May 06/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 06/60-71/:"When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him."

Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

First Letter of Peter 05/01-14/:"Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you, and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 05-06/17
Europe: More Migrants Coming/"Eight to ten million migrants are still on the way"/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 05/17
Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
Final Chapter of Dialogue with Iran/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
The Lessons of the French Elections/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
Almost a Month after Trump’s Airstrike, Syria Remains a Barbaric Battlefield/Jackson Diehl/The Washington Post/May 05/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 05-06/17
Aoun blasts Frangieh: Lebanon witnessing gradual improvement
Aoun Calls on Lebanese Expats to Return Home
Al-Rahi Meets Pope, Hands Him Invitation to Visit Lebanon
US Provides Border Security Equipment to Lebanese Armed Forces
Woman who Plotted Suicide Attack Referred to Judiciary
Khalil Says AMAL Won't Accept Electoral Laws that Lead to 'Segregation, Partition'
78-Year-Old, Cancer-Stricken Woman Freed from Jail after Uproar
Aoun Says Economy Improving, Slams Those Seeking to 'Settle Scores'
Hamadeh: Vacuum Paves Way for Constituent Assembly
Report: Aoun's Cabinet Gesture Triggers War of Words between Hariri, Miqati
Report: LF-FPM Ministers Clash over Electricity-Reform File
Gemayel Demands Parliamentary Probe into Power Ships
State Security Arrests Syrian in South over IS Ties
Franjieh: Aoun Still in Our Camp, Presidential Tenure Has Not Achieved Anything

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 05-06/17
Will Trump Save the Middle East Peace Process?
UN Chief 'Encouraged' by Deal on Syria Safe Zones
Syria Opposition Voices 'Concern' on Safe Zone Deal
Russia Says Syria Safe Zones Closed to US-Coalition Jets
169 Killed in a Week of Insurgent Infighting near Damascus
Russia Says It Stopped Bombing Proposed Syria Safe Zones May 1
Turkish Official Hints at Possible Strikes against US Troops in Northern Syria
Royal Decree Allows Saudi Women Access to Public Services without Guardianship Consent
Several Detainees Held in Iraq without Trial since 2005
Ruling Party Wins Majority in Algerian Parliamentary Elections
N. Korea Accuses CIA of Plot to Assassinate Kim Jong-Un
UAE Delays Launch of First Nuclear Reactor until 2018

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 05-06/17
Aoun blasts Frangieh: Lebanon witnessing gradual improvement
The Daily Star/May 05/17/BEIRUT: Lebanon is witnessing gradual economic improvement, President Michel Aoun said Friday, lashing out at skeptics who argue that the situation in Lebanon after the latter's election didn't change. Aoun said that the critics were seeking to settle political accounts, in subtle hints to remarks by Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, who said on Thursday night that the new presidential term didn't achieve its purpose. "Improvement works on gradual stages as it's not easy to remove all the negative accumulations during six months," Aoun told his visitors. Frangieh, who ran against Aoun in the presidential race, told LBCI that "Aoun was a symbol of change and reform but what we are seeing doesn't meet our aspirations." Frangieh and Aoun, both hailing from the March 8 coalition, were frontrunners in the presidential race, which ended with Aoun's election in October.
"The state's treasury have seen in the past five an increase in government resources and a decrease in squandering percentage,” Aoun said told visitors. The president said that the "financial and economic reports indicate positive development in the country, in addition to the country's stability, which encouraged more than 2,000 people, from 100 countries, to attend the [Lebanese Diaspora Energy] Conference."He said that the conference's success evidence of the surge in confidence that Lebanon has gained, particularly regarding security and stability. The Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference was organized by the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, hoping to motivate its expat population to stay connected with Lebanon, encourage their registration for citizenship and voting, and invest in the country. "There is no need to worry about the future of Lebanon, the financial situation, or the country's currency, as everything is headed towards the best, and work is being done to solve all the problems that caused a decline in the economic sector," Aoun added.

Aoun Calls on Lebanese Expats to Return Home
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 05/17/Beirut – Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on expatriates to return to their country and contribute to its reconstruction. Aoun’s comments came during the 4th edition of the “Lebanese Diaspora Energy” (LED) Conference, which kicked off on Thursday at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL). The conference saw Aoun Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri signing the first decree that allows Lebanese diaspora to reclaim their citizenship from their country of residence. “Lebanese diaspora…you might be absent from Lebanon physically, but not from its heart,” the Lebanese president said, adding: “Although you have a duty to fulfill to the nations that embraced you, you also have a duty of loyalty to your motherland.”“Lebanon’s history with immigration is long and painful,” the president said. “People think that the path of emigration is filled with roses and jasmine flowers, but only those who have left know how difficult it is,” he added. The Lebanese foreign ministry launched the Lebanese Diaspora Energy in 2014 within its endeavor to encourage Lebanon’s expat population to stay connected with their homeland. The three-day conference, which will run until May 6, is gathering Lebanese expats and businessmen from around the world. The conference is aimed to encourage expat registration for citizenship and voting, and to invest in the country. On its official website, the LED has detailed its four main goals, which include “celebrating the Diaspora’s success stories throughout their journey in different countries; promoting the Lebanese heritage by spreading Lebanese culture, traditions and vision throughout the world; establishing connections between the diaspora and the residents, thus providing a chance to share experiences and enhance relations; and exploring new possibilities and opportunities, where together, Lebanese residents and expatriates can restore the image of Lebanon and the world’s trust in the economy of the country.”

Al-Rahi Meets Pope, Hands Him Invitation to Visit Lebanon
Naharnet/May 05/17/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held talks Friday in the Vatican with Pope Francis I and handed him an official invitation to visit Lebanon, the National News Agency reported. “The invitation is signed by Lebanon's Catholic patriarchs and it follows another official invitation that was handed to the pope by President Michel Aoun during his latest visit to the Vatican,” NNA said. Al-Rahi also handed to the pope a detailed report about the situations in the Middle East and Lebanon, the agency added. The patriarch also thanked the pontiff for his visit to Egypt last weekend, stressing “the importance of this critical period in the life of the region.”The pope for his part expressed his “solidarity with the Arab peoples amid the events that are lashing a lot of their countries,” adding that he is “praying daily and expressing solidarity with the aggrieved and refugees who are living under the threat of terrorism and war.”

US Provides Border Security Equipment to Lebanese Armed Forces
Naharnet/May 05/17/On behalf of the United States, Ambassador Elizabeth Richard presented on Friday over 1000 machine guns to the Lebanese Armed Forces as part of the LAF’s ongoing efforts to improve border security, a US embassy statement said. The equipment includes 800 heavy machine guns and another 320 crew-served weapons, adding to battle-tested equipment already in the hands of the LAF. The machine guns will be used to increase firepower along Lebanon’s borders and will allow Land Border Regiments in the LAF to occupy and defend their border positions on schedule, the statement added. In a ceremony at the Logistics Brigade Headquarters at Kfarshima, attended by LAF Brigadier General Farah and Brigadier General Abi Nasif, Ambassador Richard highlighted the important role the LAF plays in addressing the serious challenges Lebanon faces, many of which arise from the conflict in Syria. She noted that the handover of this new shipment of weapons is another example of the ongoing U.S. government program to improve the LAF’s capabilities to carry out its mission as the sole defender of Lebanon. Ambassador Richard said: “Today, I am happy to be with you to receive the latest delivery of equipment – equipment which we are confident will be directly employed to protect and defend Lebanon’s borders, and by the very nature of that act, Lebanon’s most valuable asset, its people. “In the past, delivery ceremonies have focused on more sophisticated and technologically advanced military hardware. In August, in one of my first interactions with the LAF, we marked the delivery of 50 Armored HUMVEES with automatic grenade launchers, 40 howitzer artillery pieces, and advanced HELLFIRE Missiles along with many other types of munitions. In December, we again gathered to celebrate the delivery of the LAF’s latest armed Cessna aircraft,” said Richard. “The Lebanese Army has quickly utilized this increase in combat power to aggressively target terrorist threats, protect the nation’s borders, and demonstrate its resolve to defend the Lebanese way of life, and we have seen how border communities’ trust in the LAF is impressively high and is growing,” the Ambassador remarked. “The equipment we see here today does not represent a new capability for the Lebanese Army. Rather, it will strengthen your ongoing efforts to increase your border protection. Recipients will include the Border Regiments that are now being stood up as part of the joint US-Lebanon-UK program to secure the whole of the Lebanese - Syrian border for the Lebanese state by early next year,” she added. Richard concluded: “These weapons displayed before you, much like the Lebanese soldiers, are proven, reliable, trustworthy, and deadly to those who would impinge on Lebanon’s sovereignty and freedom.“We recognize that the challenges facing Lebanon are serious. Many of them emanate from outside your borders. But the Lebanese are strong, as you have proven over and over through history. Rest assured that the United States stands beside the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese Army as we work together for a more peaceful future for all of us.”

Woman who Plotted Suicide Attack Referred to Judiciary
Naharnet/May 05/17/The military intelligence directorate has referred to the judiciary a woman who had plotted to stage a suicide bombing, the army said on Friday.“Fatima Hassan al-Sultan was referred to the relevant judicial authorities for having ties to the terrorist Daesh (Islamic State) group and plotting a suicide attack against a Lebanese army checkpoint in the town of Arsal,” an army statement said. The woman had also communicated with an IS leader with the aim of joining the ranks of the group in Syria, the military added.

Khalil Says AMAL Won't Accept Electoral Laws that Lead to 'Segregation, Partition'
Naharnet/May 05/17/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil stressed Friday that his AMAL Movement will not accept electoral laws that lead to “segregation and partition.”Speaker Nabih Berri “has proposed an electoral system based on the constitution and involving full proportional representation while preserving equal power-sharing” between Christians and Muslims, Khalil said during an AMAL ceremony. “Some forces appreciated what we proposed while others have dealt tepidly with the issue, although we are ceding some of the parliament's powers,” the minister added. “We will keep the senate and full proportional representation proposal on the table until May 15 and after that we will not accept to return to what some parties want of suggestions that only lead to segregation and partition,” Khalil went on to say. “We cannot be blackmailed so that they take what they want from us,” he underlined. Khalil added that to his movement, “the Preamble to the Constitution is more important than the Constitution's articles” and that “it cannot be altered or changed.”The Preamble to the Constitution stipulates that “there shall be no segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation (or) partition.”

78-Year-Old, Cancer-Stricken Woman Freed from Jail after Uproar
Naharnet/May 05/17/A 78-year-old, leukemia-stricken woman was released from jail Friday after five days of detention over a construction violation committed by her daughter. The imprisonment of the elderly and ill woman, Khadija Asaad, had created an uproar on social networking websites and a number of women in her hometown, the southern town of Doueir, staged a demo demanding her release. The uproar eventually prompted some politicians to express condemnation and follow up on the case. In an interview with al-Jadeed television, one of the woman's daughters, Mariam, said her sister had constructed a tent on a building's rooftop in order to move her parents from a lower floor whose humidity and water leaking were aggravating their already poor health situations. Mariam said the violation dates back to two years ago and that it returned to the spotlight after they installed some windows. “We are ready to bear the full responsibility for the violation, but our mother has nothing to do with the issue and nothing is registered under her name,” Mariam added. Nabatiyeh judge Mohammed Abdo had ordered the immediate release of the woman but Nabatiyeh prosecutor Ghada Bou Karroum revoked Abdo's ruling and referred the file to Judge Maha Fayyad who ordered her re-arrest. Justice Minister Salim Jreissati held a phone conversation with Bou Karroum on Friday, the National News Agency said. Both Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat and Arab Tawhid Party chief Wiam Wahhab had condemned the woman's arrest.Speaking outside the Baabda prison after the woman's release, MP Hassan Fadlallah said she “was taken as a hostage from her home,” seeing as she was not behind the violation. “We call on all the relevant officials to launch an urgent probe into the detention of Mrs. Khadija, which is a mark of shame on the forehead of the Lebanese judiciary,” Fadlallah urged.

Aoun Says Economy Improving, Slams Those Seeking to 'Settle Scores'
Naharnet/May 05/17/President Michel Aoun announced Friday that the economy is improving as he slammed those seeking to “settle political scores.”“The economic and financial situations are gradually improving and the accumulated negativities cannot be eliminated in only six months of the new presidential tenure,” Aoun told Lebanese diaspora delegations who visited him in Baabda. “Be confident that we are working on the various levels so that Lebanon can regain its capabilities,” the president said. “Do not listen to the voices of skeptics and those seeking to settle political scores,” he added. Aoun's remarks come only hours after Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh said that the new presidential tenure has failed to achieve anything. “I'm saddened by what's happening in the country,” Franjieh added in an interview with LBCI television, referring to the period that followed Aoun's election.

Hamadeh: Vacuum Paves Way for Constituent Assembly
Naharnet/May 05/17/Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh said on Friday that President Michel Aoun supports a cabinet voting on an electoral law if consensus fails on the issue, pointing out that vacuum at the legislative authority opens the door to a constituent assembly. “President Michel Aoun adheres to an option of voting on a law, versus consensus which has started to generalize (between political parties),” Hamadeh told VDL (100.5). “What is important is that the cabinet convened yesterday, after a long break, and addressed the electoral law issue responsibly. The conferees unanimously rejected extension (of the parliament) and reactivated the ministerial committee tasked with studying the voting system,” he added. The Minister optimistically pointed out that the latest deliberations in the cabinet “may open the door to agree on a law away from the sectarian qualification format (presented by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil) which failed by the knockout this week.” Turning to the proportional representation system, he said: “proportionality has become acceptable to most parties including MP Walid Jumblat.”He urged parties to agree on a law “because consensus prevents vacuum which in turn would pave way for a constituent assembly,” that would reshape the Lebanese political system.

Report: Aoun's Cabinet Gesture Triggers War of Words between Hariri, Miqati
Naharnet/May 05/17/An unprecedented move made by President Michel Aoun when he asked Prime Minister Saad Hariri to lead the cabinet session at the Presidential Palace, triggered a war of words on Twitter between Hariri and former PM Najib Miqati over the “constitutionality” of the gesture, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. During a cabinet meeting chaired by Aoun at Baabda Palace on Thursday, Aoun had to leave to attend a celebration marking the 66th anniversary of the Lebanese University. He asked Hariri to take his place and preside over the session without adjourning it, said the daily. According to reports, Hariri was “moved” by the gesture and felt the “weight of the presidential seat,” as he thanked the President for his “confidence.”The move triggered a war of words over Twitter between Hariri and Miqati, which lasted from the moment the cabinet session ended until the evening.
Miqati denounced a statement made by Minister Pierre Abou Assi at the end of the meeting, that stated: “The PM hailed the President's gesture after being compelled to leave the meeting asking the PM to take his place and chair the session. The PM considered the President's trust as proof of his confidence in the government and the constitutional institutions, which represents a positive indicator.”Miqati tweeted saying that Abou Assi's statement has “provoked me for two reasons: first, lack of adequate knowledge of the constitution, and second, what is happening to the position of Premiership.“I therefore turn to the Prime Minister with all love and respect and say to him, "Enough, Saad,”” added Miqati. For his part, Hariri's tweet said: “It seems that PM Miqati did not comprehend the message intended to be delivered towards the Premiership at the Baabda Palace. "If President Miqati does not understand the difference between praise and joy, there is no need to respond.” Moreover, ministerial sources assured that Aoun's move does not violate the constitution as accused by Miqati, they said: “No PM has before presided over a cabinet meeting held at the Baabda Palace. Therefore Miqati's note does not fit in a political or constitutional frame. What happened does not violate the constitution or the jurisdictions.”They said the move “reflects the extent of cooperation between the President and PM which was translated in more than one occasion, all in all in order to ensure the success of the government's work.”

Report: LF-FPM Ministers Clash over Electricity-Reform File
Naharnet/May 05/17/The electricity reform plan to improve Lebanon's power supply was raised from outside the agenda during the cabinet meeting on Thursday, but the issue triggered dispute between ministers of the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. Prime Minister Saad Hariri raised the issue when he inquired about the tender to lease Turkish power vessels as approved during a previous cabinet meeting. Ministers of the Lebanese Forces intervened and demanded referral to the cabinet in the implementation of the electricity stages, noting that options to improve power supply must not be limited to leasing power vessels, according to the daily. An electricity-reform plan proposed by FPM Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil was approved by the government in March, conditionally that its stages are studied and approved separately by the cabinet. Abi Khalil's request for additional government advances to implement the plan, was faced by Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil who refused to approve the request saying “the electricity tenders lack transparency,” reported the daily. Abi Khalil replied saying that “additional loans are normal if we need to increase power supply,” reminding that “Article 66 of the constitution gives the minister the power to act on many things.” Lebanese Forces sources said “a dispute erupted at the cabinet between their ministers and ministers close to Aoun and Hariri after the latter rejected the introduction of amendments to the book of condition related to the electricity file. The amendments required by the LF was to give room for less pricey competition solutions.”However, "the request was rejected," said the sources, which prompted Minister Ghassan Hasbani to recall that the refusal to amend the book of conditions violates the decision of the government. He said the Energy Ministry must refer to the cabinet before the implementation of each of the electricity stages. The debate prompted President Michel Aoun, who was presiding over the session, to intervene defending Abi Khalil, he said: “Where are the powers of the minister? A minister is the master of his ministry and may not refer to the council of ministers,” said the sources. The Finance Minister made clear that Article 66 of the constitution stipulates that referring to the government is compulsory when additional funds are required. The suggested amendments to the book of conditions were rejected by Aoun, Hariri and Abi Khalil, it added. “It indicates that the book of conditions is tailored to the Turkish ships without taking regard to the technical, environmental and financial specifications in line with the priorities of the state. This has cut the way for a reform plan that would have saved the state an equivalent of one billion dollars,” LF sources told the daily.

Gemayel Demands Parliamentary Probe into Power Ships
Naharnet/May 05/17/Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel on Friday submitted an official request to form a parliamentary panel of inquiry to probe suspected violations in the file of power generation ships. In the request, Gemayel says the proposed panel should “probe suspicions and violations against the applicable Lebanese laws and public funds that have marred the awarding of contracts and the work of the power ships since 2013 as well as suspicions and violations related to the ships that will be rented for 2017.” A statement issued by Gemayel's press office noted that the MP “had promised in an April 11 press conference to submit a request to form a parliamentary panel of inquiry and to follow up on the file of electricity until the end.”

State Security Arrests Syrian in South over IS Ties
Naharnet/May 05/17/A Syrian national has been arrested in south Lebanon on charges of having ties to the terrorist Islamic State group. Agents from the State Security bureau in Jezzine managed to arrest the Syrian A.A. “during his presence in a suspicious manner near some shops in the southern town of Sfariyeh,” a State Security statement said. “During interrogation, he confessed to communicating with several Syria-based IS group militants,” the statement said. “Pictures of some members of the aforementioned group were also found on his cellphone,” the statement added.

Franjieh: Aoun Still in Our Camp, Presidential Tenure Has Not Achieved Anything
Naharnet/May 05/17/Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh announced Thursday that President Michel Aoun is still in the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp while noting that “the new presidential tenure has not achieved anything until the moment.”“I'm saddened by what's happening in the country,” Franjieh said in an interview with LBCI television, referring to the period that followed Aoun's election. And in a jab at Aoun, Franjieh said the president's decision to refrain from signing a decree calling on the electoral bodies to organize parliamentary elections “is one of the causes that might lead to vacuum or extension.”Criticizing the rising Free Patriotic Movement-Lebanese Forces alliance, the Marada chief said “there is a political camp that is using populism.”“It supported the 1960 (electoral) law between 2005 and 2009 and it represented 70% of Christians back then and we were part of it,” he said. “President Aoun had several times called for proportional representation in a single electorate in the presence of (Hizbullah chief) Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah,” Franjieh added. He pointed out that the agreement with the LF has pushed the FPM to “renounce proportional representation and to speak of a hybrid law.”
“But the big surprise was (Prime Minister Saad) Hariri's acceptance of proportional representation,” Franjieh added. “The qualification system that was proposed by Speaker (Nabih) Berri is not sectarian but rather proportional, and when (Druze leader MP Walid) Jumblat and Hariri agreed to proportional representation, some parties resorted to a (sectarian) qualification system because they were betting that proportional representation would not be accepted,” the Marada chief said.
He accused the FPM-LF alliance of seeking “a one-third veto in parliament” in order to “control the election of the next president.”“What is happening today is not an electoral law battle but rather a presidential battle and the Christian alliance's problem is not with Muslims but rather with us the other Christians,” Franjieh said. “It is in our interest as Christians to hold the elections without incitement against the other and no one can eliminate Marada and what it represents,” he added. Franjieh said that nowadays there are “two ideologies” in the Christian arena: “one that believes that the salvation of Christians lies in isolation and the other believes in openness and accord with the neighborhood.”Recalling the last municipal polls, Franjieh noted that “the Christian alliance did not win the municipal unions, which reflect 70% of the public opinion.” He also reminded that “all Christians had agreed to proportional representation in 13 or 15 districts including (Maronite) Patriarch (Beshara) al-Rahi, but they (FPM and LF) later backed down, and I dare them to hold elections under the Orthodox Gathering law.” Franjieh suggested that the FPM and the LF would only get 35% of Christian seats should the elections be held under the controversial Orthodox Gathering law, which stipulates that each sect would elect its own MPs. “The bet on a Aoun-Hizbullah dispute is mistaken and General Aoun will not disagree with Sayyed Nasrallah and those betting on this are wasting their time,” he added. Franjieh also noted that FPM chief Jebran Bassil is “the only person in Lebanon who supports the qualification law,” which prevents voters from voting for candidates from other sects in the first round and which has been slammed as “divisive” and “sectarian.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 05-06/17
Will Trump Save the Middle East Peace Process?
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/As he plans his first foreign trip and visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories, U.S. President Donald Trump seems optimistic that he can help secure peace in the region. But what, if anything has changed to justify the hope that he can overcome a challenge that has frustrated all his recent predecessors? Trump welcomed Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to the White House this week and declared that the search for peace was "frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years." Later this month he will travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president, and reports suggest he will visit Abbas and Palestinian officials in the West Bank. The trip will focus on rallying the region behind a new drive to counter Iranian influence and to defeat the Islamic State jihadist group -- but does Trump's optimism signal a new peace push too?Washington observers are cautious, not to say pessimistic, about the chances of the current generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders striking a two-state final status deal.But the brash new White House chief might find enough room to maneuver to nudge the parties and their Arab neighbors towards a productive thaw in ties on the basis of common interests. "I am not optimistic any grand deal is in the offing, but could the parties find a way out of the impasse they're in now? Yes," David Makovsky, a former senior State Department adviser, told AFP. Makovsky, a professor of Middle East studies and fellow of the Washington Institute, said Sunni-led countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have high hopes for a Trump presidency. "The Arabs clearly want to engage Trump in the region, to have him be an active player against Iranian encroachment," he said. "So they have chosen a very upbeat approach and Abbas is clearly joining that kind of Arab bandwagon."
Chicken and egg problem
Egypt and Jordan have reached out to Abbas since his White House invitation, which also reassured his Palestinian supporters that his Fatah movement still has powerful international friends. If Arab governments want to work with Washington, and more covertly with Israel, to counter Iran and the Islamic State, they may engage with efforts to break the logjam in the peace process. "But between having an upbeat tone and having a grand breakthrough -- there's a distance between those two ideas," Makovsky admitted. Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute and longtime expert in the peace process, agreed the Washington visit had boosted Abbas' confidence. "It's a remarkable turnaround for him. It's a lifesaver. It's a shot of adrenaline to an ailing patient," he told AFP, adding that Trump had put the "Palestinian issue" back on the table. With Abbas' position more secure, the next step might be to bring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states on board with the promise of more strategic cooperation with Israel against Iran. "The idea is that this would give the Israelis the added incentive of having strategic relationships with these countries and normalization with the Arab world," he said. "And it would give the Palestinians political cover and diplomatic support and economic aid and allow both sides to make concessions."But, as is often the case in the Middle East, there is a problem -- in this case what Ibish calls a "chicken and egg" problem. Which comes first? Israeli concessions to the Palestinians that would appease the Arab world, or public Arab recognition of their de facto strategic alliance with Israel against Iran.
Little baggage
This would be where Trump and Washington come in as guarantors. "He has very little baggage: all the parties like him right now. The Palestinians like him, the Israelis like him, the Arabs like him," Ibish said. "Everything else has failed, why not a Trumpian approach?"More U.S. engagement is seen as critical, in a region where both Israelis and Arabs felt slighted by former president Barack Obama's attempts to disengage and to rebalance U.S. ties with Iran. But many observers, including Makovsky, are pessimistic. "I don't want to be a skunk at the garden party. I do think it's good that Trump talks about this issue," he said. "And the president is not being driven by a domestic base on this, he genuinely wants to see progress."But, he added, that's not the same thing as a U.S. plan to deal with the core issues blocking a deal: borders, security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition.

UN Chief 'Encouraged' by Deal on Syria Safe Zones
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is encouraged by the agreement signed Thursday by Turkey, Russia and Iran to set up safe zones in Syria and de-escalate fighting, his spokesman said. "It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. Russia, Iran and Turkey signed the agreement to set up the four safe zones following talks in the Kazakh capital Astana on shoring up a ceasefire agreed in December. Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the war while Turkey is supporting rebel forces. The agreement provides for a ceasefire, a ban on all flights, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid to the designated areas and the return of refugees. Guterres "welcomed the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets" and to quickly deliver medical aid and basic necessities, said the spokesman. The United Nations will support de-escalation, said the spokesman but he did not elaborate.UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was in Astana as an observer, described the agreement as "an important promising positive step in the right direction" toward a halt in the fighting. The United States however was extremely cautious, casting doubt over Iran's role even as it expressed hope that the deal could help set the stage for a settlement. A working group will be set up within two weeks to resolve technical issues and the three countries agreed to set up the four areas by June 4. The four areas include key territory held by anti-Assad forces. The first zone includes the whole of Idlib province along with certain parts of neighboring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces. The second will encompass certain parts in the north of Homs province and the third will be comprised of some areas of Eastern Ghouta, outside of Damascus. The fourth zone will include parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria, according to the memorandum seen by AFP. More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Syria Opposition Voices 'Concern' on Safe Zone Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/Syria's leading opposition High Negotiations Committee on Friday expressed "concern" about a deal for safe zones, saying it "lacks safeguards and compliance mechanisms."Syrian government backers Iran and Russia, and rebel supporter Turkey, on Thursday signed a deal during talks in Kazakh capital Astana setting up four "de-escalation zones" in Syria. But neither the government nor the rebels were direct signatories to the deal, and the opposition's reaction was lukewarm. The HNC, in a statement, expressed "its concern about the ambiguity of the Astana agreement which was reached without the Syrian people and lacks safeguards and compliance mechanisms". It said the agreement "lacks the minimal elements of legitimacy" and also rejected any role for government ally Iran as a guarantor of the deal. The rebel delegation at Astana had already made clear its objections to the deal, particularly Iran's role as a sponsor. "We do not at all agree that Iran... is a guarantor of this accord," said rebel spokesman Osama Abu Zeid on Thursday. Several members of the rebel delegation left the room shouting in protest as the signing ceremony got underway in Astana, also angered by Iran's role.The deal calls for the establishment of four "de-escalation" zones across stretches of eight Syrian provinces. Security zones on the edges of the areas would be set up to monitor and ensure access, with forces from the three guarantor nations manning checkpoints and observation posts. The deal seeks to ground all military aviation in the four areas, including flights by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group. But it calls for continued action against IS as well as the former al-Qaida affiliate now known as Fateh al-Sham Front. The deal is the latest bid to end more than six years of conflict that have killed over 320,000 people since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011.

Russia Says Syria Safe Zones Closed to US-Coalition Jets
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/Jets from the US-led coalition are barred from proposed safe zones in Syria set to be created under a deal inked by Russia, Iran and Turkey, Moscow's envoy said Friday. "In terms of their actions in the de-escalation zones then from this moment these zones are closed for their flights," the Kremlin's envoy to peace talks in Kazakhstan Alexander Lavrentiev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. "Aviation operations, especially by the international coalition forces, are absolutely not envisioned," he said. Regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey on Thursday signed a deal at talks in Kazakhstan to set up four safe zones in the war-torn country. The agreement did not explicitly mention the US-led coalition, which has been targeting jihadists from the Islamic State group, but Lavrentiev insisted that "flights cease over these territories.""We as guarantors will closely monitor all operations," he said. Moscow's envoy said this means coalition air power can now only focus on "Islamic State targets that are located in the area of Raqa, some populated areas in the region of the Euphrates, Deir Ezzor and further on to the territory of Iraq."The exact boundaries of the proposed safe zones in Syria are yet to be defined but they are meant to focus on rebel-held territory. The United States gave an extremely cautious welcome to the deal, citing concerns over Iran's role as a guarantor, even as it expressed hope that the agreement could set the stage for a settlement. The limitations could throw up obstacles for any potential US operations in Syria in the future after President Donald Trump carried out Washington's first direct strike on the forces of Russian ally Bashar al-Assad last month over an alleged chemical weapons attack.

169 Killed in a Week of Insurgent Infighting near Damascus
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/A week of infighting killed nearly 169 people in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region outside Syria's capital Damascus before calm returned on Friday, a monitor said. The clashes erupted on April 28 between the powerful Army of Islam faction and the former al-Qaida affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, along with ally Faylaq al-Rahman. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the area was calm Friday but also reported "a continued state of alert on both sides in the areas under their control."The monitor said 156 fighters had been killed in the clashes, 67 from the Army of Islam and the rest from Fateh al-Sham and allied forces. The fighting also killed 13 civilians, including two children, and wounded dozens, the monitor said. The end of the fighting was confirmed by the Army of Islam, which said in a statement it had ended its operation against Fateh al-Sham after having achieved "most of its goals."Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the "situation has returned to how it was before," adding that "each side has taken back the areas it lost during the fighting."He said Fateh al-Sham had been weakened by the fighting, and had leaned heavily on Faylaq al-Sham for support during the clashes. Fateh al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front, has a contentious relationship with some rebel groups, but many others have allied with it against the regime, despite its jihadist ideology. The clashes are not the first time infighting has erupted in Eastern Ghouta, with around 500 rebels dying in weeks of battles that erupted in April 2016 between the Army of Islam and Fateh al-Sham. The region is also regularly targeted by Syria's government.More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's multi-layered conflict erupted with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Russia Says It Stopped Bombing Proposed Syria Safe Zones May 1
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/Russia on Friday said it had already stopped bombing in areas of Syria set to be designated safe zones under an agreement it inked with Iran and Turkey.  The three key powerbrokers signed off on a Russian plan Thursday to establish four "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held territory of the war-torn country in a bid to shore up a shaky ceasefire. Under the pact -- which Moscow said comes into force from Saturday -- the three sides have a month to define the exact borders of the safe zones where fighting and air strikes should be halted.  Moscow -- which is flying an air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad -- said that in order to ease the deal it has stopped bombing the proposed zones. "From 00:00 May 1 the use of Russian airforce aviation in areas corresponding to the de-escalation zones was halted," senior Russian military commander Sergei Rudskoi told a news briefing. The safety zone initiative is the latest attempt by Moscow to forge an end to the six-year conflict after its military might turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad. Rudskoi outlined the proposed zones in the northwestern Idlib province, the north of central Homs province, Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and an area of the south involving Daraa and Quneitra provinces. Along the frontiers of the "de-escalation zones" will be "security zones" with checkpoints and observation posts to monitor and secure access run by the three guarantor countries. Moscow said that it was talking to "Jordan and a number of other countries" to sign up as backers of the initiative. Russia's military underlined that it will keep on fighting against the Islamic State group and the former al-Qaida affiliate previously known as al-Nusra, including inside the "de-escalation zones."Rudskoi said that Syrian government troops freed up after the safety zones come into force will be sent to fight IS in central and eastern Syria and along the Euphrates river with Russian air support.

Turkish Official Hints at Possible Strikes against US Troops in Northern Syria
Saeed Abdelrazek/Asharq Al-Awsat English/May 05/17/Ankara – Deep disputes between Ankara and Washington are beginning to emerge in wake of the US deployment of troops along the Syrian-Turkish border and Turkey’s strike against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions in Syria and Iraq on April 25.A Turkish official warned that the US forces could, along with the Kurdish militias, become targets of Turkish strikes. A senior advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ilnur Cevik, said during a radio interview on Wednesday that Ankara can direct strikes against the American forces in northern Syria. Their presence in this region could expose them to the threat of Turkish jets, he added. Cevik later recanted his statements via Twitter, saying that Turkey will not attack its allies. Cevik’s statements came in wake of US Marine’s posting of photographs that show the troops running joint patrols with the YPG along the Syrian-Turkish border. The troops were allegedly brought in to prevent Turkey from targeting the Kurdish militias days after Ankara’s strikes in Iraq’s Sinjar and northern Syria. US Colonel John Dorian, commander of the US-led coalition against ISIS, declared that the American forces in Syria are not aimed at backing the Kurdistan Workers Party or even condemning Turkey’s actions and latest strike against the Kurds. The US forces’ mission in northern Syria is aimed at assuring Washington’s allies in the region and preventing the escalation in violence between Turkish forces and the YPG.
The US forces are there to monitor and report any violations and they were not asked to act as peacekeepers, Dorian stressed.His remarks came in wake reports that the Turkish military had targeted the YPG on Wednesday night in the border region near Syria’s Kobane in the northern Aleppo countryside. Turkey did not confirm or deny the reports and the international coalition did not issue any statements on the development.

Royal Decree Allows Saudi Women Access to Public Services without Guardianship Consent
Asma Al-Ghabiri/Arabia December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/Jeddah- Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz on Thursday issued a directive relieving women from the prerequisite of obtaining the consent of guardians in order to receive public services, “unless there is a legal basis for this request in accordance with the provisions of Islamic law.”King Salman bin Abdulaziz had passed the notice over to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who is also Interior Minister. A copy of the circular was passed to each ministry and government bureau, stressing that all concerned government institutes must not ask women for guardian consent to receive public services, or when finalizing personal paperwork, unless there is a legal stipulation mandating otherwise. “This came in a royal directive to all concerned government agencies, after approval of proposals raised by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to resolve issues related to human rights,” said the royal decree. Many advocates of the empowerment of Saudi women hailed the announcement, as needing a male guardian’s consent can pose significant obstacles for women. The historic shift in policy recognizes the right of a woman to be her own guardian and take care of her official matters, without the need for the approval of the guardian. It is expected that the decree might include women’s ability to independently represent themselves in court as well as to issue and renew passports and to travel abroad without needing a guardian’s permit, however, further details are yet to be issued by official authorities. A Shura Council member told Arab News that the directive will surely cover ‘work permits.’The Shura Council is a national consultative assembly.Increasing the participation of women in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent is one of the main goals in Saudi Vision 2030.

Several Detainees Held in Iraq without Trial since 2005
Asharq Al-Awsat/Asharq Al-Awsat English/May 05/17/Baghdad – Several prisoners in Iraq have been held in the country without trial for around 12 years, revealed an Iraqi source linked to the prisons file. He painted to Asharq Al-Awsat a bleak picture of the situation of prisoners, especially those held in connection to terrorism, most notably in Baghdad’s al-Taji jail and al-Nasseriya jail in the southern The Qar province. The source said that the inmates are subject to torture and suffer from malnutrition. Their cases have also been neglected despite years of imprisonment. He singled out two cases, that of inmate Amer Hilal Obeid Harz, who has been held in al-Nasseriya without a sentence since 2005, and Raed Obeid Trad, who has been held since 2006 without his case being addressed. Media director at the Justice Ministry Thaer al-Jabbouri spoke of several prisoners, held since 2005, whose cases have not been tackled. He refused however to hold his ministry responsible for this issue. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are not responsible for trying people because we are an executive power. The judiciary sentences and we carry out the imprisonment. We do not interfere in the verdict, acquittal or investigation.”“We are like a hotel. We are responsible for checking the prisoner, providing food and compiling a database for him,” explained al-Jabbouri. He stated that the Higher Judicial Council separated from the Justice Ministry in 2003 and therefore the ministry is not responsible for trials, cases and investigations. The ministry issues monthly reports on inmates who have received a general pardon, he added. The source indicated however to the torture cases in al-Taji and Nasseriya prisons, adding that several of the detainees are innocent. At al-Taji jail, the prisoner is received at the outer gate with curses and beatings. He is then thrown in solitary confinement, which is reserved to inmates who commit violations inside the jail itself. Only the warden and a specialized investigation committee have the power to send a prisoner to solitary confinement, explained the source. The prison administration violates this rule due to personal reasons or to please the security force overseeing the facility. The security force itself interferes from time to time to torture prisoners. Some prisoners do not even receive medical aid. The source said that at least 500 out of 5,000 inmates in al-Taji jail need medical attention, “but they do not receive enough of it and some of them die as a consequence.”He also spoke of the confined spaces in the jail whereby some 30 prisoners are placed in 32 square meter spaces that are designed to hold only 20 prisoners. Jabbouri denied the torture claims, saying: “It is not in our interest as a government power to beat prisoners, because we would be condemning ourselves.”He noted that human rights groups inspect the jails and “they cannot be conspiring with us.”Furthermore, the Justice Ministry official stressed that lawmakers regularly visit prisons and the facilities are monitored by cameras in order to record violations against inmates.

Ruling Party Wins Majority in Algerian Parliamentary Elections
Asharq Al-Awsat English/May 05/17/The ruling party in Algeria, the National Liberation Front (FLN), won on Friday a majority in the North African country’s parliamentary elections that were marked by general apathy by the people.Turnout was only 38.25 percent, lower than 43 percent in the last election in 2012, reflecting general distrust among Algerians that a weak parliament can bring any change in a system dominated since 1962 independence by the FLN. The elections were also overshadowed by the financial crunch from lower oil prices and questions over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health. The FLN, with its roots in the war against colonial France, won 164 seats in the 462-seat National Assembly, but it lost considerable ground from the election five years ago when it won 221 seats, the interior minister said announcing results. Coalition allies, the National Rally for Democracy or RND, won 97 seats, gaining from around 70 seats five years ago. A moderate Islamist alliance led by MSP party, which has in the past supported Bouteflika and the pro-government coalition, won 33 seats in the parliament. OPEC member Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe, is wrestling with reforms to cope with the fall in crude prices that is testing an economy heavily dependent on oil revenues and still mostly controlled by the state. In power for nearly two decades, Bouteflika has been seen rarely in public since a stroke in 2013, and his health has left questions over a potential transition before his term ends in 2019 with no clarity on his possible successor. Bouteflika was wheeled in a chair to vote, but was unable to physically cast his ballot. A nephew did it for him. He then had trouble with the fingerprinting afterward. The government was worried about voter apathy — and even a potential boycott — and analysts said bribery scandals during the campaign deepened long-running distrust of politicians. An unofficial call to boycott led by young Algerians popular on YouTube has unexpectedly gone viral, with one video getting 3.9 million views in a country with around 20 million eligible to vote. Oil and natural gas drive Algeria’s economy, accounting for 30 percent of its GDP. Low oil prices have hammered the government, and youth unemployment hovers around 25 percent. Young Algerians tend to look to Europe for their futures, and the French election on Sunday has been getting far more attention than the legislative vote in the former French colony.

N. Korea Accuses CIA of Plot to Assassinate Kim Jong-Un
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/North Korea on Friday accused the CIA of plotting with South Korea to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un, amid soaring tensions in the flashpoint region. The CIA and Seoul's Intelligence Services have "hatched a vicious plot" involving unspecified "biochemical substances" to kill the hermit state's young leader during public ceremonial events in Pyongyang, the Ministry of State Security said. For the CIA "assassination by use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance is the best method that does not require access to the target, their lethal results will appear after six or twelve months," the Ministry said in a statement carried by state media. The accusation comes as Pyongyang issues increasingly belligerent rhetoric in a tense stand off with the administration of US President Donald Trump over its rogue weapons programme.
The war of words between the West and the reclusive regime has spiked in recent weeks, and Pyongyang has threatened to carry out a sixth nuclear test that would further inflame tensions. The CIA and Seoul's Intelligence Services (IS) have "ideologically corrupted and bribed a DPRK citizen surnamed Kim" to carry out the attack on Jong-Un, the statement said. "We will ferret out and mercilessly destroy to the last one the terrorists of the US CIA and the puppet IS of South Korea," the statement said, adding that the plot was tantamount to "the declaration of a war". "The heinous crime, which was recently uncovered and smashed in the DPRK, is a kind of terrorism against not only the DPRK but the justice and conscience of humankind and an act of mangling the future of humankind."The statement did not give any information on how the plot was foiled or what happened to the alleged spy. North Korea maintains extensive surveillance operations over its own population, and open dissent against the regime is considered extremely difficult.

UAE Delays Launch of First Nuclear Reactor until 2018
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 05/17/The United Arab Emirates on Friday delayed the start-up of its first nuclear reactor until next year for further safety checks because regulators have not yet granted an operating license. The reactor, one of four being built at the $20-billion Barakah plant west of Abu Dhabi by a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), had been due to begin operating this year. But UAE nuclear regulators are still reviewing the operating license application which was submitted in March 2015, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) announced.
The delay aims "to ensure sufficient time for international assessments and adherence to nuclear industry safety standards, as well as a reinforcement of operational proficiency for plant personnel," it said. It said the new schedule reflects "lessons learned" from problems at South Korea's New Gori No. 3 reactor. The Barakah plant is based on the same technology. Senior nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators will conduct a series of voluntary assessments at Barakah, it added. ENEC said the project, which will be operated by a joint venture with KEPCO, is now 79-percent complete. When fully operational the four reactors are expected to provide up to a quarter of the UAE's electricity. There was no immediate comment from UAE nuclear regulators. The IAEA declined to comment.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 05-06/17
Europe: More Migrants Coming/"Eight to ten million migrants are still on the way"

Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 05/17
"In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country." — Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.
Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe's permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe's permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.
The migrants arriving in Italy are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones.
The director of the UN office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The European Union has called on its member states to lift border controls — introduced at the height of the migration crisis in September 2015 — within the next six months.
The return to open borders, which would allow for passport-free travel across the EU, comes at a time when the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise, and when Turkish authorities increasingly have been threatening to renege on a border deal that has lessened the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.
Critics say that lifting the border controls now could trigger another, even greater, migration crisis by encouraging potentially millions of new migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to begin making their way to Europe. It would also allow jihadists to cross European borders undetected to carry out attacks when and where they wish.
At a press conference in Brussels on May 2, the EU Commissioner in charge of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden — among the wealthiest and most sought after destinations in Europe for migrants — to phase out the temporary controls currently in place at their internal Schengen borders over the next six months.
The so-called Schengen Agreement, which took effect in March 1995, abolished many of the EU's internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc. The Schengen Agreement, along with the single European currency, are fundamental pillars of the European Union and essential building-blocks for constructing a United States of Europe. With the long-term sustainability of the single currency and open borders in question, advocates of European federalism are keen to preserve both.
Avramopoulos, who argued that border controls are "not in the European spirit of solidarity and cooperation," said:
"The time has come to take the last concrete steps to gradually return to a normal functioning of the Schengen Area. This is our goal, and it remains unchanged. A fully functioning Schengen area, free from internal border controls. Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European project. We must do everything to protect it."
The temporary border controls were established in September 2015, after hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in Europe, and when EU member states, led by Germany, gave special permission to some EU countries to impose emergency controls for up to two years. Since then, the European Union has approved six-month extensions of controls at the German-Austrian border, at Austria's frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia and at Danish, Swedish and Norwegian borders. (Norway is a member of Schengen but not the EU.) Since then, several countries have argued that they need border controls to combat the threat of Islamic militancy.
On May 2, Sweden, which claims to conduct the most border checks among the EU countries, announced that it will lift controls at its border with Denmark. Sweden received 81,000 asylum seekers in 2014; 163,000 in 2015; 29,000 in 2016, and the same is expected for 2017.
On April 26, Austria called for an indefinite extension of border controls. "In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country," Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said. Austria, which accepted some 90,000 migrants in 2015, also called for a "postponement" of the EU refugee distribution program, which requires EU member states to accept a mandatory and proportional distribution of asylum-seekers who arrive in other member nations.
On March 9, Norway extended border controls for another three months.
On January 26, Denmark extended border controls for another four months. Integration Minister Inger Støjberg said that his government would extend its border controls "until European borders are under control."
On January 19, Germany and Austria announced that border controls between their countries would continue indefinitely, "as long as the EU external border is not adequately protected."
Meanwhile, the number of migrants making their way to Europe is once again trending higher. Of the 30,465 migrants who reached Europe during the first quarter of 2017, 24,292 (80%) arrived in Italy, 4,407 arrived in Greece, 1,510 arrived in Spain and 256 arrived in Bulgaria, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM).
By way of comparison, the number of arrivals to Europe during each of the first three months of 2017 exceeded those who arrived during the same time period in 2015, the year in which migration to Europe reached unprecedented levels.
The trend is expected to continue throughout 2017. Better weather is already bringing about a surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. During just one week in April, for example, a total of 9,661 migrants reached the shores of Italy.
The migrants arriving there are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones. According to the IOM, the migrants who reached Italy during the first three months of 2017 are, in descending order, from: Guinea, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Somalia and Eritrea.
In February, Italy reached a deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli to hold migrants in camps in Libya in exchange for money to fight human traffickers. The agreement was endorsed by both the European Union and Germany.
On May 2, however, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reversed course by saying the deal ignored the "catastrophic conditions" in Libya and would not curb migration. He said that Germany now favored tackling migration by fighting instability in Africa:
"What we are trying instead is to help stabilize the countries on the continent. But that is difficult. We will have to show staying power, stamina and patience. This is in the interest of Africans but also in the interest of Europeans."
Gabriel's long-term solution — which in the best of circumstances could take decades to bear fruit — implies that mass migration from Africa to Europe will continue unabated for many years to come.
Italy has emerged as Europe's main point of entry for migrants largely because of an agreement the European Union signed with Turkey in March 2016 to stem migration from Turkey to Greece. In recent weeks, however, Turkish authorities have threatened to back out of the deal because, according to them, the EU has failed to honor its end of the bargain.
Under the agreement, the EU pledged to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.4 billion), as well as grant visa-free travel to Europe for Turkey's 78 million citizens, and to restart accession talks for Turkey to join the bloc. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all migrants and refugees who reach Greece via Turkey.
After the deal was reached, the number of migrants reaching Greece dropped sharply, although not completely. According to data supplied by the European Union on April 12, a total of 30,565 migrants reached Greece since the migrant deal took effect. Only 944 of those migrants have been returned to Turkey. Still, this is in sharp contrast to the hundreds of thousands of migrants who entered Greece at the height of the migration crisis. Turkey's continued cooperation is essential to keep the migration floodgates closed.
On April 22, Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs, Ömer Çelik, issued an ultimatum, warning the European Union that if it does not grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel by the end of May, Turkey would suspend the migrant deal and flood Europe with migrants.
On March 17, Turkey's Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu warned that his country would "blow the mind" of Europe and renege on the deal by sending 15,000 Syrian refugees a month to Europe:
"We have a readmission deal. I'm telling you Europe, do you have that courage? If you want, we'll send the 15,000 refugees to you that we don't send each month and blow your mind. You have to keep in mind that you can't design a game in this region apart from Turkey."
In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. "We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses," he told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In a speech, he signaled that he was running out of patience:
"We do not have the word 'idiot' written on our foreheads. We will be patient, but we will do what we have to. Don't think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing."
In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. "We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses," he told Jean-Claude Juncker (right), President of the European Commission. (Image source: Turkish President's Office)
European officials say that to qualify for the visa waiver, Turkey must meet 72 conditions, including the most important one: relaxing its stringent anti-terrorism laws, which are being used to silence critics of Erdoğan, especially since the failed coup in July 2016. Turkey has vowed not to comply with the EU's demands.
Critics of visa liberalization fear that millions of Turkish nationals may end up migrating to Europe. The Austrian newsmagazine, Wochenblick, recently reported that 11 million Turks are living in poverty and "many of them are dreaming of moving to central Europe."
Other analysts believe Erdoğan views the visa waiver as an opportunity to "export" Turkey's "Kurdish Problem" to Germany. According to Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, millions of Kurds are poised to take advantage of the visa waiver to flee to Germany to escape persecution at the hands of Erdoğan: "We are importing an internal Turkish conflict," he warned. "In the end, fewer migrants may arrive by boat, but more will arrive by airplane."
The European Union now finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe's permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe's permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.
Greek officials recently revealed that they have drawn up emergency plans to cope with a new migrant crisis. Turkey is hosting some three million migrants from Syria and Iraq, many of whom are presumably waiting for an opportunity to flee to Europe.
Italy is also bracing for the worst. Up to a million people, mainly from Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Syria are now in Libya waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IOM.
The director of the United Nations office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In an interview with The Times, Møller, a Dane, said:
"What we have been seeing is one of the biggest human migrations in history. And it's just going to accelerate. Young people all have cellphones and they can see what's happening in other parts of the world, and that acts as a magnet."
German Development Minister Gerd Müller has echoed that warning:
"The biggest migration movements are still ahead: Africa's population will double in the next decades. A country like Egypt will grow to 100 million people, Nigeria to 400 million. In our digital age with the internet and mobile phones, everyone knows about our prosperity and lifestyle."
Müller added that only 10% of those currently on the move have reached Europe: "Eight to ten million migrants are still on the way."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.
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Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
The White House announcement that US President Donald Trump will carry out his first foreign visit and that Saudi Arabia will be a major stop is a message on a major shift in his foreign policy priorities.
Since Obama’s term came to an end in 2016, relations with Saudi Arabia have changed. During Obama’s last visit to Riyadh, ties were at their lowest in more than half a century. With Trump in power, we are witnessing changes in all aspects: Syria, Iran, Yemen and bilateral relations.
The televised interview of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense clarified the stances from these issues that are expected to be part of the discussions in Riyadh.
Regarding Syria, Riyadh eased its stance to reach a political solution that satisfies Russia and doesn’t grant the regime and its allies a free hand. In the Astana talks, there were two prime developments – approval to differentiate national factions from terrorists and readiness to establish safe zones, two of Trump’s pledges while campaigning for the presidency.
On the Yemeni war, the deputy crown prince was persuasive when he boldly admitted that the rush in liberating Sana’a and other cities might cause huge losses on both sides of the conflict.
“Time is in our favor and we are not in a rush. We can liberate it in two days with a costly human price or liberate it slowly with fewer losses,” he said.
Iran is a mutual huge concern for Riyadh and the US as well as other governments in the region. The deputy crown prince specified the Saudi government’s vision and its current policy. He said the history of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran leaves no doubt that Tehran has been targeting it even in times of rapprochement.
He added that the kingdom will defend its existence and will not remain in a state of defense for long. Trump has already delivered clear messages against the policies of the Tehran regime in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf waters.
Talks on arranging regional relations meant mainly Egypt. In the televised interview, the deputy crown prince hinted to the Muslim Brotherhood’s media of standing behind growing Saudi-Egyptian differences. His statement put an end to speculations about the relations with Cairo, depicting them as a passing summer cloud. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a problem restricted to one country. This is a political group using religion as a means to reach power and is similar to communism which puts it on collision course with the rest of the regimes in the region.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a unified group from Gulf, Egyptian, Sudanese, Tunisian and other nationalities waging collective wars. The group tried to besiege the government in Egypt through the media and by provoking the Egyptians against it as well as urging the region’s people to cut ties with it.
Though supported by dozens of TV channels, websites and social media, the group failed to achieve its objectives. The Egyptian government is now stronger than when Mohamed Morsi’s government was ousted more than three years ago.
The Muslim Brotherhood project in Egypt has failed. Its losses grew when Trump reversed the foreign policy of Obama who had boycotted the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Final Chapter of Dialogue with Iran
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
While Iran is fighting Saudi Arabia and Gulf states through its militias in Yemen and directly in Bahrain, and combats for its interests in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, reconciliation and peacemaking attempts continued between Iran and the Gulf States, prominently Saudi Arabia.
Occasionally, calls for negotiations would come from former US President Barack Obama, or through European foreign ministers, and sometimes – shockingly – through Gulf countries’ efforts. Each party credits itself for strengthening their positions even if it came on the expenses of Arab and Gulf states, though these calls would benefit Iran. Everyone knows that Iran can’t go on with a reasonable dialogue while executing its expansion and interference in internal affairs policy.
Yet, it seems that the final chapter of these callings is irreversibly over after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman explained his country’s position saying it is impossible to reach mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran: “There is no common ground between us and the Iranian regime.”
So, it is rather impossible to hold negotiations with Iran which Prince Mohammed said was busy with its “extremist ideology” and ambitions to “control the Islamic world.”The more important and clearer message here is that the battle will be in Iran and not Saudi Arabia.
Why the final chapter?
Precisely because Gulf efforts should be exerted to stop Iran’s expansions rather than being occupied with mediations that are only exhausting and offer the Iranian regime with an opportunity to catch its breath and promote its revolution before western state, and not country, as a peace agent.
It is about time things are set straight and positions are made based on facts, reality and the consequences the area will face because of Iran’s sabotage project. It is no longer useful for the collective Gulf official statements to follow a hostile policy towards Iranian extremism, and then it all changes once the meetings are over.Iran’s position towards Arab interests became unprecedentedly hostile that it exceeds its eight years’ war on Iraq during the eighties of the last century. Tehran’s main goal is to reach Muslims’ Qiblah, as the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince said in his televised interview.
After all the one-way hostility that spreads from the east to the west of the Gulf, is it right to accept the requests for dialogue and mediation which occupy the region rather than focusing on the real battle?
Surely it is understandable for every country to run its policies based on its own interests. It is also clear that no state can force its own statements on another that doesn’t share the same ideas. But, it is important that the old tools of diplomatic exploitation be stopped, like this endless boring tale of dialogue. It is also crucial to end Iranian regime’s penetration of the Gulf system in a way that helps Tehran proceed with its extreme strategies.
It is about time policies match the reality of the stances given that Iran is literally waging wars on its neighbors via sending weapons and training militias.
Those who believe that their interest doesn’t include collectively fighting the Iranian regime should at least let someone else do this mission in a way that doesn’t complicate the decisive confrontation and thus lessen its strategic success once in a while.
No one wants to go into war with Iran or any other for that matter. Stopping Iran’s extremist project surely doesn’t mean anyone is banging the drums for war. But at the same time, an easy policy is never productive with a state like Iran. The administration of former US President Obama followed that policy for eight years and failed catastrophically. The issue is now clearer to end Iran’s expansion. Offense is the best defense. It began with putting an end to Iran’s external interventions and exposing the Tehran regime for its domestic reality after it had deprived its people of development for over thirty years. Or, as the Saudi Crown Prince said: “We know we are a main target of Iran. We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”

The Lessons of the French Elections
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 05/17
As the French go to the polls Sunday to elect their new president, Europe and beyond it will be watching with some trepidation. An upset victory by the hard-right finalist Marine Le Pen could cast a thick shadow of doubt over the future of the European Union at a time it is trying to absorb the shock of “Brexit”. In view of Ms. Le Pen’s ties to Moscow, such a dramatic turn of events would also rattle NATO at a time Russia is exerting proximity pressure on the outer fringes of the alliance. With 48 hours to go to polling day, conventional wisdom would have us believe that a Le Pen victory is at best a remote possibility and that Emmanuel Macron, the surprise star of this presidential season, will walk his way into the Elysees Palace. However, even if that optimistic version of events comes to pass, the election should be regarded as a stern warning to French democracy. This was the first time that the extreme ends of French politics collected almost half of all votes cast in the first round of presidential election. In 1969 the Communist standard-bearer Jacques Duclos won almost a quarter of the votes. This time Le Pen, Nicholas Dupont-Aignan, and Francois Asselineau, standard-bearers for the hard-right, together collected almost 27 per cent. Add to that the 23 per cent won by hard-left candidates Jean-Luc Melanchon, the Trotskyite Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou of the News Anti-Capitalist Party (NAP) and you have almost half of the voters.
Taken together, the votes of both the hard right and the hard left indicate a rejection of the status quo with its well established dramatic personae and increasingly contested rules. The rejection may appear even wider than that if we assume that a good part of Macron’s electorate was also rejecting the status quo by choosing him a relative newcomer to French politics. There will be cause for even more concern if we remember that Francois Fillon, the unsuccessful champion of the classical right who ended up with 18 per cent of the votes, had also borrowed some of the themes of the rejectionists, notably by adopting a pro-Russian posture on foreign policy. Some analysts tend to dismiss all that as an outburst of protest votes, a passing thunderstorm in otherwise calm summer day. However, even if that were the case in any genuine democracy a protest vote is as valid as any other vote. And one function of all elections is to reflect the public’s disaffection, whether justified or not, with the status quo. Other analysts point to the fact that most of the “extreme” voters, like those who clinched the victory in “Brexit”, are less educated, less informed, less well-off, and “less” in many other domains. However, a vote by a “less” voter counts as much as one cast by “more” one. Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s votes at least three lessons could be drawn from this year’s presidential contest.
The first is that the mainstream parties, the Socialists and the Gaullists under different labels, have failed to convince the electorate that they could effectively address its concerns, justified or not. Together the two ended up with just under a quarter of the votes, their lowest score ever. Some analysts believe that the Socialist Party or even the Gaullist as well, will fade into oblivion. I don’t think that will happen. They represent the two ideologies that, in different variations, have dominated European politics for the past two centuries.
The second lesson is that, caught in their narrow ideological straitjackets, the two extremes are incapable of expanding their imagination beyond certain limits and thus could not be expected to rectify the wrongs they have highlighted.
The French hard-right of which Ms. Le Pen is the current face has never been able to grow beyond the fringes of French politics. In its various epiphanies, including Action Francaise, Algerie Francaises, the Organization of the Secret Army (OAS), or even the Boulangeriste and Poujadiste versions never morphed into mainstream ideologies. It could be argued that a version of it briefly formed the government during Marshall Petain’s rule under German suzerainty between 1940 and 1944.
As for the hard-left, for decades, it owed part of its power to solid support from the Soviet Union. Even fringe leftist groups such as Action Directe and other terrorist outfits of the left received ideological, if not material, nourishment, from Moscow.
The hard-right and the hard-left cannot be scripted out of French political life and, this time at least, may play a useful role by sounding the alarm about the failures, the weaknesses, and the structural defects of French democracy in its present shape.
Finally, the third lesson, one hopes, is that French democracy could emerge from its current turmoil stronger than before. This is not a Nietzschean boast. The current exercise shows that the democratic system can include the most extreme groups even to the point of welcoming them to the threshold of power.
The outburst of political extremes, from the xenophobic right to the populist left, has not been limited to France but has been a challenge to European democracy as a whole. Everywhere, European democracy has been able to contain those extremes, at times even putting their energies to use in the service of overdue reforms.
In Greece SYRIZA, a hard-left outfit had started as champion of the fight against the European Union. It is now EU’s local standard-bearer. In Spain, PODEMOS, has hit the outer limits of radicalism and is on the way to developing into a mainstream party of the left. In Austria, the hard-right presidential candidate reached the final round but was stopped by another outsider cast as the “Green” candidate. In Holland, Geert Wilders’ party appears to have realized its maximum electoral potential, an experience that seems likely to be repeated in Sweden and Denmark as well. In Italy, the system has already absorbed the shock of the extreme rejectionists led by the comedian Bepe Grillo.
In all those other European nations the extremes have managed to rock the boat but not to capsize it. Let’s see if the same happens in France on Sunday.

Almost a Month after Trump’s Airstrike, Syria Remains a Barbaric Battlefield
Jackson Diehl/The Washington Post/May 05/17
Nearly a month has passed since a sarin gas attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun prompted President Trump to bombard a regime airbase with cruise missiles. The good news since then is that there have been no further attacks on civilians using sarin — though the regime of Bashar al-Assad is believed to possess several tons more of it — or chlorine, though “barrel bombs” filled with that chemical were routinely dropped on hospitals, schools and apartment buildings before April 7.
Now for the bad news, which has been almost entirely ignored by a White House that long ago moved on to other issues: Syrian and Russian planes have been pounding civilian targets across Syria on a daily basis with bunker busters, cluster bombs, phosphorus and barrel bombs packed with shrapnel. On a typical day last week, between 70 and 80 people were killed in the civil war, according to reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — about the same number as died from the gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun.
Did Trump make Syrians any safer? “Sadly speaking, no,” says Raed al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets civil defense organization, which told the world about the sarin attack. “They managed to stop the use of chemical weapons. But the killing still goes on with all the other kinds of weapons.”
During a visit to Washington last week, Saleh grimly described the rubble his teams have been digging through in the past several weeks. There was the Shaam Hospital, which was built into an underground cave six miles west of Khan Sheikhoun: Russian planes dropped six bunker busters on it on April 22, collapsing it and trapping doctors and patients under heavy stone. On Wednesday and Thursday, three more hospitals were bombed in the same northwestern region. In two of those cases, the planes came back to strike the White Helmets’ rescue operations.
The organization has become a prime Russian target since it provided evidence of the sarin attack, Saleh said. In the days after the US missile salvo the White Helmets’ center in Khan Sheikhoun was bombed; the staff survived in an underground shelter but all their vehicles were destroyed. Two other nearby White Helmets facilities were struck, including in Saleh’s hometown of Jisr ash-Shugur. Meanwhile Russia launched an all-out propaganda offensive: In a briefing in Moscow on Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the group of collaborating with ISIS and an al-Qaeda affiliate as well as providing “the US a pretext to carry out an act of aggression.”
In fact the White Helmets have been an island of humanity in an otherwise bleak barbarian landscape. As of last week they had counted nearly 91,000 people saved since Saleh helped to establish the group in rebel-controlled northern Syria in 2013. He says it now has 3,300 workers in 120 centers across nine Syrian provinces. One hundred eighty-four have been killed and 500 injured, including eight who died in an airstrike Saturday. Many of the casualties came in deliberate bombings of rescue operations. Yet Saleh says there is a long waiting list of volunteers ready to join when spots open up: “When we request 10 volunteers we get applications from 700.”
The rescuers are paid a monthly salary of about $150 — but their real motivation is saving their friends and neighbors. “Every time they pull a baby from the rubble they find the motivation to go on,” said Farouq Habib, an aid and training coordinator for the group. International support has been heavy: Most major Western governments have supplied funding, including more than $20 million from the Obama administration; an online campaign has attracted more than 200,000 small donors and more than $12 million in contributions.
The White Helmets have become a leading candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize. But the 34-year-old man who leads them is anything but sanguine. Wearing a black suit, black shirt and black tie with purple stripes, Saleh spoke in a funereal monotone as he described the group’s strategy for avoiding Russia’s “double-tap” strikes on rescuers: “We don’t have one. We have to be available immediately at the site. Minutes or seconds can save lives. So we don’t have the option to wait.”
When I asked Saleh how Syria’s carnage could end, he cited what he said was the only day since 2011 when no Syrians were killed: Feb. 28, 2016, when a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect. It soon crumbled, but Saleh says that is the only way out: “a political solution” that comes about from “serious will from the major political powers.”
In other words, a single US airstrike isn’t enough. Unless and until Trump is willing to do more, the White Helmets will still be digging though rubble.