destroyed". Some observers have condemned the move against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat to Afghanistan as the Taliban. Others suggested it would boost the Taliban, who have been in a turf war with IS in Nangarhar. The weapon, dubbed the "Mother of All Bombs", killed at least 95 jihadists, according to the Afghan defence ministry, but fighting in the area has continued. Last week, two US troops were killed in an operation against IS near where the bomb was dropped. The Pentagon has said it is investigating if they were killed by friendly fire. - Grinding conflictPentagon chief Jim Mattis warned of "another tough year" for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan when he visited Kabul last month. He would not be drawn on calls by Nicholson for a "few thousand" more troops to break the "stalemate" against the Taliban insurgents. But NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a German newspaper Sunday that the 28-nation alliance was considering boosting its troop strength once more given the "challenging" security situation. The US has around 8,400 troops in the country with about another 5,000 from NATO allies. Most are taking part in NATO's train, assist and advise mission, though some are also carrying out counter-terror missions targeting IS and Al-Qaeda.
First emerging in 2015, ISIS-K overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border, but their part in the Afghan conflict had been largely overshadowed by the operations against the Taliban. Captain Bill Salvin, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said the local IS presence peaked at between 2,500 to 3,000 but that defections and recent battlefield losses had reduced their number to a maximum of 800. "We have a very good chance of destroying them in 2017," Salvin told AFP recently. Afghan forces have been straining to beat back the Taliban insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014. With more than one third of Afghanistan outside of government control, civilians also continue to bear a heavy brunt, with thousands killed and wounded each year and children paying an increasingly disproportionate price, according to UN figures.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 03-04/17
Following Church Bombings, Egyptian Researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher Slams Al-Azhar Teachings: Vile Deformed Jurisprudence
MEMRI/May 03/17
Following the April 9 attacks on two Coptic churches in Egypt, researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher issued an impassioned plea to hold Al-Azhar accountable for its teachings of "depraved and criminal jurisprudence." "Al-Azhar has been taken over by Salafism and Wahhabism," said Maher, who warned about its books' anti-Christian and anti-Jewish teachings. "Why don't they teach about Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, the greatest discovery ever?" he asked in the interview, which aired on Mayadeen TV on April 13.
Ahmad Abdou Maher: "The truth is that we have been afflicted with people who think that the Lord has guided no one but them. These are the people of Al-Azhar. For five years, until 2015, I fought them to replace the heritage books, which are filled, loaded, and even booby-trapped, with destruction, and with the killings of others, especially the Christians and the Jews. But it was all to no avail."
"All these books strive to spread depraved jurisprudence, or criminal jurisprudence, manifest three days ago (in the bombing of churches in Egypt). Brother, we are in crisis, caused by Sheikh of Al-Azhar and his men."
"Is Sheikh of Al-Azhar really a 'symbol of Islam?' Does Islam have any symbol other than the holy Quran? Does Islam have any god other than Allah? How come that man does not resign?
"Brother, Al-Azhar does not want to cleanse the Muslim compilation of the Hadith, where it is said that Muslims must not greet Jews and Christians, and that if they meet them on the road, they must force them to its narrowest alley. The same thing is said in the Bukhari compilation of the Hadith. In the Muslim compilation, it is said that on Judgement Day, a Christian and a Jew would be brought for every Muslim, and Allah would tell him: 'These two will spare you the Hellfire.' Is this something a god says?! Do the Al-Azhar people really worship Allah?! Or maybe they worship some other god..."
"This culture instills the jurisprudence of hatred and malice. Such a culture does not spring up overnight. Our president and the Egyptian security agencies should be alert to this culture. In the General Intelligence Service, they should read these books, so that they know what catastrophes appear in them, affecting security. Imagine what would happen if the Christians acted like the Muslims. 92 million Egyptians would find themselves in a civil war. This must be taken seriously and dealt with severely and forcefully. Any person - any creature - who believes that he is preaching the religion of Allah through this nonsense and this deformed jurisprudence must be removed from office."
"The sad truth is that the government has left all matters of Islam in the hands of Al-Azhar, and Al-Azhar has been taken over by Salafism and Wahhabism. Brother, you may refer to the Saudi kingdom and its blood-soaked Wahhabi jurisprudence. That kingdom shatters everything around it. It practices its own private religion, which it calls 'Islam,' but which has nothing to do with Islam."
"Can you believe that in our country, where we profess to believe in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran, Al-Azhar teaches this book, which says that it is permissible to wipe your bottom with pages torn from the Torah or the New Testament?! It is right here, on page 73. This filth, this vile jurisprudence, is taught to our sons at Al-Azhar, and then you wonder why we are the way we are? The state is snowballing with Wahhabism, and it no longer knows where its core is. The core is gone, and Salafism has completely taken over. The state must give the intellectuals and enlightened researchers a chance. Stop fighting the reforms. Stop spreading rumors that we have Colonialist agendas and that we are striving to destroy Islam. What religion do they believe in? One that kills apostates, kills people who do not pray, kills theological dissidents, kills Jews, kills Christians, kills everybody?
"Does Allah give life to people just so that this bunch will kill them?! Does Allah send killers to wage Jihad for His cause?! Is Jihad for the sake of Allah waged by killers and suicide bombers?! Brother, true Islam has disappeared from our country. We have been following Wahhabi Islam, which was fought against by the great Muhammad Ali Pasha."

A Palestinian state on 1967 borders: Is Hamas going to Hajj as everyone is leaving?
David Hearst/Middle East Eye/May 03/17
The launch of Hamas’s new declaration of principles on Monday night proved as complex as the document itself. The management of the Intercontinental Hotel in Doha cancelled the booking for the news conference at the last moment, and the week before, the Hamas delegation in Cairo was refused permission to leave, because Egypt claimed a piece of the action. Hamas is reaching for the borders of 1967 at the exact time when everyone else who has been pursuing an independent state next to Israel is abandoning this patch of land .The logistical difficulty of holding a news conference outside Gaza was emblematic of Hamas’s imprisonment inside the enclave. And a good reason why the political leadership now wants to break out of its confinement by stating a position closer to other Palestinian factions. This process, however, is fraught with difficulty for Hamas. Almost with one voice, the Western media interpreted the document as a softening of Hamas’ position on Israel and as a challenge to Fatah’s monopoly of the principle of a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967. However, the document itself set three conditions which fell short of following Fatah on its doomed journey. It refused to recognise Israel, refused to relinquish its claim on all the land from the river to the sea, and demanded the unfettered return of all Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless on Tuesday, the reaction on the Palestinian street and on social media followed the same logic: if there is no difference between Hamas and Fatah on the borders of a future Palestinian state, why all the years of infighting between the two factions? And why should anyone now vote for Hamas? What is different about it?
Strategic shift
That is a good question. There is no doubt Hamas went into this debate with its eyes open. Unlike the original charter which was written by one man in a state of war, this document was the fruit of four years of internal debate. The document itself was extensively leaked. The message was backed by the leadership. There is no doubt it represents a deliberate and major strategic shift.
But is the strategy itself right?
Hamas is reaching for the borders of 1967 at the exact time when everyone else who has been pursuing an independent state next to Israel is abandoning this patch of land. Almost 24 years after Oslo, the brights lights of settlements twinkle every night on almost every hillock in the West Bank.
There are 200,000 settlers in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and 400,000 in the West Bank. Outside the three main settlement blocks, which Israel refuses to abandon, there are a further 150,000 settlers. Two decades of peace process has led to the irreparable fragmentation of a putative Palestinian state.
Israel itself has all but abandoned the idea of a separate Palestinian state. Barring the little piece of theatre produced by the evacuation of Amona (here’s a maths question: if 3,000 police spent 24 hours evacuating 40 families, how many would it take to evacuate 600,000 settlers?) the political mood in Israel is turning now to annexation.
To use the standard Arabic warning given to latecomers, is Hamas going to Hajj when everyone is leaving?
Staying true to principles
At the news conference in Doha, the outgoing political leader Khaled Meshaal was asked whether Hamas would now negotiate with Israel. This too is a good question.
The new strategic position of Hamas places it in a unique situation. If Hamas stays true to its principles, which is not to recognise Israel, it cannot sit down at a negotiating table with representatives of the Israeli state.
To be true to its principles and to reap the political benefits of entering politics, Hamas would have to accept the one-state solution
This means it has to rely on other Palestinian factions to make the necessary compromises on borders, refugees, Jerusalem, while Hamas essentially looks the other way in the name of keeping the consensus. This, in turn, means that Hamas cannot lead the political process or even derive much benefit from it.
This puts Hamas in a different position from say, the IRA, under the leadership of the late Martin McGuinness. Both Hamas and the IRA have seen the limits of military action, although the IRA did not start the decommissioning process until a peace accord was reached. Both were drawn to politics as a way of achieving a united Palestine and a united Ireland.
McGuinness’s recent death produced tributes from the most unlikely of quarters. People who, in my days as reporter in Belfast, would have cast McGuinness as the devil incarnate, praised the journey he travelled from IRA leader to Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. Lady Paisley, the wife of the late Ian Paisley, McGuinness’s first partner in the power-sharing government, claimed the Republican experienced something akin to St Paul’s conversion at Damascus.
Gerry Adams rightly denied this. He said McGuinness remained a committed Republican, who never abandoned his IRA comrades as a result of the peace process or power-sharing with Unionists.
In other words, the Republican movement ended the armed struggle while staying true to its principles of a united Ireland (one which, if Brexit happens, is probably closer to being realised than at any time before, ironically at the behest of Brussels).
This is exactly the dilemma now facing a Hamas which recognises the 1967 borders. How can it enter the PLO and be part of the leadership of the Palestinian people and stay true to its principles? If it negotiates, it abandons its principles and effaces any difference with Fatah. If it leaves the negotiation to others, it cannot be part of the leadership.
Sinn Fein has now become the largest political party on the island of Ireland. This is not Hamas's destiny if it limits its vision of a Palestinian state to 1967 borders. It would neither end the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, nor would it solve the problem of the abandonment of Palestinians inside 1948 Israel, nor would it solve the problem of the refugees.
The real choice, the real enemy
Israel has long since abandoned the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and even the most generous models discussed the return of only 100,000, out of a potential diaspora of six million.
The real choice today is between a one-state solution enforced by Israel or a political entity where Jew and Arab are treated as equal
And why would Israel accept Hamas as a negotiator when it has rejected Fatah, which has for more than 20 years been its most flexible friend? What incentive would Israel have to negotiate a "hudna" with Hamas, when it knew that from Hamas's point of view, this would not be an end of conflict?
To stay Hamas, to be true to its principles and to reap the political benefits of entering politics, the movement would have to accept the one-state solution, which would do all of the things Hamas has strived for. It would allow Hamas to lead the PLO. It would reunite a fragmented Palestinian people. It would represent Palestinians who are citizens inside Israel and the Palestinian diaspora.
It would give Palestinians a clear vision in a world where the real choice is not between a one-state or a two-state solution. The real choice today is between a one-state solution enforced by Israel or a political entity where Jew and Arab are treated as equal.
The major achievement of this document is to redefine the enemy. In the original charter, it was Jews and Judaism. In this document, Hamas's enemy is the Zionist project of settlement and occupation. The two are very different, and have been throughout Jewish history, both after and before the Balfour Declaration.
This redefinition could open the path for talks and for peace. But it will need a clear vision for the way forward. It certainly is a bold step. It may not, however, be the final one.
- David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

Promises: Tricks Used by Assad’s Allies/الوعود حيلة حلفاء الأسد
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 03/17
During the years of war and negotiations, Damascus’ regime allies resorted to lessening political pressures on them by selling empty promises. They would say something like: “Don’t worry. We are seriously considering changing Bashar al-Assad and putting an end to the fighting.”
Then few weeks later, an interview is published in some newspaper clarifying that “we don’t care about Assad and we accept changing him, but only after Assad finishes his presidential term. We don’t want to violate the constitution.”
Everybody eventually waited, elections occurred in 2014, and the president won in per his usual play.
Then, days pass by and battles intensified and Assad’s forces retreated after which pressures were exerted and promises made. They’d say: “Be patient. We are looking for an alternative for the regime, or at least for the president himself.”
After a long wait, Assad allies announce they accept a political solution based on a joint government with the opposition.
Then, after months of talks, another clarification is released saying the opposition they meant is the one affiliated with the regime and has nothing to do with the “real opposition.”
The war is back and worse than before. When crimes are committed, pressures are once again exerted and regime allies announce they are discussing new ideas for a peaceful solution. They even hint at changing the president.
Later, they submit a new political project: “We agree on a president elected by the Syrian people”. That is both nice and reasonable. But when we go into details, which people do they mean?
The people they meant are the ones in regime-controlled areas. Whereas the 16 million other Syrians outside their authority are considered terrorists.
And so, the situation deteriorates and wars return and so do promises.
The opposition doesn’t win and neither does the regime. Because of the killings and deflections, the regime is only left with a small part of its army and security forces.
The regime forces are mostly a combination of foreign militias organized and managed by Iran.
We have learned never to believe any of the Syrian and Russian political projects. It is a negotiation tactic aiming to calm down international protests, neglect demands, and drain the enthusiasm and with time no one gets anything.
I assume this is happening now in Astana talks. Very reassuring information were leaked about the negotiations to an extent were we can sense it is only for media consumption.
The sources claim that Russia agreed to replace Assad and even suggested alternatives for him! Whether they truly say it or not, recent years have taught us that promises are lies. Keeping in mind that the bigger the promise the faker it becomes, they are just traps to let go of the demands. They will be followed by explosive barrels, more displacement and increase of chaos in the region.
Let’s ponder about this. Can the Syrian regime’s allies feel the need a reasonable political solution and end all those charade of delusional political resolutions?
There is at least one case which prompts them to be engaged in serious negotiations and end the war. The solution lays in lifting the ban on arming the Syrian opposition. Positions will change if Syria became a large swamp for Iran and its militias. Only then would Tehran be forced into serious negotiations.
Now, war is relatively cheap for Iran. Whenever a thousand Iraqi or Pakistani or Lebanese fighters die, they replace them with one thousand new ones. But, they are not losing airplane or armored vehicles because the armory of the opposition’s weapons are simple like: AK47, RPG, and locally developed weapons such as the hell canon.
As long as Iran’s losses in Syria are mostly human and of other nationalities with inexpensive political costs, they can proceed with their regional project and this war thus goes on for years.
Opposing sides usually reconcile under the pressures of battle losses. But, the losses in Syria are mostly of foreign fighters imported by the Assad regime, or civilians on the other side bombed with barrels or launching missiles without any means of defense.
That’s why we see in the Syrian war a larger number of displaced citizens than any other war. They have exceeded the 12 million because their only available method of defense is to just leave. If the aim is a reasonable political one, then it requires the reconsideration of dealing with and arming the opposition in order to make everyone sit at the table of negotiations.

France: What is the Presidential Campaign Really About?
Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/May 03/17
The result of this mess is that France as one country no longer exists.
People who voted for Le Pen seem to feel not only that they lost their jobs, but that they are becoming foreigners in their own country.
Macron, for many analysts, is the candidate of the status quo: Islamists are not a problem and reforming the job market will supposedly solve all France's problems.
The French presidential race is the latest election to shake up establishment politics. The Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains, who have been calling the shots for the past forty years, were voted out of the race. The "remainers" are Emmanuel Macron, a clone of Canada's Prime Minster Justin Trudeau; and Marine Le Pen, whom many believe will not win.
France is a fractured country. As in the US and the UK, the rift is not between the traditional left and right. Instead, it reflects divisions -- cultural, social, and economic -- that came with globalization and mass migration. A map released by the Ministry of the Interior after the first round of the presidential campaign illustrates the new political scenery.
Blue represents the parts of France where Le Pen heads the list; pink, the areas supporting Macron. The blue areas coincide with old industrial areas, deeply damaged by globalization and industrial relocation. Many blue-collar workers are on welfare; and the antagonism between Muslims and non-Muslims is high. People who voted for Le Pen seem to feel not only that they lost their jobs, but that they are becoming foreigners in their own country.
The areas in pink (Macron), represent the big cities and places where the better jobs are. It also represents the areas where the "upper classes can afford to raise invisible barriers between themselves and the 'other', immigrants or minorities," explains Christophe Guilluy, geographer, and author of Le crépuscule de la France d'en haut (The Twilight of Elite France).
The result of this mess is that France as one country no longer exists. One half the population (in blue-collar areas, small towns and rural areas) is shut out by the other half of the population (white-collar workers) who live in the big cities.
Guilluy adds:
"The job market has become deeply polarized and mainly concentrated in big cities, squeezing out the middle classes. For the first time in history, working people no longer live in the places where jobs and wealth are created."
"But social issues are not the only determinant of the populist vote. Identity is also essential, linked as it is to the emergence of a multicultural society, which feeds anxiety in working-class environments. At a time of fluctuating majorities and minorities, amid demographic instability, the fear of tipping into a minority is creating considerable cultural insecurity in developed countries. Unlike the upper classes, who can afford to raise invisible barriers between themselves and the 'other' (immigrants or minorities), the working classes want a powerful state apparatus to protect them, socially and culturally. So, the populist surge is re-activating a real class vote."
The question is if frustration and anger against globalization and immigration will succeed in electing Le Pen.
This frustration was not made lighter by the abysmal level of the debate. During the presidential campaign, the media focused only on political scandals: the presumed "fake job" offenses committed by François Fillon. Week after week, other presumed "political scandals" were continually released against him by a satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné. Organized or not, these allegations overtook any discussion about the real problems in France: the extraordinary proportion of people on welfare, for instance. France's unemployment rate stands at 9.9% (compared to 3.9% Germany and 4.7% in Great Britain); French GDP growth is one of the weakest of eurozone (1.1% vs 1.7% for eurozone, and 1.9% for EU); and France's public debt, which accounted for 89.5% of GDP in 2012, is expected to reach 96% of GDP in 2017.
Most of all, the "French Islamist problem" remained undebated and unchanged. After two years of continuous terrorist attacks, after five years of continuous Muslim immigration, after dozens of Muslim riots, big and small, in the suburbs of big cities, millions of French people were expecting a change -- or at least a public conversation. But, intentionally or not, these questions were avoided by the media.
The expected victory of Emmanuel Macron -- a perfect product of the French techno-sphere -- dashes any hopes of addressing the frightening questions of Muslim immigration; Muslim no-go-zones (more than a hundred); the spread of Salafism among Muslim youths, and of the general secession of the French Muslim community.
Macron, young and modern, cautiously avoided talking about these problems. Macron, for many analysts, is the candidate of the status quo: Islamists are not a problem and reforming the job market will supposedly solve all France's problems.
French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen. (Image source: LCI video screenshot)
The results of the first round on April 23 showed that roughly 45% of the votes cast were motivated by protest and anger against globalization and dilution of the French nation's sovereignty inside the European Union. The leftist populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19% of the voters) refused to endorse Macron in the runoff.
Inside Les Républicains, the big party loser of the first round, no one knows if a significant percentage might turn to Le Pen.
On May 7, more than 228 years after the French Revolution, the destiny of France may be seriously different -- and whatever the result of the presidential election, possibly not for the best.
Yves Mamou is a journalist and author based in France. He worked for two decades for the daily, Le Monde, before his retirement.

The Death of Facts
Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/May 03/17
Needless to say, none of this is true. Nowhere has Heather Mac Donald suggested that black people or any other type of person has "no right to exist". The accusation is levelled without evidence. But as with all anti-free-speech activists today, the line is blurred not merely between actual words and violence, but between wholly imagined words and violence.
Every week in America brings another spate of defeats for freedom of speech. This past week it was Ann Coulter's turn (yet again) to be banned from speaking at Berkeley for what the university authorities purport to be "health and safety" reasons -- meaning the health and safety of the speaker.
Each time this happens, there are similar responses. Those who broadly agree with the views of the speaker complain about the loss of one of the fundamental rights which the Founding Fathers bestowed on the American people. Those who may be on the same political side but find the speaker somewhat distasteful find a way to be slightly muted or silent. Those who disagree with the speaker's views applaud the banning as an appropriate response to apparently imminent incitement.
The problem throughout all of this is that the reasons why people should be supporting freedom of speech (to correct themselves where they are in error, and strengthen their arguments where they are not) are actually becoming lost in America. No greater demonstration of this muddle exists than a letter put together by a group of students at Claremont McKenna College earlier this month to protest the appearance on their campus of a speaker with whom they disagreed.
Heather Mac Donald is a conservative author, journalist and fellow of the Manhattan Institute in New York. Her work has appeared in some of the world's most prestigious journals. Of course, none of that was enough to deter students at Claremont from libelling her as much as possible in advance of her speech and then preventing her speech from taking place. At Claremont McKenna College, where Mac Donald was due to speak about her recent book, The War on Cops, angry students surrounded the building, screamed obscene words and banged on the windows. Mac Donald ended up giving the speech to a mainly empty room via live video-streaming and then fleeing the university under the protection of campus security. As recent events, such as the hospitalisation of a professor at Charles Murray's recent speech at Middlebury College have shown, intimidation and violence are clearly regarded by today's North American students as legitimate means to stop people from speaking.
Heather Mac Donald, speaking at Claremont McKenna College on April 6, addressed a mainly empty room via live video-streaming, as angry student protesters surrounded the building. She then fled the college under the protection of campus security. (Image source: Claremont McKenna College video screenshot)
The reason, if any, may well come down to the possibility that facts have become diminished in importance on American campuses and have gradually lost out to the greater imperative of short-term political "narratives" and victories that come from thuggish intimidation. A letter sent to university authorities at Claremont ahead of Mac Donald's speech is one of the most important recent documents chronicling the descent of this most crucial American value, freedom of speech.
The letter to university authorities from "We, few of the Black students here at Pomona College and the Claremont Colleges" loses no time in libelling their subject:
"If engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist. Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live."
Needless to say, none of this is true. Nowhere has Mac Donald suggested that black people or any other type of person has "no right to exist". The accusation is levelled without evidence. But as with all anti-free-speech activists today, the line is blurred not merely between actual words and violence, but between wholly imagined words and violence. Thus the students write:
"Advocating for white supremacy and giving white supremacists platforms wherefrom their toxic and deadly illogic may be disseminated is condoning violence against Black people. Heather Mac Donald does not have the right to an audience at the Athenaeum, a private venue wherefrom she received compensation. Dictating and condemning non-respectable forms of protest while parroting the phrase that 'protest has a celebrated' place on campus is contradictory at best and anti-Black at worst."
Amid the semi-literacy, linguistic ostentation and intellectual dishonesty, it is hard to single out what is worst about this letter. But, against stiff competition, what is worst is that the whole thing is built on one massive misunderstanding which might also be described as a false premise.
"Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of 'subjectivity vs. objectivity' as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth--'the Truth'--is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples."
As the English philosopher Roger Scruton wrote in his book Modern Philosophy, "A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is 'merely relative,' is asking you not to believe him. So don't."
Of course, the students at Claremont go farther than this. They make claims about people that are lies, yet state them as though they are categorical truths. And then they declare that "truth" is a "construct" -- and one that they do not believe in. Their letter makes that plain, without them having any need to state the fact. But that they have stated it is convenient; it saves any honest observer from having to expend much energy considering the validity of their other claims. Anyone studying the decline of education in privileged Western democracies in the early 21st century will find documents like this immensely rewarding as historical testaments, and also a warning of what can happen when the thinking goes wrong.
*Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England.
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Populism Has Not ‘Peaked’ in Europe. The Fight Continues.
Charlotte McDonald-Gibson/The New York Times/May 03/17
Dark clouds have been hovering over Europeans who believe in an integrated, tolerant and open Continent. First came Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June, followed by Donald J. Trump’s election. Nationalists and right-wing populists seemed to be on the march. And Europhiles looked nervously ahead to a string of elections in 2017, any one of which could herald the moment when the European project began to unravel for good.
These people might be forgiven for savoring the feeling of respite recently.
The first round of France’s presidential election, on April 23, put the passionately pro-European Union independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron, ahead of Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. Polls now heavily favor Mr. Macron to beat Ms. Le Pen in the second round on Sunday. That election followed one in the Netherlands in March in which the openly Islamophobic and fervently Euroskeptic candidate, Geert Wilders, did worse than expected. And in Austria in December, the far right’s Norbert Hofer narrowly lost the presidential election to Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader.
In light of all this, many now claim that right-wing populism has peaked, and the European Union has walked back from the brink of self-destruction. But while there are many positive lessons to be drawn from the recent elections, triumphalism, which leads to complacency, would be dangerous and misplaced.
Something hasn’t peaked until it has started to decline — and to date the far right has only been ascendant. Ms. Le Pen’s National Front added around 1.2 million votes to its first-round result in 2012. Mr. Wilders’s Freedom Party now has 20 seats in the Dutch Parliament, a gain of five from 2012. The previous candidate from Mr. Hofer’s party received about 15 percent in the last presidential poll in 2010, while Mr. Hofer topped the vote in the first round and got 46 percent in the run off.
And the far right’s influence isn’t felt only at the voting booth. Derogatory language once unthinkable in a union shaped by its experiences during World War II are now commonplace. The second biggest party in the Netherlands is led by a man who has called people of Moroccan origin “scum.” Violent attacks by far-right extremists are on the rise. Germany reported nearly 10 hate crimes a day against migrants and refugees in 2016. Mayors across the Continent are under police protection because of threats from the extreme right. (And anyone under the illusion that the values of human rights, tolerance and dignity for all — enshrined in European Union treaties — can be taken for granted should visit the camps in Greece where around 62,000 refugees are trapped, many of them in dire conditions.)
But there is also plenty to celebrate for people who believe that Europe will be safer and more prosperous if countries work together and keep their doors open to the world, rather than retreat into nationalism and isolationism. And there are lessons to be learned. The biggest winners have been those leaders who embraced liberal, pro-European Union values with the same passion and emotion as the populists. Meanwhile, the traditional mainstream parties that have responded by shifting their own rhetoric toward the right have fared less well.
In the Netherlands, the Green Left party, led by the charismatic Jesse Klaver, openly embraced the Dutch tradition of tolerance and diversity with the same fervor that Mr. Wilders applied to his hatred of Muslims. Consequently, the party soared from four seats to 14. The party of the incumbent prime minister, Mark Rutte, on the other hand, lost eight seats after he made last-minute attempts to woo Wilders voters with an open letter saying that migrants who don’t integrate should leave the country.
In France, Mr. Macron matched Ms. Le Pen’s strident Euroskepticism and anti-refugee language with an unashamed passion for continental unity and multiculturalism. He praised Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who he said “saved” Europeans’ “collective dignity” when she opened her country’s doors to those fleeing persecution. Speaking of the European Union, he declared that “we are Europe; we are Brussels.” It looks set to pay off when French voters return to the polls on Sunday.
But this kind of language was utterly absent from the Remain campaign before the Brexit referendum, where leaders were too embarrassed or fearful to show such emotional support for the European Union and instead tried to make their case using facts and figures.
Europe’s next crucial election will be held in Germany in September. The far-right Alternative for Germany is forecast to get its first seats in Parliament, riding on a wave of hostility to migrants. Ms. Merkel has responded by watering down some of her open-door policies, and has backed a partial ban on the facial veil. The good news is that Ms. Merkel’s biggest challenger is not from the right, but a Social Democrat: Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament who is even more pro-European Union and pro-refugee than she is.
In all these elections, there are many domestic concerns affecting the outcome and they cannot be seen solely through the lens of support for the European Union or immigration policy. But there is one overarching message: You win by matching the emotions of the nationalists, not by pandering to them.

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/May 03/17
If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.
“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”
Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.
The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.
Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.
Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.
“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”
In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.
Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.
The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.
“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”
Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.
Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.
Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.
“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.
There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.
But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Real Bomb Is in Islam’s Books’
Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/May 03/17
During his visit to Egypt last week, “Pope Francis visited al-Azhar University, a globally respected institution for Sunni Islamic learning,” and “met with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of the government-run Al-Azhar mosque and an Islamic philosophy professor.” This has been reported by several media, often with much fanfare. Unfortunately, however, Sheikh Tayeb, once voted “world’s most influential Muslim,” and Al Azhar, the important madrassa he heads, are part of the problem, not the solution. Tayeb is a renowned master of exhibiting one face to fellow Muslims in Egypt—one that supports the death penalty for “apostates,” calls for the totality of Sharia-rule, refuses to denounce ISIS of being un-Islamic, denounces all art as immoral, and rejects the very concept of reforming Islam—and another face to non-Muslims.
Consider, for instance, the words of Islam al-Behery—a popular Egyptian Muslim reformer who frequently runs afoul of Islamists in Egypt who accuse him of blasphemy and apostasy from Islam. The day after last month’s suicide bombings of two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, the Muslim scholar was interviewed by phone on a popular Egyptian television program (Amr Adib’s kul youm, or “Every Day”). He spent most of his time on the air blasting Al Azhar and Ahmed al-Tayeb—at one point going so far as to say that “70-80 percent of all terror in the last five years is a product of Al Azhar.”
The reformer knows what he speaks of; in 2015, al- Behery’s televised calls to reform Islam so irked Al Azhar that the venerable Islamic institution accused him of “blaspheming” against Islam, which led to his imprisonment.
Now Behery says that, ever since President Sisi implored Al Azhar to make reforms to how Islam is being taught in Egypt three years ago, the authoritative madrassa “has not reformed a single thing,” only offered words. “If they were sincere about one thing, they would have protected hundreds, indeed thousands of lives from being killed in just Egypt alone,” said al-Behery.
By way of examples, the Muslim reformer pointed out that Al Azhar still uses books in its curriculum that teach things like “whoever kills an infidel, his blood is safeguarded, for the blood of an infidel and believer [Muslim] are not equal.” Similarly, he pointed to how Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb claims that ISIS members are not infidels, only deluded Muslims; but those whom they kill—such as the bombed Christians—are infidels, the worst label in Islam’s lexicon.
Debating Behery was an Al Azhar spokesman who naturally rejected the reformer’s accusations against the Islamic madrassa. He said that the source of problems in Egypt is not the medieval institution, but rather “new” ideas that came to Egypt from 20th century “radicals” like Hasan al-Bana and Sayyid Qutb, founding leaders/ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Behery’s response was refreshing; those many Western analysts who follow the same line of thinking—that “radicalism” only came after thinkers like Bana, Qutb, Mawdudi (in Pakistan) or Wahhab (in Arabia) came on the scene—would do well to listen. After saying that “blaming radicalism on these men is very delusional,” the reformer correctly added:
The man who kills himself [Islamic suicide bomber] today doesn’t kill himself because of the words of Hassan al-Bana or Sayyid al-Qutb, or anyone else. He kills himself because of what the consensus of the ulema, and the four schools of jurisprudence, have all agreed to. Hassan al-Bana did not create these ideas [of jihad against infidels and apostates, destroying churches, etc.]; they’ve been around for many, many centuries…. I am talking about Islam [now], not how it is being taught in schools.
By way of example, Behery said if anyone today walks into any Egyptian mosque or bookstore and asks for a book that contains the rulings of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, “everything that is happening today will be found in them; killing the people of the book [Christians and Jews] is obligatory. Let’s not start kidding each other and blaming such thoughts on Hassan al-Bana!” Moreover, Behery said:
There is a short distance between what is written in all these old books and what happened yesterday [Coptic church bombings]—the real bomb is in the books, which repeatedly call the People of the Book “infidels,” which teach that the whole world is infidel… Hassan al-Bana and Sayyid al-Qutb are not the source of the terror, rather they are followers of these books. Spare me with the term Qutbism which has caused the nation to suffer terrorism for 50 years.
Behery does not blame Al Azhar for the existence of these books; rather he, like many reformers, wants the Islamic institution to break tradition, denounce the rulings of the four schools of law as the products of fallible mortals, and reform them in ways compatible to the modern world. He said that, whereas Egypt’s former grand imam, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi (d. 2010), had “without even being asked removed all the old books and placed just one introductory book, when al-Tayeb”—who days ago embraced Pope Francis—came, he got rid of that book and brought back all the old books, which are full of slaughter and bloodshed.”
The bottom line, according to Behery, is that the Egyptian government—and here the Vatican would do especially well to listen—cannot rely on Al Azhar to make any reforms, since if anything it has taken Egypt backwards.