April 13/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be
Luke 12/16-21: "Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’"

let God be proved true, as it is written, ‘So that you may be justified in your words
"Letter to the Romans 03/01-07: "What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, ‘So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.’ But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 12-13/18
West must not ignore Iran’s role in Syria atrocities/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/April 12/18
Palestinians: License to Kill Americans/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/April 12/18
Qatari Campaign against Abu Dhabi/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/April 12/18
After 20 years of Irish peace, why does a Middle East deal remain elusive?/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/April 12/18
Trump’s Syria missile threat will achieve little, if anything/Sharif Nashashibi/Arab News/April 12/18
Why West’s military action is necessary in Syria/Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/April 12/18
Countdown to the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/April 12/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 12-13/18
Lebanese Govt. 'Committed to Dissociation Policy', Rejects 'Airspace Violation by Israel'
STL Schedules Filing of Final Briefs in June 2018
Rahi Urges World Leaders to 'Peacefully End' Regional Wars
Bassil: Restoring Saudi-Lebanese Ties 'Convenient'
Kuwait Airways Halts Flights to Beirut as Syria Tensions Grow
3 Killed in Landmine Explosion in Arsal Outskirts
Charles Ayoub Briefly Detained over Lawsuit Filed by Sarkis Sarkis
Protesters Rally Outside Baabda Palace as Govt. Prepares to Meet
Policy of dissociation safeguards Lebanon, Geagea says as US mulls attack on Syria
Airspace breach an attack on Lebanese sovereignty: Aoun
Lebanon: Berri Criticizes Sectarian Rhetoric in Electoral Campaigns
Sami Gemayel: Authority Is Shrugging off Responsibility for Controversial Budget
Tawile: Lebanon to Go Bankrupt if No Reformist Action is Taken
Bou Khaled: Kataeb's Baabda List Presenting Unconventional Model in Politics
British Embassy distributes Foreign Secretary statement on OPCW report
Army commander meets head of U.S. Central Command Special Forces
Berri calls for turning elections day into popular referendum
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 12-13/18
Trump Ambiguous on Syria Military Strike
Mattis Says U.S. Wants to Avoid 'Out of Control' Situation in Syria
Trump Huddles with War Cabinet, Vows Syria Decision 'Fairly Soon'
US, Russia in crisis talks as Syria missile strikes loom
Some Airlines Re-route Flights over Possible Syria Air Strikes
UK Calls for Security Council Meeting on OPCW's Skripal Attack Findings
Saudi FM: Palestine will top discussions at the 29th Arab League summit
Saudi Arabia’s air defense systems down Houthi missile over Jazan
Afghan District Governor Among Several Killed in Taliban Attack
EU Extends Iran Sanctions over Human Rights Violations
Arab FMs Prepare Draft Resolutions for the Dhahran Summit
US Observes Aviation, Financial Systems in Qatar
Jubeir: Iran and terrorism are two sides of one coin
Who is Trump really siding with in Qatar’s crisis?

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 12-13/18'
Lebanese Govt. 'Committed to Dissociation Policy', Rejects 'Airspace Violation by Israel'
Naharnet/April 12/18/The government on Thursday reiterated Lebanon's commitment to its so-called policy of 'dissociation' from regional conflicts, as it stressed that this policy does not involve accepting Israel's violations of Lebanon's airspace. “There is Lebanese consensus on rejecting the violation of Lebanese sovereignty and Lebanon's airspace,” acting information minister Pierre Bou Assi said after a cabinet session in Baabda. Noting that Lebanon is prepared for all scenarios, the minister added: “We are committed to dissociation, but it is not dissociation from Israel's violation of our airspace.” He also announced that the cabinet will continue its discussions on the electricity file next week. U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Russia that "missiles will be coming" to Syria over an alleged chemical attack in Douma that rescuers said killed 40 people. There are concerns that missiles could cross Lebanon's airspace in the event of a strike on Syria. Several Lebanese politicians have described such a scenario as a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

STL Schedules Filing of Final Briefs in June 2018
Naharnet/April 12/18/The Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has ordered the Prosecutor, Defense counsel for the four Accused as well as the Legal Representatives of Victims in the Ayyash et al. case to file their final trial briefs by Monday, June 4, 2018, the STL said on Thursday. “Any responses from the parties and participating victims should be filed by Monday 18 June 2018,” the court added in a statement. In a scheduling order issued Wednesday, the Trial Chamber also stated that it will hear oral closing arguments between June 25 and July 6, 2018. Under Rule 147 of the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence, following the presentation of all the evidence, the Prosecutor, the participating victims and the Defense may file final trial briefs and present closing arguments. “The Trial Chamber considers that the simultaneous filing of final trial briefs would expedite the proceedings, but without prejudicing any Party or the participating victims, as each may respond to the other’s submissions before oral closing arguments are heard,” the STL said. The Prosecution closed its case against the four Accused – suspected Hizbullah members -- on February 7, 2018. On March 7, the Trial Chamber dismissed an application for a judgment of acquittal, under Rule 167, made by the Defense the Accused Hussein Hassan Oneissi. No other Defense counsel made applications under this Rule. Further, the Oneissi Defense was the only team which chose to call a Defense case, consisting of one expert witness and a political witness. The Trial Chamber scheduled the hearing of the Oneissi Defense case between 10 and 20 April 2018. The expert witness will testify on Tuesday 17 April 2018.

Rahi Urges World Leaders to 'Peacefully End' Regional Wars

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 12/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Thursday "appealed" to world leaders to "peacefully" end the wars ravaging in the region, after tensions mounted between the United States and Russia over an alleged chemical attack against civilians in Syria. "We appeal to the international community, to the conscience of world powers to work on ending wars and to bring peace through diplomatic means. Peoples of the Middle East have the right to live in peace, and we know how wars begin, but we do not know how they end," said Rahi addressing the international community. "Regretfully, the language of peace is absent between states. We also regret the situation the Syrian people have reached which affects Lebanon, particularly the economic situation," added the Patriarch. The United Nations warned world powers against letting the crisis over an alleged chemical attack against civilians in Syria from "spiraling out of control" after US President Donald Trump said "missiles will be coming. Tensions mounted over a face-off with Damascus-ally Russia. Opponents of unilateral US action called an emergency closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council for Thursday. Britain also scheduled an emergency cabinet meeting. Trump's bellicose tweets came in response to a warning from Russia's ambassador to Beirut, who took to a television network run by Hizbullah to declare that any US missiles would be shot down "as well as the sources they were fired from."

Bassil: Restoring Saudi-Lebanese Ties 'Convenient'
Naharnet/April 12/18/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said on Thursday that restoring normal ties with Saudi Arabia is "very useful," adding that he considers Hizbullah a "Lebanese components" stressing that issues linked to the party should be addressed "inside" Lebanon. "The relations with Saudi Arabia are returning back to normal. Saudi reconsideration of relations with Lebanon is very useful," said Bassil on Twitter. He added: "We consider Hizbullah a Lebanese component and not a militia. Issues linked to Hizbullah must be addressed domestically (Lebanon)." "Hizbullah has enough wisdom, national awareness and concern that enables it to protect Lebanon and the resistance and misses the opportunity for those trying to get us into problems," added the minister. On Israeli violations of Lebanon's airspace, the minister said: "Lebanon will file a complaint at the UN Security Council. A political decision must be taken at the Cabinet and a military decision at the Higher Defense Council shall these encroachments violations continue.

Kuwait Airways Halts Flights to Beirut as Syria Tensions Grow
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 12/18/Kuwait Airways, the country's national carrier, announced that it will be halting its flights to Beirut starting Thursday "until further notice," after an air safety watchdog warned of potential military strikes on Syria in the coming days. The decision was made in light of security alerts made by the Cypriot authorities, it said. Kuwait Airways announced on Twitter that it will be suspending flights to Beirut "on the basis of serious security warnings received from Cyprus authorities, to preserve the safety of passengers and the commitment of Kuwait to the implementation of security and safety standards."The airways added that it will be halting flights starting April 12 and "until further notice." International airlines on Wednesday said they were modifying their flight plans after a warning from Europe's air safety watchdog about potential military strikes on Syria in the coming days. On Tuesday, the European Aviation Safety Agency alerted airlines of the possible launch of "air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours", urging them to take precautionary measures. Air France has taken the EASA information into account and modified its flight plans for affected destinations, mainly Beirut and Tel Aviv. Lebanon's Middle East Airlines has also modified the flight paths for planes heading to Beirut. The EASA cited a risk of "intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment" for commercial flights in the region in case of military action.

3 Killed in Landmine Explosion in Arsal Outskirts
Naharnet/April 12/18/Three people were killed Thursday in a landmine explosion in the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal, state-run National News Agency reported. “Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Hujeiri, his son and Youssef Audeh were killed when their car hit a landmine in the al-Kheshen area in Arsal's outskirts,” NNA said. “The landmine was left over by the terrorists,” the agency added, referring to the jihadist al-Nusra Front and Syrian rebel groups.
Jihadists and rebels had set up positions in the area for several years before being ousted in 2017 following a Hizbullah offensive.

Charles Ayoub Briefly Detained over Lawsuit Filed by Sarkis Sarkis
Naharnet/April 12/18/Mount Lebanon prosecutor Ghada Aoun on Thursday ordered the detention of ad-Diyar newspaper owner and editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub over a libel and bounced check lawsuit filed by Northern Metn parliamentary candidate Sarkis Sarkis, the National News Agency said. Ayoub was however released after a few hours over health concerns. Sarkis offered his consent to Ayoub's release at a press conference in which he praised the judiciary. In a phone interview with NNA, Ayoub's lawyer Joseph al-Ghazal said his client was initially remanded in custody over “a $360,000 check dating back to 2001.” “The signature on the check is forged and this was verified in the report of forensic handwriting expert Antoine Ghanem. This lawsuit is being used to silence ad-Diyar newspaper and prevent it from saying the truth and unveiling corrupts,” Ghazal added. “Charles Ayoub was remanded in custody despite his very critical medical situation which has been verified through a medical report,” the lawyer lamented.

Protesters Rally Outside Baabda Palace as Govt. Prepares to Meet

Naharnet/April 12/18/Several EDL contract workers and Lebanese University professors staged sit-ins on Thursday near the Presidential Palace in Baabda, as the government readies to convene under the chairmanship of President Michel Aoun to discuss the controversial file of electricity. EDL contracts workers gathered early in the morning reiterating their long-time demand to become full time employees. LU lecturers on the other hand closed the road near the palace, demanding that they be given their full “wage scale” rights. The protests came as the government prepares to decide on the thorny file of electricity crisis, and whether it should be renting new power generation vessels or building its own power plants. The government is also expected to decide on whether to renew contracts for Karadeniz Turkish firm, which owns two power vessels currently providing Lebanon with electricity. Lebanon’s government should in April notify Karadeniz if it plans to renew the contract that expires at the end of September 2018.
Policy of dissociation safeguards Lebanon, Geagea says as US mulls attack on Syria
Georgi Azar/Annahar/12 April 2018/On Wednesday, Berri blasted Israel’s use of Lebanon’s airspace to launch a missile attack on Syria which killed 14 people including an Iranian revolutionary guard colonel. BEIRUT:
Lebanon’s rival political leaders remained at odds Thursday over a possible US strike on Syria, with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reminding Speaker Nabih Berri that Lebanon had committed itself to a policy of dissociation. On Wednesday, Berri blasted Israel’s use of Lebanon’s airspace to launch a missile attack on Syria which killed 14 people including an Iranian revolutionary guard colonel. “These attacks on Syria are planned by the west and backed by certain Arab states,” he said, adding that “the policy of dissociation does not entail Israel violating our airspace and using it to bomb Arab lands.”
“Those in favor of this dissociation policy are contributing to Israeli aggression,” he said. Lebanon to complain to UNSC over Israeli airspace violation. Berri’s comments drew a sharp response from Geagea, who took to Twitter to maintain that “a policy of dissociation means just that, case closed.”
Israel’s raid came in the wake of an alleged chemical attack perpetrated by Assad’s forces on a rebel-held town in central Damascus, targeting a Syrian base which housed both Iranian and Russian personnel. Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun reaffirmed his commitment to file an official complaint with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), labeling Israel’s move as an “attack on our sovereignty.”Speaking during a Cabinet session held at the Baabda Presidential Palace, Aoun unequivocally “rejected Israel’s illegal use of our airspace,” while condemning any “attack on our Arab neighbor.”
During the session, Minister of Agriculture and Hezbollah affiliate Hussein Hajj Hassan criticized the now-defunct March 14 coalition for “their lack of condemnation of Israel’s illegal use of Lebanon’s airspace.” “Is Israel now part of the Arab League,” he bemused. Lebanon agreed to abide by a dissociation policy - which stipulates the non-interference in regional affairs - following Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrawing his resignation in November 2017. Yet Hariri, who cited Hezbollah’s incursions in Syria and Yemen as the reason for stepping down during his televised address from Riyadh on November 4, assured that his government would not deviate from this policy. “We have a clear position and that is the policy of dissociation, and it is my duty as Prime Minister to protect Lebanon from any regional conflicts,” Hariri said.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt mirrored Hariri’s response, tweeting that “all parties should abide by the dissociation policy.”
“Lebanon cannot be used as an axis in the conflict,” he said.
The current standoff in Syria has reached a boiling point, approaching levels not seen even at the height of the cold war after US President Donald Trump signaled a possible U.S missile attack on Syrian bases. “Nice, new and smart missiles,” will be used said Trump earlier this week, before pivoting to a more measured response. On Thursday, Trump announced that an attack on Syria could take place “very soon or not soon at all,” arguing that he had never signaled the timing of retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that he had suggested was imminent a day earlier. An attack on Syria, which Russian officials said would lead to a direct confrontation between the two world powers, would have a ripple effect on the region while increasing the threat of nuclear peril. Berri warned of “the serious repercussions that may result from any military action targeting Syria,” highlighting Thursday that the “region’s stability is at stakes.” The U.S., France, and Britain have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week, U.S. officials have said. With AP

Airspace breach an attack on Lebanese sovereignty: Aoun
The Daily Star/April 12, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Thursday condemned Israeli airstrikes in Syria, saying the country’s use of Lebanese airspace was an "attack on our sovereignty,” during a Cabinet meeting that began just after noon. During the session, Aoun corroborated an announcement made by the Foreign Ministry two days prior to the effect that Lebanon was set to make a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council over Israel’s illegal use of Lebanese airspace to attack Syrian targets. Prime Minister Saad Hariri also commented on current tensions during the session, saying, "We are working to free Lebanon from any potential problems it might incur as a result of [regional] developments."On Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that two Israeli F-15 warplanes had launched eight guided missiles from Lebanese airspace, targeting an airbase near Syria’s Homs. As the Cabinet session at Baabda Palace got underway, Minister for the Displaced and head of the Lebanese Democratic Party Talal Arslan said via Twitter that "using Lebanon's airspace and territorial waters to strike Syria is unacceptable and an aggression against Lebanon before Syria."Before the session began, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Qanso raised concerns over the Israeli breaches. “There is no dissociation [policy] in the face of [Israeli] violations of Lebanese sovereignty, and the use of Lebanese airspace to target an Arab country,” Qanso said, according to local media.He noted that he would bring up the subject during the meeting. Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea also commented on the issue. "My friend, Speaker [Nabih] Berri: dissociation means dissociation. Period,” Geagea said on Twitter. The results of the CEDRE conference were also discussed during the Cabinet session, which reportedly had an agenda containing over 50 items. Hariri, who headed the Lebanese delegation at the conference in Paris, said CEDRE was "successful" and served as evidence of the international community's trust in Lebanon, local media reported. The premier went on to present the reforms suggested at CEDRE, pointing out that these reforms “will be in Lebanon's interest and will facilitate the implementation of projects.” He requested that political parties in the government submit their proposals on all reforms they deem necessary to combat corruption and waste, saying, "We are partners in this country."

Lebanon: Berri Criticizes Sectarian Rhetoric in Electoral Campaigns

Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/Lebanon’s Speaker Nabih Berri criticized the sectarian rhetoric used by some candidates in electoral campaigns. During a meeting with a student delegation from the Sidon Evangelical School, Berri stressed that leaders who speak and trade in sectarianism were not believers, whether they were Muslims or Christians, “because the true believer renounces sectarianism.” Asked about his opinion on the electoral law based on the proportional system, Berri emphasized that the best proportional system was that which provided true partnership, through a system based on Lebanon as a single constituency. “The current law, if it remains unchanged, has very dangerous repercussions on Lebanon,” he said, underlining the need for a ministry of planning in the next stage to achieve reforms and fight corruption. On a different note, Berri warned of the “the serious repercussions that may result from any military action targeting Syria.”He expressed his fear that the first victims of such an action would be the stability and unity of the region, “not to mention the bloodshed, destruction and displacement of the brotherly Syrian people.”However, the speaker said he was not worried about Lebanon, “which cannot live without coexistence among all its sects in a single national melting pot.”“I am confident that no one will be able to drag the new parliament into any other project,” he said.

Sami Gemayel: Authority Is Shrugging off Responsibility for Controversial Budget 12th April 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Thursday that the Article 50 of the 2018 state budget allows Syrian refugees to settle in Lebanon as they will be benefiting in many ways from this clause which grants a Lebanese residency to foreign nationals who buy an apartment at starting $500,000 inside Beirut and $330,000 elsewhere. "The approval of this article goes against all the pledges made in terms of returning the refugees back to their country," Gemayel said in an address posted on Facebook. "The article was not officially amended as it was not put to the vote in the Parliament,. No amendment is allowed to be introduced unless approved before by the general assembly," he noted. "They replaced the permanent residency with a temporary one, and linked its validity to the buyer's ownership period. This is no longer a temporary residency; this is an attempt to deceive and lie to the people." Gemayel warned that this clause violates the Constitution and opens the doors for residing foreigners to demand citizenship after a certain period of time. "This is naturalization in disguise. The refugees' return to their homeland or their resettlement in other countries will be then relegated to history.""The article wouldn't have been amended hadn't we objected to it. Today, they are trying to conceal this issue in a bid to evade their responsibility," Gemayel said. The Kataeb chief pledged to follow up on this issue until the end, assuring that the clause and the way it has been amended is utterly unconstitutional and illegal. "We have the right to object to this article just like you have the right to be convinced of it. However, don't you dare to lie!"Gemayel called on the Lebanese not to allow anyone to distort facts and to mislead them, stressing that accountability must be harsh and strict on May 6 when each wrongdoer must be put to account.

Tawile: Lebanon to Go Bankrupt if No Reformist Action is Taken 12th April 2018/Head of the Kataeb's Social and Economic Council, Jean Tawile, sounded the alarm over the "dangerous" economic situation in Lebanon, warning that the country is heading towards bankruptcy if the state doesn't take any tangible actions to avert this grim scenario.Tawile told the Kataeb website that Lebanon will likely face the same fate that Greece and Argentina had experienced, explaining that the country would become bankrupt once the Central Bank and private banks stop paying the country's public debt. He also stressed the need for a competent political class that is able to manage the country and address its problems, noting that the Kataeb's 131-point electoral platform proposes several solutions and reformist measures in this regard. Tawile said that the country doesn't need to solicit $11 billion in debts to boost its economy, adding that it rather needs a responsible political authority that realizes the importance of reforms. "The subsequent political authorities failed to achieve anything through the Paris 1, 2 and 3 conferences. Is that going to change today with the CEDRE conference? How are funds being granted to a government that will be dissolved after one month? Unless they are sure that they are come back to power."Tawile also pointed out that the government has violated the Constitution by failing to get the Parliament's approval on the obtained loans and the relevant projects that will be funded, criticizing it for deferring the reduction of expenses in the 2018 budget to the coming two years. "The CEDRE conference is supposed to create job opportunities for the Lebanese, not the Syrian refugees who would stay for a longer time in Lebanon thanks to the projects funded by this conference," he said.

Bou Khaled: Kataeb's Baabda List Presenting Unconventional Model in Politics 12th April 2018/The Kataeb's candidate for the Maronite seat in Baabda, Ramzi Bou Khaled, on Thursday stressed that the list on which he is running offers the voters an unconventional choice that would give rise to real change in Lebanon's political life. "The 'Together for Baabda' list is a serious choice to opt for as it presents a new and unconventional political model," he said in an interview on MTV. Bou Khaled hoped that the Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces party would join forces in the new Parliament in order to work hand in hand for the country’s interest. Bou Khaled also affirmed that the Kataeb party chose to ally in Baabda with people who are not involved in corruption and want to work for the sake of Lebanon’s welfare. “We are not used that things be imposed on us; we are presenting a new model of unconventional politics in the field,” he said. “Hybrid alliances have created an imbalance in the political equation in the country,” he added.
British Embassy distributes Foreign Secretary statement on OPCW report
Thu 12 Apr 2018/NNA - The British Embassy in Beirut distributed on Thursday the statement by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson commenting on the report issued by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) following the Salisbury attack.
In his statement, Johnson said: "Today the international chemical weapons watchdog have confirmed the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical used in the attempted assassination of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and which also resulted in the hospitalisation of a British police officer. That was a military grade nerve agent - a Novichok."Johnson added: "This is based on testing in 4 independent, highly reputable laboratories around the world. All returned the same conclusive results. There can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible - only Russia has the means, motive and record. We invited the OPCW to test these samples to ensure strict adherence to international chemical weapons protocols. We have never doubted the analysis of our scientists at Porton Down."Johnson went on to say: "In the interest of transparency, and because unlike the Russians we have nothing to hide, we have asked the OPCW to publish the executive summary for all to see and to circulate the full report to all state parties of the OPCW, including Russia.
We will now work tirelessly with our partners to help stamp out the grotesque use of weapons of this kind and we have called a session of theOPCW Executive Council next Wednesday to discuss next steps. The Kremlin must give answers."He concluded: "We must, as a world community, stand up for the rules based order which keeps us all safe. The use of weapons of this kind can never be justified, and must be ended."

Army commander meets head of U.S. Central Command Special Forces
Thu 12 Apr 2018/NNA - Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, welcomed on Thursday at his Yarze office head of US Central Command Special Forces Maj. Gen. Darsie D. Rogers, on top of a delegation, in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elisabeth Richard. Talks reportedly touched on the bilateral relations between the armies of both countries. Maj. Gen. Rogers' visit comes in continuation of his previous visits to inquire about the needs of the Lebanese army and enhance its military capabilities.

Berri calls for turning elections day into popular referendum
Thu 12 Apr 2018/NNA - Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, on Thursday called for turning elections day into a popular referendum and voting for national coexistence principle. Speaker Berri was speaking during his meeting with heads of municipal and mayoral councils of the villages of Sidon-Zahrani District, at his Mseilieh residence. Berri called on southerners to vote in favor of the unique model presented by the south of Lebanon, including Zahrani district, as an exemplary for national coexistence amongst the various communities. Berri followed up today on electoral affairs with visitors, whereby he met to this effect with delegations of the southern towns of Abbasieh and Al-Qlayleh. A delegation of Tibneen Secondary School students also paid a visit to Speaker Berri today.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 12-13/18
Trump Ambiguous on Syria Military Strike
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/Signs of a global effort to head off a dangerous conflict pitting Russia against the West seem to have paid off as US President Donald Trump cast doubt over the timing of his threatened strike on Syria. "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" said Trump in his latest early morning tweet. Trump's new tweet seemed to backtrack from the bellicose one of Wednesday that missiles "will be coming" after the April 7 chemical weapons attack alleged to have killed dozens of people, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. French President Emmanuel Macron also said Thursday that he would respond to "proof" that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, "at a time of our choosing.""We have proof that chemical weapons were used last week, at least chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad," Macron said during an interview on France's TF1 television. Macron added that he was in daily contact with Trump and that they would decide on their response "at a time of our choosing, when we judge it to be the most useful and the most effective."The French leader, who had made the use of chemical weapons in Syria a "red line", said one of his aims in Syria was to "remove the regime's chemical attack capabilities". But he repeated that he wanted to also avoid "an escalation". "France will in no way allow an escalation or anything that would harm regional stability, but we cannot allow regimes that believe they can act with impunity to violate international law in the worst possible way." The tough talk between Trump and Russia has raised fears of the Syria conflict mushrooming into something even more serious involving America and its Western allies on one side and the Russians on the other. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned world powers Wednesday to keep the conflict from "spiraling out of control."
Mattis Says U.S. Wants to Avoid 'Out of Control' Situation in Syria
Associated Press/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 12/18/U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Thursday that his country wants to avoid an “out of control” situation in the event of any military strike on Syria over the suspected Douma chemical attack. At a congressional hearing on the Pentagon's 2019 budget request, Mattis declined to discuss military plans but said legislative leaders would be notified before any attack was undertaken. He said that because the U.S. had no one at the site of the suspected chemical attack last Saturday, the U.S. has no hard evidence of what happened. But he said he personally believes it was an "inexcusable" use of chemical weapons. Asked about the risks of U.S. military retaliation, Mattis cited two concerns, starting with avoiding civilian casualties. "On a strategic level, it's how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that," he said.
Mattis insisted that Trump has not yet made a decision to strike Syria, after the president earlier had tweeted that action "could be very soon or not so soon at all!"
The Pentagon chief and other top security officials were due to head to the National Security Council after the hearing, where he said he would "take forward the various options to the president."At stake in Syria is the potential for confrontation, if not outright conflict, between the U.S. and Russia, former Cold War foes whose relations have deteriorated in recent years over Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, most recently, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct U.S.-Russian military clash. Russia's ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted -- a stark warning of a potential major confrontation. Trump, who has often said a commander in chief should never telegraph his military intentions, apparently did so himself, tweeting that missiles "will be coming" in response to the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people near Damascus.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria," Trump wrote. "Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
Mattis, however, indicated that evidence of what happened was still being studied. At a photo-taking session during a Pentagon meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mattis was asked by a reporter whether he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian government. "We're still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies," Mattis said. "We're still working on this." Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syria was to blame, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which the U.S. government had video and other evidence of certain aspects of an actual attack by Syrian aircraft, which involved the use of sarin gas. Trump responded then by launching dozens of Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.
Asked whether the U.S. military was ready to conduct an attack in Syria if ordered, Mattis replied, "We stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate, as the president determined."In the past, Trump has condemned others for forecasting military plans, repeatedly blistering President Barack Obama during the 2016 campaign. During one speech, he said, "We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything." The U.S., France and Britain have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week, U.S. officials have said. A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S. in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria's political and military support from Russia and Iran.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that France has proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks and that France would not tolerate "regimes that think everything is permitted."The Syrian government denies responsibility. The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation. France is already involved in the U.S.-led coalition created in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Multiple IS terror attacks have targeted France, including one last month.

Trump Huddles with War Cabinet, Vows Syria Decision 'Fairly Soon'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 12/18/U.S. President Donald Trump huddled with top national security advisors Thursday to weigh his military options in Syria, as Moscow warned against any move that risks triggering a conflict between Russia and the United States.
The drumbeat of military action appeared to grow louder, as Russia stonewalled diplomatic efforts at the United Nations and France declared "proof" that Moscow's Syrian ally carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 Syrians.
"It's too bad that the world puts us in a position like that," said Trump, as Defense Secretary James Mattis headed to the West Wing to present options for a retaliatory strike. "We're having a number of meetings today, we'll see what happens, we're obviously looking at that very closely," he told lawmakers and governors in the Cabinet Room. "Now we have to make some further decisions, so they will be made fairly soon," added first-term commander-in-chief, who earlier appeared to equivocate on the timing of strikes.Since Saturday, when images of ashen toddlers struggling for breath emerged from Douma -- the main city in the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus that has been a crucible of revolt against Bashar al-Assad's regime -- there has been a sustained military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean.
A French frigate, UK Royal Navy submarines laden with cruise missiles and the USS Donald Cook, an American destroyer equipped with Tomahawk land attack missiles have all moved into range of Syria's sun-bleached coast. The Cook -- named after a Marine Colonel who suffered depravation and starvation as a Vietnam prisoner of war -- has past experience tangling with the Russian military, having been deployed to the Black Sea during the recent crisis in Crimea. Half a world away in New York, Russia's U.N. ambassador warned the priority in Syria was to avert US-led strikes that could lead to a dangerous confrontation between the world's two preeminent nuclear powers. "The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," said Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia following closed-door Security Council talks. Asked if he was referring to war between the US and Russia, he said: "We cannot exclude any possibilities unfortunately." Trump has slammed Russia for its partnership with "Gas Killing Animal" Assad, spurring concerns that a U.S. strike could lead to a conflagration with Russia, which has major military facilities at Tartus and Khmeimim and works cheek-by-jowl with Syria forces that could be targeted. U.S. officials have refused to rule out direct military engagement with Russia, with the White House saying "all options are on the table."
But a special hotline for the U.S. and Russian militaries to communicate about operations in Syria is active and being used by both sides, Moscow said Thursday.
Rebels give up Ghouta
On the ground in Syria, rebels in Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave, signalling the end of one of the bloodiest assaults of the seven-year war and a major win for the Assad regime. A top leader of Jaish al-Islam, a group which controlled Douma for years, told AFP it was Saturday's attack that forced them to accept a Russian-brokered deal and evacuate. At the United Nations meanwhile, diplomats were mulling a draft resolution put forward by Sweden and obtained by AFP, that would dispatch a "high-level disarmament mission" to rid the country of chemical weapons "once and for all." That may prove too little, too late. The U.N. Security Council, tasked with maintaining international peace and security, has been riven, with Moscow virulently denying the Douma attack took place, or postulating that it was carried out by rebels. The council has already failed to agree on a response to the attack in three votes and has been deadlocked throughout the Syrian civil war.
In Paris, France's Emmanuel Macron upped the pressure on Moscow by stating he had "proof" that the Assad's regime had used chemical weapons, and vowing a response "at a time of our choosing." In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May held an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss support for U.S. action against the Syrian regime. But across Western capitals opposition to military action also grew. U.S. lawmakers questioned whether Trump has the legal authority to order strikes without Congressional approval and opposition parties voiced concern.
National security experts worried about whether strikes would actually serve to deter Assad. In April last year Trump ordered Tomahawk strikes on the Shayrat Airbase in response to a similar chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhun. But the pinpoint strike did not deter Assad and U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have since investigated as many as 10 suspected chemical attacks. The same officials say Syria has continued to produce or procure chlorine, which also has industrial and agricultural uses. Syria, which denies carrying out the latest attack, said it had invited the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has blamed the regime for previous such incidents, to visit Douma. The OPCW, which works to rid the world of chemical arms stockpiles, said its experts were on their way to Syria and will start their work on Saturday.
US, Russia in crisis talks as Syria missile strikes loom
Arab News/April 12, 2018/WASHINGTON/LONDON/MOSCOW: US President Donald Trump said yesterday he was holding meetings to discuss the crisis in Syria and that a decision would be taken “fairly soon” on threatened missile strikes in response to the suspected poison gas attack on a rebel stronghold. Fears of a confrontation between Russia, Syria’s strongest ally, and the West have been running high since Trump said on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” after the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7. The US leader criticized Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all,” Trump said in an early morning tweet on Thursday. Later, he said: “We’re having a number of meetings today, we’ll see what happens. Now we have to make some ... decisions, so they’ll be made fairly soon.” Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron said France had proof the Syrian government carried out the attack, which aid groups have said killed dozens of people, and will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered.
“We have proof that last week ... chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar Assad,” Macron said, without offering details of any evidence. “We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective,” he told broadcaster TF1. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May held a special cabinet meeting to consider whether Britain should join the US and France in possible military action. She has described the attack in Douma, just east of the capital Damascus, as barbaric. Syria and its backers, Russia and Iran, say reports of the attack were fabricated by rebels, and rescue workers in Douma have accused the US of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the government.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, told Congress on Thursday that he believed there was a chemical attack in Syria, but added a short while later that the US had not made any decision to launch military action against the Syrian regime. He accused Russia of being complicit in Syria’s retention of chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal that Moscow helped broker requiring Syria to abandon them. A team of experts from a global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was traveling to Syria and will start its investigations on Saturday, the Netherlands-based agency said. Despite the tension, there were signs of a global effort to head off a direct confrontation between Russia and the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the US, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use. There was no direct word from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the crisis, though he discussed the situation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan by phone on Thursday, Interfax news agency said. The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow sought no escalation of the situation, but that it could not support “dishonest accusations” and had found no evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Douma. Statements from Washington have been militaristic, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, and threats by the US and France were a violation of the UN charter. Syria’s military has repositioned some air assets to avoid missile strikes, US officials told Reuters. Locating Syrian aircraft alongside Russian military hardware might make Washington reluctant to target them. Russian ships had left the Tartus naval base in Syria, Interfax news agency quoted a Russian lawmaker as saying. Vladimir Shamanov, who chairs the defense committee of the lower house, said the vessels had departed the Mediterranean base for their own safety — “normal practice” when there were threats of attack. For its part, the Russian military said it had observed movements of US Navy forces in the Gulf. Any US strike would probably involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defenses. A US guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean. Assad said any Western action “will contribute nothing but an increase in instability in the region, threatening international peace and security,” Syrian state TV reported.
Some Airlines Re-route Flights over Possible Syria Air Strikes
Singapore - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/Some major airlines were re-routing flights on Wednesday after Europe's air traffic control agency warned aircraft flying in the eastern Mediterranean to exercise caution due to possible air strikes into Syria. Eurocontrol said in a notification published on Tuesday afternoon that air-to-ground and cruise missiles could be used over the following 72 hours and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption to radio navigation equipment. US President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria's Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on Douma, a rebel-held town that had long held out against regime forces. A spokeswoman for Air France said the airline had changed some flights paths following the warning, including for Beirut and Tel Aviv flights, while budget airline easyJet said it would also re-route flights from Tel Aviv. Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the attack was established. The Eurocontrol warning on its website did not specify the origin of any potential missile threat. "Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area," it said, referring to the designated airspace. Aviation regulators in countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany have previously issued warnings against airlines entering Syrian airspace, leading most carriers to avoid the area. The only commercial flights above Syria as of 0115 GMT on Wednesday were being flown by Syrian Air and Lebanon's Middle East Airlines, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24. At other periods later in the day, there were no flights using the airspace. Eurocontrol included a broader area outside the airspace controlled by Damascus in its statement. A spokesman for Germany's Lufthansa said on Wednesday its airlines were aware of the Eurocontrol warning and were in close contact with authorities. "As a proactive precaution, Lufthansa Group airlines have already avoided the airspace in the eastern Mediterranean for some time now," he said. Ryanair and British Airways representatives said flights were operating normally at their respective airlines, but the situation was being monitored closely.

UK Calls for Security Council Meeting on OPCW's Skripal Attack Findings
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 12/18/Britain said Thursday it has requested the U.N. Security Council meet to discuss a report by the world's chemical arms watchdog on last month's poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury that also injured a police officer. According to a declassified summary issued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body has confirmed Britain's findings on the identity of the nerve agent used in the attack, although not on its origin. The Security Council meeting is expected to take place next week, according to the British mission to the U.N. The OPCW executive council is due to meet on April 18.
Saudi FM: Palestine will top discussions at the 29th Arab League summit
Arab News/April 12, 2018/The 29th Arab League summit will be held in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.The preparatory and ministerial meetings of the 29th Arab League summit began on Thursday in Riyadh. London: The preparatory and ministerial meetings of the 29th Arab League summit began on Thursday in Riyadh where senior Arab officials are discussing various political, security, and military developments facing the region. The Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said in his opening remarks at the ministerial meeting on Thursday that Palestine and the situation there will top discussions at the Arab summit. He also said that Iran and terrorism are two sides of the same coin, and called on Arab ministers to work together to stop Iran meddling in Arab affairs.  The Saudi foreign minister praised Saudi - Iraqi rapprochement and said that Riyadh has allocated $1.5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq.
As part of his speech on the most important challenges facing the Arab world, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that 117 Houthi ballistic missiles had been fired at Saudi cities. He added that Houthi terrorist acts are destabilizing security and stability in Yemen. With regards to aid in Yemen, the foreign minister said that Saudi Arabia has funded humanitarian and development programs, in addition to Yemen's central bank with over $10 billion over the past three years. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Arab League Aboul Gheit said that the League condemns Iran's interference in Bahrain and other countries in the region. The Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit and the Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura met on the sidelines of the Arab foreign minister’s meeting. The spokesman for the Arab League’s Secretary-General Mahmoud Afifi said that Aboul Gheit was given a presentation by de Mistura about the latest results of his communications with international and regional parties that aim to allow political negotiations between Syrian parties to recommence in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. They also discussed his political and military assessment of the recent escalation of the crisis in Syria. Jordan and Egypt signed the agreement on the liberalization of trade in services among Arab states at the inaugural ministerial meeting of the economic and social council of the 29th Arab summit. The agenda of the summit will be set out during the preparatory meeting where the foreign ministers of the 22 countries are meeting. The Arab League summit will be hosted in Dammam, Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia’s air defense systems down Houthi missile over Jazan
Arab News/April 12, 2018/LONDON: Saudi Arabia's air defense systems downed a Houthi missile over Jazan on Thursday. Saudi air defense forces also intercepted Wednesday ballistic missiles and drones targeting the capital, Riyadh, the cities of Jazan and Najran, and Abha airport.
The missiles were aimed at Riyadh and the two southern cities. One armed drone targeted Abha airport and a second drone was heading toward a civilian neighborhood in Jazan. There was a loud explosion and smoke in the sky over Riyadh as Saudi air defenses successfully intercepted and destroyed the missile.
There were no reports of casualties or damage to property. Iranian-backed Houthi militants have launched dozens of missiles in the past year, aimed at Riyadh and southern Saudi cities.
Afghan District Governor Among Several Killed in Taliban Attack
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/Taliban militants attacked on Thursday a district in Afghanistan's Ghazni province near the provincial capital in a pre-dawn raid that left more than a dozen people, including the district's governor dead. Ghazni's Khawaja Omari district was considered one of the province's safest districts. The militants used a ladder to climb into the district government compound in the early hours of Thursday, said Ramazan Ali Mohseni, deputy police chief in Ghazni. The militants killed district governor Ali Dost Shams, his bodyguards, seven police officers and five government intelligence agents, he said. The Taliban then torched the district headquarters, he said. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement 20 police officers were killed in the attack. "The attack is over and the district is under the control of Afghan security forces after reinforcement forces rushed to the scene following the Taliban attack," Mohseni added. Fighting in Afghanistan traditionally increases in the spring when warmer weather melts snow blocking mountain passes, increasing the mobility of the insurgents. The Taliban usually announce the launch of a spring offensive in April. They are under pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani's offer of peace talks but so far they have not responded directly to the proposal.

EU Extends Iran Sanctions over Human Rights Violations
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/The Council of the European Union on Thursday extended the sanctions put on Iran over “serious” human rights violations by a year until April 13, 2019. The sanctions include asset freezes and travel restrictions against 82 people and one entity, as well as a ban on exports of equipment that could be used for internal repression and equipment used for monitoring telecommunications, the Council said in a statement.
These measures were first put in place in 2011. The legal acts will be published in the Official Journal of April 13, 2018, it added.

Arab FMs Prepare Draft Resolutions for the Dhahran Summit
Riyadh - Sawsan Abu Hussein, Abdul Hadi Habtoor/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, arrived in the Kingdom’s eastern province on Wednesday to participate in the Arab Summit, which will be organized in the city of Dhahran. Arab foreign ministers will convene on Thursday to prepare the documents and the draft resolutions for the summit, which is scheduled to be held on Sunday. Arab diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraq requested the inclusion of an item on the support for internally displaced persons in Arab countries, displaced Iraqis in particular, noting that a draft resolution on this issue was submitted to the foreign ministers. The sources added that 18 items were included on the draft agenda of the summit, most importantly the Secretary-General’s report on the joint Arab action, the Palestinian issue and the Israeli violations in the occupied city of Jerusalem, and support for the budget of the State of Palestine. The draft agenda also covers developments on the Syrian arena, the situation in Libya and Yemen and support for peace and development in Sudan and Somalia, in addition to Iran’s invasion of three Emirati islands. The Arab leaders will also discuss, according to the sources, Iran’s interference in Arab countries’ internal affairs and Turkish violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, as well as means to maintain Arab national security, fight terrorism and develop the Arab League. Meanwhile, a number of Arab foreign ministers arrived on Wednesday in Riyadh to attend the preparatory meetings, including the foreign ministers of Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, Tunisia and Mauritania. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry left Cairo on Thursday morning to take part in the preparations. The ministry’s spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, said that the foreign ministers’ meeting would address a number of important issues in light of the growing developments and challenges in the Arab region. He added that the ministers would hear a briefing by UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura on the latest UN efforts to resolve the crisis and the latest political and humanitarian developments. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Dr. Khaled Al-Habas, said the Arab Summit was of particular importance given the current regional situation and the pending political issues, underlining the need to bolster Arab cooperation at the political, security and economic levels. “Iranian interventions are an important issue because of their negative effects on the region,” he stated. On Wednesday, the Arab League Economic and Social Council convened in Riyadh in preparation for the summit. The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the meeting dealt with a number of issues, including the Palestinian cause, Israeli violations in Jerusalem, the Syrian crisis, development of the Arab League, combatting terrorism and a number of economic and social files.

US Observes Aviation, Financial Systems in Qatar
Washington - Mouaz al-Omari/Thursday, 12 April, 2018/As part of an agreement signed by US and Qatar in July 2017, US bodies are working on observing banking systems and financial operations in Doha, within international efforts to combat terrorism. An official from the United States Department of State said to Asharq Al-Awsat that Qatar is implementing a program for classifying terrorists in cooperation with US. A high-rank source affirmed that Doha achieved progress in combating terrorism during the previous period, since signing the agreement between the two countries to stop terrorism funding. US and Qatar increased information exchange about terrorists and terrorism financiers in Qatar – also, the two parties participated in technical training to combat terrorism and they proposed programs to enhance the aviation safety, added the source.
He continued that the Qatari government advanced in combating terrorism, due to the memorandum of understanding signed by Secretary Rex Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart in July. The US diplomat source considered that his country believes that reconciliation is in favor of all parties in the region, since this type of division results in inverse consequences on the regional security. He added that he realized direct negative consequences socially, economically and militarily on the concerned parties (hinting on Qatar). In a related matter, the meeting between Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and US President Donald Trump, Tuesday, tackled both parties’ efforts to combat terrorism and stop its funding in addition to commercial discussions and basic issues in the region such as the fight in Syria, Yemen as well as Iranian interventions in the Middle East. Trump said to reporters that the US is working on making sure that Qatar is committed to stop terrorism funding.

Jubeir: Iran and terrorism are two sides of one coin
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 12 April 2018/Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday in a meeting with Arab League foreign ministers ahead of the 29th Arab summit to be held in Riyadh, that the Palestinian issue is a top priority at the summit. Jubeir added that his country deplored the announcement of Washington as the capital of Israel. The Saudi Foreign Minister stressed that terrorism must be dealt with firmly and the sources of its funding should be dried up. Jubeir noted that there is no peace with the continued Iranian intervention in the region. He added that Iran and terrorism are two sides of the same coin in the region.The Saudi minister said that the Houthi militias bear full responsibility for the crisis in Yemen. On Iraq, he said the kingdom is supporting reconstruction with funds. Arab League condemns Iranian interference
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League, said that the serious crises in the region facilitated foreign interference. He added that the victory over ISIS must be consolidated by calling for the reconstruction of the affected areas.
Gheit condemned Iranian interference in Bahrain and other Arab countries.
He pointed out that there is an Arab consensus on the unity of Syrian territory, pointing out that a political solution is the best way to resolve the crisis and also stressed the need to maintain the Geneva process to achieve a political solution to the crisis. Aboul Gheit pointed out that the Houthi militias continue to reject political solutions in Yemen.

Who is Trump really siding with in Qatar’s crisis?
Al Arabiya English, Dubai /Thursday, 12 April 2018/
All said and done, US President Donald Trump appears coming to a realization that the solution to Qatar crisis lies not in Washington but in Riyadh. according to analysts in Washington and in the Gulf region. This has become evident following recent sequence of events triggered by the visit of Qatari Emir to Washington and Trump’s phone calls to Gulf leaders. It is important to note that Qatar has been taking steps to address US concerns on support to terror. The country even allowed Treasury Department officials into its central bank to improve accountability for controls to prevent terror funding.
During the visit, Qatar’s Emir Tamim told reporters in the Oval Office: “We do not and we will not tolerate with people who fund terrorism. We’ve been cooperating with the United States of America to stop funding terrorism around the region.”He even looked desperate in affirming that “we do not tolerate the people who support and fund terrorism,” before repeating his plea to the US president to be involved in finding a solution to the Gulf crisis. Qatari and some western newspapers has said that Trump “reversed almost completely,” from all but accusing Qatar of funding terrorism in June 2017 to “publicly thanking” Tamim for Qatar’s support in countering terrorism in January 2018. Many saw this as a triumph for the US sacked FM Rex Tillerson’s painstaking diplomatic approach. However other experts see in this a triumph for Saudi Arabia and UAE which their actions forced Doha to obey at least some parts of their requests such us implementing an internal control system within its institutions.
Call to Riyadh
Some Qatari related media outlets mixed regular phone calls with leaders in the region and linked them with Tamim’s recent meeting with Trump. In a telephone call earlier this month with GCC leaders, President Trump demanded that all the crisis parties, quickly end a nearly year-old dispute between the main forces in the region and Qatar that has left US allies in the region fractured. The fact remains that Trump regularly calls all GCC leaders to convey the same message. Trump wants the rift healed to restore unity among Gulf countries and present a united front against Iran, an official who requested anonymity, was quoted by some media outlets. Some reports claimed that Trump’s tone about the crisis was described by one official as “forceful.” They also claimed that Trump’s demand for swift action to end the rift represents a shift in his position. A second official, was quoted, by some media outlets, as insisting that the rift within the GCC be patched up within three weeks, in part because of a looming decision on Iran. A written White House readout of Trump’s phone call with the GCC leaders said the president “emphasized the importance of resolving the Gulf dispute and restoring a united Gulf Cooperation Council to counter Iranian malign influence and defeat terrorists and extremists.”However, contrary to the perception built through these reports, the readouts of all Trump’s discussions with all leaders, do not recount any “tough tone” neither do they describe a US deadline for resolving the dispute. One expert even said: “Nothing can prove that Trump is taking Qatar’s side. What appears to US as neutrality is in fact an implementation of the GCC vision by keeping the solution under the Saudi discretion as usual.”The UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar al-Gargash, has emphasized many times, with many other Arab officials, that it has become very clear that the matter on Qatar solving its crisis is a Gulf one. Their gateway to the solution is Riyadh, they added. The expert added: “From my perception, Trump was just trying, in a very verbal diplomatic way, to refer the whole issue to the place where it should be resolved, Saudi Arabia.”Shifting the Camp David time frame to September buys the White House time. During Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington, the Saudis made it clear they would not accept external mediation and would resolve the crisis within a regional framework instead.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 12-13/18
West must not ignore Iran’s role in Syria atrocities
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/April 12/18
The number of shell attacks, airstrikes and bombings has escalated in Syria in the last few months, particularly in the suburbs of Damascus. The most recent incident included a chemical attack on the city of Douma, where many civilians choked to death. The deaths of women and children were confirmed by medical personnel and rescue groups. The attack appears to be part of a larger operation and a months-long offensive by the Syrian regime to retake Eastern Ghouta. So far, more than 1,600 people have been killed and tens of thousands have been forced to flee, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
While Bashar Assad has become the focus of such crimes against humanity, the nuanced and critical role of his enabler, the Iranian regime, must not be disregarded. In addition, although sanctioning and punishing the Syrian regime is a step forward, such an approach will not resolve the conflict and put an end to the humanitarian tragedy as long as Tehran is allowed to be freely and deeply involved across Syria on multiple levels.
The argument that Tehran is unaware of such operations in Damascus is unrealistic and absurd, from a military perspective.
Due to the weak military capabilities of the Syrian regime’s forces and his desperation to stay in power, Assad has increasingly submitted to the Iranian regime’s hard power. This has allowed Iranian leaders to exert significant control over the Syrian state, specifically its security, political and military infrastructures.
Iran is currently operating more than 10 military bases in various parts of Syria. Assad is also relying heavily on Iran’s military training because Tehran has extensive experience in conducting proxy wars or militia-to-militia warfare in a foreign country. As a result, this has given Tehran the advantage of a top-level command and control system in many of Syria’s military operations. While Assad has become the focus of Syria attacks, the critical role of his enabler, Iran, must not be disregarded. Militarily speaking, the Iranian regime pursues a multi-dimensional strategy. Besides senior military officials, it also deploys mid or low-ranking fighters as well as forces from the Basij, the Artesh (Iran’s national army) or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to operate on the ground. The Quds Force, an elite branch of the IRGC, orchestrates operations in Syria. It is also well documented that Iran hires Shiite militias from foreign countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, to fight in Syria in support of Assad’s forces. Furthermore, the senior cadre of the IRGC, as well as Iran’s ministry of intelligence (Etela’at), provide sophisticated intelligence, training, financial and advisory assistance to the Assad regime.
Assad is cognizant of the fact that it is fully within the IRGC and Quds Force’s expertise to use such a multi-faceted strategy in order to launch coordinated and simultaneous attacks abroad. Such operations are aimed at imposing shock and fear on the population while bombing the opposition into submission.  The Iranian regime will most likely escalate its hard power involvement in the Syrian conflict in order to fully entrench its military in Syria. Tehran has already been accused of turning the country into the world’s largest military base. The Iranian regime has become more emboldened and empowered to intervene in Syria due to several reasons, including its increasing revenues thanks to the nuclear agreement, the lifting of sanctions, and enhanced global legitimacy. The international community has been reluctant to directly confront Iran for its role in the Syrian war.
From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, the latest victories in retaking towns in Eastern Ghouta indicate that the IRGC, the Quds Force, the Basij and the national army have successfully evolved their methods of conducting war in foreign nations. The United States and its European allies ought to counter Iran’s militaristic adventures in Syria. Policy recommendations would consist of deploying NATO forces near the Syrian border to establish a no-fly zone. The EU can also warn Tehran that diplomatic ties and trade will be halted unless Iran withdraws its forces from Syria. Finally, the US and the EU must block Iran’s air access, in which Tehran uses Iraq’s airspace and commercial airlines —such as Mahan Air and Iran Air — to dispatch weapons and fighters to Syria.
**Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Palestinians: License to Kill Americans
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/April 12/18
The ruthless rhetoric the Palestinians are using against the US suggests that they have decided to put the Americans on an equal footing with Israel. They miss the days when the State Department sometimes seemed to be more pro-Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.
We are talking about the same Palestinian Authority (PA) that continues to receive millions of dollars in US aid annually. The same PA whose security forces are trained and equipped by Americans and Europeans. The same PA that has a "diplomatic mission" in Washington that is actively taking part in the campaign of incitement against the US and its leader.
The anti-US campaign paves the way for terrorists to kill Americans. It feeds into the ideology of the Islamic State terror group, Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, which considers the US the "Great Satan."
Hate speech and incitement make up the core of the Palestinian narrative.
For several decades now, the Palestinians have been waging a massive and vicious campaign of incitement against Israel. This campaign has made it impossible for any Arab to even think about the prospects of peace with Israel. Notably, the Palestinian hatred of Israel is not linked to anything Israel does or does not do. Rather, the Palestinian hatred of Israel is based on Israel's existence. Palestinians hate Israel because they believe that Jews have no right to a sovereign country of their own in the Middle East.
Palestinian hate speech against Israel is part of the global landscape: by now, no one even expects anything else from them. A Palestinian mosque preacher calling Jews "descendants of monkeys and pigs" is no story at all -- just more of the same. Similarly, a Palestinian maiming or murdering a Jew has become the norm. The day will come -- and it is not far away -- when reports of Palestinians not inciting against Israel and Jews will be a remarkable one. The day will come when the only story worth reporting is when a Palestinian did not carry out a terrorist attack against a Jew that day.
Much ink has been spilled about the Palestinians' ongoing efforts to delegitimize Israel and demonize Jews. Hundreds, if not thousands, of such cases have been documented in the past few decades. We have become so inured to this Palestinian campaign of incitement and indoctrination that we see it as no different than a daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper.
This campaign of hate and incitement has always served as a catalyst for terror attacks against Jews, thousands of whom have been killed and injured since the establishment of Israel 70 years ago.
In recent months, we have witnessed a new twist in the Palestinian campaign of enmity. Israel is no longer the sole target of this campaign. For the Palestinians, there is a new enemy in town: the US and President Donald Trump and his administration.
The Palestinians' anti-US drive is, by all accounts, unprecedented -- because of its tone and because of its terminology. Never before have the Palestinians dared to voice contempt, hostility and revulsion toward a US president and his senior officials.
Israel can now take cold comfort in the fact that it is no longer alone at the top of the Palestinians' most-wanted list of enemies.
The ruthless rhetoric the Palestinians are using against the US suggests that they have decided to put the Americans on an equal footing with Israel. The abusive rhetoric also shows that the Palestinians miss the "good old days" of the Obama administration, which they admired because of what they perceived as its support for everything the Palestinians said or did and its anti-Israel positions.
The Palestinians miss the days when the Obama administration used to come out in public against Israel at all available podiums, especially in the United Nations. They miss the regular briefings of US officials who displayed "political correctness" by bad-mouthing the settlements and being hard-pressed to say a word against Palestinian abuses. They miss the days when Obama administration officials would lash out, on and off the record, against Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They miss the days when the State Department sometimes seemed to be more pro-Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.
Since December 2017, when President Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the Palestinians have been waging a systematic campaign of hatred and incitement against the US administration and its top officials. As the days pass, this campaign escalates in its defamatory tone.
Hardly a day passes without the Palestinian Authority (PA) or one of its senior representatives launching a scathing attack on the Trump administration in particular, and the US in general.
Just a reminder, please: We are talking about the same Palestinian Authority that continues to receive millions of dollars in US aid annually. We are also talking about the same PA whose security forces are trained and equipped by Americans and Europeans. We are talking about the same PA that has a "diplomatic mission" in Washington that is actively taking part in the campaign of incitement against the US and its leader.
The silence and indifference of the international community toward calling out the Palestinian offensive serves to embolden Palestinian leaders to step up their vicious rhetorical assaults.
And, as is the situation with Israel, this incitement and indoctrination is being translated into acts of violence and exhibitions of hatred towards the US. Burning effigies of Trump and US flags have become the norm in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Attacking and intimidating US citizens visiting Palestinian cities and villages have also become familiar in the Palestinian landscape.
Chanting anti-US slogans has become so common that one is left with the impression that the Americans are responsible for the sum total of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim misery. It's only a matter of time before a US citizen or official visiting a Palestinian city is harmed or, God forbid, killed. US citizens are no longer different than an Israeli soldier or settler; they, too, have become legitimate targets of Palestinian violence. This is what the campaign of hatred and incitement has done to the Palestinian public.
When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a "son of a dog," he is telling Palestinians that they should treat this American as they treat animals: with no respect at all and with disdain and contempt. In Islam, dogs are traditionally considered ritually impure. For many Muslims, the mere sight of a dog during prayer has the power to nullify a pious Muslim's supplications.
Abbas's derogatory remark sends a message to the Palestinians that there is no difference between an "unclean" dog and Trump's ambassador to Israel. Abbas, who is far from naive, knows very well the strength of this insult in Islam: he would never use it against his rivals in Hamas or any Arab or Muslim.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, a "son of a dog" in a televised speech, on March 19, 2018.
Friedman is not the only top US official being targeted by the Palestinian leaders' vicious campaign of hate and contempt. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is also at the top of the list. The fact that she is a woman makes her even easier prey. Saeb Erekat, the top PLO official, has no problem telling Haley that she needs to "shut up." Would Erekat ever dare to insult an Arab or Muslim woman in public? The consequences would be disastrous. The woman's family would never let it pass, and if Erekat would be lucky he would be shot only in a limb.
The organization that Erekat represents, the PLO, by the way, is often referred to by Palestinians as the Professional Liars Organization.
Last week, the Palestinian Authority took the anti-Haley campaign to new heights of hypocrisy by denouncing her as an "ambassador of hatred, animosity and dark ideology."
US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is yet another frequent target of the Palestinian campaign of hate and incitement. Palestinians hurl insults at Greenblatt virtually every day, although they still apparently have not decided if he, too, is a "son of a dog."
Now the Palestinians are being told by their leaders that the US is "complicit" in Israeli "crimes." The Palestinians are furious that the US has not condemned Israel for defending its border with the Gaza Strip against infiltration attempts by Hamas the past two weeks.
The Palestinians are even more angry with the Trump administration for blocking recent anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council. The resolutions were supposed to have condemned Israel for thwarting attempts by thousands of Hamas supporters to infiltrate the border and kill Jews. Gone are the days when the Obama administration would permit the passing of such anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.
Let us say this clearly: the anti-US campaign paves the way for terrorists to kill Americans. It feeds into the ideology of the Islamic State terror group, Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, which considers the US the "Great Satan."
The Palestinian campaign is a license to kill US citizens and officials. Yet the international community is once again failing to call out the Palestinians for their cutthroat incitement.
Yesterday it was Israel. Today, it is Americans. Would the Europeans care to hazard a guess on whose turn is next?
**Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.
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Qatari Campaign against Abu Dhabi
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/April 12/18
Many people are aware of the unwarranted and overly sensitive attitude of the Qatari leadership toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is due to a “smaller state” complex, in the case of Saudi Arabia, and to a “success and international presence” complex, in the case of the UAE.
Even before the dispute that led to relations with Doha being severed by several of its neighboring countries on June 5, 2017, Qatar viewed the UAE as a rival in relations with Riyadh, the capital of its big neighbor. Doha wanted to be the closest regional friend of Saudi Arabia, which it viewed as a “sleeping elephant.” The Qataris tried to clamber onto the back of this regionally and internationally important ‘elephant’, but failed to do so.
Doha continued to play the role of a rival in its dealings, and by trying to impose its will through plans and projects that were greater than its capabilities such as the attempt to change the regime in Egypt. As a result, tension and friction dominated relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia over the reigns of three Saudi kings.
As for Abu Dhabi, the opposite was true as it followed the path of partnership in almost all areas, and avoided differences in the interests of rapprochement with Riyadh. The relationship between the two countries has remained smooth, even when their viewpoints did not concur, as when Saudi Arabia desired to convert the GCC into a union council. Abu Dhabi was not convinced about this, but did not fight it.
In the year of major regional unrest, namely, the Arab Spring of 2011, high-level coordination helped spare Bahrain the threat of the pro-Iranian movement that called for the overthrow of the government. While Qatar played a disruptive and negative role, Saudi Arabia considered the security of Bahrain to be part of its own national security, and the UAE supported this. The two countries cooperated in an attempt to save Bahrain — and succeeded.
In the Yemen crisis, Qatar initially played a positive political and military role, just like the UAE did, but the Qataris soon found their role limited, reflecting their limited participation. And in Syria, the UAE withdrew its military support from the crisis, leaving Riyadh and Doha to work together. However, Qatar insisted on imposing its own chosen groups - most of which were terrorist or extremist groups - on the rest of Syria’s national forces. Riyadh stood against that move and; in the end, the world witnessed how these extremist forces damaged the Syrian revolution.
The UAE was never an opponent in any crisis; and on the Saudi home front, Abu Dhabi never played a role in supporting any group with controversial tendencies. Qatar, on the other hand, never ceased to support groups even when they were openly hostile to the Saudi state or had conflicting ideals, both inside and outside the Kingdom.
This is why the relationship between Riyadh and Doha has been strained for many years. It was only natural for Qatar, with such ethics and practices, to lose the competition for Riyadh’s friendship, and for relations to ultimately reach breaking point. Qatar did not understand, or rather did not want to understand, that the breakdown had nothing to do with the arrival of Abu Dhabi, but with the rise of a new leadership in Riyadh that handles crises in a different way.
Former Saudi leaders treated Qatari interventions in a traditional way, i.e. by ignoring the problems and tolerating Qatar until the crisis grew. That approach has since changed, strategically and tactically, including the building of effective alliances.
As a result, Doha became hysterical and launched various campaigns, thinking it would succeed in achieving one of three objectives: Separating Riyadh from the Pact comprising Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, or weakening Riyadh and its allies in major battles such as in Yemen, or introducing external forces, specifically the US to deter the Riyadh alliance. In an attempt to dismantle the coalition, the Qatari media machine became busy questioning, in Yemen, America and the UAE itself, Abu Dhabi’s intentions toward Riyadh. However, all that was said and written was just the work of a provocative press. Qatar has repeatedly questioned Abu Dhabi’s motivations in the hope of sabotaging the close relationship with Riyadh, including their media cooperation, but has failed to find any hostile UAE activity against Saudi Arabia. The reality is that, contrary to Doha’s claims, the UAE had entrusted qualified Saudi journalists to manage its media facilities, not vice versa.
Doha did not, and will not, succeed in sabotaging the relationship between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi because it is based on genuine respect between the two sides, and truly makes a big difference. They complement each other as the two largest powers in the GCC. Qatar does not only suffer from a bad reputation, but it also has a really bad record in all areas and interactions with Saudi Arabia. I sincerely pity our brothers in Qatar because they are fighting pointless battles that neither increase the value of Doha nor secure it any political gains.
Sooner or later, Qatar will realize that things across the border have changed, and that going back to the same old games is a dangerous adventure for Qatar itself.

After 20 years of Irish peace, why does a Middle East deal remain elusive?

Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/April 12/18
Throughout the 1990s, two civil conflicts dominated the international news agenda: Northern Ireland and Palestine. During the middle of that decade, there often appeared to be greater grounds for optimism around the Israel-Palestine issue.
The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin appeared serious about overcoming the remaining challenges.
The 1994 ceasefire and peace talks in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, appeared a more fragile process, with both the Protestant loyalists (favoring unity with Britain) and Catholic republicans (Irish nationalists) profoundly ambivalent about negotiations. One unionist leader described the ceasefire as “the worst thing that has ever happened to us.” By early 1996, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) pulled out of the ceasefire and, to emphasize its point, detonated a large lorry bomb in the London Docklands.
When Rabin was murdered in 1996 by a Zionist extremist, few people expected this tragedy to fundamentally derail the Middle East peace process. However, tensions fueled by the Oslo process helped bring Israel’s far-right into the ascendancy. Hard-line settlers lauded Rabin’s assassination, as well as lionizing Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in a Hebron mosque.
The world got a rude awakening when, instead of the relatively dovish Shimon Peres, the brash and confrontational Benjamin Netanyahu won the subsequent elections and used every trick in the book to undermine the peace process. By September 2000, it was Ariel Sharon’s turn to sabotage the peace talks. His notorious visit to disputed Jerusalem holy sites triggered the Second Intifada and positioned Sharon himself to become prime minister, causing Palestine to spiral into its bitterest bouts of bloodletting.
Meanwhile, peace efforts in Northern Ireland underwent surprising breakthroughs. To give him due credit, when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, he demonstrated insight and flair toward Ireland, which was tragically lacking in his later foreign policies. While the previous Conservative government had been criticized for pro-loyalist bias, the new Labour administration represented a clean pair of hands that capitalized on earlier peace efforts, was willing to take risks, and reached out to all sides. Goodwill was enhanced by announcing a new inquiry into the 1972 Bloody Sunday events, when British soldiers opened fire during a rally and killed 14 unarmed civilians — an event that more than any other had exacerbated sectarian violence.
These efforts rapidly bore fruit with the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which was signed exactly 20 years ago this week. Like the Oslo Accords, this agreement mapped out a process for ending the violence, while also creating the Northern Ireland Assembly. This power-sharing formula received strong support in a subsequent referendum.
A small fringe of extremists rejected these compromises, but the 1998 agreement brought the mainstream armed wings of both sides in from the cold and bound them into the political process. Indeed, the Omagh bombing by the Real IRA a few months later, which killed 29 people, prompted a backlash within the republican community, who further distanced themselves from nihilistic violence.
To young people in Northern Ireland today, the idea of hating an entire community because it is Catholic or Protestant appears somewhat outdated and ridiculous. This fundamental change of mindset is the product of not growing up in the shadow of sectarian conflict. Sadly, Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in this cycle of hatred. Measures that jeopardize the prospects of a Palestinian state are dangerously fueling anger. The recent massacre of Gaza protesters appears calculated to provoke further violence.
Now, however, the Good Friday Agreement faces a new existential threat. With Britain leaving the European Union, there are fears that Ireland will be ripped apart if the North exits the European Single Market. Such a move could see the introduction of a hard border that would threaten the agreement’s legacy; yet politicians in London exhibit a dangerously cavalier attitude regarding the destabilizing impact of Brexit negotiations on Ireland.
If only the Northern Ireland model for peace could serve as a template for Israel and Palestine.
A significant factor in the failure of the Oslo process in the 1990s was a similarly complacent Western failure to follow through on early achievements and hold all sides to their obligations. Although the Clinton administration wore its pro-Israel leanings on its sleeve, subsequent administrations became even more slavishly pro-Israel, culminating in Donald Trump last year handing over Jerusalem on a platter.
Looking back at the 1990s, it was far from inevitable that one of these peace processes would flourish and the other would disintegrate. Irish political and paramilitary factions during the 1980s and 90s often appeared infinitely more divided than Palestinians and Israelis. I recall speaking to British citizens bewildered by the conflict, who shrugged their shoulders and questioned whether Irish politicians on either side really wanted peace.
However, when international parties brokering peace fail to be engaged and impartial, this exacerbates polarization and mistrust. Thus, while mutually antagonistic parties in Ireland were brought together toward a common goal; the collapse of the Oslo process saw the Palestinian conflict tumble into the abyss.
Twenty years ago — under the long shadow of Oslo — many international observers saw peace between the Israelis and Palestinians as inevitable. Today it feels like an impossibility. With the US always endeavoring to give Israel what it wanted, Israel’s leaders simply demanded more and more; to the extent where today’s far-right politicians in the Knesset demand everything. If only the Northern Ireland model for turning bitterly divided communities away from sectarianism and bloodshed toward peaceful coexistence could serve as a template for Middle East peace.
**Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Trump’s Syria missile threat will achieve little, if anything

Sharif Nashashibi/Arab News/April 12/18
“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday, referring to the missiles he plans to launch at Syrian regime targets following Saturday’s chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. Given Russia’s warnings that it would retaliate against any US strikes on Syria, launching missiles is Trump’s least risky military option. The killing of American military personnel, whether on the ground or in the air, would raise the specter of US retaliation against Russian forces and a subsequent escalation between the two global powers. Intercepting missiles and targeting their launchers, as Moscow has threatened to do, is relatively less risky because it would not entail loss of life.
Trump’s chosen course of action will not lead to a Third World War, as is the usual knee-jerk hysteria when the US threatens or carries out military action in Syria. Its involvement so far has not led to such an outcome, so there is little reason to expect a different result now, not least because both Washington and Moscow have said they do not seek direct conflict.
Both have increased their involvement in Syria, but they have made sure to avoid each other’s forces, and targeting Russian military bases and forces in the country is not an option being entertained.
It is not even certain that Moscow will carry out its threat. It faces a quandary: Lose face if it does nothing, or risk embarrassment if it tries and fails to intercept enough missiles. Similarly, the US faces the risk of embarrassment if a large proportion of its missiles are downed.
Moscow making good on its threat represents a direct showdown between advanced Russian and American military hardware, and governments and armies worldwide will be watching to see which comes out on top. The war of words has lessened the likelihood of a climbdown by either side.
The missile strikes are likely to be more wide-ranging than those following the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun a year ago, but that does not necessarily mean they will be more effective. In anticipation of an attack, the regime has reportedly repositioned some air assets, flown planes to three Russian air bases (which the US will not target), and emptied military bases. Senior regime officials have also been moved to safe houses. Besides, Russia’s air force would be willing and able to take up the slack in case of the further degradation of the regime’s air power, safe in the knowledge that it will remain unchallenged. The former has been doing much, if not most, of the heavy lifting in terms of the aerial bombardment of rebel positions and civilian infrastructure anyway.
Like the missile strikes on the air base from which regime warplanes carried out the Khan Sheikhoun bombing raids, the upcoming strikes might be equally symbolic.
That the forewarning of military action has enabled the regime to exercise damage limitation might not be unintended. A man of image rather than substance, Trump could bask in the optics of missile strikes while minimizing the chances or extent of Russian intervention if the regime is not significantly threatened.
Like the missile strikes on the air base from which regime warplanes carried out the Khan Sheikhoun bombing raids, the upcoming strikes might be equally symbolic. They may be on a larger scale, but they will not change the balance of power or hinder the regime’s ability to kill, displace and terrorize its own people, whether with chemical or conventional weaponry.
Now that Trump has spelled out his course of military action, speculation is focused on which countries will join the US. The most likely partner is France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has set a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. “When you fix red lines, if you don’t know how to make sure they are respected, you’re choosing to be weak. That’s not my choice,” he said, in a clear effort to quash comparisons with the red line set and ignored by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
But it is far from certain that the US and France will be joined by other allies. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed a willingness to partake in military action, but MPs — including opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn — have cautioned her against acting without a parliamentary vote. Her predecessor David Cameron had a much larger parliamentary majority than May does, but still lost such a vote in 2013. She may decide that launching, or even seeking, military action is a headache that her already battered administration could do without.
Turkey, with which the US has increasingly strained ties, has stayed mum, keen not to jeopardize its burgeoning relations with Russia and their cooperation regarding Syria.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has raised the possibility of Saudi involvement “if our alliance with our partners requires it.” But no doubt Riyadh will be weighing the potential effects on its improving ties with Moscow, including their coordination with regard to stabilizing global oil prices.
Israel has urged military action, but it is unlikely to take part, with its previous strikes limited to checking the strength of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, particularly near their shared border, rather than out of concern for Syrian civilians. Tel Aviv also has to contend with the effects of military action on its close relations with Moscow, which accused Israel of striking a regime air base on Monday.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do nothing to destabilize Syria. If Netanyahu were to partake in the upcoming US strikes, Putin would take this as direct defiance, and there would likely be consequences. Netanyahu would only be willing to face them to safeguard Israeli interests. Indeed, he told Putin that Israel will carry out a campaign to prevent Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, which has nothing to do with the regime gassing its own people. None of this will deter Trump, who prides himself on his unilateralism and acted alone in striking the Khan Sheikhoun air base. And he will still enjoy the diplomatic backing of US allies, if not their military involvement. Besides, a coalition is hardly necessary given the likely scope and aim of the attack he intends to launch.
**Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and commentator on Arab affairs. Twitter: @sharifnash

Why West’s military action is necessary in Syria
Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/April 12/18
Almost all influential western leaders have condemned the recent chemical attack in Douma in Syria but as the saying goes “talk doesn’t cook rice”. How long is the international community prepared to go in its appeasement of Assad, the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and Putin?
The latest chemical attack was exactly before Bolton takes his new position as National Security Adviser to test Trump’s new appointment of new hawkish politicians. There is no doubt Khamenei and Putin bear responsibility for the chemical attack in Douma. All other hypothesizes in this regard is not logic.
The West should form a military coalition with its Arab allies to target both Assad regime and the IRGC military bases in Syria. The West must now prove that it has the courage to stand up for and defend human values, which have been trampled brutally and ruthlessly in Syria by Assad regime and its Iranian backers. Furthermore, in reality, after seven years of civil war in Syria, it is preposterous to speak about political solution while Iranian regime and Assad have gained the upper-hand by gassing both civilians and opposition. The former vice chief of staff of the US Army, General Jack Kean, rightly says in this regard: “War is on the horizon here because of Russian and Iranian action in Syria”.
Iranian regime
Indeed, if the West does not hold both Russia and the regime in Tehran to account for the atrocity in Douma, they will pay a big price in near future in EU capitals and Washington. We have already seen a chemical attack in London by Russia. Such unacceptable attacks could be more common in the future, if the West continues its passive policy. The West should form a military coalition with its Arab allies to target both Assad regime and the IRGC military bases in Syria. This crucial action will change the balance on the ground in favor of ending this crisis in the Middle East.
President Trump rightfully blamed his predecessor, President Obama, for his failed policy towards Syria. But, today, the world expects President Trump to alter this failure for a right and firm policy on Syria. President Trump and his new National Security Adviser Bolton are in a position to deliver.

Countdown to the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/April 12/18
The Ministry of Culture and Information has announced that in the next few days, the cinema will return to Riyadh after Saudis were deprived of it for about four decades. The cinema itself is not the important matter here but what is important is the symbolism of this step. It is now clear to everyone that there is a governmental orientation that promotes openness in various sectors and different aspects of life. It seems the government has reached a full conviction that the closed and radical society which fights happiness, hates joy and tends to forbid innocent entertainment is a sick society whose illness must be contained. Advocates of this negative approach must be silenced to save the community from this toxic sickness, which encouraged extremism and ignited terrorism, mainly among the youth.
I am certain that this approach towards greater openness introduced right now, would first bring down extremism and narrow-mindedness in our society, and which are the virus of terrorism, and the results of change are already visible
Self-imposed restrictions
If anyone tried to survey the causes and reasons for this close-mindedness, one would discover it’s due to figures with ‘calcified’ thoughts that passed prohibitions which are not based on any evidence and which did not rely on the rules of sharia when issuing fatwas (religious edicts).
These figures believe that what they prohibit and permit is final and there is no room for different views. According to them, what they say is absolutely right while everything else is completely wrong. I believe that this arbitrariness in rejecting other opinions has been our major problem that has created a society which walks in one direction and which only believes what the clerics it follows say.
The history of religious jurisprudence is full of debate and diverse approaches. The advantage of this approach is that it enriches sharia. When one opinion is forced, this unilateralism will inevitably produce extremism, the first fuel of terrorism.
When we call for openness and for dealing with the issue of what is allowed and what is forbidden with free minds without accusing people of infidelity or heresy, i.e. when we accept pluralism, we’d be setting our foot on the first path of reform and civilization. We must also admit that our country has several components with different orientations, some of which have contradicting jurisprudential orientations. We can never achieve coexistence, which is the basis of security and stability, unless we respect the differences between these components and prevent anyone from imposing his beliefs on others. What some people agree to completely prohibit, others may find permissible. Since we are all part of the homeland, one must respect others’ beliefs even if he disagrees with them.
Antidote to extremism
I am certain that this approach towards greater openness introduced right now, would first bring down extremism and narrow-mindedness in our society, and which are the virus of terrorism. The results of change are already visible.
The number of terror cells busted this year stand in stark and positive contrast to the number of terror cells discovered in previous years. I strongly believe that the longevity of this openness in various sectors will further besiege extremism, and terrorist groups will find it more difficult to recruit followers.
Finally, I would like to speak out loud: openness, openness and then openness as this is not only a cure for extremism and terrorism but it is an elixir for cultural development, which closed-minded and backward people have obstructed us from pursuing for decades.