May 14/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 21/15-19/:"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’"

By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast
Letter to the Ephesians 02/01-10/:"You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 13-14/17
Mother’s Day: Love, Sacrifices and Gratitude/Elias Bejjani/May 14/17
Could Lebanon’s FPM abandon its alliance with Hezbollah?Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/May 14/17
Are Hezbollah, Israel heading for a third war/Nour Samaha/Al Monitor/May 13/17
Lebanon's budding hashish business brings high returns/
Author Fernande van/Al Monitor/May 13/17
What is behind Iran’s new threats against its neighbors/Heshmat Alavi/Al Arabiya/May 13/17
Baptismal unity divides Egypt's Copts/Amr Mostafa/TranslatorJoelle El-Khoury/Al Monitor/May 13/17
The UN's Obsession against Israel/Pierre Rehov/Gatestone Institute/May 13/17
Where Kissinger goes, war follows/Tony Brady/Face Book/May 13/17
Kabbalah on the Corniche: Jewish mysticism comes to Beirut/Olivia Alabaster/Middle East Eye/May 13/17
Hamas and an ‘eternity of conflict’/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/ArabNews/May 13/17
Will Iran’s Green Movement resurface/Diana Moukalled/ArabNews/May 13/17
US and Russia on Syria: Beyond what meets the eye/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/May 13/17
Will US-Kurdish deal force Turkey back to PKK negotiation table/Pinar Tremblay/Al Monitor/May 13/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 13-14/17
Mother’s Day: Love, Sacrifices and Gratitude
Could Lebanon’s FPM abandon its alliance with Hezbollah
Lebanon’s Telecom Agency Suspects Israel in Recent Hacking of Hezbollah Phones
Are Hezbollah, Israel heading for a third war
Lebanon's budding hashish business brings high returns
PSP denounces Abra assault
ISF: Two soldiers injured, fugitive killed during pursuit
Ramadan arrests three Lebanese, one Palestinian minors on charges of smashing St. Elias status in Abra
Relatives of arrested Islamists cut off Tripoli highway in Akkar
Murex d'Or Awards celebrated under patronage of Information, Tourism and Culture ministers
Tripoli port Director: Fire has been controlled
Khalil during Municipalities Coordinators Conference: We ask for energy plan not a deal
Tripoli Port fire presumed to have erupted on livestock boat
Huge fire erupts in Tripoli Port
US Sanctions Might Include Aoun and Berri
Berri, Al-Jadeed Channel Trade Legal Lawsuits
Kataeb Chief Says Energy Minister Failed to Consolidate Power Barges Plan

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
May 13-14/17
Pope Canoness Fatima Visionaries, Giving Church New Children Saints
US 'close to completing' $100 billion Saudi arms deal
Washington to Lavrov: US Insists on ‘Beheading Syria’s Regime’
Syria: Opposition Demands Comprehensive Ceasefire to Introduce Political Transformation
Lavrov Discusses De-escalation Zones with Egyptian, Jordanian Counterparts
Russia's central bank says domestic banks withstood massive cyber attacks
Syrian army regains control of airport in northern Syria from Islamic State
Al-Mouallimi: Saudi-American Ties Will Grow Stronger under Trump
Terrorists Kill Child, Man in Eastern Saudi Arabia
King Salman Invites Indonesia, Azerbaijan Presidents to Attend Summit in Riyadh
Jordanian in US Accused of Trying to Join ISIS
PMF Launches New Offensive West of Mosul Near Syria Border
Trump to Support Palestinians’ Right for ‘Self-Determination’
17 Mummies Discovered in Central Egypt
Iran’s Sunni leader endorses Rouhani for re-election
How Saudi forces protected civilians from terrorists’ fire in Qatif
Why do Tunisian Jews flock to this island temple at this time every year?
Egypt announces reward for any information on its missing first female mayor

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 13-14/17
Mother’s Day: Love, Sacrifices and Gratitude
Elias Bejjani/May 14/17
The Spirit Of My mother who like every and each loving departed mother is definitely watching from above and praying for all of us. May Almighty God Bless her spirit and the Spirits of all departed mothers. In Christianity Virgin Merry is envisaged by many believers and numerous cultures as the number one role model for the righteous, devoted, loving , caring, giving, and humble mothers.
Today while in Canada we are happily and joyfully celebrating the Mothers’ Day, let us all pray that Almighty God will keep granting all mothers all over the world the needed graces of wisdom, meekness and faith to highly remain under all circumstances honoring this holy role model and to stay as Virgin Merry fully devoted to their families.
In all religions and cultures all over the world, honoring, respecting and obeying parents is
not a favor that people either chose to practice or not. No not at all, honoring, respecting and obeying parents is a holy obligation that each and every faithful individual who believes in God MUST fulfill, no matter what.
Almighty God in His 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 ) made the honoring of both parents (commandment number five) a holy obligation, and not a choice or a favor.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you”. (Exodus 20:12)
Reading the Bible, both the Old and New Testament shows with no doubt that honoring parents is a cornerstone and a pillar in faith and righteousness for all believers. All other religions and cultures share with Christians this holy concept and obligation.
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
“You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:3).
Back home in Lebanon we have two popular proverbs that say: “If you do not have an elderly figure in your family to bless you, go and search for one”. “The mother is the who either gathers or divides the family”
How true are these two proverbs, because there will be no value, or meaning for our lives if not blessed and flavored by the wisdom, love and blessings of our parents and of other elder members.
He who does not honor the elderly, sympathize and empathize with them, especially his own parents is a person with a hardened heart, and a numbed conscience, who does not know the meaning of gratitude.
History teaches us that the easiest route for destroying a nation is to destroy, its cornerstone, the family. Once the family code of respect is belittled and not honored, the family is divided and loses all its Godly blessings.
“Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls” (Luke 11-17)
One very important concept and an extremely wise approach MUST apply and prevail when reading the Holy Bible in a bid to understand its contents and observe the Godly instructions and life guidelines that are enlisted. The concept needs to be a faith one with an open frame of mind free from doubts, questions and challenges.
Meanwhile the approach and interpretation MUST both be kept within the abstract manner, thinking and mentality frame, and not in the concrete way of interpretation.
We read in (Matthew 15/04: “For God said, Respect your father and your mother, and If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death).
This verse simply dwells on The Fifth Biblical Commandment: “Honor your Father and Mother”. To grasp its meaning rightfully and put it in its right faith content one should understand that death in the Bible is not the death of the body as we experience and see on earth. DEATH in the Bible means the SIN that leads to eternal anguish in Hell.
The Bible teaches us that through His crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus defeated death in its ancient human, earthly concept. He broke the death thorn and since than, the actual death became the sin. Those who commit the sin die and on the judgment day are outcast to the eternal fire. Death for the believers is a temporary sleep on the hope of resurrection.
Accordingly the verse “If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death”, means that those who do not honor their parents, help, support and respect them commit a deadly sin and God on the Judgment Day will make them accountable if they do not repent and honor their parents.
God is a Father, a loving, passionate and caring One, and in this context He made the honoring of parents one of the Ten Commandments.
In conclusion: The abstract and faith interpretation of Matthew 15/04 verse must not be related to children or teenagers who because of an age and maturity factors might temporarily repel against their parents and disobey them. Hopefully, each and every one of us, no matter what religion or denomination he/she is affiliated to will never ever ignore his parents and commit the deadly SIN of not honoring them through every way and mean especially when they are old and unable to take care of themselves.
For all those of us whose mothers have passed away, let us mention them in our daily prayers and ask Almighty God to endow their souls the eternal rest in His heavenly dwellings.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers

Could Lebanon’s FPM abandon its alliance with Hezbollah?'هل يفك التيار الوطني الحر تحالفه مع حزب الله
Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/May 14/17
Potential realignment comes as Bassil and Berri continue to lock heads over a new electoral law
Alliance between Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Samir Geagea’s Christian Lebanese Forces will break Amal-Hezbollah monopoly in Lebanon parliament.
Beirut: Lebanon could see a shifting of alliances as Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which has traditionally been allied with the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah parties, may switch sides to an anti-Syrian alliance comprised of Hariri’s largely-Sunni Future movement and the Christian Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea.
An FPM shift would essentially break the Amal-Hezbollah monopoly in parliament, something that the Shiite parties chief backers Iran and Syria, would dread. The potential realignment comes as FPM leader and foreign minister Jibran Bassil and Shiite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri continue to lock horns over a new electoral law.
Politicians have been debating revising the archaic 1960 voting law since 2005 and have yet to reach consensus.
According to the 1960 voting law, parliament seats are allocated by religious sects which Lebanon’s most prominent Christian parties want to amend.
They say the law marginalises Christian voters, because, in the winner-take-all model Muslim voters in predominantly Christian districts cast their ballots to candidates backed by lists dominated by non-Christian parties.
Last month, President Michel Aoun made the unprecedented move to suspend parliament which was due to extend its term for third time since 2009.
The move was hailed by Christians but slammed by Shiite politicians including Berri, who also is the Amal party chief.
Powerful Shiite groups like the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal want proportional representation or the winner-takes-all system since that would give it potential control of parliament due to its large numbers.
Aoun, who has angered Saudi Arabia over his pro-Hezbollah statements in recent months, is apparently ruffling feathers of politicians in his own alliance.
Berri considered Aoun’s recent remarks to visiting businessmen from Melbourne, Australia, when the president said “those who oppose Bassil’s formula are those who control their communities and do not want minorities represented in parliament”, as a slap in the face.Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, has led the charge in parliament and assumed his self-appointed role as the ‘defender of Christians’ in the country.

Lebanon’s Telecom Agency Suspects Israel in Recent Hacking of Hezbollah Phones
Asharq Al Awsat/May 13/17/Beirut – Lebanon’s telecommunications agency, OGERO, announced on Friday that Israel may have been responsible for the suspicious telephone calls thousands of citizens had received during a speech delivered by “Hezbollah” leader Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday. It said in a statement: “Several citizens in various regions (around 10,000 telephone numbers) received suspicious calls through a very advanced method to hack the telephone network from outside the country.” Investigations revealed that these calls came from France, Italy, Syria, Iraq and other countries. The incoming telephone number was manipulated to appear as it if was being made from a Lebanese landline. “We believe that the Israeli enemy is being these suspicious calls and such an incident had occurred during the 2006 Israeli aggression,” added the state-owned OGERO. “The Ministry of Telecommunications and OGERO will continue to investigate the issue until all details of the Israeli piracy are revealed so that the necessary technical measures and procedures are taken” in order to prevent such a hack from taking place again in the future, stressed the statement.

Are Hezbollah, Israel heading for a third war?
Nour Samaha/Al Monitor/May 13/17
It has been more than a decade since the last open confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel; yet in the last few months, there has been a lot of chatter among Hezbollah and Israel observers over the rising tensions between the two adversaries. The drums of war have been beating even more loudly in the media.
As talk of a third war breaking out between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel is increasing, some analysts say it is highly unlikely given the costs both sides would have to bear.
The cost of the 2006 war was severe enough for both sides that they both seem to be making every possible effort to avoid another war: Israel stopped bombing Hezbollah's locations inside Lebanon, while the latter stopped kidnapping Israeli soldiers or launching rockets into northern Israel. However, both parties know that peace in the Middle East is fragile and fleeting. Preparations for a new round of war — now dubbed the Third Lebanon War — have only increased. Both sides appear to be using every opportunity to display not just the military buildup for the upcoming war, but also expose the weaknesses of the other in the event of a war.
On April 20, Hezbollah arranged a tour for journalists to south Lebanon to expose the recent Israeli fortification activities south of the Blue Line. As Israeli military bulldozers busily cut at the landscape across the electrical fence, Hezbollah members pointed to the infrastructure — newly carved military roads, concrete walls, cement blocks and high-tech monitoring radars — all placed along the border in the last year.
These defensive fortifications are the most recent measures taken by Israel in anticipation of the looming confrontation with Hezbollah. Previous measures included, for instance, merging all Israeli army commando units into a single commando brigade, completing the multi-layered air defense, and conducting various war games and drills specifically designed to mimic a war with Hezbollah.
Israel is almost certain Hezbollah has advanced mobile air defense systems. This means the Israeli air force might not be able to fly over Lebanon as freely as it did in the past. Furthermore, airborne operations using helicopters, which the Israel Defense Forces depends heavily on, might be too risky in the presence of such advanced air defense systems.
Hezbollah, for its part, has been busy preparing for war as well. Today, it is considered by many in Israel to be the strongest nonstate actor in the region, and it has analyzed the lessons of the 2006 war to prepare for the next one. Rockets and missiles proved to be effective enough in 2006 for Hezbollah to continue increasing their quantity, while also upgrading the quality of its arsenal.
Yet the most important development in Hezbollah's military capability is the unprecedented opportunity that came with its participation in the Syrian war. It now has the ability to train thousands of its fighters, who are rubbing shoulders with Syrian, Iranian and Russian elite special forces, while also developing its telecommunications, logistics, and command and control capabilities to handle a situation where hundreds of its fighters can fight nonstop for weeks and months in a vast, hostile environment. This is a huge leap from 2006, when Hezbollah only deployed independent small fire teams and squads in defensive fortified positions, in a friendly environment, while awaiting the advance of Israeli infantry and armor units.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's threat in 2011 to invade northern Israel is no longer so far-fetched, neither are his threats to hit the nuclear facility in Dimona. Israel takes these threats very seriously, hence the fortification works along the Blue Line. Hezbollah's plan is simple and bold: Saturate Israel's multi-layered air defense with hundreds of rockets and missiles while its fighters go on the offensive across the Blue Line — and perhaps even the Golan Heights.
According to sources familiar with Hezbollah, "A wider front will force Israel to spread out thinner, so now having the front expanded from Naqoura on the sea all the way to the end of the Golan Heights will prove to be more difficult for Israel in the event of a war."
Amidst the war cries, both sides have made it clear they are not interested in embarking on another war. Hezbollah is indeed busy in Syria and has little interest in fighting on multiple fronts. Furthermore, the domestic atmosphere in Lebanon is not that of 2006. There are now around 2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon for Israel to consider, as well as a Hezbollah-hostile section of society that would not be as welcoming as they were in 2006 to internally displaced people fleeing airstrikes. In addition, the Syrian-Lebanese border will not be open to those escaping the attacks, essentially turning Lebanon into an open-air prison.
It is also worth noting that with all of Hezbollah's upward trajectory in the region (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen), today's region is incredibly hostile toward it. Thus, the last thing Hezbollah and its backer, Iran, would want is to create a situation where even on its home territory it is on the defensive and dealing with a hostile population — while also fending off attacks from one of the strongest and best-equipped armies in the world.
Nor is Israel prepared to fight a war in which it cannot guarantee a total achievement of its goals. While it does have the capability of causing severe damage to Lebanon, it still cannot guarantee neutralizing Hezbollah. Israel also knows Hezbollah's missiles have the potential to cause serious damage to both Israeli infrastructure and the security of its population. Furthermore, if the Golan front is indeed activated, it will be a battlefield with a lot of unknown and unpredictable variables. These variables include the role and position of the differing opposition groups, as well as whether both Hezbollah's allies and Israel's allies would be dragged into the confrontation, moving the war from what Israel would prefer — contained, surgical, quick — to an open-ended, messy and complex conflict.
As one Hezbollah fighter told Al-Monitor, "While Israel may have the key to open the door for a war, it does not have the ability to close that door again when it chooses, and therefore won’t take the risk."
While this could encourage some analysts to rule out the possibility of a confrontation, one needs to remember that what happens between Hezbollah and Israel is motivated, to a great extent, by what happens in the region — namely the wider confrontation between US allies and Iran.
Hezbollah is certainly wary of the new US administration, with sources close to the organization pointing to the fact that the previous administration under Barack Obama was not interested in entertaining a new Hezbollah-Israel war, whereas the Donald Trump administration has proven so far to be an unknown variable. "Before Trump, there was no indication of a war [between Israel and Hezbollah] in the future," said one official close to the party. "But now with Trump, no one has a clue about his foreign policy. What we have seen so far, his priorities seem to be North Korea, the Islamic State and Iran."
Is it likely the Trump administration would entertain a confrontation with Iran via a Hezbollah-Israel war? It is so far unclear, but the fluidity of the battlefield and the players in Syria mean such a confrontation would prove to be incredibly risky, with the likelihood of eventually dragging the United States further into an already messy arena. As one source put it, "If there is going to be a war between Hezbollah and Israel in Syria, it would be an expansive confrontation with many unknown variables."

Lebanon's budding hashish business brings high returns
Author Fernande van/Al Monitor/May 13/17 (originally posted on 09 May/17
Abou Ali’s business is flourishing. A hundred meters behind his two-story house in the Bekaa Valley lies a field of red-brown, crumbly earth. He has just planted the season’s crop. “You know the red soil is what gives our most famous hashish its name: Red Lebanese.”
Cannabis production in Lebanon has soared by more than 30% since 2012, when spillover from the war in Syria led security forces to focus on deadlier threats like car bombs and Islamic militants.
Outside sits a black SUV with blacked-out windows and no license plates. Abou Ali, who did not want to give his full name, is 52 years old with cropped, gray hair, his T-shirt stretched over his bulging stomach. There is a handgun tucked into the waistband of his jeans.
As the war in Syria has escalated, claiming over 400,000 lives, Abou Ali has seen his business grow by 60%. With Lebanese security forces focused on internal threats, he has expanded cannabis production to 300 acres and hired 40 workers, “all Syrians.” After the harvest, they will process the spiky-leafed plant at 50 different locations spread around the valley. After sifting and drying the resin, he will have 1,000 kilos of hashish, earning him more than $3 million a year.
Though cultivating the plant is illegal, cannabis fields are a common sight in the Bekaa. They dot the fertile valley, wedged between fields of wheat and cherry trees. In four months' time, the plants will be ready to harvest, permeating the air with the smell of the sticky cannabis resin. The country is the third biggest hashish producer in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
During Lebanon's civil war (1975-1990), the cultivation of cannabis and opium boomed. Abou Ali reminisces about those good old days when he would drive trucks piled high with hashish past checkpoints, unbothered.
After the war, there were several attempts to eradicate it. A US aid plan tried to get hashish growers to switch to dairy farming in the '90s. However, corruption led to the 3,000 imported cows being sold off. “It was all lies,” Abou Ali remembers.
Since 2000, growers have mostly been left alone, aside from annual efforts to crack down just ahead of harvest time. Every summer, hundreds of acres were cleared by bulldozers, often causing clashes between farmers and the army. A confrontation in 2012 saw rockets fired, and casualties. From then on, faced with spillover from the war in Syria, the security forces focused their efforts on internal threats like car bombs and Islamic militants. As a result, hashish production has increased exponentially.
Cannabis is grown on almost 9,000 acres throughout the country, says Gen. Ghassan Chamseddine, head of a drug enforcement unit. His Beirut office is filled with tokens of appreciation from other law enforcement agencies like the DEA. But he has been unable to stop production soaring by more than 30% since 2012. “Every farmer in the Bekaa thought, well, if the government doesn’t eradicate it, why don’t I grow it?” says Chamseddine.
His small unit of 65 people do their best to rein in the practice. But he feels his hands are tied. Politically, there is little goodwill — indeed, the politicians themselves are often involved in the drug trade. Abou Ali says he ensures his shipments are secure by finding “someone in government who can help.” In addition to paying bribes, he has another way to guarantee his contact will deliver. “We keep an eye on his family, so that they are in reach, just to be sure,” he says.
The powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, whose yellow-and-green flags flutter along the road to Abou Ali’s house, also turns a blind eye.
Chamseddine’s unit does not have a mandate to search goods entering or leaving the country. “We are not allowed to set up any checkpoint for drugs — not at the airport, not at the harbor, nowhere,” he says. He is also unable to pay informants, as his unit hasn't the budget for it. “This is our policy … every country in the world understands that nobody can fight drugs without a budget. In Lebanon, we have no budget. You must fight with just your muscles,” he says.
Sometimes, his unit gets lucky. In the basement, a windowless room serves as a drug depot. Suitcases full of cocaine, millions of Captagon pills and boxes full of amphetamines line the walls. Beside the door is a 3-meter-high pile of white sacks. They contain flat tablets of hashish the size of a car's side mirror, individually wrapped in black plastic. When an officer cuts one open with a small pocketknife, the smell is pungent. This shipment was part of their largest catch so far: 5,500 kilos of hashish hidden in a shipment of apples headed to Europe.
But Chamseddine is weary of taking on the country’s powerful drug lords, who belong to influential clans and are often armed to the teeth. “Fighting them with 30 men is like a suicide operation. … It’s like fighting naked. These criminals have all kinds of weapons and machine guns, and you will only go with your Kalashnikov,” he says, visually frustrated.
When the military steps in to raid a drug lord, the target usually escapes, tipped off long before soldiers burst through the door. Last month, for example, Ali Nasri Shamas, a renowned drug kingpin from the area, saw his weapons cache and drugs seized in a raid. But there was no sign of the man himself, who had frequently boasted about his drug empire and liked showing off his weapons arsenal to the media.
Chamseddine is hoping the new government, installed in December last year, will restart the eradication of the cannabis crop, saying, “I am optimistic that we will try again this year.” He pauses. “I hope so.”
The cannabis plants, meanwhile, continue to grow. Abou Ali is looking forward to his best harvest in years. “The longer the instability lasts, the more I am able to grow,” he says happily.

PSP denounces Abra assault
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - In a statement issued on Saturday, the Progressive Socialist Party denounced the "suspicious attack on the statue of St. Elias in the town of Abra, east of Sidon.""This despicable act harms coexistence and the most basic human values. Tampering with religious symbols is done at the hands of infiltrators with the aim to destabilize this region which has long been characterized by coexistence," the statement said.

ISF: Two soldiers injured, fugitive killed during pursuit
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces - Public Relations Division - issued on Saturday the following communiqué: "At approximately 22:30 on 12/05/2017, upon the signal of the relevant judicial authority, and in the area of Bir al-Abd, the southern suburb judicial police unit arrested one of the most wanted persons, on charges of committing more than a murder. The arrestee is Lebanese. During the pursuit, the fugitive fired at elements of the judicial police with a pistol which was in his possession, wounding two soldiers, which forced them to respond with counter-shooting that led to his injury. The arrestee was later taken to a hospital for treatment, but soon succumbed to his wounds and died."

Ramadan arrests three Lebanese, one Palestinian minors on charges of smashing St. Elias status in Abra
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The Attorney General of the Appeals Court in the south, Judge Rahif Ramadan, arrested four people in connection with the attack on the statue of St. Elias in Abra, east of Sidon. The arrestees are all minors, and they have all confessed to the assault on the statue. Investigations are ongoing to find out why they have done so.

Relatives of arrested Islamists cut off Tripoli highway in Akkar
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - Families of the Islamist detainees cut off with burning tires, the main highway between Tripoli and Akkar, in both directions, demanding amnesty for the detainees, the NNA correspondent said.

Murex d'Or Awards celebrated under patronage of Information, Tourism and Culture ministers
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The 17th round of Murex d'Or Awards ceremony was held on Friday evening at Casino du Liban, under the patronage of Information Minister, Melhem Riachy, Tourism Minister, Avedis Guidanian, and Culture Minister, Ghattas Al-Khoury, in the absence of the latter. The red carpet ceremony was attended by a large crowd of journalists from Lebanon and the Arab world. Stars and artists from Lebanon and the Arab world received their awards for their work during the past year and their contribution to promoting art, beauty, culture and innovation.

Tripoli port Director: Fire has been controlled
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The fire which broke out in Tripoli Port, starting from a livestock boat, has been cordoned off, according to the Director of Tripoli port, Ahmad Tamer.Maintenance works have led to the fire.

Khalil during Municipalities Coordinators Conference: We ask for energy plan not a deal
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - Minister of Finance, Ali Hassan Khalil, said on Saturday that Amal party are not against any proposed energy plan that would impact positively on people's interests.
Minister Khalil, whose words came during a conference for Municipalities Coordinators in South of Lebanon, added that his party had no problem to lease new power barges if the tender operation was conducted properly and according to the deliberations that took place in the cabinet. Khalil added that Muslims wanted to preserve the Christians through the adoption of an electoral law based on proportionality which united all the Lebanese.

Tripoli Port fire presumed to have erupted on livestock boat

Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The fire which expanded in Tripoli Port has erupted on a livestock boat, the NNA correspondent reported.

Huge fire erupts in Tripoli Port

Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - A huge fire broke out in Tripoli Port, with smoke filling the area. Civil Defense units are working on extinguishing the flames, the NNA correspondent said.

US Sanctions Might Include Aoun and Berri 13/17/The past week has seen plenty of talk about de-escalation zones in Syria — a Russian-designed plan to freeze the fighting in the four areas where rebels still pose a potent threat to the Assad regime , which Russia and Iran have kept alive.
There is less talk about the escalation of Israel’s attacks on what it says are Iran-supplied arms convoys and depots in Syria destined for Hizbollah. The Lebanese Shia paramilitary movement has come to serve as Tehran’s spearhead in the Levant and, since 2013, a decisive strike-force in the Syrian civil war. In the past six months, Israel has stepped up the tempo of its air strikes on these alleged Hizbollah assets in Syria. At the same time, it has warned of a new Lebanon war.Here's the link to full article:

Berri, Al-Jadeed Channel Trade Legal Lawsuits 13/17/Speaker Nabih Berri filed a lawsuit against Al-Jadeed TV channel on charges of slander, defamation, contempt and seditious incitement. Berri's lawsuit, lodged before the Public Prosecution, targets Tahseen Khayyat, Karma Khayat, Al-Jadeed TV and Mariam Al-Bassam. On the other side, Al-Jadeed TV also filed a lawsuit against the so-called Lebanese Resistance Brigades Party and its leader Nabih Berri on charges of freedom suppression, inentional harm and death threats. Unidentified men attacked Al-Jadeed channel Thursday morning, throwing flammable material into its garage. This resulted in a blaze that damaged one of the TV’s broadcast vehicles.

Kataeb Chief Says Energy Minister Failed to Consolidate Power Barges Plan 13/17/Kataeb chief Samy Gemayel said that Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil failed to endorse his power barges plan with convincing arguments, adding that the latter had nothing new to present during yesterday's meeting of the parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee.
In remarks published in Al-Joumhouria newspaper, Gemayel criticized the minister for not answering the questions related to the deal sealed with the Turkish power barges company, saying that Abi Khalil also failed to provide clarifications and the justifications needed to consolidate his plan. “Abi Khalil did not give answers or clarifications to the power barges deal that was previously agreed upon, nor the economic purpose of implementating such a plan, nor the high cost of rent in comparison to other countries,” Gemayel added. “The Kataeb party will continue to oppose to this plan based on facts and documents that the minister did not comment on any of them. We will exert utmost efforts to bring down this deal and rectify the government’s approach to overhaul the electricity sector that has been draining the treasury over the past 10 years," he concluded.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 13-14/17
Pope Canoness Fatima Visionaries, Giving Church New Children Saints
AFP/May 13/17/Pope Francis gave the Catholic Church two of its youngest saints on Saturday, canonizing shepherd siblings believed to have seen the Madonna 100 years ago in a Portuguese town that is now a major pilgrimage site. Hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom slept outdoors to hold their places, broke into applause as the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics proclaimed the siblings - Francisco and Jacinta Marto - the newest of the Church's saints. The two died at the ages of 10 and 9 years old, within three years of the 1917 apparitions, making them the youngest saints of the Church who were not martyrs. The Virgin of Fatima is venerated by Catholics around the world, a following underscored by the many national flags fluttering in the huge crowd, estimated at more than half a million. Marie Chantal, 57, a life-long devotee, traveled more than 9,000 km (5,600 miles) from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean to attend the ceremony. "I am very emotional because this pope is truly merciful and close to the people and I think he will bring us many good things," she said. In the homily of a huge outdoor Mass, Francis prayed that the Madonna would protect the most vulnerable members of society, "especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned". Two huge tapestries made from century-old photographs of the children dressed in the traditional peasant garb of the times hung from the church that is now the focal point of the sanctuary visited by about seven million people each year. The story of Fatima's shepherd children has captivated Catholics since their first reported vision on May 13, 1917. The Church believes the Madonna gave three children - Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their older cousin Lucia Dos Santos - three messages, the so-called secrets of Fatima. Dos Santos became a nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97, and efforts are underway to make her a saint as well. The first two secrets were revealed soon and concerned a vision of hell, seen by believers as a prediction of the outbreak of World War Two, a warning that Russia would "spread her errors" in the world, and a need for general conversion to God and prayer. The "third secret" intrigued the world for more than three-quarters of a century, inspiring books and cults convinced that it predicted the end of the world. In 2000, the Vatican said it was a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul on May 13, the same day of the first reported apparition in 1917. John Paul believed the Madonna had diverted one of the bullets that hit him from his vital organs. He donated it to the sanctuary, where it is now embedded in the crown of the statue of the Madonna. Gracinda Vieira, 57, slept outside during the chill night in Fatima to hold her place near the front of the crowd. "It was not a great sacrifice ... it is very important for me and for the Church," said Vieira, who had traveled from her home 250 km north of Fatima in central Portugal. "This pope is different in everything, I like him a lot. He is closer to us, the people," she said.

US 'close to completing' $100 billion Saudi arms deal
The New Arab/May 13/17/US officials are reportedly preparing a multi-billion dollar arms package for Saudi Arabia a week ahead of President Donald Trump's trip to the Middle Eastern kingdom. The United States is set to complete a series of arms deals worth over $100 billion for Saudi Arabia, an unnamed senior White House Official told Reuters on Friday. According to the official, the US could boost the kingdom's defence capabilities with a package that may surpass $300 billion over a decade. The US will still however ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative edge over its neighbours, the official added. "We are in the final stages of a series of deals," the official said. The multi-billion dollar arms package is being prepared ahead of US President Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh on May 19. Washington is Riyadh's main supplier of arms and military equipment, with the ultra-conservative kingdom having purchased tens of billions of dollars in fighter jets and command and control systems in recent years. While rights groups have criticised the US for supplying Saudi Arabia with arms as it continues its brutal war in Yemen, the lucrative deals come as Trump attempts to fulfil his campaign pledge of stimulating the US economy through manufacturing. "It's good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region," the anonymous official said. On his maiden foreign trip as US president, Trump is expected to discuss the fight against the Islamic State group, the war in Yemen and threats to maritime shipping in the Red Sea with Gulf leaders. Discussions about safe havens for Syrian refugees, or 'de-escalation zones', will also be feature prominently during the president's trip. As well as visiting Saudi Arabia, Trump's trip will include stops to Israel, Brussels, the Vatican and Sicily for a NATO Group of Seven summit.

Washington to Lavrov: US Insists on ‘Beheading Syria’s Regime’
Asharq Al Awsat/May 13/17/London – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meetings in Washington revealed an ongoing dispute between the two countries regarding the fate of head of Syria’s regime Bashar al-Assad. The administration of President Donald Trump insists on “cutting off the head” of Syria’s regime and 20 others of its aids, while Moscow warned from “the repetition of the Iraqi and Libyan models” in Syria, western diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday. The sources said Trump’s administration now “has a clear position from Assad after intelligence apparatus in Washington, London and Paris received proofs that the Syrian regime was 100 percent responsible about the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun,” when its air forces attacked civilians in the countryside of Idlib. Trump’s administration informed Lavrov during this week’s talks in Washington about three Noes: “No peace with Assad, no stability with Assad and no reconstruction with Assad,” the sources said. They added, however, that Washington was lenient regarding “the method and the timing of Assad’s exit” from Syria and said Trump’s administration accepts those matters to be managed by Moscow, including a possibility that Russia hosts Assad in return of a US pledge that he would not be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. In return, Lavrov reiterated his country’s position, saying “the exit of Assad would lead to the collapse of the regime and would echo the Iraqi and Libyan disorder in Syria.”
The US side told lavrov that “around 20 officials from the Syrian regime are required to leave,” but accepted the presence of the Army and the security apparatus, the sources said, adding that Washington does not mind that a Alawite personality be tasked to rule the new regime. “Washington only demands that the regime’s head be cut off and be sent out of Syria not to repeat the Yemeni model, when Ali Abdullah Saleh stayed in the country and played a negative role there,” the sources said. Washington also informed Lavrov during their second round of talks that the US refuses to play a role in the Geneva and Astana talks in return of its insistence to see a “US-Russian deal on Syria that could be the start of bilateral relations between the two sides,” and that could develop to include an additional agreement on Ukraine. The sources said that Washington also expressed its worries vis-à-vis the Iranian role in Syria. They added that “Deraa might be the most suitable area from where both countries could start implementing a memorandum on establishing de-escalation zones in Syria” because this area was not under Iran’s control. A western official said on Friday that the campaign launched by the Syrian regime, Iran and Hezbollah by sending reconnaissance aircrafts to the Jordanian borders came after the regime and its allies were worried from the execution of the de-escalation memorandum in southern Syria, under a US-Russian support.

Syria: Opposition Demands Comprehensive Ceasefire to Introduce Political Transformation
Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al Awsat/May 13/17/Beirut – The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not carry out any amendments regarding the delegation members to attend the negotiations in Geneva due next week. During its meetings in Riyadh, the committee discussed the political transformation and stressed that it represents a priority in the negotiations – it also discussed demanding a comprehensive ceasefire in Syria and not only in certain areas – as stated in Astana Agreement – as well as breaking the siege and rejecting displacement. Though the opposition pins no high hopes on this round, yet it sees that the US presence will positively affect it, especially that the representation will be on a higher-rank compared to round five. Also, the negotiations come after US-Russian meetings and agreement to activate Geneva negotiations. Member of the High Negotiation Committee Fuad Aliko told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We don’t expect huge changes. We are aware that the mission is challenging, but we hope that the updates and international acts hold some change.” Aliko asserted that negotiations should be resumed from where they ended in the last round, majorly at the point of political transformation. Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the HNC, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meetings in Riyadh discussed Geneva negotiations scheduled for next Tuesday. Discussions underscored importance of Russian commitment to the ceasefire, knowing that Moscow is one of Astana Agreement guarantors. Ramadan pointed out that the committee will demand not to restrict alleviating escalation to certain areas– as mentioned in Astana Agreement – but to attain a comprehensive and prompt ceasefire. During the previous five rounds, negotiations weren’t direct between the regime and opposition delegations but through UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Syria’s Michael Conte, UN Special Envoy for Syria, expected no change in this regard during the sixth round.

Lavrov Discusses De-escalation Zones with Egyptian, Jordanian Counterparts
Taha Abed alWahed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 13/17/Moscow- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has discussed with this Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts in two separate phone conversations the “de-escalation zones” in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday that Lavrov received a phone call from Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman al-Safadi. “The ministers discussed prospects for cooperation in regional affairs with an emphasis on the Syrian settlement in light of efforts towards bolstering and expanding the ceasefire in Syria in keeping with the memorandum on the creation of de-escalation zones” in Syria, the ministry said in a statement. Discussions also focused on the creation of such zones in areas bordering Jordan in line with the memorandum signed in Astana on May 4 and backed by the Syrian regime, it said. On Lavrov’s phone conversation with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the ministry said in a separate statement that “the ministers exchanged views on the Syrian crisis, taking into account the results of the fourth International High-Level Meeting on Syria held in Astana on May 3 and 4.”“They discussed specific joint steps to support the political settlement of the armed conflict,” it said. Sources had said after the latest round of Astana talks that Egypt was one of the country’s willing to provide observers in the de-escalation zones. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has not ruled out the participation of the US in the de-escalation zones. “Lavrov was in Washington and contacts with our American partners are underway in that regard,” he was quoted as saying. Lavrov told reporters in the US State of Alaska on Friday that he hasn’t discussed with President Donald Trump the US participation in the memorandum on the de-escalation zones. “I have said that we welcome any such participation,” he said. Lavrov is the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Washington since Trump came to power in January, and earned a rare invitation to the Oval Office for a head-to-head.

Russia's central bank says domestic banks withstood massive cyber attacks
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - Russia's central bank said on Saturday it had detected "massive" cyber attacks on domestic banks, which successfully thwarted them, the RIA news agency reported. The report came amid a global cyber attack leveraging hacking tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency that infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries.Local media reported that state-owned Russian Railways also successfully defended itself from a cyber attack. -- REUTERS

Syrian army regains control of airport in northern Syria from Islamic State
Sat 13 May 2017/NNA - The Syrian army has taken full control of a small airbase in eastern Aleppo countryside that was under Islamic State control, aided by heavy aerial bombing by Russian and Syrian airforces, pro-state media and an army source said on Saturday.
The al-Jarrah airport is located in the ultra-hardline militants' remaining enclave in eastern Aleppo countryside, a region where they have mostly lost control to competing forces ranging from the Syrian army, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces to Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels. The airport was briefly stormed by the army's elite forces last March, but the militants repelled that attack on the base they had held since 2014. Russian and Syrian jets have also intensified their attacks on the town of Maskaneh, the last main town in the region west of the Euphrates River in eastern Aleppo countryside, former residents in touch with relatives said.Dozens of civilians have been killed since last week in the aerial bombing of the remaining villages and towns in the area still in the control of the militants, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. -- REUTERS

Al-Mouallimi: Saudi-American Ties Will Grow Stronger under Trump
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Washington – Saudi Arabia’s permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah al-Mouallimi announced on Friday that US President Donald Trump’s choice of the kingdom as the first stop in his first international tour since his election “demonstrates the importance of bolstering ties between the two countries and the Arab and Muslim worlds.”He added that Saudi-American ties will grow stronger under the Trump leadership, stressing that these relations are already strong and based on solid foundations. Trump had on more than one occasion expressed his appreciation for the role Riyadh is playing in the region and voiced his backing for efforts in several issues, al-Mouallimi noted during a statement while attending a seminar on terrorism held in Washington. Moreover, the ambassador noted that Saudi Arabia shares with Trump his view that Iran’s actions in the region should stop and they it should be confronted. He also underlined the need for Islamic states to confront terrorism through more effective and creative means, adding that the upcoming summit between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Trump will serve as an opportunity to exchange ideas.
Addressing terrorism, the ambassador remarked: “The kingdom has long realized that the war to defeat terror will take a long time. A victory should take place on a large international scale and the kingdom is aware that defeating terrorism will not only occur on the field, but in gaining the hearts and minds of the people throughout the country.” He highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to target the sources of funding of terrorism from within and outside of the kingdom, noting that terrorism is not affiliated with any race or religion. Meanwhile, Saudi Interior Ministry’s Khaled al-Zahrani, who also took part in the Washington seminar, said that the kingdom has since 1979 been the victim of 335 terrorist attacks that left 159 foreigners dead and 1,047 wounded. A total of 338 citizens were killed and 1,288 injured in these assaults. The security forces have thwarted 229 attacks. He noted that terror attacks are on the rise in the kingdom, “but they are being met with an increased determination to confront and defeat them.” The kingdom’s counter-terrorism policy is based on security and intellectual confrontations, he explained. This strategy has paid dividends whereby the number of Saudis carrying terror attacks has dropped. He credited this achievement to the government’s successful efforts in raising awareness among the citizens on the dangers of terrorism and extremism. Al-Zahrani acknowledged however that the number of foreign terrorists is on the rise. “Saudi Arabia is not seeking applause for its counter-terrorism efforts, but it wants more listeners. Its experience in fighting terrorism is not complete, but other countries should learn from it,” he added.

Terrorists Kill Child, Man in Eastern Saudi Arabia
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Dammam – A Saudi child and a Pakistani man were killed while 10 others, including a woman, were injured on Wednesday when terrorist gunmen arbitrarily shot at workers and passersby in Al-Masourah district of Al-Awamiyah with an aim to deactivate a development project site, which terrorist militias use as their nest, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Friday. Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman at the Ministry of Interior, said that workers of a contracting company were at the site of the project when they came under attack by terrorists, who also targeted the machinery used for work. “Workers were shot at by terrorist elements from the neighborhood to obstruct the project and protect abandoned houses used as their hideout to kidnap citizens and religious men,” Al-Turki said. He added that the security forces launched an operation to track down the terrorists, asserting that the security apparatus would exert all efforts to impose order at the development project site. A two-year-old Saudi infant and a Pakistani expatriate were killed while 10 others, including four security persons, were injured by the terrorists attack to disrupt construction of a development project in Al-Masourah. Al-Turki praised local people who are acting in solidarity with the police to capture the gunmen. The ministry also called on the criminals to surrender themselves to the authorities. He said the terrorists seek to obstruct works at the project to protect their terrorist activities, and to preserve the current situation in the neighborhood that secures the presence of terrorist nests used by their militants to commit crimes and promote arms and drugs. There are more than 1,450 people living in around 488 houses in Al-Masourah district in the Al-Awamiyah town. Those residents are constantly threatened by individually led parties to obstruct the completion of the project, which aims to achieve sustainability and development in the neighborhood, considered as one of the oldest streets in the Qatif district.

King Salman Invites Indonesia, Azerbaijan Presidents to Attend Summit in Riyadh
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Jeddah – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz sent a message to President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, inviting him to attend the Arab-Islamic-US Summit to be hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The message was delivered by the Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Awad al-Awad during a meeting with the Indonesian President on Friday. The Saudi minister conveyed appreciation of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, deputy premier and minister of interior, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the second deputy prime minister and minister of defense, to the Indonesian president. The message also expressed the Saudi officials’ keenness to develop Indonesian-Saudi ties in diverse fields to achieve common interests of both nations.Widodo also expressed gratitude for King Salman’s invitation to attend the summit, hoping that it contributes in serving the Islamic and Arab nations’ matters, presenting the correct image of Islam and reinforcing international security and safety. Saudi Arabia’s Arab Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan also invited on Friday at the presidential palace Azerbaijan President to attend the summit.

Jordanian in US Accused of Trying to Join ISIS
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Washington- A Jordanian citizen living in the US State of Ohio has been indicted on a charge of attempting to travel to the Middle East and fight with ISIS, a month after his arrest at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky. Prosecutors said 26-year-old Laith Waleed Alebbini is a legal permanent resident of the US and that he was attempting to fly to Turkey before joining up with ISIS jihadists. If convicted, Alebbini faces up to 20 years in prison. Court records say he was arrested in January for unlawful entry at the Turkish embassy in Washington, but those charges were later dropped. Last week, the New York Daily News said that police had been closely monitoring him since he headed from Ohio to Washington to get a visit for Turkey. They arrested him before boarding a plane from Cincinnati to Chicago from where he was set to take a flight to Turkey, the report said. According to the newspaper, Alebbini has previously visited Turkey. He faced problems during his last trip when the Turkish authorities denied him entry over the expiry of his Jordanian passport. Then the police learned that his visit to the Turkish embassy in Washington was stormy because he had tried to get a visa despite the expiry of his passport. FBI documents presented to the court said that in addition to monitoring his moves, police had questioned Alebbini on several occasions. They also monitored his phone calls and his social media posts. He had expressed frustration over US policy in the Middle East and the police arrest after his visit to the Turkish embassy. “You will regret it,” he said, in one of his posts.Media reports also said that Alebbini had told FBI investigators he was “the perfect recruit for ISIS.”

PMF Launches New Offensive West of Mosul Near Syria Border
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Baghdad, Mosul- Popular Mobilization Forces launched on Friday an operation to retake the Iraqi neighborhood of al-Qayrawan, west of Mosul, a hub for ISIS on the border with Syria.“Our operations were launched at 5:00 am on several fronts … The aim is to head west” towards Syria’s border, the deputy chief of the PMF committee Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said on Friday. Yahya Rasool, Iraqi army spokesman for the Joint Military Command, told Agence France Presse that the PMF’s operation would be backed by Iraqi military air power. Asked about the new offensive’s objective, Rasool said: “We should liberate the important areas that are linked to the Syrian border.”He also expected the operation to be quick because ISIS is losing strength. The PMF, which has retaken hundreds of villages southwest of Mosul, advanced from five fronts towards towns near al-Qayrawan and exchanged in bloody battles with extremists. Al-Qayrawan links Nineveh province with the Syrian border, where the jihadists use as a supply route. According to the German News Agency, the PMF command said its units are encircling al-Qayrawan from the southern, northern and eastern directions in preparation for storming it. In the process, the Iraqi air force, which is providing air power to the PMF units, destroyed several booby-trapped vehicles. The PMF also blew up two explosive-laden vehicles and killed six militants in the liberated village of Umm al-Shababik.

Trump to Support Palestinians’ Right for ‘Self-Determination’
Nazir al-Majli and Asharq al-Awsat/May 13/17/Tel Aviv, Washington – US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster uncovered on Friday that during President Donald Trump’s foreign trip to the Middle East, to begin in Saudi Arabia, the president would express his desire for self-administration for the Palestinians. At the daily White House briefing, McMaster said: “During the trip, Trump will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those from ISIS, al-Qaeda and Iran, to the Assad regime of Syria.”
He added that Trump also seeks to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity. Although Trump will reaffirm during his meeting with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, America’s unshakeable bond with the Jewish state, the president will also express during his meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas, “his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” McMaster said. Asked about reports that President Trump may try to get Netanyahu and Abbas in the same room together while he’s there, McMaster said: “It will be whatever the President wants to do.” The national advisor described the trip as historic and said: “No President has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslims faiths all on one trip.”Meanwhile, Trump’s special Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt is expected in Israel during the next few days to prepare for the president’s visit. Israeli informed sources uncovered on Friday that Trump was sending his envoy with a mission to convince Netanyahu to participate in a meeting including Abbas and Trump, probably to be held during the president’s upcoming visit to the Middle East. Trump’s administration also sent a message to Tel Aviv saying the president was “very serious” in his efforts to ink a peace deal and therefore, the Israelis “should not deceive him.”

17 Mummies Discovered in Central Egypt
Ashrq Al-Awsat/May 13/17/Cairo – Egyptian archaeologists have discovered 17 mummies in catacombs in central Egypt, antiquities ministry announced on Saturday. “We found catacombs containing a number of mummies,” said Salah al-Kholi, who headed the mission that made the discovery in the Touna el-Gabal district of the province in central Egypt. The funerary site was found in a desert area in Minya province, south of Cairo. Kholi told a news conference held near the archaeological site in the desert that the discovery was “the first human necropolis found in central Egypt with so many mummies.” “There will be a large necropolis behind the shafts,” he added. A team from Cairo University followed up with the mission of the new discovery.Al-Kholi pointed out that the necropolis was a subject, at one point, for scavenging by antiquities thieves. Chairman of Cairo University, Gaber Nassar, said “we will continue to fund the antiquities discoveries in Touna el-Gabal district, and turn it into an important center at the tourist map of Egypt.”The first discovery in Touna el-Gabal was announced in 1931.

Iran’s Sunni leader endorses Rouhani for re-election

AFP, Tehran Saturday, 13 May 2017/A leading figure of Iran’s minority Sunnis endorsed moderate President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday ahead of this week’s election, despite the government’s “shortcomings”.Sunnis make up around five to 10 percent of Iran’s 80 million population, which is overwhelmingly from the Shiite sect of Islam. Religious leader Molavi Abdol Hamid said “the atmosphere for Sunnis has been a little more relaxed” since Rouhani took power in 2013, and that most would support him in Friday’s election. Abdol Hamid repeated calls for greater Sunni representation in local and national government, and more action on discrimination. “The Sunni community believes that this government, despite its problems and weaknesses, has had more strong points, and we hope if the current government takes office again, it will do more to resolve those problems and shortcomings,” he said in comments carried by his website. He was speaking in Sistan Baluchistan province, a Sunni-majority region in southeastern Iran bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rouhani is leading in official polls, but faces a tough fight for re-election against conservative rivals who accuse him of failing to boost the struggling economy.

How Saudi forces protected civilians from terrorists’ fire in Qatif
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Saturday, 13 May 2017/Social media activists from Saudi Arabia are sharing a number of pictures and videos of the security forces’ efforts to spare civilians from the al-Zawahiri neighborhood in al-Awamiya, Qatif, from the terrorists who attacked the area. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior said on Friday that terrorists targeted a development project in the neighborhood of al-Masoura in the eastern province of Qatif, where labor workers were targeted during the shoot-out. Two people, including an infant, were killed and 10 others wounded after terrorists shot at workers at a development project in the eastern Qatif governorate and left the scene. Ten people including six Saudi nationals were wounded in the attacks. The injured include a woman and two children, a Sudanese national, an Indian national who is in a critical condition, in addition to four security men who suffered minor injuries.

Why do Tunisian Jews flock to this island temple at this time every year?
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Saturday, 13 May 2017ظThousands of Jews began performing religious services on Friday morning at the Temple of Ghriba Synagogue, in the Tunisian island of Djerba. This annual religious event is of great importance to Tunisian and foreign Jews, and it has also started to attract the attention of Tunisian Muslims. Jews perform rituals and worship for three days – one of their most important religious celebrations – in the most important synagogue in North Africa, where they believe to have one of the oldest versions of the Torah in Tunisia.
Reading of the sacred books
They begin their ritual with a small religious ceremony for ‘Mir’, a Jewish priest who for hundreds of years has been interested in preserving the doctrines of the religion, by reading three sacred Jewish books: the Talmud, the Torah and other Jewish sacred writings. On the second day, the Jews perform their prayers and continue to read the Torah. They write their personal wishes on eggshells and place them in a small cave located in the small sanctum of the synagogue. According to legend, all the wishes written on the eggshells ome true. During prayer, women and men are separated, both men and women keep their heads covered and they wear modest clothing. The same evening, the Jews come out of the synagogue and together they push a small cart decorated with a large silver lamp and take out a procession till the next neighborhood, amid songs and hymns, before going back. The final and third day is called the day of ‘Lord Shimon’ - one of the senior Jewish priests. Devotees resort to him in order to seek blessings and to ask God for forgiveness, and people pray for him and light candles. In the evening, Tunisian traditional music celebrations are held, during which financial donations will be collected for the temple, and the Bouja wine (a drink made by the Jews of Tunisia from figs) is presented to the visitors and which is believed to have healing and blessing effects.

Egypt announces reward for any information on its missing first female mayor
Ashraf Abdelhamid, Al Arabiya Saturday, 13 May 2017/Security services in Egypt are exerting intensive efforts in the search for Nahed Lashin, thecountry’s first woman to assume the post of mayor, who disappeared after leaving her home 63 days ago. Salah Abdul Hamid Lashin, Nahed’s brother, who belongs to the village of Kafr Hanout from the province of Sharkia in northern Egypt, said that his sister was kidnapped but refused to accuse any particular party. The family has made an offer to those who could provide any information on her disappearance and whereabouts. Salah said in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya that the family offered a paid Umrah trip or the equivalent of the value of the amount of 15,000 Egyptian pounds in cash, in addition to a contract of work abroad with a salary of up to 16,000 pounds to anyone who can provide information. He added that his sister told him on the day of her disappearance that she was on her way to a hospital to perform tests and visit some patients, and asked her to wait for him. As soon as he arrived, the hospital’s administration told him his sister never showed up. Salah pointed out that he will go to the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis on Sunday morning and make an appeal to the Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi to intensify the search for his sister.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 13-14/17
What is behind Iran’s new threats against its neighbors?
Heshmat Alavi/Al Arabiya/May 13/17
Senior Iranian officials have been heard making strong comments and threats against its neighbors in the region, specifically Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Although being alert is always advised vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, knowledge regarding the nature of the mullahs’ apparatus reassures us about this being an old Tehran tactics aimed at maintaining a straight face at hard times, desperately attempting to preserve the morale of their dwindling base, and a pitiful attempt to sway international attention from its domestic crises with a major presidential election just around the corner.
Archrival grudge
Iran’s first such threat came against Saudi Arabia when Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan threatened the Kingdom soil. “If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina,” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan was quoted by Reuters citing Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. Dehghan’s remarks came after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud threatened to counter Tehran’s measures by moving the “battle” between the two regional archrivals inside Iran.The mullahs’ seem to have easily forgotten they initially launched the “battle” and how their modern day illegitimate support for the Houthis in Yemen are threatening Saudi Arabia’s southern borders. Tehran is also known for provoking Shiite terrorists inside the Kingdom and other Muslims nations across the region. “They think they can do something because they have an air force,” Dehghan added in an apparent reference to Yemen, where Saudi warplanes have been regularly pounding the Houthis and seeking to bring an end to Tehran’s meddling.
Looking to the east
Placing attention this time on Iran’s eastern neighbors, Major-General Mohammad Baqeri warned Islamabad of his country’s forces willing to attack inside Pakistan to target “terrorists”. Head of Iran’s armed forces in effect accused Islamabad of harboring terrorists and not taking enough measures to stop cross-border attacks, as he described. “We expect Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases,” the Al Jazeera website quoted Iran’s Fars news agency citing Baqeri. Such comments led to Pakistan summoning Tehran’s ambassador over these recent threats. Pakistan strongly condemned Tehran’s statements, arguing bilateral relations between the two bordering countries would be harming, to say the least. Iranian authorities must abstain from making such negative comments, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry added.
Problems at home
And when we hear a presidential candidate using the opportunity to make strong remarks against the Saudis, we realize all these comments reflect the very viewpoint of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, the man who has the final word on all state issues, including national security and foreign affairs.
“…one day soon the filthy stain of arrogance will be wiped… from the Noble Sanctuaries,” said Ebrahim Raisi, head of the Astan Quds Razavi, a so-called “charity foundation” that is actually funneling its revenue to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to pursue the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling across the Middle East. Raisi was referring to the Saudis who administer many of Islam’s holiest sides on their soil. Raisi is also known to believe Tehran’s borders extend across Syria, “which we consider our frontier for defending the Islamic Republic’s security and identity.” This is exactly why Raisi is described as a close confidant of Khamenei. In this picture released by official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the Revolutionary Guard cadets in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Elections dilemma
All this reflects how Tehran is facing a major crisis at home. Raisi and four others are contesting incumbent President Hassan Rowhani in this regime’s 12th presidential “election”, read selection, described by The Wall Street Journal as “a race between several Islamic hard-liners and one hard-liner whom the Western media prefer to cast as a moderate”. This is a process where all candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council, an unelected 12-cleric body appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei. The main candidates, Rowhani and Raisi, are both known as major executioners. Rowhani has presided over 3,000 executions during his past four-year tenure, while Raisi has led a long career in the regime’s judiciary and is notoriously known for his ruthless role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners.
Final thoughts
As a result, the remarks made by senior Iranian officials lashing at left and right reveal the unending troubles the Iranian regime in its entirety is facing. And with the third and final debate scheduled for Friday, the votes for May 19th and a likely second round vote for May 26th, this entire month can be described as a minefield for Khamenei and the mullahs’ entire apparatus. In such situations this regime resorts to making threats across the board to especially maintain face amongst its already dwindling and very low percentage social base. The very people the mullahs’ rely on to turn out in a certain number of polling stations where foreign reporters will be channeled to in order to claim high voter turnout for the presidential “election”. Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chairman of the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran Foreign Affairs Commission, best described the crises before Khamenei.
“The choices for Khamenei are between the worse, and the worse of the worse. This is the reality that Khamenei has to deal with. This is a totally new situation and new prospects and brings the regime closer to its downfall,” he said.

Baptismal unity divides Egypt's Copts
Amr Mostafa/TranslatorJoelle El-Khoury/Al Monitor/May 13/17
CAIRO — Harmony prevailed between Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria during Francis' visit to Egypt April 28-29, but their like-mindedness on baptism has ignited a debate between the Egyptian Orthodox Church and its adherents.
An agreement on baptism between Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II has angered some Copts. Denominational differences over baptism date back centuries. One point of contention concerns whether Christians who switch churches are required to be rebaptized according to their new denomination or whether a baptism is irrevocable. Egyptian media reported that during a papal meeting at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo's Abbasiya district, Francis and Tawadros signed a “document ending the dispute over the sacrament of baptism or rebaptism.” During a general audience back at the Vatican on May 3, Francis announced that he and Tawadros had signed a “common declaration to journey together, and not to duplicate baptisms already received in the respective Churches.” Their agreement angered many Egyptian Orthodox Christians, some of whom had earlier expressed reservations about the issue based on information leaked before Francis arrived in Cairo. According to the leaks, the document to be signed represented a final agreement on baptismal unity, which many Orthodox Christians view as contrary to their Orthodox faith. In an attempt to head off trouble, the Orthodox Church Holy Synod Secretariat issued a statement 24 hours before Francis' arrival explaining that the document in question was a common declaration, not a final agreement, and would read as follows:
Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.
We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.
A source from the Orthodox Church told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The document and Pope Francis' remarks do not affirm the signing of an agreement requiring that the sacrament of Baptism not be duplicated. Rather, they both spoke of a common declaration spiritually committing both parties to seek to achieve that in the hope of the reunification of the churches in the future.”
Nevertheless, Mina Asaad Kamel, a professor of Christian apologetics at the Alexandria School of Theology, told Al-Monitor, “Seeking to not repeat baptism in preparation for baptismal unity should not happen at present. This is because acknowledging the Catholic sacrament of baptism as valid is accepting the Catholic doctrine, while many doctrinal differences need to be resolved beforehand through a dialogue between the two churches, before examining the issue related to the sacrament of baptism.”
In an April 30 Facebook post, Kamel asserted that the signed document in its entirety, not just a part of it, should be publicly disclosed so Orthodox followers could be informed. He also started an Arabic hashtag that translates to #We_want_the_original_document.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Arabi21 website, which opposes President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, al-Azhar and the Orthodox Church, published a May 1 article by the journalist Salim Azzouz, who wrote, “My guess is that the signing of the declaration does not imply sharing the same faith. Rather, it is a political move made by Pope Tawadros II as a part of Sisi’s campaign to woo Pope Francis. Tawadros II does not have a problem abandoning his church’s beliefs in order to please the ruler, because Sisi needs the Vatican's pope.”
Kamal Zakher, the coordinator of the Secular Coptic Current, an activist group, told Al-Monitor, “The political and religious goals behind Pope Francis' visit should not be confused. I do not think that the state pressured the Orthodox Church to sign a document on baptism. This is because Pope Francis came to Egypt at the invitation of al-Azhar and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, not the Orthodox Church or Pope Tawadros II, and Pope Francis builds upon [this] when signing any documents. The visit’s political objective is to declare that all religious leaders have rallied behind Egypt in countering terrorism. This is the case in particular because the war on terrorism has sought to stem the support of Christians in Egypt and all over the world for the state, after churches and Christians were recently heavily targeted by terrorist attacks.”
Zakher also stated, “The churches agreeing to try to avoid repeat baptisms is not a complete or finalized achievement that will bring the political regime closer to Pope Francis or pressure the Egyptian church. This is because seeking to do something does not necessarily mean that the efforts are going to bear fruit anytime soon. Such endeavors need years, and negative reactions to the churches’ declaration are something normal, especially because all churches have taught their followers for centuries that they are right and all other denominations are wrong.”
The situation is unlikely to have been one of the regime pressuring the Orthodox Church to sign a mere common declaration. A final agreement, however, would have been a different matter, as it, with an assist from Egypt, would have enshrined Francis as the cleric who ended the centuries-long dispute. Regardless, in light of Egyptian Orthodox Christians' opposition, endeavors to reach baptismal unity will not bear fruit anytime soon.

The UN's Obsession against Israel
Pierre Rehov/Gatestone Institute/May 13/17
Israel is thus the only country on the planet to benefit from the doubtful privilege of being scrutinized on the least of its actions, through an agenda decided by its enemies.
There is also no need to go back to 1976, to remember the infamous UN Resolution 3379, "Zionism is a form of Racism," under the Secretary-Generalship of a former Nazi, Kurt Waldheim, a week after Uganda's brutal Idi Amin received a triumphant reception at the UN headquarters.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) met once again on March 20 to debate "Agenda Item 7," a mandatory subject of debate since June 2006, the only one whose goal is systematically to condemn the Israeli democracy for crimes the existence of which remain to be proven.
The agenda, officially designed to assess the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, in the light of the reports submitted by Fatah, the PLO and various NGOs, is part of a wider campaign, carried out by countries such as Libya, Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen. Israel is thus the only country on the planet to benefit from the doubtful privilege of being scrutinized on the least of its actions, through an agenda decided by its enemies.
If it were only a question of expressing this obsession, born out of an old habit for the Arab-Muslim dictatorships to turn the Hebrew state into their scapegoat, responsible for all the misfortunes plaguing their societies, Agenda Item 7 would be a mere oddity, especially since the session is regularly boycotted by a majority of Western countries, and systematically by the United States.
Unfortunately, this Israelphobia has been spreading throughout the United Nations. In 1948, when Israel, after being officially recognized as a sovereign state by virtually all Western democracies, had just repelled the genocidal aggression of five neighboring countries, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were fleeing the oppression of Arab dictatorships, the UN gave birth to UNRWA, an organization designed to help Palestinian refugees exclusively. This was despite there already being a program for refugees at the UN, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The mandate of UNRWA was for one year. Seventy years later, the organization, now a lavish UN jobs program, continues to function within the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, with an annual budget close to one billion dollars. Part of that covers salaries and pension funds for 25,000 to 27,000 employees (including many members of Hamas); schools in which the descendants of descendants of "refugees", in suburbs or villages called "camps", are inaccurately told that Tel Aviv and Haifa had belonged to them and should be returned to them, and where the myth of an impossible "right of return" continues to hold new generations of Palestinians hostage and inciting hatred of Israel and Jews.
As Said Aburish, one of Yasser Arafat's biographers and a former adviser to Saddam Hussein, told this author:
"In order to conserve UNRWA rations, Palestinians had become accustomed to bury their dead at night, so that no one died in the camps except when it was possible to accuse Israel of it. As a result, the refugee figures have always been distorted, with the passive complicity of UNRWA, as its annual budget depends on the number of souls for which they are responsible."
It is no secret that, in fewer than 70 years, the UN has condemned Israel more often than all the countries of the world combined, including those guilty of slavery, mass executions, genocide -- every human rights abuse imaginable -- to the extent that it has almost became a joke.
It is worth recalling that between 1981 and 1986, when Israel had set up a social program to rehabilitate Arab refugees based in Gaza, the only response from the UN, under pressure from Fatah Chairman Yasser Arafat, was to condemn the Hebrew State for its initiative, concluding each of its resolutions by this distressing order: "Return the refugees to the camps".There is also no need to go back to 1975, to remember the infamous UN Resolution 3379, "Zionism is a form of Racism," under the Secretary-Generalship of a former Nazi, Kurt Waldheim, a week after Uganda's brutal Idi Amin received a triumphant reception at the UN headquarters.
Under Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi, the United Nations in 1975 passed the infamous Resolution 3379, "Zionism is a form of Racism". (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It is enough, however, to refer to the General Assembly of December 21, 2016 to find that Israel, once again, was condemned 20 times while all the tragic events on the planet, massacres in Syria, the North Korean threats, the Crimean crisis and the ill-treatment of women and minorities in both Iran and Saudi Arabia were penalized almost reluctantly by a tiny half dozen resolutions.
The list of the injustices done to the Jewish state by an organization supposed to preserve peace in the world, which De Gaulle scornfully called "le machin", "the thingy," is so long that it would take several volumes of an encyclopedia to expose them.
None, however, has made as much noise or provoked as much rejection on the international scene as that enacted by UNESCO on October 26, 2016, followed by a similar text on April 29, 2017, the very day Israel was celebrating its 69th year of independence.
Submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, this text, ratified by the automatic Arab majority, and benefiting from the abstention of almost all the European countries, including France, offered a new and surprising rewriting of history by denying any connection between Judaism and Jerusalem's Temple Mount, including the Western Wall, described in each paragraph by only their Arab names, the Haram Al Sharif and the Al Buraq wall. The counter-factualness of this resolution, led the new Secretary-General of UNESCO, Antonio Guterres, to contradict it, by a declaration that the Palestinian Authority withdraw it, together with issuing an apology.
Although it may seem outrageous systematically to target the Hebrew state, the UN framework enables it. First, there is the composition of preponderance of anti-democratic members of the United Nations, as well as the challenges posed by the terrorist hammer and the oil anvil.
On the other hand, why should UNESCO, whose prescribed function is precisely the preservation of history and the preservation of peace, participate in a farce whose conclusion, strictly speaking, would be that Jesus chased the merchants of the "Esplanade of the mosques" six centuries before the birth of Islam?
As for the religious context, Jerusalem -- especially the Old City and the Temple Mount -- are sacred places for the three monotheisms. When they were in the possession of Jordan, which had illegally seized them in 1948 until the Israelis liberated them in 1967, all the Jews were driven from the Jordanian-controlled part of the city; their property and belongings taken, and their holy sites desecrated.
In the dissenting opinion of Dr. Yussuf Natshe, in charge of the Waqf, the Muslim organization in charge of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, and Sheikh Omar Awadallah Kiswani, director of the Al Aqsa mosque, these places are not to be shared: "They have belonged to Islam from all eternity, as God and UNESCO have wished." (Remarks collected by the author).
The goal of the Palestinians, supported by the Muslim world, would be to give the name of the Al Aqsa mosque to the whole Haram Al Sharif (Temple Mount) so that access to it would definitely be forbidden for any non-Muslims, as are Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. In this case, why did France become an accomplice, by abstaining on the votes of October 26, 2016, and followed by a similar text on April 29, 2017.
It was part of a broader program. The American president at the time, Barack Hussein Obama, had recalibrated the US stance in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. At the heart of Obama's credo, the famous Israeli "settlements" seemed to symbolize only absolute evil, while international terrorism, including Palestinian terror, could, under no circumstances, possibly emanate from the excesses of a religion described as one of love and peace.
This position, rational or not, may also have been considered by many a way of gradually disengaging the United States from a moribund peace process after its umpteenth failure in 2014, under the leadership of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
French President François Hollande's government may well have thought that the vote was a great opportunity to put France back on the front line of international diplomacy by plunging daggers into the knot of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Hence the plan for an international conference convened in Paris (but from which the main stakeholders, Israel and the Palestinians, would be excluded. (One has to wonder what the French would have said if other countries had gathered, without including the French, to discuss the future of Paris.)
Arab policy, as instituted by De Gaulle in 1967 and followed by successive French governments, was not a matter of leaving the Jewish state alive, albeit officially still called Israel. In terms of security, France had to support its conference by appealing to the countries on which it imagined its energy supply depended, disregarding the small fact that the Arabs had to sell the oil rather than drink it.
The new US administration of President Donald J. Trump, however, with US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, rebalanced the American position again, and, by extension, those taken by Europe and France, in a conflict which has for too long been suffering from double standards such as those mentioned above.
Why, indeed, would the Palestinians make the slightest concession, if it were enough for the international community to hand them a state, cost-free, on a platter?
In the opinion of Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist and political analyst:
"The Palestinian Authority is like an opposition party. It is enough for it to criticize and accuse Israel, it has nothing else to do or to prove, to receive all the support and all the money it needs. And while France and Europe offer medals to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian people continue to suffer under its dictatorship. "
Unfortunately, on April 29, at the UNESCO, France abstained again.
It is now time for France and the European Union to recognize that if they want to keep the glimmer of credibility they still have as participants to any peace process, they should cease demonizing Israel at the same time as they accept all demands, including the use of terrorism, threats of terrorism and payments for terrorism from Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority -- all delivered with the approval of an organization, the UN, which Palestinians have long ago swallowed up.
It is high time that such a toxic organization was defunded. Agencies deemed helpful, such as the World Health Organization, can be funded separately.
Pierre Rehov is a war reporter, documentary filmmaker and novelist. His latest film "Unveiling Jerusalem" directed for the Israel's Channel One television, will soon be available in English-speaking countries.
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Where Kissinger goes, war follows
Tony Brady/Face Book/May 13/17
The globalist’s globalist, the architect behind most of America’s lost wars for empire and world hegemony for the last 50-plus years, and instigator of coups and the deaths of millions of people around the globe by the U.S. and U.S.-supplied weapons, made a surprise visit to the White House to see Donald Trump on Wednesday.
So much for “draining the swamp.”
And what was former Secretary of State, long-time Council on Foreign Relations member and Bilderberger Henry Kissinger discussing with Trump? In a visit not on Trump’s calendar? Syria.
The Syrian people – and Americans as well – should be shaking in their boots. Because where Kissinger goes, war follows.
According to press pool reports, pool reporters were summoned at 11:20 a.m. for what they assumed would be a photo op of Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. What they found was Trump seated beside the fossilized old war criminal, former #NeverTrumper and long-time friend-of-Hillary Clinton (through the CFR) and Zionist neocon war-making kingpin, Kissinger.
From the report:
POTUS, wearing a dark suit and red striped tie, said he met with Kissinger to talk “about Russia and various other matters.”
“We’re talking about Syria and I think that we’re going to do very well with respect to Syria and things are happening that are really, really, really positive,” Trump added. “We’re going to stop the killing and the death.”
Kissinger knows a thing or three about “killing and death.” But not much, it seems, about how to stop it. In the 1970s as national security adviser, Kissinger oversaw the many U.S.-instigated coups throughout Central and South America, including the overthrow of Chili’s democratically-elected government on September 11 (notice the symmetry?) of that year. What followed was 16 years of repression, torture and death under the fascist Augusto Pinochet and a healthy flow of profits to U.S. multinational corporations.
As The Intercept points out, in “Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman,” Greg Grandin writes that as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy maker, Kissinger:
Prolonged the Vietnam war for five pointless years.
Illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos.
Goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists.
Bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh.
Urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House.
Pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan.
Began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran.
Accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead.
Supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.
Ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level.
In “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” Christopher Hitchens examined what he considered Kissinger’s war crimes including:
The deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina.
Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination, in Bangladesh.
The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation — Chile — with which the United States was not at war.
Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.
Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, D.C. (syndicated columnist Jack Anderson).
In the aftermath of 9/11, after Kissinger was placed as co-chair of the 9/11 Commission (the fox guarding the hen house), he resigned rather than reveal the money his private consulting company made on fees paid by Union Carbide in the wake of the Bhopal, India disaster.
He also profited over the years, according to The Nation, by:
…making sure Saudi Arabia’s and, until its revolution, Iran’s growing mountain of petrodollars were recycled through private banks and arms merchants in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States—undercutting Third World demands that capital be used to fund a more equitable global economy, what was then called a New International Economic Order. Likewise, in Latin America and Eastern Europe, Kissinger Associates profited from what one of its consultants called the “massive sale” of public utilities and industries, a sell-off that, in many countries, was initiated by Kissinger-supported dictators and military regimes (Kissinger’s fudging of the line between public policy and private finance, especially as it relates to the arms trade and petroleum extraction, echoes through many of the controversies of the Clinton Foundation; see David Sirota and Andrew Perez’s reporting, especially “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals from Hillary Clinton’s State Department” and “As Colombian Money Flowed to Clintons, State Department Took No Action to Prevent Labor Violations”). This sell-off was part of the global transformation to what is commonly called “neoliberalism,” and what in this campaign season has come to be known as Clintonism…
Recall that I told you a year ago that the CFR had kidnapped Donald Trump. Which explains Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base over the fake news that Syria had used poison gas on its own people.
Kissinger is proof-positive that America’s wars are not for freedom and liberty but for profit and soft conquest.

Kabbalah on the Corniche: Jewish mysticism comes to Beirut
Olivia Alabaster/Middle East Eye/May 13/17
BEIRUT - In a country with 18 official sects, a new, ancient, form of spiritualism has joined the scene this week, as the Middle East's first Kabbalah centre outside of Israel has opened in Lebanon. This Jewish mysticism does not attempt to compete with traditional, organised religions, according to Sara – not her real name – the leader of the classes. Kabbalah is a "practical philosophy," and a "spiritual practice," she said over coffee in Beirut's downtown area, where the centre is situated. Sara, who is an ordained imam, said Kabbalah is no longer explicitly Jewish. "Even though many of its practitioners have been rabbis in the 21st century," Sara said, it has been increasingly reframed. Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, who contextualised the ancient text, the Zohar, for an early 20th-century audience, sought to introduce Kabbalah to the masses, and in so doing repackaged it as something less explicitly Jewish.
We let Muslims do their Muslim practises, and we let Christians do their Christian practises
Perhaps most commonly associated by many today with Madonna, a famous practitioner of Kabbalah, the philosophy, Sara said, does still share the Jewish Mitzvah, or commandments."But as we are in Lebanon, we do not actually practise the rituals. We let Muslims do their Muslim practices, and we let Christians do their Christian practices," she said.Sara herself is a practicing Muslim and her husband a practising Christian.
Practical philosophy
"It's absolutely compatible with my religion," Sara said, and, not only is it compatible but Kabbalah has allowed for a deeper understanding of Islam. "I understand Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, and I understand the teachings of the Quran, or I can actually decipher the Quran because I have studied the Zohar." Citing a practical example, Sara recalled a time when she was praying for good fortune, but her anger prevented her success. Zohar, written here in Arabic for the Lebanese edition. The rest of the text is in Aramaic, which normally today uses the Hebrew alphabet (MEE)
"There is a teaching in the Zohar that says anger diminishes your prosperity, and it says the same thing in the Quran – that people who are angry, God shall diminish their prosperity." As she spooke, the Islamic call to prayer rang out across the square. "That's very funny actually because they say that when you say something when the call to prayer comes on, then this is truthful."The Jewish population of Lebanon today numbers around 2,000, according to the Lebanese Jewish Community Council.
Lebanese Jewish community
But Lebanese Jews are unlikely to publicly profess their devotion to Kabbalah, given suspicions about links with Israel, with which Lebanon is still technically at war. Israel occupied the country until 2000, and invaded and bombed the country in 2006, killing hundreds and destroying vital infrastructure.
Sara's students are a mix of Lebanese and foreigners, she said, but she does not ask about anyone's religion. "Personally I wouldn't know if any of our members are Jewish," she said, but "I sure get a lot of people who are interested in Judaism, and I have to reinforce the idea that Kabbalah is not Judaism."
I sure get a lot of people who are interested in Judaism, and I have to reinforce the idea that Kabbalah is not Judaism
Sara, Kabbalah teacher
"I do get a lot of interest that is – 'ooh, this is Jewish, let me infiltrate the secret society'."
Despite Sara's insistence of the chasm between Judaism and Kabbalah, she has faced criticism for the philosophy she pursues and teaches in her spare time – she is a psychotherapist by profession.
Facing criticism
"I come up against a lot of criticism all the time," she said. As studying the Zohar includes looking at astronomy, astrology, numerology and health, amongst other aspects, some Muslims she has discussed Kabbalah with deem it "takfir" or a "falsehood against Islam". Other people, she said, are the "really fearful type who are like – what's the connection with Israel?" Tattoo marks the cross: Christian tradition endures in Jerusalem. "There's no connection with Israel, whatsosver. I don't even know ... " she said, before trailing off, a hint of desperation in her voice. When Sara prays at a mosque, she does not mention the word "Kabbalah," she said, and many of her family and friends do not know that she studies the philosophy. "I don't really go around and talk about it. I don't even advertise it to my friends."
Finding wisdom through ice-cream
Sara discovered Kabbalah while living in London as a teenager.
At a moment of "existential crisis" she went to her favourite ice-cream parlour, somewhere that had always provided emotional comfort in times of need. "But the ice-cream place was now closed and it had turned into a Kabbalah centre."So I was thinking - what is this? I had never even heard the word."
There is an informal Kabbalah study group in Dubai, but this is the first official centre in the Middle East, outside of Israel (MEE)
A woman at the centre soon began explaining the principles of Kabbalah to Sara, and "it really answered, to a point, some of the very basic questions that I think every human has. And then I signed up". Upon returning home to Lebanon, Sara discovered that people were informally studying Kabbalah, but "no one in Lebanon wanted to take the courage to form a group study, so I realised that this was something that I wanted to do". The study group – something similar exists in Dubai – has now become formalised into a physical centre, of which there are several in Israel, Sara says.
Growing community
Kabbalah, which means "to receive, from the divine," has ultimately taught Sara that "you are given everything that you want in life, and it's your ego that stops it from getting it. This is how it's helped me understand my faith, or what Islam is teaching."In a country such as Lebanon, where Sara said anger is commonplace, she believes people could do from learning how to deal with problems in a more thoughtful way. "A lot of people in Lebanon experience a lot of anger," she said, and too often throw blame and accusations, without stopping to think about what they really want from life. "My teacher used to tell me - it's a very strong soul that knows what they want. And it's an even stronger soul that actually goes for what they want."For now, the centre has about 15 students, but, Sara said, "it's a very fast growing community. "Word of mouth works really well because people see the change in the other person and they want to know what's going on."

Hamas and an ‘eternity of conflict’
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/ArabNews/May 13/17
In the mid-1990s, the Kuwaiti magazine “Mugtama” which is affiliated with the Brotherhood interviewed Ahmad Yassin, the historic leader of the Hamas movement. The headline predicted Israel’s demise before the millennium. Yassin spoke in a dream-like manner and refused to head in the direction of a conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization despite all provocations and cited the Quranic verse: “If you should raise your hand against me to kill me, I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you.” Few decades later, Hamas announced its new charter in which it amended its founding charter.
In the charter it announced on May 2, Hamas voiced its worry over its current situation due to political and ideological considerations and international changes. The movement has never denied its Brotherhood roots since its establishment in December 1987. Its founding charter stipulates that Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and is influenced by it, and it also commended the Brotherhood’s ideology. However, there is currently an international and regional wave against the Brotherhood which has been listed as a terror group by some countries. The current American administration has hinted that it will list the group’s cadres on its terror list. This made Hamas enhance its presence in the international legal arena in order to shield itself from any harm as a result of its Brotherhood affiliations. Meanwhile, the peace process in the Middle East has been revived and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently met with US President Donald Trump. Hamas is now trying – in theory – to integrate more into the political process instead of being addicted to suicide operations and focusing on moves that violate the context of resistance as legitimized by international laws.
Part of the struggle
The Hamas movement is part of the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis. However Hamas has imposed its presence outside the authority that is internationally recognized. Hamas does not have realistic dimensions towards the historical Arab cause. Even the new document does not express any realism. The movement continues to obstruct the PLO’s work and harms possible and realistic agreements within the Arab initiative which Saudi Arabia proposed and Arab and western countries agreed on.
The Hamas movement is part of the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis
Although the movement gave up on the goal of “Israel’s demise,” the document hinted at the “eternity of conflict” and at ending all possibilities towards a solution and negotiations. One of the document’s articles said: “Hamas confirms that the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews due to their religion. Hamas is not at conflict against the Jews because they are Jews but it’s in a conflict against the invading Zionist aggressors. The occupation leaders are the ones using the slogans of Judaism and Jews in the conflict. They are the ones who describe their invading entity as such. Hamas rejects persecuting any person or depriving him of his rights on ethnic, religious or sectarian basis. Hamas believes that the Jewish problem, anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews are phenomena that are originally linked to the history of Europe and not to the history or legacy of Arabs and Muslims. The Zionist movement – which succeeded at occupying Palestine under western powers’ sponsorship – is the most dangerous model of an occupation that builds settlements. This type of occupation has ended in the entire world and must end in Palestine.”
This is an important development if it’s actually executed as it alters the hateful terms which have been used in Hamas chants ever since the movement was established and which contributed to spreading hatred among Palestinians despite their different religions, sects and affiliations.
A political context
In April 2016, Palestinian Academic Doctor Aqel Mohammed Salah published a significant book entitled “The Hamas Movement, its political and democratic practices since 1992 until 2012.” In the second chapter he compared between Hamas and the PLO’s founding charters. He included an analysis by al-Ashhab and based his opinion on it saying: “Hamas issued its own document because it refuses to join any framework or structure linked to the PLO. Since Hamas did not recognize the PLO as the legitimate and only representative of the Palestinian people, its attempts to join the organization failed. According to Hamas, what obstructed joining the PLO are the following: the organization’s secular approach and not committing to the Islamic approach, the organization’s political program which is linked to a settlement with the occupation and the percentage of its representation in the organization as Hamas required a representation between 40% and 50%.”Aqel Salah also highlights the difference between the two groups’ rhetoric. Hamas uses “general and unspecified prose like terms about the homeland, tyrants and false state while the PLO is distinguished for its clear, specific and direct language. Hamas’ document is directed to the people while the PLO’s addresses the Palestinian people.”Hamas did not deal with the Palestinian cause within a political context and its’ been distinguished for its conflicting policies and the lack of people’s trust in its seriousness. It adopted impossible formulas and abandoned solutions that would have benefitted people’s lives, hopes and future. What’s more dangerous was transforming the Palestinian cause into a tool for ideological and partisan mobilization. It did not invest in patriotic awareness or establish for the meanings of resistance in a scientific and legal way. Instead it consumed and cloned slogans from communist groups and leftist trends. Even suicide operations were cloned from the death squads of leftist organizations.
Ever since this Palestinian crisis, Saudi Arabia has shown its concern to find solutions that end the tragedy of a society whose cause has been turned into a tool for financial and religious deals. It proposed many initiatives. However the ball now is in the court of politicians there. Are they serious about reaching a solution to this problem? Or will the “eternity of conflict” be the only option which will lead to nothing other than more bloodshed and death?

Will Iran’s Green Movement resurface?
Diana Moukalled/ArabNews/May 13/17
My first active experience with Twitter was in 2009. I logged on to the site to find out how to engage with it, and my first search was “Iran’s election.” I had heard about young men and women demonstrating vigorously against the ruling regime. I was impressed by the name of the Green Revolution that erupted against the results of the presidential elections in favor of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Twitter was a place of expression, mobilization and debate, and conveyed what was happening in Iran to the outside world. We saw slogans of “Death to the dictator,” and followed how young men and women were beaten. How can we forget the photo of the young protester Nada, who lay dying in the street after being shot by police, and who became a symbol of the Green Movement? Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did not forget the 2009 experience, in which Twitter was a sensitive mediator. Under Ahmadinejad’s second problematic presidency, the Internet was controlled to isolate Iranians from themselves and from the world. We are days away from Iranian presidential elections, the second since 2009. The mullahs have done everything in their power in recent years to avoid a new Green Revolution, namely via extensive control over the Internet and a lot of public activity.
The mullahs have done everything in their power in recent years to avoid a new Green Revolution, namely via extensive control over the Internet and a lot of public activity.
Iran’s social networking sites have evolved into an election tool. They were an important factor in Hassan Rouhani’s presidential victory in 2013, as his opponents failed to properly utilize them. Iranians are now active in the elections via the unbanned sites Instagram and Telegram. Whereas the state-run radio and television broadcaster IRIB is biased toward certain candidates, Rouhani’s supporters have turned to these sites to strike a balance. Since the 1979 revolution, all Iranian presidents have managed to get a second term. But the situation seems complicated this year, with strong conservative candidates against Rouhani, namely cleric Ibrahim Rabi who is close to Khamenei, and Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf.
Four years ago, Rouhani said he would work to lift the Internet ban, and Iranians had the right to easily obtain information from around the world. But he cannot make this decision alone; it is up to Khamenei. It may be said, and rightfully, that Khamenei’s ability to control the internal situation and prevent protests is strong, but there are those who are minimizing the extent of popular resentment amid the resurgence of many figures who were active in the 2009 Green Movement.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.

US and Russia on Syria: Beyond what meets the eye
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/May 13/17
In the wake of the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov noted that “it’s too early to draw” conclusions from the dialogue between America and Russia.
The Trump-Russia relationship over Syria is not rocky. Although there is a political firestorm ongoing in Washington D.C. over Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are driving America’s foreign policy straight forward on the Syria question. What a contrast from last month when Tillerson went to Moscow for a closed-door meeting with Putin and emerged deploring the “low level of trust” between the two powers. Tillerson added, “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”
In contrast to the joyful pictures published in Russia’s press of the Trump-Lavrov meeting, US President Donald Trump appealed to Moscow to “rein in” the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its key ally Iran. Yet Trump described the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov as “very, very good”, urging that the horrible killing in Syria must stop. To boot, Trump claimed progress on ending the conflict in Syria: “We had a very, very good meeting” Trump said soon after the meeting. “We're going to stop the killing and the death (in Syria).”
This rhetorical game is part of a desire to obfuscate a specific, behind the scenes process to finding military and political solutions to the Syrian civil war. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Trump the same time around the Lavrov meeting.
Clearly, the US and Russia are dividing Syria into spheres of influence for safe haven operations. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is working on a Pentagon plan to establish those safe havens in Syria’s east, more or less, to be buttressed by local forces, and with an additional mission to enforce border security between Syria and Iraq, finally.
Russia, Iran, and Turkey are setting up at least four safe zones along the Israeli and Lebanese borders. US and Russian officials are making guarantees to Israel that Russian soldiers will be near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, not Hezbollah forces.
Clearly, the US and Russia are dividing Syria into spheres of influence for safe haven operations
US Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford is involved in negotiating with his counterparts including Russian Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gady Eisenkott via multiple meetings related to not only safe zones but also keeping de-confliction lines of communication open at all times. There is no doubt that military operations conducted by both US and Russian forces may lead to unintended consequences so cross-coordination is necessary despite politics and firestorms.
Significantly, Jordan plays an important role in the America-Russia plan. Both Trump and Putin have excellent ties with King Abdullah and the three leaders and their immediate subordinates are in contact with each other regarding the safeguarding of Jordan’s Syrian border, especially from the threat of multiple battles between SAA and fighters of various affiliations.
According to a Jordanian official, senior diplomats from Amman are meeting with counterparts in both Washington and Moscow to work out a solid plan for a safe zone north of the Jordanian border in which to safeguard the Hashemite Kingdom from any refugee flows from central northern Syria as multiple forces fight their way to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. Jordan cannot handle much more refugee influx. Deconfliction is also a major part of Amman’s effort.
There are a number of immediate boogeymen in this story. First, is the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces. These Kurdish and Arab forces are anathema to Turkey who sees the YPG as terrorists. Damascus sees the YPG as an enemy too with the Trump Administration raising the stakes by giving YPG forces more assistance.
The Damascus-YPG relationship is complicated as the region and this force do give each other breathing room. Of course, they have conflicting interests but common cause against fighting Salafi-Jihadists. Russia supports the YPG too but with Moscow’s means and objectives differing from the Americans. Trump’s move, of course, is to gain concessions later on the battlefield between Turkey and Russia on the Iran file.
Although Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran signed an agreement in Astana to establish safe havens and work towards a political solution in Syria, Turkey is already looking to upset the division of labor on safe zones being worked on between Trump, Russia and other key Arab stakeholder countries such as Jordan and the GCC states. Ankara, is certainly a spoiler in the current Syrian trajectory given Turkish President Erdogan’s new found power following last month’s constitutional reform referendum.
A final solution?
Still to be decided is a final solution to the Syrian conflict. Trump and Russia are trying to converge their plans on Syria’s political future. Holding up the gap between the two sides is, naturally, Iran. Given the Trump Administration’s sharp turn against Tehran, the White House is looking to Putin to make Iran budge before crippling American sanctions and other pressure comes to the Islamic Republic.
Making matters more interesting is the upcoming Iranian presidential election where a potential swing to the Principalists and the IRGC will complicate the Trump-Putin solution to Syria. We will find out when Trump and Putin are expected to be at the G20 summit in Germany in July but given the rapidity of international events, a meeting could come earlier.
Next week Saudi Arabia is hosting Trump for three historic summits that will address Syria’s plight. The level of criticism toward Iran will be loud with the kingdom and its allies offering America all the support it needs to get Iran out of the Levant.
With the new foundation between the US and Saudi Arabia, Riyadh brings an additional element to the Syrian table that is going to challenge Putin via Trump. The American president is likely to delight in the ability to tantalize Putin with his Saudi partners. This triangle – Trump, Riyadh, and Moscow – will be the one to watch in the coming weeks.

Will US-Kurdish deal force Turkey back to PKK negotiation table?
Pinar Tremblay/Al Monitor/May 13/17
Although the United States has signaled its increasing support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the last few years, US President Donald Trump’s decision to arm the Kurdish forces in Syria for the battle against the Islamic State came as a shock to the Turkish government. Turkey considers the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to be part of one common terror group, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been throwing tantrums over symbols of US support for the YPG.
As Turkey's conflict with the PKK drags on and the United States has made obvious its support for Syria's Kurds, now would be an opportune time to restart negotiations with the PKK.
Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict for the last six years has been mind-boggling. To put it in the simplest of terms: It has lacked a proper strategy. One cannot pinpoint what the Turkish goals were in Syria. The Turks wanted to set the rules of the game in Syria. However, while struggling to adjust their reactive policies against all forces involved, they gained more enemies and incurred unknown amounts of financial loss throughout the process. Turkey wanted the United States to be involved, to establish no-fly zones, and Erdogan cheered each and every time the US president spoke against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In 2012 for example, Turkey demanded that Assad grant more rights and freedoms to the Kurds, but today different sections of Kurds in compartmentalized parts of Syria receive logistics support from Iran, Russia and the United States, and the Turks are not happy. So Turkey demands to send its troops, volunteering more of its own men to die. The payback for the last six years’ mistakes in Syria is due now with interest.
Prior to Erdogan’s much anticipated May 16 visit to Washington, a high-level Turkish delegation (Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, director of national intelligence Hakan Fidan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar) conducted talks with senior US officials. Despite all efforts of the pro-AKP lackeys to play up Trump’s brief greeting to the delegation, the mood was somber. The final blow came with the official news of the US military support for the Kurds. The Turkish government oscillated between ignoring the news and blaming it on the Barack Obama administration, hoping to ride the Trump administration’s anti-Obama tide. But it is too late for that.
The United States decided to arm the Kurds for several reasons, but for the Turkish side, two reasons are the most daunting: The Turkish Armed Forces in Syria are perceived as less competent than the Kurdish groups, and Erdogan is losing power and credibility. Given modern Turkish history, Erdogan’s biggest fear for decades has been a potential military coup. Different legal cases against high-ranking, active-duty officers have crippled the military’s morale, and the July 15 attempted coup has demoralized and structurally weakened the armed forces. Its operations in Syria have not produced impressive results, and the United States’ choice to support the Kurds proves the point.
Next is the undeniable Erdogan problem. Erdogan rushed into the referendum that grants him unprecedented power. Ironically, the process that expanded his powers legally has indeed crippled his legitimacy. Despite all the victory speeches, the AKP’s top leadership can see that Erdogan is in a deep crisis. For the first time in the last 15 years, Erdogan has lost all major cities, including the most important one: Istanbul. Plus Erdogan is losing the young urban vote. This issue is a top priority in Erdogan’s mind.
With fast diminishing support at home, Erdogan needs Trump’s endorsement more than ever. That is precisely why Erdogan’s reaction to the news was measured, cool-headed and calm. He said on May 12, “It is my sincere wish that before I arrive in the US, the decision [to arm the Kurdish forces] will be changed. I will share our concerns with Trump.” However, not only is Turkey’s credibility in the international arena tarnished, but Erdogan’s bargaining power is at its lowest. Erdogan cannot afford to confront Trump, and the United States knows well how weak the Turkish hand is at this stage in the game. Erdogan’s dubious victory may enable him to grab all possible powers domestically, but in the international realm, he is seen as a leader whose dependence on foreign powers is increasing at a menacing pace. That is the dilemma of a dictatorship in the developing world: The stronger you become domestically, the more vulnerable you are internationally.
Despite a few critical voices in Turkey asking Erdogan not to visit Washington, the Islamists and ultra-nationalists have opted to remain quiet. Now, much will depend on how Erdogan is received in the United States. If there are photo-ops where Trump appears as a friend of Erdogan, this Kurdish fiasco can go down more smoothly for Erdogan. Al-Monitor’s talks with senior Turkish bureaucrats indicate that the best scenario for the Erdogan-Trump relationship will be one similar to the Putin-Erdogan relationship, where the details of the deals are not leaked to the press.
Next is the question of what Turkey will do. Two options are being discussed. One is the spoiler role, where Turkey continues to attack PKK and YPG bases in self-defense. This is not a sustainable policy, not only because Turkey lacks the power but mostly due to the dictatorship dilemma explained above.
So the more likely possibility is reopening the peace talks with the PKK. The backdoor channels have always been in the works to convince Turkey to come back to the negotiation table with the Kurds. However, Turkish prerequisites to reopen the talks have simply been too high for the Kurds to meet. Now, with each blow sustained as a consequence of years of unsuccessful policies, the Turks will be going back to talks with the PKK with a much weaker hand. Erdogan has opted to form alliances with Turkish Hezbollah (Huda-Par, a pro-Kurdish Sunni Party), which is adamantly against the PKK, and the Gray Wolves, who have held him in check against a rapprochement with the Kurds. But now that the referendum is over, who can hold Erdogan back?
As a savvy leader, Erdogan will soon start preparing another road map and initiate peace talks with the PKK. Potential collateral damage to this path may be a few senior bureaucrats who had their hearts and minds set on the taking down of prominent PKK leaders and ending the PKK threat completely. A few forced departures from senior AKP ranks are likely to happen, which will eventually isolate Erdogan further in his policy cocoon.
Yet Erdogan knows all too well that the Kurdish problem cannot be solved exclusively in military terms. Hence, he was the one who haphazardly announced the peace process with the Kurds in 2012. On March 21, 2013, all pro-AKP figures were singing Kurdish songs, rejoicing about the peace with the PKK with the slogan “Mothers should not shed any more tears.” Red, green and yellow were the colors in fashion. And in the same unexpected fashion, the process ended in 2015, and now calling for peace in Turkey has become a criminal act.
This is all likely to change rather soon. This time Turkey has lost significant bargaining power, while the Kurds seem to have played a shrewd game of balancing the interests and sensitivities of Iran, Russia and the United States. Watching and listening to Turkish pundits and senior bureaucrats, one cannot help but see that the alternative news reporting and spinning the reality for public opinion has done permanent damage to Turkish policymakers. They have come to believe their own alternative truths. However, the accumulated bills from six years of reckless policies in Syria are soon to be collected without further delay from Turkey.