May 16/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ which is translated Peter

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 01/35-42/:"The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God! ’The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death
Letter to the Philippians 01/2-20/:"I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defence of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will result in my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 15-16/17
Indonesia: Free Speech vs. Treason/Jacobus E. Lato/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
Will President Trump's Visit to Saudi Arabia Tackle Terrorism and Promote Religious Freedom/A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It/Zahi Hawass/The New York Times/May 15/17
Jihad in Denmark/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
Riyadh Summits… Opportunities and Messages/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17
Live From the Oval Office, It’s Sergei Lavrov/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/May 15/17
How Trump Can Have an Impact in the Holy Land/Daniel Shapiro/Bloomberg/May 15/17
MEMRI/Memo Signed By Assad Transfers Command And Financial Responsibility For Syrian Militias To Iran/May 15/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 15-16/17
Dr Walid Phares: UAE leader in DC: "En route towards fighting terror, extremism and regional threats"
Hariri Calls for Job Opportunities for the Arab Youth to Confront Extremism
Lebanon: Negotiations over Electoral Law at a ‘Crossroads’
Report: Cabinet to Convene Wednesday, No Thorny Issues on Agenda
Aoun Says Chances Still Open to Agree on New Voting System
Berri: Discussions Focusing on Proportional Representation System
Harb Urges Parties to Grasp Opportunity for Electoral Law Improvements
Mine Action Support Group visit to Lebanon
Geagea, Safadi tackle election law issue
Kataeb after politburo meeting: Vacuum, extension and 1960 law equivalent to extension
Merehbi meets Emirati Ambassador over current situation
Central bank Of Lebanon stops transactions in prevention from ransomware attack
Lassen welcomes Committee against Torture concluding remarks on initial report submitted by Lebanon
Aboul Gheit in Beirut to partake in strategic studies conference
Aoun promises change but urges patience

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
May 15-16/17
10,000 police assigned to secure Trump’s stay in Israel
King Salman Invites Egyptian President, Sultan of Brunei to Arab-Islamic-US Summit in Riyadh
Tripartite Meeting in Jordan to Resume Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks
Syria Talks Open Overshadowed by Rival Track, Rebel Losses
Syria Regime Nears Total Recapture of Damascus
Syria using crematorium to hide executions, State Department says
Syria’s ‘Geneva 6’ Talks Resume Tuesday with No Agenda
Arming Syria’s Kurds to Top Trump, Erdogan Meeting
ISIS Shelling in Deir al-Zor as Suspected US-led Strikes Leave Casualties
Germany May Move Troops after Turkey Bars MPs from Visiting Incirlik Base
ISIS Loses Major Mosul Bastion
Sisi Calls for More Endurance, Patience from Egyptians
8,500 Potential Cholera Patients Indicate Serious Outbreak in Yemen
Kuwait’s Court of Cassation Sets Next Abdali Cell Hearing for Mid June
Qatif Terrorist Shooting Killed the Budding Life of Two-Year-Old Jawad
Trump, Macron Plan 'Lengthy' Brussels Get-to-Know-You Lunch

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 15-16/17
Dr Walid Phares: UAE leader in DC: "En route towards fighting terror, extremism and regional threats"

May 15/17/Dr Walid Phares told liberal Elaph magazine that "the visit of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed el Nahyan, to Washington is one of the benchmarks for the build up of the moderate camp in the region, along with Egypt, the Gulf, Jordan and other countries. The UAE has distinguished itself in its war of ideas against extremism and its efforts towards moderates' solidarity to resist the Jihadists and counter the Iranian military expansion."Bin Zayed will be meeting President Trump and US leaders as of Monday

Hariri Calls for Job Opportunities for the Arab Youth to Confront Extremism
Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Doha- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that the region requires stability, stressing that finding job opportunities for youth would help confront extremism. Hariri also said on Sunday at the opening of the 17th “Doha Forum” in the Qatari capital that Lebanon’s economic development is facing difficulties as a result of the presence of 1.5 million displaced Syrians and half a million Palestinian refugees on its territories. He called for international and Arab support to finance investment programs in infrastructure and public services. “The most important thing that our Arab region needs today is stability … This, in my opinion, must be the primary goal that we should achieve together and as soon as possible,” Hariri stated. “Extremist groups are fully aware of this and are trying to destabilize the whole world. They have become a danger that should be confronted through the cooperation of all countries, societies, religions and cultures,” he added. “Arab countries are facing many challenges, some of which are common to all,” he said. While stating that each country and society has its own approach in facing these challenges, their goal should be one: “Creating job opportunities, particularly for the youth.”
“This goal can only be achieved through the stimulation of economic growth and full partnership between the public and private sectors. One of the priorities of the government in Lebanon is to achieve the partnership law between the private and public sectors, which will be the framework for activating this partnership,” said Hariri. Turning to the issue of refugees, the premier said that the Lebanese state and civil society fulfilled their duties and obligations towards the humanitarian crisis. “But Lebanon will not be able to continue to face the repercussions of this crisis alone. The number of displaced and refugees in our country is almost half the number of the Lebanese citizens and this raised the poverty rate to 30 percent and doubled the unemployment rate to 20 percent, and to more than 30 percent among the youth.” “It also depleted the public services and the infrastructure and increased fiscal deficit while the economic growth fell from 8 percent before the crisis to almost 1 percent at present,” Hariri said.“We know that our Arab brothers who always stood with Lebanon in good and bad times will be at the forefront in encouraging us and leading the international community to contribute with them to ensure the stability of our country and its capacity to be resilient in the face of the hurricanes in the region,” he added.

Lebanon: Negotiations over Electoral Law at a ‘Crossroads’
Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Beirut – Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri described a meeting that was held Sunday night as a “crossroads” towards reaching an electoral law based on the proportional system, away from sectarian and confessional considerations. Berri, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Lebanese Forces MP Georges Adwan met on Sunday to discuss a proportional electoral law and specifically the distribution of electoral districts. In a telephone conference during a gathering of Amal Movement’s cadres in Europe, which was held in the German capital, Berri said: “A very important meeting will be held this evening and perhaps it could be a crossroads that leads us to a solution and an electoral law based on proportional representation, women’s rights and the right of expats to vote, a law that shuns sectarianism and puts this country on the track of the future.”The Lebanese speaker also stressed that the new electoral law would guarantee expats’ right to vote. “You are our true ambassadors and messengers to the world,” Berri said, addressing the gathering. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zeaiter warned that the country might slide towards a downward direction if political parties fail to agree on an electoral law. “Some people are talking about a vacuum but this is a constitutional heresy,” Zeaiter said, adding that any parliamentary vacuum would threaten the work of other state institutions. Asked about the possibility to extend Parliament’s term, the minister stressed that Berri was against extension, adding however that a “technical extension” might be needed once politicians agree on an electoral law. For his part, Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kenaan underlined some progress achieved in the discussions over the new vote system. He noted in this regard that political parties are discussing the possibility to adopt a proportional law that would be based on medium-sized districts.

Report: Cabinet to Convene Wednesday, No Thorny Issues on Agenda
Naharnet/May 15/17/The cabinet will hold an ordinary session at the Grand Serail on Wednesday to tackle 52 items on its agenda, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday.Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil is expected to present a demand for the renewal of the Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh's term. Salameh’s term ends in August 2017, and the mandate of the governor is usually discussed during a cabinet meeting. However, ministerial sources clarified that ”it does not mean that the proposal will be included in Wednesday's session.”The sources added saying that the cabinet's agenda “is devoid of any important issues, except for a request submitted by the Ministry of Defense to recruit 4,000 civilians for two years and the Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia.”Last week the cabinet met in an ordinary session during which it avoided tackling the thorny issues of the parliamentary electoral law and the electricity plan. The problematic issue of quarries was discussed and it was agreed that the owners of unlicensed quarries would use during one month their stocks and warehouses. During this month, all those who need to regularize their situation, if they meet the necessary conditions, should submit their request to the Ministry of Environment.

Aoun Says Chances Still Open to Agree on New Voting System
Naharnet/May 15/17/President Michel Aoun assured on Monday that chances are still available to agree on an electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary polls before June 19 when the term of the parliament ends. “The possibility is still available until June 19 to agree on a new electoral law. We are always working to guarantee that the rights of all Lebanese components are met,” said Aoun. “The path of reform is a long one. Improving what has been wearing off for more than 27 years can't be done in seven months,” he stressed. Lebanon's parliamentary elections are originally scheduled to be staged between May 21 and June 21, but disagreement between political parties over a voting system to govern the polls might delay the polls. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law.

Berri: Discussions Focusing on Proportional Representation System
Naharnet/May 15/17/Speaker Nabih Berri assured on Monday that atmospheres are positive although the idea of establishing a senate has been withdrawn from a proposal he made on an electoral law. “Withdrawing the idea of creating a senate by May 15, does not mean that the atmospheres are not positive with all political parties, especially that proportional representation is the subject under discussion currently,” the parliament leadership said in a statement on Monday. As part of efforts to resolve the electoral law crisis, Berri had recently proposed the election of a parliament under a proportional representation system in six electoral districts and the creation of a senate consisted of 32 Muslim senators and 32 Christian senators and for allocating its presidency to the Druze community. But media reports said the parliament speaker had planned to withdraw this proposal on Sunday and that Lebanese Forces deputy leader MP George Adwan is trying to convince the political parties of an amended version of Berri's proposal. Berri had warned that he would withdraw his proposal after May 15 -when the next parliament session is scheduled to begin. But, Berri had adjourned the session until May 29. The Speaker was quoted as saying: “Should no agreement be reached on an electoral law, I will not convene the May 15 session so that extension does not get approved or I be accused of supporting extension” of parliament's term.

Harb Urges Parties to Grasp Opportunity for Electoral Law Improvements
Naharnet/May 15/17/MP Boutros Harb said on Monday that no agreement on an electoral law was reached during a meeting held Sunday evening at Ain el-Tineh, adding that discussions were still underway to improve conditions. “There was no agreement on a single scenario during Sunday's evening meeting on an electoral law. Debate is continuing in order to improve conditions in the recent negotiations,” said Harb in an interview to VDL (100.5). However, Harb noted that the political authority will be compelled to stage the elections based on the current 1960 law if agreement fails. But stressed that an accord was inevitable to prevent a political crisis. "If no agreement is reached, the country will fall in vacuum and the political authority will then be forced to stage the elections based on the (current) law that is rejected by all parties, which is the 1960 law,” he stressed. “There is no escape from an agreement because they (political parties) will engage the country in a political impasse after which we will return to the 1960. The current stage is that for improvements, after which they will be compelled to agree on reasonable adjustments acceptable by all components," concluded Harb.

Mine Action Support Group visit to Lebanon

Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - In a press release by the Italian Embassy in Beirut, it said: "The Mine Action Support Group embarked on a 3-day visit to Lebanon. The group based in New York, and chaired by Italy for the years 2016-2017, brings together the main donor countries and the UN agencies involved in demining and defusing unexploded remnants of war."Release added: "The visit, which includes stops in Beirut and in the South of the country where the UNIFIL Mission operates, aims to keep the international community's attention high on a problem that still afflicts the country. Since 1975, Lebanon has had over 3000 casualties due to mines and improvised explosive devices, mostly in the south, and about a third of the Lebanese territory has yet to be cleaned up.""The visit, organized in coordination with the Italian Embassy, the Lebanese Mine Action Center of the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNMAS, kicked off with a meeting of the delegation with the Lebanese Armed Forces Commander, Gen. Joseph Aoun, and a visit to a demining site in Mount Lebanon," release concluded.

Geagea, Safadi tackle election law issue
Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea met on Monday at his Meerab residence with MP Mohammed Safadi, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on the overall situation on the domestic arena, notably the long simmering election law. Geagea said that talks touched on most recent developments in terms of the stalled election law and the forthcoming legislative elections. The LF leader hoped that deliberations and contacts continue on the local arena in a bid to reach a new vote law. On the other hand, Geagea branded his friendship relation with MP Safadi as "exceeding political interests", saying they both share same vision towards Lebanon, the country of "moderation, beauty, life and prosperity."

Kataeb after politburo meeting: Vacuum, extension and 1960 law equivalent to extension
Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - Kataeb Party on Monday underlined its continual battle for change in the country, noting that the trio utterances "vacuum, extension and 1960 electoral law" are three names equivalent to 'extension.'"The current political class's failure to respect the constitutional deadlines and reach a new voting system has put the country on the brink of the worst options, namely vacuum, extension or 60 law" Kataeb Party said in a statement on Monday in the wake of its periodic meeting, under the chairmanship of Party chief MP Sami Gemayel. Kataeb also beseeched the current political class to protect its communities from the negative repercussions of the huge influx and growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, at the socio-economic, demographic, security and daily living conditions.

Merehbi meets Emirati Ambassador over current situation
May 15/17/NNA - State Minister for the Affairs of the Displaced, Mouein Merehbi, on Monday visited the Emirati Embassy in Beirut and met with Ambassador Hamad Said al-Shamsi. "Conferees discussed the bilateral relations between the two countries and the importance of activating and bolstering them, in addition to latest political developments in Lebanon and the region," a statement by the Embassy indicated. "During the meeting, Minister Merehbi tackled the challenges and difficulties Lebanon is facing due to the increasing numbers of displaced Syrians," the statement added. Also, Merehbi thanked the UAE for its efforts in helping the Lebanese host communities and the displaced in many regions. For his part, al-Shamsi highlighted the state's priority in assisting the displaced, revealing that series of developmental projects will be launched next week in Akkar.

Central bank Of Lebanon stops transactions in prevention from ransomware attack
Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - The ransomware cyber-attack that has hit worldwide caused Lebanon's Central Bank to cease its electronic services and transaction on Monday in prevention from any hack.

Lassen welcomes Committee against Torture concluding remarks on initial report submitted by Lebanon
Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - Ambassador Christina Lassen, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, welcomed the concluding remarks of the Committee against Torture (CAT) on the initial report that was submitted by Lebanon. Ambassador Lassen stated: "We would like to congratulate the Lebanese Government for the submission of the CAT national report. The participation of the government and civil society representatives in meetings in Geneva contributed to substantive and constructive CAT observations. The report and the adopted observations are of crucial importance for Lebanon as it strives to uphold its human rights obligations and pave the way for further progress." Ambassador Lassen noted that "the Committee against Torture's remarks has highlighted positive steps that Lebanon has undertaken, including the ratification of international human rights instruments and the adoption of appropriate legislations." She added: "The EU continues to support the government and to fund civil society initiatives in the fight against torture and ill treatment. This includes the establishment of a pilot Forensic and Psychological Unit at the Tripoli Palace of Justice in cooperation with RESTART and the adoption of legislation establishing a National Commission for Human Rights as well as a National Preventive Mechanism in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The EU will continue supporting civil society and the Lebanese Government in their efforts to promote human rights in line with the recommendations issued by the CAT."

Aboul Gheit in Beirut to partake in strategic studies conference
Mon 15 May 2017/NNA - Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit arrived on Monday evening at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport coming from Cairo, to partake in the annual conference of strategic studies organized by the Lebanese army.
Abu Gheit delivers a speech at the conference.

Aoun promises change but urges patience
The Daily Star/May 15/17ظBEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Monday that after decades of crisis, visible change in the country would take more than the seven months he has been in power. “We are working toward change and reform while combatting corruption, and we have started this in a number of sectors ... [such as] the bids for the duty-free stores at the airport and Casino du Liban,” Aoun said, speaking to a delegation of Lebanese journalists. Led by Amer Mashmoushi, head of the Lebanese University Media Graduates League, the delegation called for renewed support for the ailing media sector in Lebanon. “We noticed the renewed hope in our country following your election [as president],” Mashmoushi said to Aoun in his speech. Mashmoushi added, “We are keen on the success of your term and the return of Lebanon [to the status of] an exemplary nation in this region and, as Pope Jean Paul II dubbed Lebanon, “a message.”For his part, the president said that the road to change was long. “But changing 27 years of dilapidation is not possible in seven months during this economic despair.”Aoun added that change would be witnessed across all sectors and had been witnessed already in the judiciary, which had been relieved of external political pressures. Turning to the media industry’s plight, Aoun said that urgent solutions were needed in the sector, which had been hit by technological advances. “[The issue] is currently in the Cabinet, which is looking at ways to help overcome the obstacles being faced.”
He voiced his preference for print media that contains intellectual thought and analysis. “The reality of the situation of the media demands that we cope and adapt during this transition,” Aoun said. Since assuming his role as information minister, Melhem Riachi has repeatedly said that a number of bills have been proposed to support Lebanon’s media sector – particularly print outlets. Media outlets have suffered major economic problems in the last several years, after having been exposed to prolonged financial instability and a massive decrease in political funding both domestically and regionally. Prominent daily newspaper An-Nahar has let go more than a hundred staff members and the esteemed publication As-Safir ceased operations at the end of 2016, after 42 years in circulation. In January, Riachi promised that the government would give tax breaks and customs exemptions to the struggling media industry if direct government support was not possible.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 15-16/17
10,000 police assigned to secure Trump’s stay in Israel
Eliyahu Kamisher/Jerusalem Post/May 15/17/Trump will arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, whence he will fly by helicopter to Jerusalem to visit the Old City and Yad Vashem, and sleep in the King David Hotel’s presidential suite.More than 10,000 police officers will take part in securing the two-day visit of US President Donald Trump, expected to take place on May 22-23. Trump will arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, whence he will fly by helicopter to Jerusalem and is expected to visit the Old City and Yad Vashem, and sleep in the King David Hotel’s presidential suite. Officers from the full range of regular and special patrol units including undercover units, border police and counterterrorism units will secure the visit, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. The Israel Police are operating in coordination with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Trump’s Secret Service detail for the visit.Police have prepared a contingency plan in case inhospitable weather forces the US president to drive from the airport to the capital. “The second option means hundreds of officers along Route 1,” Rosenfeld said, which would cause lengthy delays for commuters.Major traffic disruptions are expected in Jerusalem during Trump’s stay, and Yad Vashem will be closed to all visitors on the day of the expected presidential visit. From Jerusalem, Trump is expected to visit Masada and Bethlehem, flying in a helicopter in coordination with the police and the IDF. The Masada fortress will be under heavy security for the president. “Soon as it is locked-down you’ll be able to hear the birds tweeting to one another,” remarked Rosenfeld. Around 900 personal, and 56 vehicles, including 14 limousines, will accompany Trump to Israel, Channel 2 reported on Saturday. Around 30 C-17 transport planes will land in Israel carrying bullet proof glass to be installed in the president’s hotel suite, and hundreds of tons of other equipment, according to the report. Police will operate a command headquarters in Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma). A dedicated phone number (yet to be determined) will provide traffic information.

King Salman Invites Egyptian President, Sultan of Brunei to Arab-Islamic-US Summit in Riyadh
Sawsan Abu Husain/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Cairo, Brunei- Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz sent a message to the Egyptian President Abdulfattah Al-Sisi, inviting him to attend the Arab-Islamic-US summit, set to take place in Riyadh later in May. During a meeting in Cairo, the Minister of State and Member of the Cabinet Dr. Issam bin Saad bin Saeed handed over the message to the president. The meeting was attended by the Saudi Ambassador to Egypt, who is also the Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the Arab League Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Qattan. Sisi voiced his appreciation for the invitation of the Saudi monarch, stating that he wished for a positive outcome to the summit “which supports efforts to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.”King Salman also sent an invitation to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam. The message was delivered by Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Awad bin Saleh Al-Awad during a meeting held with Sultan Bolkiah. For his part, Sultan Bolkiah voiced his deep appreciation for receiving the invitation and towards the efforts spent by Saudi royalty on preserving and promoting peace and stability in the region, particularly on counterterrorism efforts. Dr. Awad bin Saleh Al-Awad conveyed the greetings and appreciations of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Crown Prince to His Majesty, in addition to their aspiration for the developing of bilateral relations in various fields to achieve the common interests of the two countries. The meeting was attended by Saudi Ambassador to the Sultanate of Brunei, Hisham bin Zara’ah.

Tripartite Meeting in Jordan to Resume Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks
Mohamed Al-Daameh/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Amman– Jordan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed al-Safadi reiterated his country’s firm stance toward the Arab Peace Initiative and the need to end the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian territories. The Jordanian minister also stressed Amman’s rejection to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. His remarks came during a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, on Sunday. Safadi also noted that Jordan was committed to its stance regarding eastern Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Commenting on the tripartite meeting that preceded the news conference, the Jordanian minister said that the officials reiterated the need to achieve sustainable peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which he said was a historic opportunity to end the conflict between the Arab region and Israel.Safadi underlined efforts deployed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in this regard, noting that peace in the Middle East would always remain his country’s strategic choice. Discussions during the meeting touched on latest developments in the Palestinian file and the need to find a fair and comprehensive solution to the crisis, according to Safadi. He added that the tripartite meeting also stressed the need to reach to concerned regional and international parties, in particular the United States, in order to promote cooperation on this matter. Talks focused, among other issues, on the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump to the region. Shoukry, for his part, described the Palestinian Cause as one of the main priorities of Egypt. He noted that his country was deploying efforts on the regional and international arenas to contribute to the resumption of peace talks. The Egyptian foreign minister highlighted the importance of the visit conducted by each of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah to Washington. He said that those visits have conveyed the Arab and Palestinian view on the future of the peace process. Erekat said that resolving the Palestinian cause was the key to achieving peace and security and fighting terrorism in the region. He also called for ending divisions among Palestinians and forming a national unity government.

Syria Talks Open Overshadowed by Rival Track, Rebel Losses
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 15/17/A new round of Syrian peace talks opens in Geneva on Tuesday, overshadowed by a competing process in Astana and with rebels reeling from a major setback in Damascus. Since it broke out in March 2011, Syria's conflict has killed more than 320,000 people, displaced millions and ravaged the country's economy and infrastructure. Efforts to end the war are now proceeding along two rival tracks: the formal political peace process hosted at United Nations headquarters in Geneva and, since January, parallel talks in Kazakhstan brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Observers say the UN appears to be scrambling to match Astana's momentum after a landmark deal signed in Kazakhstan on May 4 that would create four "de-escalation" zones across some of Syria's bloodiest battlegrounds.Since the deal came into effect a week ago, fighting has slowed across swathes of the country. But in Damascus, which is not included in the deal, the government has secured the evacuation of three rebel-held districts, bringing it closer to exerting full control over the capital for the first time since 2012. Briefing journalists last week in Geneva, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura stressed the "rather business-like, rather short" nature of the upcoming talks, expected to last just four days in order to "hit the iron while it's hot". "After the Astana meeting which took place and which we attended proactively, there has been some outcomes that we find extremely, potentially, promising and we want to connect, as much as possible, that outcome with some political horizon," de Mistura said. Numerous rounds of UN-backed talks have fallen short of producing concrete results, although during the last round in March the sides finally began discussing four separate "baskets" of issues: governance, a new constitution, elections and combating "terrorism" in the war-ravaged country. Aron Lund, a fellow at The Century Foundation, said that despite Geneva's important "symbolic value, it isn't moving forward in any visible way.""In practice, the Geneva track has largely been sidelined by the Astana track, at least for now," Lund said.
- 'Dead-end demand' -Delegations are expected to arrive in Geneva on Monday, a day before the talks start. The Syrian government team will be headed once again by its ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari. The opposition delegation will be represented by the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee and led again by Nasr al-Hariri and Mohammad Sabra. The HNC has continued to call for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad as part of a political transition, a demand seen as a non-starter by the Syrian regime. "By design, the Geneva process revolves around this dead-end demand for a negotiated transition," Lund told AFP. "In terms of actually trying to stabilise Syria, the main effect of pegging peace to transition has been to marginalise the UN in Geneva and shift attention to Astana instead," he said. Rebel backer Turkey and government allies Russia and Iran sponsored the first talks in Astana in late January to reinforce a faltering ceasefire. They have since returned for several meetings, culminating this month in the safe zones deal. "The Astana process doesn't carry the same baggage and is run more on Russia's terms. That means it is more in tune with battlefield realities," Lund said. Assad has brushed off the upcoming Geneva negotiations as "merely a meeting for the media". "There is nothing substantial in all the Geneva meetings. Not even one per million. It is null," Assad said in a recent interview with Belarus's ONT channel. "As to Astana, the situation is different... This started to produce results through more than one attempt to achieve ceasefire, the most recent of which is what's called the de-escalation areas," Assad said. Syrian peace efforts have also been marked in recent months by Washington's all-but withdrawal from the process under President Donald Trump. The previous US administration, in particular then-secretary of state John Kerry, was deeply involved in the Geneva process but since Trump took office Washington has played little apparent role.

Syria Regime Nears Total Recapture of Damascus

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 15/17/Syria's regime is close to cementing its control over the entire capital under local deals with rebels after a six-year war that has ravaged suburbs of Damascus and caused population displacements. Rebels have evacuated some of the last Damascus districts under their control, shattering their dream of one day seizing the capital and toppling a five-decade-old regime. Over 2,000 civilians and rebels evacuated the Qabun district on Sunday, after similar departures from the Barzeh and Tishrin neighbourhoods earlier last week. "With the seizure of these three neighbourhoods, the regime now controls almost all the capital," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. In the east of the capital, "the rebels now only hold a part of the Jobar district, most of which is destroyed", he said. In the south, the Tadamun and Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhoods as well as the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk are now mostly controlled by jihadists including the Islamic State group, he said. The so-called reconciliation deals that led to the latest evacuations from the capital have dealt a heavy blow to the armed opposition, following their defeat in the northern city of Aleppo in December. "With Aleppo retaken and Damascus about to be, the rebels no longer present a political or military alternative," said Syria expert Fabrice Balanche. "The regime is therefore not under any threat and doesn't need to make any concessions," added Balanche, a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute think-tank.
For President Bashar al-Assad, regaining control of the capital was vital to retain power after anti-government protests that began in 2011 before spiralling into civil war.
- Regime 'success' -His fortunes have sharply reversed since July 2012, when thousands of rebels seized several of the capital's neighbourhoods before a two-week counteroffensive by elite regime troops repelled them. More recently, in March, rebel groups and jihadists from former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front briefly entered Abbassid Square near the city centre in a surprise assault from Jobar, before being pushed back days later. But the capital, with its approximately 1.6 million inhabitants, has largely been insulated from the civil war and has endured far less destruction than other major hubs such as Aleppo and the city of Homs in northern Syria. "The regime was reinforced by Russian and Iranian foreign troops at the expense of a defenceless people," said Mohammed Alloush, head of Jaish al-Islam, the most powerful rebel faction in the opposition-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus. He said the population displacements caused by the local reconciliation deals amounted to "crimes against humanity". "The regime now plans to swallow up Jobar in the next phase before setting its sights on Eastern Ghouta," Alloush said. He said the evacuations were a "betrayal" after backers of the regime and rebels signed a deal in the Kazakh capital earlier this month aimed at paving the way towards a lasting ceasefire in Syria. On May 4, regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey inked a deal to introduce so-called "de-escalation zones" in the country. Under the deal, four zones are to be created in the northwestern province of Idlib, parts of the central province of Homs, the south, and the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. The capital is not included in the plan. - Rebel offensive 'doomed' -The regime has long touted "reconciliation deals" as the best way to end the conflict and views the latest evacuations as a success. "It's a turning point in the conflict," said government advisor on national reconciliation Ahmad Munir Mohammed.
"It's a victory for the Syrian state," he added. "Reconciliation is a defeat for those waging war against Syria."He denied that the deals were changing the country's demographics. "Those who wanted to regularise their status (with the regime) stayed, and those who left did so at their request," he said. Syria analyst Joshua Landis said the evacuations underlined that "the suburbs of Damascus cannot hold out against the regime". He said the intervention of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah in support of the Assad regime in 2013 "doomed the Damascus rebel offensive" by severing supply routes from neighbouring Lebanon.
"The regime and its allies cut the legs out from underneath the Damascene rebels," said Landis, director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Aron Lund, a fellow at The Century Foundation, said the army taking control of the three Damascus districts would weaken the armed opposition in Eastern Ghouta. "The long-term situation of the rebels there looks very bleak," he said. "Qabun, Barzeh and Tishrin, which are now being retaken by the army, have contained smuggling tunnels that supplied Eastern Ghouta," he said. "Without those tunnels, the Ghouta rebels will be weakened and the government will have more leverage over them."

Syria using crematorium to hide executions, State Department says
Karen DeYoung/ The Washington Post/ May 15/17/Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, told reporters May 15 that the Syrian government is operating a crematorium inside the Sednaya military prison outside Damascus and executing at least 50 prisoners a day. The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium inside its notorious Sednaya military prison outside Damascus to clandestinely dispose of thousands of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility, according to the State Department. At least 50 prisoners a day are executed in the prison, some in mass hangings, said Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. A recent Amnesty International report called Sednaya a “human slaughterhouse” and said that thousands of Syrians have been abducted, detained and “exterminated” there. The government of President Bashar al-Assad, Jones said, has carried out these atrocities and others “seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” his main backers. The information, he said, came from human rights and nonovernmental sources, as well as “intelligence assessments.” He released overhead photographs of the facility. Russia, Jones said, “has either aided in or passively looked away as the regime has” engaged in years of “mass murders” and other atrocities, including extensive bombing of hospitals and other health-care sites and the use of chemical weapons on both civilians and rebel forces. During last week’s meeting in Washington with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Jones said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “Russia must now, with great urgency, exercise its great influence over the Syrian regime.” Jones’s remarks, made in a special State Department briefing, were notable not only for their substance but for the harsh language used to call on Russia to take action.

Syria’s ‘Geneva 6’ Talks Resume Tuesday with No Agenda
Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Beirut, Damascus – The sixth round of Syrian peace talks kicks off in Geneva on Tuesday in the absence of a clear and specific agenda, according to an invitation received by UN Special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. During the four-day talks, the delegation of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is expected to emphasize the political transition and humanitarian issues, said HNC member Fouad Aliko. He told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday: “We have not yet received any agenda for the meeting. But, we will work hard to reach positive outcomes, particularly that this time, the talks will only last four days.”Aliko said the Syrian regime was trying to downgrade the importance of the Geneva peace talks, something the opposition refuses. “We are very much attached to those talks, which aim for a political transition,” he said. At the same time, Free Syrian Army Colonel Fateh Hassoun told Asharq Al-Awsat it was important to all Syrians that Articles 12, 13 and 14 of UN Resolution 2254 be implemented. “This resolution should not be negotiable, but binding for the regime, which is still refusing to implement it. Therefore, it would be a big mistake if we accept to change the items of this resolution, which carries humanitarian measures, into negotiable items.”Hassoun did not rule out the presence of a race between the Geneva and Astana talks, but said that such a race was rather on reaching “no results.”“The Russians are trying to show that the Astana talks are more efficient than the Geneva ones in the absence of a US role in Astana,” he said. In a separate development, more than 2,000 people, including 800 opposition fighters, have departed al-Qaboun district, northeastern Damascus, towards Idlib in the north of Syria. The move paves the way for the Syrian regime and its allies to completely control the area, after spending the last two months shelling it with airstrikes and tanks, and transforming it into rubble.

Arming Syria’s Kurds to Top Trump, Erdogan Meeting
Saeed Abdelrazek/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Ankara- Developments in Syria, especially with regard to the US decision to arm Kurds in the framework of speeding up the process of liberating Raqqa from ISIS control, have imposed themselves as one of the main issues on the agenda of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The Turkish President is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump for the first time since the latter has taken office on January 21, during a three-day visit to Washington that will start on Monday. Erdogan stressed in statements before heading to Beijing to participate in “One Belt, One Road” forum, which was held on Sunday, that he was discussing with Trump the US relations with Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. He considered that Washington’s decision to arm the YPG contradicts with US strategic relations with Turkey, noting that “it is not right to see our US ally alongside a terrorist organization.”The US decision that was taken one week before Erdogan’s scheduled visit and during the presence of a Turkish delegation, composed of Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, and presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, in the United States represented an unexpected blow to relations between Ankara and Washington, according to what Turkish diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. Sources said that Ankara was counting on a new stance from Trump’s administration that differs from that of the former Barack Obama’s administration. They told Asharq Al-Awsat that Erdogan will focus on this matter based on the Turkish concern about the coming threats from northern Syria and Iraq through the PKK and the YPG. Erdogan will deliver a clear message about the alliance between Washington and the Kurdish militias in Syria, describing it as incompatible with the strategic alliance between Turkey and the US through NATO, sources added. Erdogan will also highlight the fact that ISIS cannot be fought through other terrorist organizations and that terrorism cannot be eradicated from any area in the region without Turkey’s help. Turkey has proved to be a successful example in the war against ISIS through Euphrates Shield operation in north Syria, and it can achieve similar success in Raqqa without relying on Kurds. Sources pointed out that Erdogan will stress that Turkey will launch attacks against Kurds north Syria and Iraq whenever it deems it necessary to protect its security.

ISIS Shelling in Deir al-Zor as Suspected US-led Strikes Leave Casualties
Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Heavy shelling by ISIS jihadists killed at least seven people in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Sunday night as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were killed in suspected US-led coalition strikes in the northern Raqqa province and the town of Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border. The Britain-based organization that monitors the war, said the militants continued to shell Deir al-Zor’s regime-held districts on Monday. ISIS holds most of Deir al-Zor province, apart from an enclave in the city and a nearby air base that Syrian regime forces control. The militants have besieged those districts for nearly two years. The Syrian regime and its Russian ally have made regular aid drops into the encircled zone, where about 200,000 people live, lacking food and medicine. Deir al-Zor province links territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. The monitor said the strike in Raqqa on Sunday afternoon hit vehicles carrying farmworkers home from fields in the east of the province. It said the strike on the ISIS-held village of Akayrshi might have been carried out by the US-led coalition. The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to their types, locations, flight patterns and the munitions used. But the activist-run Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said that 22 died in the strike. ISIS has lost swathes of the territory it once held in Raqqa province, though it still holds Raqqa city, its de facto capital, and some areas to the east. A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is battling towards Raqqa city after capturing several nearby towns and villages recently. Another suspected US-led coalition air strike killed early Monday 23 civilians in Albu Kamal that is held by ISIS near the border with Iraq, the Observatory said. The monitor said some of those killed in the strike were civilians displaced from other areas controlled by the terrorist group, including Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces, and neighbouring Iraq. Meanwhile, Syria’s regime is close to cementing its control over the entire capital under local deals with rebels after a six-year war that has ravaged suburbs of Damascus and caused population displacements. Rebels have evacuated some of the last Damascus districts under their control, shattering their dream of one day seizing the capital and toppling a five-decade-old regime.

Germany May Move Troops after Turkey Bars MPs from Visiting Incirlik Base
Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Germany warned on Monday that it could move its troops elsewhere after Turkey barred its lawmakers from visiting a NATO base near the border with Syria. Berlin described as “unacceptable” Ankara’s latest ban on a visit to the Incirlik base in southern Turkey, used by international coalition fighting the ISIS group. Speaking at a Monday news conference, Merkel said it was essential for lawmakers to be able to visit the more than 250 soldiers serving at the base. “We will continue to talk with Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate,” Merkel said. “That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan.”Jordan offered “the best conditions”, a defense ministry spokesman added, saying it had also looked at Kuwait and Cyprus since Turkey first denied such visits to German MPs for several months last year. The spokesman cautioned however that any move would involve shifting hundreds of containers of materiel and would take several months. The lawmakers were denied a visit to the base as it was not deemed appropriate at this time, sources in Turkey’s foreign ministry told Reuters, without elaborating. Turkey rejected the latest lawmakers’ visit because of anger over Germany granting political asylum to some of its military officials since last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer suggested. He said Ankara’s reason may be “individual decisions of independent German authorities in connection with military members”. He said Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel plans to raise the issue at a meeting with allies in Washington this week. German media have reported that over 400 Turkish military personnel, diplomats, judges and other officials and their relatives had sought political asylum in Germany. They fear being caught up in Turkey’s crackdown against those Erdogan blames for the coup — supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive US-based Islamic preacher who has denied the charges against him. The vast crackdown has heightened tensions between Turkey and Germany, which is home to a three-million-strong ethnic Turkish population, the legacy of a massive “guest worker” program in the 1960s and 1970s. Both countries have sparred over a range of issues, including civil rights in Turkey, press freedom and the military campaign against Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Another row last year, centered on a sensitive historical question, had led Turkey to deny German lawmakers the right to visit Incirlik for several months. The German parliament had voted in June to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s World War I-era massacre of Armenians as a genocide. After the vote, a furious Erdogan accused German lawmakers of Turkish origin of having “tainted blood”. Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. Turkey rejects the claims, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops. That row was only resolved after Merkel made clear the Armenia resolution was a political statement and not legally binding.

ISIS Loses Major Mosul Bastion
Dalshad Abdullah/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Mosul- ISIS has lost the 17th of July neighborhood, an important bastion in West Mosul, after Iraqi forces launched a new push from several directions to drive the militants from the city’s last pocket controlled by jihadists. Now, the area controlled by the terrorist organization is no more than 7 percent of west Mosul, which is bisected by the River Tigris. Jihadists are now retreating to the alleyways of Old Mosul to barricade in them. Sources said that only “a limited number of gunmen” remain in the 17th of July neighborhood where heavy clashes are taking place between them and government forces. Chief Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat, the commander of Iraqi Federal Police Forces, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that his forces have “broken through the enemy fortifications” in the 17th of July neighborhood with mortar shells and machineguns. Drones were also able to make target hits in enemy ranks, he said, although jihadist snipers tried to slow down the advance of the government forces. In a statement Sunday, senior military commander Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah said Iraqi special forces are moving to the al-Eraibi and al-Rifaie neighborhoods, while militarized federal police and regular army forces are fighting ISIS in nearby al-Ektisadieen and 17th of July neighborhoods.Yar Allah also said the forces “have broken through the enemy fortifications” without giving more details. The operation to retake Mosul was launched in October and the city’s east was declared liberated in January. Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the west the following month. In recent weeks, US-backed Iraqi troops have slowly closed in on a small cluster of neighborhoods in the city’s west. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan media official in Mosul Ghayyath Sorji told Asharq Al-Awsat that territory under the control of ISIS jihadists is gradually declining. “The territory controlled by the organization is only 7 percent of West Mosul, meaning around six neighborhoods in Old Mosul, he said.

Sisi Calls for More Endurance, Patience from Egyptians
Mohamed Abdu Hassanein/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Cairo – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Egyptians to be more patient in a reference to the difficult economic conditions in the country. Sisi said on Sunday that the state is “in a race against time” to provide citizens with essential consumer goods at affordable prices, citing difficulties due to the increasing rates of consumption. The president made the comments during an event in Qena to inaugurate a set of infrastructure development projects in Upper Egypt. In his speech, Sisi referred to a range of measures linked to economic reforms that are intended to fix problems in the economy and bring consumer prices under control, while ensuring that the supply of goods keeps pace with demand. He said that the economic reform program, which was launched in 2014, is necessary to ensure the Egyptian currency settles at its true value relative to the nation’s economy. Among the key reforms introduced was the floatation of the pound in November 2016, a move that he said was essential to improving the economy. “The state used to subsidize the value of the Egyptian pound and that was a very dangerous economic situation that got us into a lot of trouble,” Sisi said.
When the fiscal reforms, including fuel subsidy cuts and a range of new taxes, were introduced, they were described as necessary to ease a growing budget deficit. However, they resulted in price increases, hitting the nation’s poor particularly hard. Sisi said on Sunday that ordinary citizens should be provided with a full set of figures on the economy, allowing them to keep abreast of developments. However, he stated that consumer prices, which have risen significantly in recent months, are still cheaper than in most countries around the world, adding that “the building of nations is not an easy process; there are burdens that citizens must bear.” The Egyptian President also addressed the challenges facing the nation in the area of agriculture and food security, since problems with supply have contributed to rising food prices. “We produce between 8 and 10 million tons of grain and import another 10 million, while we consume a total of 18 tons annually. Here we are not talking about an increase in demand due to the increase in population, but we are basically talking about a steep increase in our consumption,” he said. On the other hand, because people in Egypt have used state land for personal purposes for many years for all sorts of reasons, there is no official statistics to show how much land is actually involved. Therefore, Sisi has ordered the Egyptian army to retake state land used illegally by thousands of Egyptians as the move must be completed by the end of this month. “No one should take something not meant for him,” Sisi announced. “Millions of Egyptians do not find anything to eat, while others use tens of thousands of acres. I swear to Allah that all acres will be retaken.”He added that the state is ready to sell the land which is being used for significant projects.

8,500 Potential Cholera Patients Indicate Serious Outbreak in Yemen
/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Aden- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday the cholera outbreak has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill between April 27 and Saturday. “We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera,” Dominik Stillhart, the director of operations at the ICRC, told a news conference in Sanaa. More than 8,500 suspected cases of the waterborne disease were reported in the same period in 14 governorates across Yemen, Stillhart told DPA, up from 2,300 cases in 10 governorates last week. At the same time, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Spokesman Mohammed Al Asaadi said that confirmed cases of the disease rose to 202. Medical sources in Hodeidah said that a cholera epidemic has spread widely among citizens due to a deficient supply of drinking water and sanitation. City sources said citizens are using unsafe water daily. Hospitals in coup-run Sana’a, controlled by Iran-allied Houthis, have declared a state of emergency over a deadly outbreak of cholera that has spread rapidly in the Yemeni capital. The Houthi-run health ministry said cases of cholera had worsened and that it was “unable to contain this disaster”, in a statement carried overnight by the rebels’ Saba news agency. International relief agencies on Sunday warned of a catastrophic humanitarian situation and urged citizens to exercise hygiene precautions. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expressed fears that health authorities alone will not be able to deal with the outbreak. “MSF calls on international organizations to scale up their assistance urgently to limit the spread of the outbreak and anticipate potential other ones,” it said in a statement. This is the second outbreak of cholera, a bacterial infection contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water, in less than a year in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. The World Health Organization (WHO) now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Iraq. The United Nations has warned 17 million people — equivalent to two-thirds of the population — are at imminent risk of famine in Yemen. In the meantime, the Houthi-run health ministry responsible for the population controlled by the coup in Sanaa barred the central medical facility from receiving any cholera cases and gave reception priority exclusively to cases wounded combatants injured on the battlefields.
Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper had received the letter from the Director-General of Epidemiological Monitoring, Dr. Abdel Hakim Al-Kahlani, saying that the Republican Hospital in Ammana area will not continue receiving cases of cholera, as the emergency department is preoccupied with taking in wounded fighters. The ministry said it had directed alternative centers and locations to receive cholera patients.

Kuwait’s Court of Cassation Sets Next Abdali Cell Hearing for Mid June
Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Kuwait- Kuwait’s Court of Cassation on Sunday postponed the verdict on the case of unauthorized collaboration with Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, known as “Al-Abdali cell,” until June 18. The case dates back to 2015 when the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry announced arresting members of a terrorist ring and confiscating a massive number of weapons, ammunition, and explosives in farms located in Al-Abdali area. A total of 19,000 kg of ammunition, 144 kg of explosives, 68 weapons, and 204 grenades were seized from three properties near the Iraqi border, the ministry had reported in 2015. Suspects, 25 Kuwaitis and an Iranian, face charges of committing acts compromising the unity and territorial integrity of Kuwait. They are also accused of pursuing and establishing communication with Iran and Hezbollah while conspiring to carry out local hostile acts. In another case, Kuwait’s criminal court yesterday sentenced two Iranians to death for murdering their sponsor, said security sources, noting that the two suspects had worked as cooks for the ruling family member they killed. The court also fined two citizens for selling the suspects an unlicensed firearm. The crime happened in November 2016 when the suspects shot dead their Kuwaiti sponsor, along with another Kuwaiti man and an Indonesian woman inside an apartment in Salwa. The suspects had tied their victims before committing the crimes; after which they stole a large amount of cash from inside the apartment and escaped before police arrested them.

Qatif Terrorist Shooting Killed the Budding Life of Two-Year-Old Jawad
Obaid Al-Suhaymi/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17/Dammam – Saudi toddler Jawad al-Dagher met an ill fate at the hands of terrorists who showered his father’s vehicle with bullets in Al-Awamiyah in Qatif governorate in the Eastern Province. Covered in his own blood after sustaining a head injury Jawad did not survive the brutal attack launched by trigger-happy gunmen. Jawad’s family was on their way back home from Qatif to Al Ahsa. However, after missing their exit, the family found themselves strolling down a dim-lit street in Al-Awamiyah, only to later be surprised by the shooting. The father, reiterated the frustrating helplessness he found himself in that day, he could not have done anything to avoid it. Bullets smashed through the windshield and through Jawad’s head, scattering the toddler’s blood inside the car. “The bullet pierced the back of the car from the right side, crossed the back seat, later getting lodged in Jawad’s head,” Jawad’s uncle Ahmed al-Khamis said. He pointed out that Jawad is the only one injured in the incident. Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman at the Ministry of Interior, said that the attack took place on Wednesday following the terrorists’ attempt to disrupt construction of a development project in Al-Masourah. Al-Khamis also voiced his deep appreciation to security forces who have maintained contact with Jawad’s family and the families of those wounded. “This is what we have always known of our security men and the sons of our country, they stand by us through good and hard times,” he added. For its part, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) condemned the terrorist shooting in Qatif, which killed two people and injured others. ISESCO affirmed its stand with Saudi Arabia in its effective measures to combat terrorism in all its forms.

Trump, Macron Plan 'Lengthy' Brussels Get-to-Know-You Lunch
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 15/17/President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron are to hold a "lengthy lunch" in Brussels this month - a bonding exercise for two men the White House believes have much in common. Senior US administration officials told AFP that Trump will break bread with Macron on May 25 in Brussels and "compare perspectives."The White House believes the 39-year-old French centrist -- who took office on Sunday -- and the 70-year-old US leader are not as uncomfortable allies as it first may seem. This despite suspicions that Trump would have preferred far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win the recent French election. For one, both Macron and Trump are presidential neophytes. "They are two of the newest leaders to the stage," said a senior Trump administration official, adding that a recent phone call between the two leaders very well. Trump "was very impressed with Mr Macron," said the official, who had direct knowledge of the call. Trump — who regularly gripes about getting insufficient credit for his November 2016 election victory — was impressed that Macron won almost 50 percent more votes than Le Pen. "It was clearly a very strong electoral win," said the official, who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive issues.
Le Pen support downplayed -While their ideology may differ, both Trump and Macron "come from outside traditional political lines."Macron was the first candidate from outside the traditional political parties to win the French presidency in decades. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, but has often shattered party orthodoxy. The White House also believes that the impression that Trump supported Le Pen is exaggerated, based only on "one tweet about borders" and Le Pen's visit to Trump Tower in January, before the US billionaire took office. Trump aides stress that Le Pen had no meeting with the campaign when she visited Trump Tower, much less with the now-president. In April Trump tweeted in the wake of a deadly shooting on the Champs Elysees: "Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!" Trump also once remarked that Le Pen had been the "strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France."- Counterterrorism, economy -When Macron and Trump do sit down the agenda is likely to be dominated by counterterrorism cooperation, which the White House describes as "excellent."But there may also be some common ground on the economy. "Macron has a lot of reforms in mind" one senior administration official said, and both leaders could help "jump start Europe."Since becoming president Trump appears to be torn between pro-business instincts and a verve for protectionism. In his more populist moments, Trump has suggested he would not consider trade agreements with the European Union, looking for bilateral agreements instead. Many European capitals see that as the economic equivalent of divide and conquer, with potentially damaging consequences for their economies and the cohesion of the European Union.  - NATO 'burden sharing' -There may however be a point of contention on NATO spending. Trump has been browbeating European governments to spend a higher portion of their GDP on collective defense. "As far as the president is concerned, he wants to see the two percent target met right now," a second US official said.That is "not practical" the source admitted, but as long as Europe is moving strongly in that direction common ground may be found. "It's all about burden sharing," the US official said. Both Trump and Macron will be in the Belgian capital for a meeting of NATO leaders before traveling to the G7 summit in Sicily. While in Brussels, Trump will also meet the King and prime minister of Belgium.

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May 15-16/17
Indonesia: Free Speech vs. Treason

Jacobus E. Lato/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
On April 19, the campaign of Jakarta's radicals chanting, "We want a Muslim governor!" paid off, as Ahok was defeated in the gubernatorial election. Exit polls on election day indicated that religion was the main factor behind the voting.
On May 10, Indonesia's radicals scored a second victory, when Ahok was found guilty of blaspheming Islam and sentenced to two years in prison.
The verdict came as a surprise even to the prosecutors of the case -- they had requested only a suspended sentence for the offense of "inciting hatred".
In the two decades since the fall of Indonesian President Suharto's 32-year reign in 1998, the use of the accusation of "treason" as a governmental tool to quash political opposition gradually reemerged in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.
Today, however, those trying to overthrow the leadership are Islamists intent on unraveling the fabric of a pluralistic society.
This situation has led to the debate over freedom of speech and the separation of church and state -- or, here, mosque and state.
Four recent rallies in the capital city of Jakarta illustrate the nature of what has become a full-blown controversy. In each case, protesters gathered outside mosques after Friday prayers for what they claim are "spontaneous" demonstrations made necessary by their clerics' lack of financial resources to plan and stage such events. But evidence collected by Indonesian authorities indicates otherwise.
The first such protest took place on October 14, 2016. Its purpose was to demand that criminal proceedings be launched against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama -- familiarly known as Ahok -- for "blasphemy."
Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, was appointed to his position in 2014, when Joko Widodo became president of Indonesia. Hardline Muslim groups argued that a Christian should not be allowed to govern a Muslim-majority city. To back up their claim, they cited the Quran.
Their fury grew even greater when Ahok was running for reelection: he asked fishermen in Pulau Seribu not to be "deceived" by politicians using the Quranic verse, al-Maidah 51 (" not take the Jews and the Christians as allies"), to dissuade them from supporting him.
Although Ahok subsequently apologized for his statement, he was put on trial for blasphemy. Thousands of Islamists, shouting "Burn Ahok!" and "We want a Muslim governor!", marched from the Istiqlal Mosque through the city. This ostensible eruption of emotions, according to deputy head of the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI), had nothing to do with the upcoming gubernatorial election. It was, he said, religiously motivated. However, the presence at the rally of former House Speaker Amin Rais indicated that politics played just as big a role as faith.
The second rally took place less than three weeks later, on November 4. According to the head of the FPI, some 7.5 million Muslims turned out that day. At the end of it, one protester had died of an asthma attack and two police trucks had been set on fire by an angry mob.
Hours before the third rally, on December 2, police arrested 11 people on suspicion of treason for trying to overthrow the government. Among these were: the daughter of former President Suharto; prominent economist and activist Sri Bintang Pamungkas and two brothers, Jamran and Rizal Khobar, both members of the Islamic Students Association, a group responsible for an attack on security officials during the previous rally.
In addition to the allegation of treason, Pamungkas was detained over social media posts, particularly a YouTube video from the previous month. Rizal and Jamran were accused of violating Indonesia's 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law.
Ahead of the fourth rally in question, on March 31, a second batch of arrests was carried out by police. Among those detained was Muhammad Al Khaththath, a leader of the hardline Islamic People's Forum.
Indonesian Islamists listen to a speech by an imam during a protest against Jakarta governor Ahok, on March 31, 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Image source: Ed Wray/Getty Images)
Although the case can be made, as it is in the West, for distinguishing between treason and the right to criticize one's government, the issue in Indonesia is currently more complex, due to the extremist religious agenda of the opposition. Rather than looking to their religious leaders to determine matters of faith, many are using Islam as a political weapon, and breaking laws that were written to protect the very minorities who are now being treated as second-class citizens.
On April 19, the campaign of Jakarta's radicals, chanting "We want a Muslim governor!" paid off, as Ahok was defeated in the gubernatorial election. On May 10, Indonesia's radicals scored a second victory, when Ahok was found guilty of blaspheming Islam and sentenced to two years in prison, effective immediately.
The verdict, which came as a surprise even to the prosecutors of the case, who had requested only a suspended sentence for the offense of "inciting hatred," was handed down by a five-judge panel of the North Jakarta District Court.
One of the judges, Abdul Rosvad, explained the decision by saying, "...[A]s a public officer, the defendant should have known that religion is a sensitive issue so he should have avoided talking about [it]." Rosvad also denied allegations that Ahok's arrest, trial and imprisonment were politically motivated.
"This is a pure criminal case," he said.
However, the popular Christian governor was defeated by rival Anies Baswedan, a Muslim, and exit polls on election day indicated that religion was the main factor behind the voting.
Dr. Melissa Crouch, of Australia's University of New South Wales, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the verdict should not have come as a surprise. "To be accused of blasphemy in Indonesia is effectively to be found guilty," she said. "This gives a lot of power to those -- such as religious leaders -- who may make the initial complaint to police regarding blasphemy charges."
Ahok's lawyers say they will be appealing the verdict.
Jacobus E. Lato is a writer and former editor, based in Surabaya, Indonesia.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Will President Trump's Visit to Saudi Arabia Tackle Terrorism and Promote Religious Freedom?
A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
A number of recently published books on the history, culture and internal workings of Saudi Arabia cast doubt on the ability of the kingdom to undergo the kind of change required to tackle extremism when its chief aim is to preserve and enhance the power of the royal family.
The government in Riyadh neither believes in nor permits religious liberty and free speech for its own citizens or for Muslims elsewhere. Indeed, the kingdom's human rights record is abysmal at best.
Although Trump is right that America should not "dictate to others how to live," he needs to consider how he can "build a coalition of partners" whose entire way of life is indelibly linked to the cause and spread of the very extremism, violence and global terrorism that he aims to eradicate.
As part of his first official trip abroad at the end of May, U.S. President Donald Trump will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Brussels, Belgium.
According to a statement released by the White House, Trump's meetings with King Salman and other key figures "will reaffirm the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and allow the leaders to discuss issues of strategic concern, including efforts to defeat terrorist groups and discredit radical ideologies."
The goal may be commendable, but it is hardly attainable in a country like Saudi Arabia, ruled politically by an absolute monarchy and theologically by Wahhabism, both immensely radical.
Saudi Arabia is ruled politically by an absolute monarchy and theologically by Wahhabism, both immensely radical. Pictured: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) visits Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud (center) on April 19, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Image source: Jonathan Ernst - Pool/Getty Images)
In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Georgetown University professor and Middle East expert Daniel Byman explained the "paradox" this presents:
"On the one hand, the Saudi government is a close partner of the United States on counterterrorism. On the other hand, Saudi support for an array of preachers and non-government organizations contributes to an overall climate of radicalization, making it far harder to counter violent extremism."
Byman is not alone in this assessment. A number of recently published books on the history, culture and internal workings of Saudi Arabia cast doubt on the ability of the kingdom to undergo the kind of change required to tackle extremism when its chief aim is to preserve and enhance the power of the royal family.
That the announcement of Trump's trip coincided with the signing of an executive order on "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" could not have been more ironic. The government in Riyadh neither believes in nor permits religious liberty and free speech for its own citizens or for Muslims elsewhere. Indeed, the kingdom's human rights record is abysmal at best.
Moreover, during his speech in the Rose Garden to introduce the executive order, Trump said that another reason for his upcoming foreign trip was to "unite Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the common cause of fighting 'intolerance'" -- a claim just as jaw-dropping, given Saudi Arabia's role in the persecution of Christians across the Middle East.
This is not to say that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is not valuable or crucial in many respects. Both countries consider ISIS and al-Qaeda to be serious threats. Neither wants Iran to obtain regional hegemony, while hoping for a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. Both want to guarantee the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. In addition, Saudi Arabia remains a key U.S. investor and trading partner, and is the largest recipient of American-made arms. Even during the years of the Obama administration, when relations were strained, the U.S. provided Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons. Today, the Trump administration is pushing through tens of billions of dollars' worth of arms sales to Riyadh; and garnering American support in its raging conflict against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen is at the top of the Saudi agenda.
In a piece in Foreign Affairs last summer, Professor F. Gregory Gause III -- head of the International Affairs Department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University -- wrote that the relationship between Washington and Riyadh serves immediate American interests, but in the long term, Saudi Arabia is far from being a faithful and effective partner in battling radical ideologies. The Saudis simply do not have the same values, worldview or strategic vision as their U.S. counterparts.
In his Rose Garden address, Trump said:
"Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East."
Although Trump is right that America should not "dictate to others how to live," he needs to consider how he can "build a coalition of partners" whose entire way of life is indelibly linked to the cause and spread of the very extremism, violence and global terrorism that he aims to eradicate.
*A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It
Zahi Hawass/The New York Times/May 15/17
The path to a global outbreak on Friday of a ransom-demanding computer software (“ransomware”) that crippled hospitals in Britain — forcing the rerouting of ambulances, delays in surgeries and the shutdown of diagnostic equipment — started, as it often does, with a defect in software, a bug. This is perhaps the first salvo of a global crisis that has been brewing for decades. Fixing this is possible, but it will be expensive and require a complete overhaul of how technology companies, governments and institutions operate and handle software. The alternative should be unthinkable.
Just this March, Microsoft released a patch to fix vulnerabilities in its operating systems, which run on about 80 percent of desktop computers globally. Shortly after that, a group called “Shadow Brokers” released hacking tools that took advantage of vulnerabilities that had already been fixed in these patches.
It seemed that Shadow Brokers had acquired tools the National Security Agency had used to break into computers. Realizing these tools were stolen, the N.S.A. had warned affected companies like Microsoft and Cisco so they could fix the vulnerabilities. Users were protected if they had applied the patches that were released, but with a catch: If an institution still used an older Microsoft operating system, it did not receive this patch unless it paid for an expensive “custom” support agreement.
The cash-strapped National Health Service in Britain, which provides health care to more than 50 million people, and whose hospitals still use Windows XP widely, was not among those that signed up to purchase the custom support from Microsoft.
They were out in the cold.
On May 12, a massive “ransomware” attack using one of those vulnerabilities hit hospitals in Britain, telecommunication companies in Spain, FedEx in the United States, the Russian Interior Ministry and many other institutions around the world. They had either not applied these patches to systems where it was available for free, or had not paid the extra money for older ones.
Computer after computer froze, their files inaccessible, with an ominous onscreen message asking for about $300 worth of “bitcoin” — a cryptocurrency that allows for hard-to-trace transfers of money. Ambulances headed for children’s hospitals were diverted. Doctors were unable to check on patients’ allergies or see what drugs they were taking. Labs, X-rays and diagnostic machinery and information became inaccessible. Surgeries were postponed. There was economic damage, too. Renault, the European automaker, had to halt production.
The attack was halted by a stroke of luck: the ransomware had a kill switch that a British employee in a cybersecurity firm managed to activate. Shortly after, Microsoft finally released for free the patch that they had been withholding from users that had not signed up for expensive custom support agreements.
But the crisis is far from over. This particular vulnerability still lives in unpatched systems, and the next one may not have a convenient kill switch.
While it is inevitable that software will have bugs, there are ways to make operating systems much more secure — but that costs real money. While this particular bug affected both new and old versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, the older ones like XP have more critical vulnerabilities. This is partly because our understanding of how to make secure software has advanced over the years, and partly because of the incentives in the software business. Since most software is sold with an “as is” license, meaning the company is not legally liable for any issues with it even on day one, it has not made much sense to spend the extra money and time required to make software more secure quickly. Indeed, for many years, Facebook’s mantra for its programmers was “move fast and break things.”
This isn’t all Microsoft’s fault though. Its newer operating systems, like Windows 10, are much more secure. There are many more players and dimensions to this ticking bomb.
During this latest ransomware crisis, it became clear there were many institutions that could have patched or upgraded their systems, but they had not. This isn’t just because their information technology departments are incompetent (though there are surely cases of that, too). Upgrades come with many downsides that make people reluctant to install them.
For example, the more secure Windows 10 comes with so many privacy concerns that the Electronic Frontier Foundation issued numerous alerts about it, and the European Union is still investigating it. My current Windows 10 machine is more secure but it advertises to me in the login screen. (Are they also profiling me to target advertisements? A fair question in this environment.)
Further, upgrades almost always bring unwanted features. When I was finally forced to upgrade my Outlook mail program, it took me months to get used to the new color scheme and spacing somebody in Seattle had decided was the new look. There was no option to keep things as is. Users hate this, and often are rightfully reluctant to upgrade. But they are often unaware that these unwanted features come bundled with a security update.
As an added complication, the ways companies communicate about upgrades and unilaterally change the user interface make people vulnerable to phishing, since one is never sure what is a real login or upgrade message and what is a bogus one, linking to a fake website trying to steal a login.
The problem is even worse for institutions like hospitals which run a lot of software provided by a variety of different vendors, often embedded in expensive medical equipment. For them, upgrading the operating system (a cost itself) may also mean purchasing millions of dollars worth of new software. Much of this software also comes with problems, and the “no liability” policy means that vendors can just sell the product, take the money and run. Sometimes, medical equipment is certified as it is, and an upgrade brings along re-certification questions. The machines can (as they should) last for decades; that the software should just expire and junk everything every 10 years is not a workable solution. Upgrades can also introduce new bugs. How do you test new software when the upgrade can potentially freeze your M.R.I.? Last year, a software update “bricked” Tesla cars: they could not be driven anymore until another update fixed the problem. Many large institutions are thus wary of upgrades.
The next crisis facing us is the so-called “internet of things”: devices like baby monitors, refrigerators and lighting now come with networked software. Many such devices are terribly insecure and, worse, don’t even have a mechanism for receiving updates. In the current regulatory environment, the people who write the insecure software and the companies who sold the “things” bear no liability.
If I have painted a bleak picture, it is because things are bleak. Our software evolves by layering new systems on old, and that means we have constructed entire cities upon crumbling swamps. And we live on the fault lines where more earthquakes are inevitable. All the key actors have to work together, and fast.
First, companies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn’t expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects).
At a minimum, Microsoft clearly should have provided the critical update in March to all its users, not just those paying extra. Indeed, “pay extra money to us or we will withhold critical security updates” can be seen as its own form of ransomware. In its defense, Microsoft probably could point out that its operating systems have come a long way in security since Windows XP, and it has spent a lot of money updating old software, even above industry norms. However, industry norms are lousy to horrible, and it is reasonable to expect a company with a dominant market position, that made so much money selling software that runs critical infrastructure, to do more.
Microsoft should spend more of that $100 billion to help institutions and users upgrade to newer software, especially those who run essential services on it. This has to be through a system that incentivizes institutions and people to upgrade to more secure systems and does not force choosing between privacy and security. Security updates should only update security, and everything else should be optional and unbundled.
The United States government has resources and institutions to help fix this. N.S.A.’s charter gives it a dual role: both offensive and defensive. That the agency discloses software vulnerabilities it finds to companies more quickly may be a good idea, but doing so doesn’t solve this problem, since finding bugs is not limited to the N.S.A. — criminals and other nations can keep finding them. Nor are bugs in limited supply, so we cannot get to the bottom of the problem by fixing them one by one. There are, however, many technical measures that can be taken to build operating systems that are structurally less vulnerable to bugs. In other words, we can’t eliminate bugs, but with careful design, we can make it so that they cannot easily wreak havoc like this. For example, Chromebooks and Apple’s iOS are structurally much more secure because they were designed from the ground up with security in mind, unlike Microsoft’s operating systems.
It is past time that the N.S.A. shifted to a defensive posture and the United States government focused on protecting its citizens and companies from malware, hacking and ransomware — rather than focusing so much on spying. This isn’t just about disclosing vulnerabilities, a hot-button topic that often distracts from deeper issues. It also means helping develop standards for higher security — something an agency devoted to finding weaknesses is very well suited to do — as well as identifying systemic cybersecurity risks and then helping fix them, rather than using them offensively, to spy on others.
There is also the thorny problem of finding money and resources to upgrade critical infrastructure without crippling it. Many institutions see information technology as an afterthought and are slow in upgrading and investing. Governments also do not prioritize software security. This is a sure road to disaster.
As a reminder of what is at stake, ambulances carrying sick children were diverted and heart patients turned away from surgery in Britain by the ransomware attack. Those hospitals may never get their data back. The last big worm like this, Conficker, infected millions of computers in almost 200 countries in 2008. We are much more dependent on software for critical functions today, and there is no guarantee there will be a kill switch next time. It is time to consider whether the current regulatory setup, which allows all software vendors to externalize the costs of all defects and problems to their customers with zero liability, needs re-examination. It is also past time for the very profitable software industry, the institutions that depend on their products and the government agencies entrusted with keeping their citizens secure and their infrastructure functioning, step up and act decisively.

Jihad in Denmark
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/May 15/17
Danish Minister of Justice Søren Pape hopes to solve the issue by prosecuting the imam. However, Danish politicians appear to miss the critical fact that there is clearly a thirsty audience for sermons like this.
This sermon is a call to violence against Jews.
As the Quran cannot be changed, it is crucial to make more broadly known what is in it, so at least people can see the facts confronting them, to help them determine what choices they might care to make for their own future and that of their children.
In 2015, Omar El-Hussein listened to the imam Hajj Saeed, at the Hizb-ut-Tahrir- linked Al-Faruq-mosque in Copenhagen, decry interfaith dialogue as a "malignant" idea and explain that the right way, according to Mohammed, is to wage war on the Jews. The next day, El-Hussein went out and murdered Dan Uzan, the volunteer Jewish guard of the Jewish community, as he was standing in front of the Copenhagen synagogue. El-Hussein had also just murdered Finn Nørgaard, a film director, outside a meeting about freedom of speech.
Two years later, nothing has changed. A visiting imam from Lebanon at the Al-Faruq mosque, Mundhir Abdallah, is preaching to murder Jews:
"[Soon there will be] a Caliphate, which will instate the shari'a of Allah and revive the Sunna of His Prophet, which will wage Jihad for the sake of Allah, which will unite the Islamic nation after it disintegrated, and which will liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Zionists, so that the words of the Prophet Muhammad will be fulfilled: 'Judgement Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. The Jews will hide behind the rocks and the trees, but the rocks and the trees will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' ..."
The "words of the Prophet" are from a well-known hadith, number 6985.
Far from hiding this incitement, the mosque posted the sermon, delivered on March 31, on the YouTube page of Al-Faruq Mosque on May 7. The invaluable research organization, MEMRI, translated it.
A reporter from Danish TV channel TV2 news, who recently spent two hours around the Al-Faruq mosque, could not find a single Muslim willing to condemn the imam. "I don't think he meant anything bad by it," said Bayan Hasan, a female student. Another Danish Muslim, Mohammed Hussein, incorrectly replied, "According to Islam, Muslims are not allowed to kill". The Quran verse 8:12, to mention one of many examples, says otherwise: "...I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip."
Denmark's Minister of Integration, Inger Støjberg, called on the mosque and all Muslims in Denmark to condemn the sermon. "If this had happened in a Danish church, it would not have been necessary to ask people to condemn it. It would have been automatic", she said.
Muslim organizations and imams have, in fact, been completely quiet on the matter. One leading imam, Naveed Baig, from the Danish Islamic Center, simply dismissed the sermon: "Islam as a religion cannot be anti-Semitic, as Islam itself is a Semitic religion", he said.
The Quran and the hadiths are in fact brimming with anti-Semitism, not to mention exhortations to kill Jews and other "infidels", and calls for jihad (war in the cause of Islam) -- a fact of which Naveed Baig is doubtless well aware.
According to the Quran, people who refuse to acknowledge Allah as the one true god are unbelievers destined for hell: "Verily Allah has cursed the unbelievers and prepared for them a blazing fire" (Quran 33:64). Muslims therefore are superior to all others:
"Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind... believing in Allah... If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors." (Quran 3:110).
"Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers... their abode will be the fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers." (Quran 3:151).
As for specific passages about the Jews, the Quranic passages 5:60 and 7:166 talk of the Jews being cursed and transformed by Allah into apes and pigs: "...those who incurred the curse of Allah and his wrath, those of whom some he transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil..." This is the reason Jews today in large parts of the Muslim world are commonly called apes and pigs. Furthermore, "Jews and pagans [are] among the worst of the enemies of the believers". (Quran 5:82).
The Jews are described as hypocrites (Quran 2:14), and "slayers of His [Allah's] messengers" (Quran 2:61), who are "cunning" and "hate to see your success and rejoice if any misfortune befalls you" (Quran 3:120). These examples constitute only a part of the innumerable examples in the Quran and the hadiths, not to mention the writings of Islamic scholars.
Therefore, there is nothing unusual about imams calling for the murder of Jews in certain mosques, even in the West. In Canada, for example, in 2016, at Montreal's Dar Al-Arqam Mosque, an imam recited the same hadith about stones and trees asking Muslims to come and kill Jews hiding behind them.
In Denmark, however, among politicians, news of the sermon generated the usual "shock". Minister of Justice Søren Pape said it is "insane" that people such as the imam "exist in Denmark": "It is deeply unsympathetic," he said. "These are medieval thoughts and it makes me very sad that in Denmark in 2017 there are still people who really have not evolved further."
Other Danish politicians reacted with similar degrees of "shock" -- appearing utterly surprised by basic tenets of Islam, which have only been public for 1400 years.
Søren Pape hopes to solve the issue by prosecuting the imam. In December 2016, Denmark introduced a new provision in the penal code aimed at religious preachers. It is known in Denmark as the "imam provision," as it is, in practice, mainly aimed at imams. According to the provision, speaking approvingly of terror, murder, rape, violence, incest, pedophilia, coercion and polygamy, whether at private or public events, is prohibited and punishable by fine or prison of up to three years. The "imam provision" exists in addition to the general provision in the penal code, according to which it is prohibited and punishable by fine or prison publicly to threaten, insult or demean a group of persons because of their race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.
However, even if a Danish court should succeed in convicting the imam, Danish politicians appear to miss the critical fact that there is clearly a thirsty audience for sermons like this.
The Danish Jewish Community reported the imam to the police. Jewish community leader Dan Rosenberg told the newspaper Politiken: "We are concerned that weak and impressionable people may perceive this kind of preaching as a clear call to violence and terror against Jews." This sermon, however, is not a question of "perception": This sermon is a call to violence against Jews.
Danish Jews also have more reasons to feel threatened. In October 2015, a Danish girl, then 15, converted to Islam and immediately planned to bomb the Jewish school in Denmark (in addition to a plan to bomb her own school). Her mother, who was concerned about the girl's new behavior, desperately sought to alert the Danish authorities. The Danish police intelligence service (PET), told the mother not to worry, and assured her that her daughter would not "do anything", despite being told that her daughter was "desperate" to wage jihad. According to the mother:
"The only advice I got was to do with the food. They thought that if [my daughter] refused to eat pork and I insisted on making it for dinner, then I would have to make two separate dinners."
A few months after her daughter's conversion, in January 2016, the mother found a stash of chemicals in her basement and a note where her daughter had written the name of the Jewish school and its opening hours, and the words "jihad" and "Allah is great". The girl also apparently looked up to Omar El-Hussein, the terrorist who killed Dan Uzan and Finn Nørgaard, and even took his name as her own. After finding the chemicals, the mother reported the girl to the police. The girl is considered so dangerous that she spent part of her detainment in solitary confinement. Her trial recently ended; sentencing is expected mid-May. As the Quran cannot be changed, it is crucial to make more broadly known what is in it, so at least people can see the facts confronting them, to help them determine what choices they might care to make for their own future and that of their children.
Copenhagen, Denmark. (Image source: Romina Amato/Red Bull via Getty Images)
*Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Riyadh Summits… Opportunities and Messages/غسان شربل: قمم الرياض… الفرص والرسائل
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/May 15/17
When it comes to the United States, we have to remember reasons behind its strength. The “world’s superpower” is not simply a rhetoric term. It is the meeting point of the largest economy with the strongest military, aligned with universities embracing the future. It is an international reality that one cannot ignore or disregard. We can even say that it has become a fateful reality in this specific era, and we ask ourselves: How to find the best language of cooperation with the US in order to avoid a negative coexistence with this reality? America is present here, there and over there, in land, sea and air. A question inevitably arises on its role in the future of economies and guarantees of security and stability. But dancing with the US is not a simple matter. It is important to understand its language of interests and its decision-making mechanisms, in addition to the choices of the master of the White House and his views on his country’s interests and its role in the world.
We are writing about the United States because the Middle East is about to witness an unprecedented event in modern history; an event, which will influence the region and its thorny files for the few coming years. Those old and new files include terrorism, regional coup attempts, peace and stability, the restoration of the prestige of international borders, in addition to international cooperation and countering poverty and unemployment. It cannot be overstated that, in the coming days, the eyes of the region and the world will turn to Riyadh, which will host a series of summits: a US-Saudi summit, a US-Gulf summit and an Arab-Islamic-US summit. A very clear message lies in Donald Trump’s choice of his first official visits. The US president decided that Saudi Arabia would be his first destination in a tour that would also take him to Israel and the Vatican. It is a message on the importance of coexistence between religions and a response to those who call for hatred and repudiation.
Trump will use the Saudi window to address Arab and Muslims. He chose Saudi Arabia, which holds Arab and Islamic legitimacy, to meet with leaders from the Arab and Islamic worlds. A mutual opportunity lies in the meeting: an opportunity for Trump’s America to present its orientation and look for common grounds, and an opportunity for the Arab and Islamic worlds to reach for the US and build bridges with a president who was thought to initiate chaotic relations with both Arabs and Muslims. It was only through extraordinary efforts deployed by Saudi Arabia since Trump took office in January that the series of summits could take place. Those efforts were based on an understanding of the important US role and the need to forge a solid agreement with it on the grounds of mutual interests. It is evident that those efforts have brought bilateral relations to the level of strategic partnership.
The series of summits underline the US awareness of the important role assumed by Saudi Arabia as a force of moderation inside the Arab and Islamic worlds. It stresses the unwavering power of Gulf States on the economic and political levels.
It also highlights the Kingdom’s role in countering terrorism by defeating extremist ideologies and launching intellectual and military wars to eradicate violence.
Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has offered what is more important than fighting terrorism. It has followed the path towards change, development and economic transformation as a guarantee for prosperity and stability, besieging pretexts of extremists and fundamentalists. The main message behind this transformation is that improving the living conditions of millions of young people is an assurance for those who support internal stability and international cooperation. The Arab-Islamic-US summit has also a strong significance. It highlights the Arab and Islamic stance towards the international arena. It confirms that the majority of the region’s population has chosen to build partnerships with the United States and work with it to fight terrorism and contain adventurous policies, especially when such partnerships are based on a deep understanding of mutual interests and sensitivities. The same summit sends an honest message to Iran and Russia. Iran, which is currently busy with its presidential elections, should stop at the meaning of this extensive summit. The Arab majority is evident, so is the Islamic majority. Iran cannot survive if it remains in confrontation with these majorities. It should think about turning into a normal state: a country that respects international borders and does not attempt to expand its influence by infiltrating social fabrics under the pretext of defending minorities or ethnic groups…A natural state that respects international laws and communicate with other countries through embassies, not through militias.
Russia, for its part, should also thoroughly reflect on the consecutive summits in Riyadh. Obama’s era of the US fading role has ended. Trump’s America wants to regain the leadership position. The US is seeking to find true partners in countering terrorism and destabilizing policies…Partners in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Russia has to take into consideration the stance of the majority of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern leaders, highlighted in the Riyadh summit. Success achieved by Moscow on the Syrian arena might turn against it should it continue to act against the majority, which is currently seeking a new partnership with Trump. Putin’s Russia should understand the message. Riyadh’s summits are in fact summits of opportunities… Opportunities to find common interests; build bridges and consolidate economic and political cooperation. The summits also send an important message to those who did not expect such events to take in the Middle East that fast.

Live From the Oval Office, It’s Sergei Lavrov!
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/May 15/17
Sergei Lavrov’s official job is foreign minister of Russia, but his visit to Washington Wednesday won’t be remembered for any diplomatic breakthrough — just for Lavrov’s dripping irony and skill at provoking adversaries. Lavrov’s style, which mirrors that of his boss, Vladimir Putin, is often criticized as unfit for a diplomat. But I’d argue that Lavrov knows exactly what he’s doing and that the medium is the message here. In Washington, Lavrov feigned astonishment for a US reporter who asked about Tuesday’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey: “Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!” The Russian foreign ministry gleefully tweeted out the video. He also smuggled a photographer from the state-owned news agency, TASS, into his meeting with President Donald Trump as his official photographer. TASS immediately published photos of Trump beaming at his Russian visitors, Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who are obviously delighted by the reception. With the US press kept out, these happy photos from their Russian propaganda source created an uproar.
Sarcasm, provocation, a desire to throw interlocutors off balance always bubble just below the surface of Lavrov’s communications. He regularly stuns Western conversation partners with crude or offensive comments.
At a recent meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization ministers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quipped, “You cannot tango with Lavrov because he’s not allowed to dance that one.” He meant that President Vladimir Putin determined policy in Russia and Lavrov wouldn’t be authorized to make deals. “My mother used to tell me: always be a good boy, don’t ever dance with other boys,” the Russian foreign minister responded.
In this, Lavrov’s style mirrors that of his boss. In 2006, Putin memorably told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to say hi to then-president Moshe Katsav, accused of raping and sexually harassing women: “He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women. I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him.” The Kremlin, whose communication was a little more self-conscious back then, had to explain that Putin didn’t condone rape and that his words were meant as a hard-to-translate joke.
Putin’s crude jokes are often written off as a product of his childhood on the streets of St. Petersburg. He’s only as polished as an intelligence officer who served in the former East Germany needed to be. Lavrov, however, is a highly professional diplomat. He knows the protocol, speaks three languages besides Russian, and is sophisticated in his tastes and interests. Even his verse, while not touched by genius, is competent and far less embarrassing than the poetic efforts of many other Russian officials.
Lavrov knows well how his remarks sound to Western ears. He is also aware that sarcasm and taunts are often considered unprofessional and seen as a sign of bad manners in the English-speaking world, especially in the US. And yet he keeps saying things that would have gotten any Western diplomat fired, playing out barbed comedy routines and engaging in practical jokes worthy of a college student.
His style is the message: Russians won’t play by others’ rules, it says. But this isn’t about touting Russia’s size and its nuclear arsenal; it’s more of a mischievous enticement, a dare.
Putin’s Russia has allied itself with Western populist forces, whose stand against political correctness and the constant self-censorship that comes with it constitutes a strong voter appeal. During the election campaign in the US last year, I was told many times that Trump’s penchant for uncensored speech was his most attractive quality. The Dutch say the same of Geert Wilders, the French of Marine Le Pen. The freedom to say whatever one wants without wondering if it could be construed as misogynist, racist, homophobic or offensive in a myriad other ways is, to many voters, a bonus.
Post-Soviet Russians have relished their freedom to say whatever they want, to be sarcastic, crude and informal, to be provocative and thus project confidence. Cursing in the workplace, a lack of respect for propriety and protocol, an absence of linguistic and ideological constraints were prizes to a society that had just cast off the Communist straitjacket.
In his 2014 book, “After Newspeak: Language Culture and Politics in Russia from Gorbachev to Putin,” Michael Gorham wrote,
One obvious reason for post-Soviet reticence toward Western notions of political correctness is that the Soviet era featured a state-sponsored form of PC that was both ubiquitous and hypertrophied. The well-documented cliched, wooden language of official speeches, documents and newspapers assumed such a degree of dominance that it came to symbolize in the Gorbachev-era revolts against that system, all that was wrong with it.
In recent years, a backlash to this unfettered freedom has developed in Russia. The advent of a Western corporate culture and many intellectuals’ admiration of sanitized Western discourse have constituted one line of attack. Russian Orthodox conservatives attacked from the opposite flank. Stringent laws weed out previously copious profanity from film and theater. Religion has become a dangerous conversation subject. Public discourse has turned more staid.
Lavrov has fun making his pitch for a politically incorrect Russia — the Russian embassy in the UK put up a photo of Darth Vader taking a selfie with the sardonic caption “Come to our side — follow us on twitter on #StarWarsDay”– and it’s having an effect. Trolled by official Russian accounts Western diplomats have started responding in kind. New kinds of political correctness are developing in Russia, both on the pro-Putin and the anti-Putin side. Yet for export, so to speak, Lavrov is still able to offer Russia’s post-Soviet spontaneity and contempt for rules. What other foreign minister would allow his department’s hotline to play an English-language answering machine message asking callers to press three for election interference? Lavrov can; that’s his way of selling Russia as a freer country than its Western adversaries. My big problem with Lavrov isn’t that he’s eccentric and prone to stretching the limits of propriety in the early post-Soviet style. It’s that this display of inner freedom is disingenuous and cynical. The policy behind this facade is one of lies and ruthlessness. It’s hard to enjoy Lavrov’s sense of humor with that in mind.

How Trump Can Have an Impact in the Holy Land
Daniel Shapiro/Bloomberg/May 15/17
In planning for President Donald Trump’s first trip abroad White House, staffers will be looking for images and achievements that will reinforce the president’s agenda, appeal to him personally, and present him to the world as a global statesman. While in Israel and the Palestinian Authority on May 22-23, there is an easy stop he should make to accomplish all three goals: President Trump should visit Rawabi. Rawabi is the first new, entirely planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, long heralded as the advent of the Palestinian economic future. Located on a picturesque hillside 10 kilometers north of Ramallah, it is now at a sufficiently advanced stage of development for Palestinian families to begin to move in. Hundreds already have, with more purchasing apartments each day. It could eventually support up to 40,000 residents.
Heavily subsidized by Palestinian developer Bashar Masri and his main financial backer, the government of Qatar, these housing units represents something unavailable to Palestinians anywhere else: brand new high-end apartments at affordable prices. The new city boasts amenities like parks and playgrounds, and top-notch municipal services and unheard of recreation facilities for Palestinians, including a 15,000-seat amphitheater, horseback riding, all-terrain vehicles, and a zip line. Quality schools, shopping, restaurants, a large central mosque and a church are on the way. Rawabi is important not only for what it is, but what it represents: an alternative Palestinian future. Palestinians who have been stuck for generations in refugee camps or dilapidated cities with old-economy industries and poor prospects for expansion are stunned at the quality of life available to them. Quite a few first-time visitors sign mortgages at the bank branches located on site. Some foresee commuting to jobs in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, others anticipate working in the high-tech companies — Israeli, Palestinian and multinational (many with Israeli branches) — that Masri is working hard to attract, and which will be critical to the project’s success.
Others come to Rawabi as an entertainment destination. Rawabi has even become attractive to wealthy overseas Palestinians and Arab Israelis, who want to maintain a residence in the West Bank for visits and vacations, a phenomenon Masri welcomes, but in moderation to avoid the city becoming a ghost-town with no tax base. What would Trump get out of a visit? Since taking office, he has surprised observers throughout the region by his devotion to pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace. As part of that effort, he has emphasized the need to improve Palestinian economic conditions, as his envoy, Jason Greenblatt, did at a donors’ conference last week in Brussels. No site provides greater testament to the improved quality of life available to Palestinians than Rawabi. As Masri emphasizes, if Rawabi succeeds it could be replicated four or five times elsewhere in the West Bank.
But its success has not been assured, and here Trump could also make a difference. The project has been slowed by Israeli security, bureaucratic and political obstacles. While formally supporting its progress, Israel spent years delaying development of the city by failing to approve a critical access road which passes through Israeli-controlled space. At a key moment, the project nearly failed because Israel refused to provide a steady water supply unless it could also provide water to Israeli settlements. Both challenges have been resolved, but similar problems could arise, stoked by Israeli politicians opposed to a Palestinian state. Palestinian political leaders, meanwhile, have been apathetic at best toward the project. Rawabi suffers from a uniquely Palestinian insult — that it “beautifies the occupation.” The idea that economic development could be used to actually retard rather than advance progress toward statehood runs deep in Palestinian society. The PA’s attitude is changing, however, as a recent visit from Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and discussions about the PA taking over the provision of key services attest. Finally, further Qatari financing is needed to see the project through to completion, and to attract additional investment for similar projects.
By associating himself with Rawabi’s future, Trump can instantly incentivize Israeli, Palestinian and Gulf leaders to ensure its success; none will want to be blamed for the failure of a project with Trump’s stamp of approval. He should tie his support for Rawabi to a vision of a future that serves the peace and prosperity of both peoples in a two-state solution. It’s hard to find better optics too. Only a short helicopter ride from Jerusalem or Bethlehem, Rawabi’s grand scale will appeal to Trump the real estate developer. He and Masri, a smooth and successful Palestinian developer who eschews boycotts of Israel, will no doubt hit it off. President Trump, if you want to leave a positive legacy for Israelis and Palestinians on your first visit to the region, come to Rawabi.

MEMRI/Memo Signed By Assad Transfers Command And Financial Responsibility For Syrian Militias To Iranالأسد ينقل الأمرة والمسؤوليات المالية من الميليشيات السورية إلى إيران
May 15/2017
Throughout the Syria war, Iran has played a central role in establishing the Syrian militias operating alongside the Syrian regime’s regular army and army reserves. These militias are modeled after the Iranian Basij.[1] Recently, a memo was circulated on Facebook ostensibly proving that the Syrian regime is transferring command and financial responsibility for some of these militias to Iran – reflecting the extent of Iran’s control in Syria.
The memo, which is dated April 11, 2017 and bears the signature of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his capacity as commander in-chief of the Syrian armed forces, approves the recommendations of a committee responsible for regulating the activity of the armed Syrian forces operating in conjunction with Iran on Syrian territory.
The committee’s recommendations included a call for organizing the nearly 90,000-man-strong armed Syrian forces working in conjunction with Iran under an umbrella framework called the Local Defense Brigades, to operate across Syria under Iranian command and financial responsibility, “until the end of the crisis in Syria or until further notice.”
In addition to the Syrian regime’s consent to Iran’s increasing control in Syria, the memo also reveals the Syrian regime’s difficulty in commanding and funding the local militias, and the grave manpower crisis in the Syrian armed forces throughout the years of the war stemming from the high desertion rate, as well as a widespread unwillingness among draftees and reserve soldiers to be sent to the battle front. According to the information in the memo, of the 88,723 fighters said to be included in the Local Defense Brigades that will be in Iranian hands, half have evaded military service: 14,783 are evading mandatory military service, 16,731 are evading reserve duty, and 8,003 are deserters. The regime has given up trying to draft these men into the army, and instead is trying to draft them into the local militias, where duties are less rigorous because fighters are stationed near their homes. The other half are volunteers, as well as individuals whose “status has been arranged,” that is, who have been given the option to serve in the militias in lieu of being punished for refusing to serve in the military.
On May 2, 2017, a photo of the memo was posted on the Facebook page of the Manjab Tribe Brigade, Ra’d Al-Mahdi, a Syrian militia established recently with Iranian help and operating in the service of the Syrian regime. The text accompanying the photo of the memo shows that the brigades welcome the move and consider it an improvement in their conditions. Likewise, this Facebook page, as well as a pro-regime Syrian news website, published a photo of another official Syrian document that refers to the memo and the transfer of the Syrian militias to Iranian responsibility.
It should be noted that several days after the date on the memo, on May 1, 2017, a Syrian military delegation headed by Syrian Chief of Staff Ali ‘Abdallah Ayyoub visited Iran, and met with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for Coordination Jamaluddin Aberoumand to discuss increasing military cooperation.[2]
The following is a translation of the main points of the two official Syrian documents.
As noted, on May 2, 2017, the Facebook page of the Manjab Tribe Brigade, Ra’d Al-Mahdi published a photo of the memo, which is which is marked “No. 1455” and addressed to “the Honorable Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces and President of Syria.” It states: “With Allah’s help, we will not disappoint you, heroes of Ra’d Al-Mahdi. We have promised and we have kept [our promise].”[3]
The memo states further: “[This is] in accordance with the decision of the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister [Fahd Jassem al-Freij]… to establish a committee headed by the director of [the Syrian military’s] Organization and Administration Department responsible for arranging the forces operating in conjunction with Iran as part of the Local Defense Brigades in the [various] districts, and to publish its recommendations. The committee met several times and examined and discussed every aspect of the matter: organization; command; the supply of military and material needs; the rights of fallen, wounded and missing [fighters]; and arranging the status of draftees, [including] those evading mandatory and reserve service, deserters, and civilians working with the Iranian side. The following are the committee’s conclusions:
“1. The Syrian operatives (civilians and military personnel) who are fighting alongside the Iranian side are to be incorporated in the Local Defense Brigades in the [various] districts as per to the following list:
Mandatory service evaders
Reserve duty evaders
Persons whose status has been arranged
Total in district
Deir Al-Zor
“2. The status of the army members (deserters) and the draftees who are evading mandatory army service and reserve duty should be arranged, and they should be transferred [to the Local Defense Brigades in their district], and it should be established that these brigades will summon them [for service]. Men whose status has been arranged and who are working with the Iranian side are to be incorporated in the Local Defense Brigades as well, as per the following list:
Mandatory service evaders
Army deserters
Reserves duty evaders
Persons whose status has been arranged
“3. Civilians working with the Iranian side who want to volunteer [to the militias] are to be incorporated in the Armed Forces – Popular Army[4] on a two-year volunteer contract, regardless of the volunteer conditions that are implemented in the armed forces… The contracts should be renewed with the agreement of both sides, as per the following list:
“- Civilians working with the Iranian side – 37,004
“4. The Administration of Officers’ Affairs will be in charge of arranging the status of the 1,650 members of the Class 69 graduates among the officers working with the Iranian side in Aleppo district.”
The Local Defense Brigades in the districts that are working with the Iranian side will remain under the command of the Iranian side until the Syria crisis ends or until further notice, in coordination with the Army and Armed Forces General Headquarters.
Ensuring the supply of all fighting gear and meeting all material needs of the Syrian army personnel and civilians working with the Iranian side will remain the responsibility of the Iranian side after they are incorporated into the Local Defense Brigades in the districts, in coordination with the relevant parties.
Guaranteeing the material rights of the fallen, wounded and missing [fighters] who worked with the Iranian side from the beginning of the [Syria] events will be the responsibility of the Iranian side…”
Syrian Chief of Staff Ali ‘Abdallah Ayyoub and Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij approved the memo by appending their signatures to it on April 5, 2017, and Assad, in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces, signed it on April 11, 2017.
Official Syrian Document: Do Not Arrest The Elements Working With The Iranian Side
Likewise, both the Facebook page of the Ra’d Al-Mahdi Brigades and the pro-regime Syrian news website posted a photo of another official Syrian document, referring to the abovementioned memo concerning the transfer of the Syrian militias to Iranian responsibility. This supports the memo’s authenticity.
The document is a letter sent by Gen. ‘Adnan Muhriz ‘Ali, head of the Organization and Administration Department, on behalf of Syrian Chief of Staff ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Ayyoub, to the Ministry of Internal Security, General Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Intelligence Directorate, Political Security Directorate, Criminal Security Department, Immigration and Passport Administration, and the Military Police. The letter said: “As per the decision of the Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces regarding Memorandum No. 1455 of April 4, 2017 and the decision of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Deputy Prime Minister and the Defense Minister regarding Memorandum no. 1681 of April 21, 2017, we instruct you not to arrest [army evaders and deserters] working with the Iranian side who hold temporary documents [identifying them as members] of the Local Defense Forces, until their status is arranged…”[5]
[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1242, Syria Regime Establishing Popular Armed Militias Modeled On Iranian Basij, April 25, 2016.
[2] SANA (Syria), May 2, 2017.
[3], May 2, 2017.
[4] According to reports, the Popular Army was established in 2012 and comprises well-trained and organized fighters, many of them members of the Ba’th party. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 4, 2012;, November 30, 2016.
[5], April 30, 2017.