December 26/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today
Mary’s Song
Luke 1:46-55/ And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,just as he promised our ancestors.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 25-26/18
Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation
Aoun: Some parties are creating 'new traditions' in formation
Rahi officiates over Christmas Mass service in Bkirki
Matar: To rally around the President
Berri offers condolences to Iranian leaders on death of Shahroudi
Israel: Iran Has Shut its Military Factories in Lebanon
Ibrahim Renews Mediation as Raad Says Talks 'Not Back to Square One'
Report: March 8 Bloc Holds Bassil Responsible for Lebanese Govt. Delay
'New traditions' hindering govt formation: Aoun
Aoun Slams Those 'Creating New Norms' in Govt. Formation
Lebanon: No sign of consensus as political deadlock enters eighth month
Destruction of Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon ‘nearly done’: Netanyahu
Missile from Syria intercepted in central Israel
Israeli raids target Iranian weapons depots near Damascus
Netanyahu: Operation Northern Shield 'almost' over
Russian Threat to Israel: Not From Syria But From Lebanon

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 25-26/18

Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints
Ex-Mossad Head, Tamir Pardo: Russia Decided Trump Was Their Best Candidate, and Ran Him for President
Arab League: Ending Syria’s Suspension Needs Consensus
Turkey Still ‘Determined’ to Launch Operation against Kurds in Syria
ISIS claims attack on northern Iraqi city Tal Afar
Iraq Denies Agreeing to Send Forces to Syria
Iraqi Parliament Rejects Jarba for Defense Ministry
Israel Wary of Trump-Erdogan Rapproch
Poll: Netanyahu to Cruise to Victory in April Elections
Ex-Pakistan PM Sharif Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Graft
Iran Reveals First Budget since Return of US Sanctions
Iran: Conflicting Reports on Death of Expediency Council Head
Italy, Russia Do Not Oppose Role for Seif al-Islam Gaddafi in Libya’s Future

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 25-26/18

Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation/Elias Bejjani/December 25/18
'New traditions' hindering govt formation: Aoun/The Daily Star/ December. 25, 2018
Lebanon: No sign of consensus as political deadlock enters eighth month/The National/December 25/18
Destruction of Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon ‘nearly done’: Netanyahu/AFP, Jerusalem/December 25/18
Missile from Syria intercepted in central Israel/Daniel Salami, Itay Blumenthal/Ynetnews/December 25/18
Netanyahu: Operation Northern Shield 'almost' over/Ynetnews/December 25/18/
Russian Threat to Israel: Not From Syria But From Lebanon/Grigory Melamedov/Breaking Israeli News/ December 25/18
Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints/AFP/December 25/2018
Ex-Mossad Head, Tamir Pardo: Russia Decided Trump Was Their Best Candidate, and Ran Him for President/Refaella Goichman/Haaretz/December 25/18
Iraq Denies Agreeing to Send Forces to Syria/Baghdad – Fadel al-NashmiAsharq/ Al-Awsat/December 25/18
Why the West Must Safeguard Free Speech/Josef Zbořil/Gatestone Institute/December 25/18
Trump is Making Americans More Immigrant-Friendly/Francis wilkinson/Bloomberg/December 25/18
May’s Other Option on Brexit/Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/December 25/18
The Rubber Whip: Extremist Persecution of Christians, October 2018/Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/December 25/18
The year oil went from bust to boom — and back again/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 25/18
A price to be paid for the new Trump ‘doctrine’/Osama Al-Sharif/Arab News/December 25/18
Assad cleaning evidence of his crimes: No easy feat/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 25/18
It was a monument of imagination, so it stayed/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 25/18
Bashir meets Bashar: Is Russia supporting Sudan’s role in solving the Syrian crisis/Maria Dubovikova/Al Arabiya/December 25/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 25-26/18
Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation
Elias Bejjani/December 25/18
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 02/11)
Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 02/14)
The holy birth of Jesus Christ bears numerous blessed vital values and principles including love, giving, redemption, modesty and forgiveness.
Christmas is a role model of love because God, our Father Himself is love.
Accordingly and in a bid to cleanse us from our original sin He came down from heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. (John15/12)
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John15/13)
Christmas is way of giving …God gave us Himself because He is a caring, generous, forgiving and loving and father.
Christmas embodies all principles of genuine redemption. Jesus Christ redeemed us and for our sake He joyfully was crucified, and tolerated all kinds of torture, humiliation and pain
Christmas is a dignified image of modesty ..Jesus Christ accepted to be born into a manger and to live his life on earth in an extremely simple and humble manner.
Let us continuously remind our selves that when our day comes that could be at any moment, we shall not be able to take any thing that is earthly with us for the Day of judgment except our work and acts, be righteous or evil.
Christmas is a holy act of forgiveness ….God, and because He is a loving and forgiving has Sent His Son Jesus Christ redeem to free us from the bondage of the original sin that Adam and Eve committed.
Christmas requires that we all genuinely pray and pray for those who are hurt, lonely, deserted by their beloved ones, feel betrayed, are enduring pain silently pain, suffer anguish, deprived from happiness, warmth and joy .
Christmas is ought to teach us that it is the duty of every believer to practice his/her faith not only verbally and via routine rituals, but and most importantly through actual deeds of righteousness….
Christmas’ spirit is not only rituals of decorations, festivities, gifts and joyful celebrations…But deeds in all ways and means by helping those who need help in all field and domains.
Christmas’s spirit is a calls to honour and actually abide by all Bible teachings and values.
In this realm we have a Biblical obligation to open our hearts and with love extend our hand to all those who are in need, and we are able to help him remembering always that Almighty God showered on us all sorts of graces and capabilities so we can share them with others.
Christmas is a time to hold to the Ten Commandments, foremost of which is “Honour your father and your mother”.
Christmas is a good time for us to attentively hear and positively respond to our conscience, which is the voice of God within us.
Christmas should revive in our minds and hearts the importance of fighting all kinds temptations so we do not become slaves to earthly wealth, or power of authority.
Christmas for us as patriotic and faithful Lebanese is a time to pray for the safe and dignified return of our Southern people who were forced to take refuge in Israel since the year 2000.
Christmas for each and every loving and caring Lebanese is a holy opportunity for calling loudly on all the Lebanese politicians and clergymen, as well as on the UN for the release of the thousands of Lebanese citizens who are arbitrarily and unjustly imprisoned in Syrian prisons.
Most importantly Christmas is a time for praying and working for the liberation of our dear homeland Lebanon, from the Iranian occupation.
No one should never ever lose sight for a moment or keep a blind eye on the sacrifices of our heroic righteous martyrs who willing sacrificed themselves for our homeland, identity, existence, and dignity. Our prayers goes for them on this Holy Day and for peace in each and evry country, especially in the chaotic and troubled Middle East. May God Bless you all and shower upon you, your families, friends, and beloved ones all graces of joy, health, love, forgiveness, meekness and hope.

Aoun: Some parties are creating 'new traditions' in formation
Tue 25 Dec 2018/NNA - "Some political parties are creating new traditions in the formation, and it needs some time to be solved," President Aoun said Tuesday after a 30-minute closed meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rahi ahead of Christmas Mass.
"Lebanon is undergoing today a government formation crisis, I ask you to pray to overcome problems," he added.

Rahi officiates over Christmas Mass service in Bkirki

Tue 25 Dec 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Rahi, held Tuesday Christmas Mass service in Bkirky, in the presence of President of the Republic Michel Aoun and First Lady Nadia Aoun, in addition to a number of deputies, ministers, social and security figures.
At the Mass, Rahi said in his sermon that "the Lebanese people were waiting for the government as the Christmas gift to put an end to the economic and social crises that are affecting negatively our country."The prelate also addressed the mass protests that were staged in Beirut Sunday against worsening conditions in the country, saying it was "a rightful reaction to the dire situation in the country."Rahi also prayed for peace in the Middle East and the return of refugees to their homes. At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Rahi honored President Aoun the Order of Saint Maroun, in appreciation of his efforts and political leadership.

Matar: To rally around the President
Tue 25 Dec 2018 /NNA - Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Boulos Matar, called on Lebanese to rally around the President of the Republic in his positions. "We ask the leaders of the country to support President Aoun and his aides," Matar said during Sunday Mass service at the Saint George Church in Beirut. Matar also called on political counterparts to "rise above their personal interests and narrow calculations to pave the way for a swift cabinet formation."
The prelate also pointed out of the critical economic and social conditions in the country, warning of a collapse in Lebanon's economy. Finally, he urged Lebanese officials to ignore their selfishness in favour of public interests.

Berri offers condolences to Iranian leaders on death of Shahroudi

Tue 25 Dec 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, cabled Tuesday Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Speaker of the Iranian Shura Council, Ali Larijani, expressing deepest condolences over the death of the head of Iran's Expediency Council, Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

Israel: Iran Has Shut its Military Factories in Lebanon
Tel Aviv -/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Israeli military spokesman Ronen Manelis announced Monday that Iran no longer has missile factories in Lebanon.In conversation with Kol BaRama radio Manelis said that "the sites to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to when he was speaking in the UN are no longer active,” reported Israeli media. He refused to reveal details over the reason of the closure, on whether it was made by a third party or Iran. “Israel is operating against Hezbollah on three fronts,” he went on to say. On the first front, it wants to prevent it from obtaining precision missiles. On the second, it wants to keep it away from the Golan Heights in Syria and open a new front there. On the third, Israel wants to prevent Iran from sending military means to the Lebanese party. He did not elaborate on what those military equipment were. On the Hezbollah tunnels along the Lebanese-Israeli border, Manelis said that operation Northern Shield that Tel Aviv launched earlier this month is aimed at destroying these tunnels. The four tunnels that have been exposed so far penetrate Israeli territory, he revealed. They stretch between 70 and 80 meters.
On whether the operation was politically motivated, he stated that the military had demanded its launch over a year ago but “circumstances were not appropriate at the time.”

Ibrahim Renews Mediation as Raad Says Talks 'Not Back to Square One'
Naharnet/December 25/18/General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim has renewed his mediation that is aimed at finding a solution for the standoff over the sixth Sunni minister in the new government, media reports said. “Ibrahim is holding consultations away from the spotlights to explore whether he can resume his mediation,” sources involved in the efforts told al-Hayat newspaper in remarks published Tuesday. The head of Hizbullah’s parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad meanwhile announced that things “have not returned to square one” in the cabinet formation process. “But there are still obstacles delaying the government’s formation,” he added, calling on everyone to “engage in dialogue” to find “a solution for this crisis.”Raad also described Sunni figure Jawad Adra as “the first obstructor.”“We consider the candidate whom we proposed and who refused to join our ranks as the first and real obstructor and we don’t know if someone pushed him to do so,” Raad added.

Report: March 8 Bloc Holds Bassil Responsible for Lebanese Govt. Delay
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Despite denials from most political forces in Lebanon that the crisis of the cabinet formation process did not return to square one, observers asserted that old and new disputes are proving difficult to solve, at least in the foreseeable future.
Sources close to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that he has already offered all he had to facilitate the birth of a new government. “But, every time he did, obstacles came from a different place,” the sources explained. “Hariri is currently very upset from what is happening at the level of the cabinet formation process,” they stated. Other sources close to the formation process said circumstances surrounding the cabinet are “not positive.” Meanwhile, ministerial sources from the March 8 camp held caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil responsible for obstructing the cabinet process since the start of negotiations. “The principle hidden obstacle Bassil, who had hindered the formation process at all of its stages,” the sources charged. “He aims to acquire 11 ministers or a blocking third,” they said, adding that Hezbollah was not opposed to such demand on condition that it does not take place at the expense of other powers. Eleven ministers would be enough to block any cabinet decision. MP Ali Khreiss from the Development and Liberation bloc of Speaker Nabih Berri echoed the same position, without naming Bassil. Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the cabinet formation process is currently obstructed by two hurdles: The representation of the March 8 Sunni deputies in the new cabinet and the distribution of ministerial shares, particularly the portfolios of Information, Environment, Culture and Agriculture. “The Amal Movement and Hezbollah offered facilitations to the formation process. And, the minute we were very close to announce the cabinet lineup, someone came to consider the Sunni minister representing the Consultative Gathering from his share, throwing all efforts out the window,” Khreiss told Asharq Al-Awsat.

'New traditions' hindering govt formation: Aoun
The Daily Star/ December. 25, 2018
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Tuesday that certain political parties were creating “new traditions” that were hindering the government formation process, before attending a Christmas Mass at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki. “We’re in the middle of a government formation crisis ... and some [parties] are creating new traditions in the formation, and it needs some time to be fixed,” Aoun said in televised remarks after a 30-minute private meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai. Aoun seemed to be hinting that political parties were interfering in terms of how ministerial portfolios should be allocated and thus chipping away at the prerogative of the president and prime minister-designate to decide on an appropriate Cabinet lineup, according to MTV news channel. MTV also reported that Rai had asked Aoun why the government was not finalized before Christmas as had been anticipated. Aoun reportedly answered that the formation was stymied yet again due to political disputes and a “change in tradition.”At the Mass, Rai said in his sermon that “the Lebanese people were waiting for the government as a Christmas gift. If you want to gift the Lebanese people, give them the gift of a government."He added, “We pray together for the stability [that comes] in forming the new government, to get the country out of the economic crisis. We also pray for peace in the Middle East and the return of refugees to their homes.”The Maronite patriarch also addressed the mass protests that were staged in Beirut Sunday against worsening conditions in the country, saying it was a “rightful reaction” to the situation in Lebanon. After the mass, Rai presented Aoun with the Order of Saint Maroun, the highest order in the Maronite Church. He gave his blessings to Aoun and the first lady and gifted them an icon of the Holy Family to celebrate their golden jubilee wedding anniversary.Rai said a day prior in his Christmas message that officials have been “crafting obstacles” to stall the formation of a government. “[Politicians] have been crafting obstacles every time [government formation] seems imminent, not caring about the financial consequences the country and the people are bearing,” he said. A government formation announcement was expected to come over the weekend, but the stalemate instead progressed into its eighth month over the representation of the six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs, an issue that has been holding up the formation since October.

Aoun Slams Those 'Creating New Norms' in Govt. Formation
Naharnet/December 25/18/President Michel Aoun on Tuesday accused some parties of seeking to create “new norms” for the formation of governments in Lebanon. “A political battle is behind the failure to form a government and it seems that there is a change in traditions and norms,” Aoun said in Bkirki as he took part in Christmas Day Mass. “We are living a cabinet formation crisis. Pray so that the difficulties can be resolved,” the president told reporters. “It seems that some are creating new norms in the formation of governments which we did not witness before and we need some time to find solutions,” Aoun added. He was apparently referring to a dispute with Hizbullah and a grouping of six Sunni MPs over the nomination of a Sunni minister by the aforementioned bloc.The dispute has been delaying the formation of the new government for several months now after previous and also long-running disagreements over Christian and Druze representation were resolved.

Lebanon: No sign of consensus as political deadlock enters eighth month
The National/December 25/18
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri says some officials do not want a government to be formed
Seven months have passed since Lebanese Prime-Minister-designate Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a national unity government, but officials - busy haggling over ministerial posts - have yet to agree on a cabinet lineup. The delay, according to the speaker of Lebanon's Parliament Nabih Berri, is due to obstruction by some officials, who he says do not want a government to be formed. Meanwhile, Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al Rai, said in his Christmas address that politicians were "masters in creating problems and obstacles" and did not care about financial losses suffered by the state and people.
Political wrangling over cabinet formation has stalled necessary fiscal reforms that could unlock $11 billion in pledged donor loans during a Paris conference in April. Economists are warning of an economic crash that could destabilise a country that is already grappling with the world's third highest debt-to-GDP ratio. The political and economic crisis has aggravated public discontent. Hundreds of demonstrators on Sunday took to the streets of the capital Beirut, where they called for the "overthrow" of the government, over what they described as poor governance. In comments published by the pro-Hezbollah Al Akhbar newspaper on Monday, Mr Berri said that "there are parties that do not want the government to be born at all." He expressed great concern regarding "what awaits the country in the coming period". Mr Berri did not name any specific party but said that deadlock seems to be because of issues larger than ministerial portfolios, the share of cabinet seats allotted to each party, and veto power in government. "The matter appears to be bigger than a blocking third, portfolios, and shares," he was quoted as saying. Separately, Lebanon's Maronite patriarch lambasted Lebanese officials for neglecting public interest. "They do not care about the great financial losses suffered by the Lebanese state and people," he said in a televised address. "Is this not a crime?" "This is what stirred the anger of the people yesterday. They carried out rightful protests, the dangerous consequences of which nobody can tell if the politicians continue in their manoeuvering." Lebanese officials last week indicated a government deal is close after Lebanese President Michel Aoun agreed to cede a seat in government to one of Hezbollah’s Sunni allies, satisfying a key demand by the Lebanese group. However, on Saturday, Hezbollah’s Sunni allies raised last-minute objections as to whom would represent them in government, after a candidate selected by the President, refused to exclusively represent the group. This has started a new page of consolations over which of the remaining five MPs would represent the Sunni alliance in government. Lebanon has been without a government since parliamentary elections were held in May.

Destruction of Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon ‘nearly done’: Netanyahu
AFP, Jerusalem/December 25/18
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Israeli army’s operation to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon was near completion. The Israeli premier’s remarks, made during a tour to the northern frontier with his security cabinet, come a day after the government decided to hold early elections in April. “The IDF (Israeli army) briefed us on its actions in neutralizing the tunnels,” Netanyahu said. “This operation is nearly done.”“There has been exceptional work here to deny Hezbollah the tunnels weapon,” he said in remarks relayed by his office. “It has invested greatly in this and we have destroyed it.”On Friday the army said it had blown up one cross-border tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon, the first of four it has uncovered -- and pledged to destroy -- in recent weeks. On Sunday, Netanyahu said that forces sealed another “terror tunnel” with cement.
A spokeswoman for the army would not provide AFP with details on the status of the other two tunnels known to the Israeli forces. In launching an operation to cut off the tunnels on December 4, Israel’s military said it located four underground passageways infiltrating Israeli territory. Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities, while noting they were not yet operational. A month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Last week, the UN confirmed the existence of the four tunnels and said at least two of them crossed into Israel but that none of them appeared to have exit points on the Israeli side. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, has called the two tunnels “a serious violation of Resolution 1701”, which ended the 2006 war. In November, defense minister Avigdor Lieberman stepped down over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal, with Netanyahu said it would be “irresponsible” to go to elections due to an unspecified security situation facing the country. The highly publicized Israeli operation to expose and destroy the tunnels -- on its territory -- has gone ahead without drawing a military response from Hezbollah.

Missile from Syria intercepted in central Israel
Daniel Salami, Itay Blumenthal/Ynetnews/December 25/18
Israeli air defenses were activated against a missile launched from Syria, there were no casualties or damage to property; meanwhile, Syrian state media reports Syrian air defenses intercepted 'hostile targets' near Damascus. Israeli air defense systems were activated in central Israel Tuesday night against a missile launched from Syria. There were no casualties and damage to property, IDF Spokesperson Unit said. At the same time, Syrian state media reported Syrian air defenses intercepted "hostile targets" near Damascus. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Israel had attacked three targets—Iran or Hezbollah's arms depots located southwest of Damascus. The IDF did not specify whether air defenses intercepted the missile. Hezbollah's information channel reported that S-200 missiles were launched against the attack missiles. The Syrian Assad regime has yet to respond to the reports.Loud explosions were heard in the Syrian capital Tuesday night. "Our air defenses have intercepted a number of hostile targets near Damascus," Syrian state TV said and added the attack "originated from above the Lebanese territories."At the same time, Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon. As in previous reports of attacks in Syria, this attack is also connected to an Iranian plane. On Tuesday morning, the Boeing 747 of Iranian airline Fars Air Qeshm, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, took off from Tehran International Airport (THR) to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA).
At 5:30pm, the plane took off for Damascus International Airport where it landed shortly after 7:45 pm. The plane was apparently used to transport military equipment to the Syrian army and Hezbollah. Residents from central Israel reported seeing a trail of smoke in the sky near Hadera. The trail was also seen in the north. "We were sitting in the living room when the noise shook the entire house. We heard a launch and immediately went outside. It was flying fast, we saw a trail of smoke and a yellow spot in the sky. It's not the first time, it already happened twice since we've moved here a decade ago," said Sa'ar Pardi, a resident of Maor, a moshav in north-central Israel. The Lebanese Ansharah website reported that the Syrians used a new type of missile. According to preliminary assessments, the attack took place on the Lebanese-Syrian border, the news website added.
The attack is the first since the missile assault on the southern outskirts of Damascus on November 29.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will escalate its fight against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria after the withdrawal of US troops from the country. “We will continue to aggressively act against Iran’s efforts to entrench in Syria. We do not intend to reduce our efforts. We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States.”Earlier this month, Syria reported that air defense system had been used against enemy targets in Damascus. According to the report, the attack was carried out in the air space of Damascus airport. Not long after, the reports were removed. The Foreign Ministry attributed the attack to "the direct result of the American policy of contempt for human values and the disrespect shown in the establishment of the coalition that attacked Deir al-Zour." It was the first time the Syrians had admitted an Israeli attack since the Russian plane crash in September. In recent months there have been fewer reports of Israeli attacks in Syria, especially after the downing of the Russian aircraft.
*Reuters contributed to this report.

Israeli raids target Iranian weapons depots near Damascus
Al Arabiya English and agencies/Wednesday, 26 December 2018/Syria’s air defenses have responded to a number of air raids in the vicinity of Damascus, Syrian media reported Tuesday night. Al Arabiya’s correspondent said that the Israeli raids near Damascus were carried out from Lebanon’s airspace. The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Israeli raids were targeting weapons storage areas of Iranian militias and Hezbollah positions in the countryside of Damascus. Rami Abdulrahman told Al Arabiya’s sister channel Al Hadath that Israeli raids targeted the western and southern suburbs of Damascus. State television Al-Ekhbariya carried a breaking ticker saying air defenses had intercepted missiles. But it only referred to “hostile targets” in a later report. Lebanese state-run National News Agency said Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon. “The aggression originated from above the Lebanese territories and a number of hostile targets were downed,” Syrian TV added.

Netanyahu: Operation Northern Shield 'almost' over

Ynetnews/December 25/18/
While touring the Israeli-Lebanese border, the prime minister says IDF's operation to neutralize terror tunnels 'is almost entirely behind us'; meanwhile, the Shiite terror organization says the IDF has used 190 concrete mixers to seal tunnels.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Operation Northern Shield to expose and neutralize terror tunnels along the Israel-Lebanon border is nearly complete. While touring the Israeli-Lebanese border with ministers from his Security Cabinet, Netanyahu said that "the IDF presented the progress it made in neutralizing the tunnels. The operation is almost entirely behind us."This is extraordinary work that prevents Hezbollah's from using this weapon. Hezbollah invested a great deal in building these tunnels, and we ruined it for them,” he added.
During the five hour tour, senior IDF officials—including IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and Northern Command Commander Gen. Aviv Kohavi— presented the Cabinet ministers with their progress report on Operation Northern Shield, and updated them about the situation in Syria. At the end of the tour, a cabinet discussion was held. IDF soldier using concrete mixers to seal tunnels near Kafr Kila, Lebanon, Meanwhile, Hezbollah said Tuesday that the Israeli army has brought concrete mixers to seal tunnels along the border, adding that the IDF has used 190 concrete mixers so far. According to the Shiite terror organization, by employing concrete mixers, "the enemy is trying to calm its residents and reduce the levels of panic and fear among its command over reports of tunnels reaching into Israel's territory."
The terrorist organization also claimed that IDF's Engineering Corps has begun excavation work in Meiss Ej Jabal (near Kibbutz Manara).

Russian Threat to Israel: Not From Syria But From Lebanon
Grigory Melamedov/Breaking Israeli News/ December 25/18
A threat of Hezbollah`s rockets attacks against Israel from the Syrian territory under the Russian air defense umbrella seems to be diminished. However, Lebanon rapidly becomes a possible platform of the same scenario.
As for Syrian territory, Russia wants to keep the Hezbollah free zone (85 kilometers from the Golan Heights) as a play card in its diplomatic game against the United States. Russia prefers to control strategic points in Syria by deploying there not Hezbollah but “Qawat al-Nimr” and other Syrian army units which are loyal to Moscow. Russia is trying to decrease drugs smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, which is a cause for Hezbollah’s discontent. Therefore, Moscow is interested in Hezbollah withdrawal from Syria to Lebanon. Hezbollah, for its part, considers itself to be cheated by sharing “war trophies”. It lost two thousand dead and six thousand wounded whereas financial support from Iran decreased.
At the same time, Vladimir Putin is extending its big game in Lebanon. A work on Russia`s soft involvement in Lebanon began long before the military operation in Syria. It is lobbied for by influential Lebanese politicians representing a wide spectrum of forces.
According to the director of communications at the Carnegie Middle East Center Mohanad Hage Ali, the main representative of Prime Minister Hariri in Moscow is his Russian affairs advisor George Sha’ban. Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s envoy in Moscow is Amal Abou Zeid, a millionaire and currently a parliamentarian from Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc.[1]
Sha’ban has represented the Hariri family’s company Saudi Oger in Russia for a long time and helped the Russian oil monopolies in entering the Saudi market. The company Stroytransgaz, belonging to Putin’s old friend oligarch Gennady Timchenko, created a consortium with Saudi Oger and undertakes construction of the water transport system for the southwestern provinces of KSA.[2] Putin appreciates Sha’ban so much that he rewarded him with the Order of Friendship in November 2018. As for Abou Zeid, his collaboration with the Soviet Union began as early as 1973[3], and his company ADICO came to the Russian market in 2000 specializing in the promotion of Russian oil corporations in South-East Asia[4]. As one of the most influential leaders of the Maronite community, Abu Zeid actively creates links between Lebanese Christians and the Russian Orthodox Church.
A very important lobbyist for Russian involvement in Lebanon is Jacques Jean Sarraf – the Chairman of the Lebanese-Russian Business Council, former Dean of the Lebanese Industrial Association, President of the Union of Mediterranean Confederation of Enterprises. His company Malia Group has been conducting business in Moscow for many years. Moreover, Sarraf , as the Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of the Orthodox Bechara University, organizes contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and the large Orthodox community in Lebanon.
Another member of that community is the Defense Minister Jaqoub Sarraf. According to the Russian media, he actively supports the idea of a deal on the purchase of Russian weapons.[5]
Such a contract has so far been delayed by two main obstacles – counteraction from the USA, as well as the desire of Lebanon to receive military assistance free of charge, rather than being in debt to Russia.
But the situation began to change when the Russian company Novatek joined the consortium for Lebanese gas production. Then, not only Sarraf, but also President Michel Aoun and the Commander of the Armed Forces General Joseph Aoun became supporters of military cooperation with Russia[6].
Although Novatek invests relatively small sums in the project, it is important that this is a field where there is a territorial dispute between Israel and Lebanon (platform №9 in the Mediterranean Sea). It turns out that the Russian business therefore immediately entered into a confrontation with Israel. The Lebanese consequently hope that Putin will try to take the territory under his military control.
Among the Lebanese political actors who benefit from the arrival of Russia, it is necessary to name the Jumblatt family and, of course, Hezbollah.
Lebanon is also important for Russia as a Middle Eastern banking center.
There are several important points that Israel can take into account. First, in Syria, Russia is spending money while in Lebanon it wants to make money. Second, in Syria, Russia stands on Iran’s side against Sunni countries. In Lebanon, Russia wants to cooperate with Sunni countries. Third, in Syria, there are no sectarian groups which are related to Russia in a religious sense. In Lebanon, Moscow claims to be a defender of Christians.
Is Russian involvement in Lebanon dangerous for Israel? In current situation, yes, it is.
The reason is following: thanks to the operation in Syria, the Russian army has strengthened its position in the domestic political arena. For example, it should be noted that after the Il-20 incident, it was Russia’s Ministry of Defense that first assessed what had happened and accused Israel before the Kremlin or the Foreign Ministry made a statement about it. The decision to send to Syria S-300 air defense systems was also announced by the military. Just a few years ago, such independence of the defense ministry sector was impossible. The military lobby has also increased due to the emergence of private military companies (the most famous being Wagner). Russia’s major businesses, of course with Putin’s permission, have been actively using them for conducting undercover military operations in the Middle East and Africa.
As their ambitions grew, the military began to complain that they had to allow Israeli attacks on targets in Syria and generally take into account the “red lines” laid out by Israel. The demise of IL-20 could be used in the argument in their favor. Now even a proportion of the more moderate civilian experts supported the army’s view. For example, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov declared: “It is important to convince the Israeli side that the rules of conduct are defined by Russia and no one else.”[7]
The situation became even worse in mid-November when Hamas fired rockets at Israeli territory. During these days, three topics prevailed in the Russian media. First, Russian air defense systems in Syria proved to be stronger than the Israeli “Iron Dome”.[8] Second, Israel lost military-technical superiority over its neighbors.[9] Third, allegedly, Russian the electronic warfare system Krasukha, located in Syria, was successfully used to create interference with the “Iron Dome”.[10]
What is important in this case is not whether these assertions are true, but rather the anti-Israeli tone of most publications. It is obvious that Russia has started a process of policy review regarding Israel – from the concept of “win-win” to the concept of a zero-sum game. In this context, the prospect of Lebanon’s inclusion in Moscow’s sphere of influence looks alarming. If this trend continues, the Israeli tactic of self-restraint against Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah will be interpreted by Moscow as a weakness, and any lack of self-restraint as a pretext for further escalation of the conflict.
Now it appears that President Aoun has asked Moscow to take Lebanon under its air defense umbrella, and the office of Prime Minister Hariri is sending contradictory messages – in the meantime, Russia is still thinking. It may be understandable as to why Putin is slow. First, he wants to receive from Lebanon a request in a form that gives Beirut no opportunity to take its words back. Such a request would mean a victory over the USA. Secondly, this hanging situation makes Russia a key player in the new political intrigue. However, an umbrella including Syria and Lebanon would give him even greater opportunities to conduct the situation near the northern border of Israel.
The West can offer Lebanon military assistance at more concessional financial terms than Russia. However Russia will not set political conditions concerning Iran and Hezbollah. Putin is more than likely convinced that his hand will be stronger, so he is not in a hurry.
This gives Israel a certain margin of time. But all the logic of the confrontation between Russia and the West, as well as the trends in the Russian-Israeli relations, increases possibility that an “umbrella” over Lebanon will be created.
[1] Mohanad Ali. Our Comrades in Beirut.
[2] Russia-Saudi Arabia Relations: Facts & Details. Sputnik News Agency, Oct. 05, 2017.
[3] Sanaa Nehme, Amal Abou Zeid, My Lebanon, Moscow, Nov.15, 2017.
[4] Reda Sawaya, Crossing the border between politics and economy, Al-Akhbar, Apr. 22, 2015.
[5] Irina Selezneva. Glava Minoborony Livana Obsudit s Shoigu Vosobnovlenie Sdelok po Oruzhiyu, {Russian}, Federal News Agency, Moscow, Aug. 23, 2017.
[6] Alexander Kuznetsov. O Vozmozhnom Voyennom Sotrudnichestve Mezhdu Rossiey I Livanom, {Russian},The Institute of the Middle East, Moscow, Apr.13, 2018.
[7] Postavka S-300 Sirii, {Russian}, Interfax Agency, Moscow, Sept. 24, 2018.
[8] See for example: Alexander Sitnikov, Fiasko Zheleznogo Kupola, {Russian}, Oko Planety, Nov.16, 2018.
[9] See for example: Izrail Teriayet Svoyo Tekhnicheskoye Prevoskhodstvo nad Sosedyami, {Russian}, Regnum Information Agency, Nov.22, 2018.
[10] See for example: Rossiyskaya Krasuha Vyvela iz Stroya Zheleznyy Kupol. Avia Pro Web Site, {Russian}, Moscow, Nov. 16, 2018.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on
December 25-26/18
Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints
AFP/December 25/2018
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis offered a Christmas wish for fraternity among people of different nations, cultures, faiths, races or ideas, describing the world's differences as a richness, not a danger, and championing the rights of religious minorities.
His plea Tuesday for stronger bonds among peoples came as nationalism and a suspicion of migrants are gaining traction across much of the globe. The long war in Syria, famine amid warfare in Yemen, social strife in Venezuela and Nicaragua, conflicts in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean Peninsula were among the pope's concerns in his Christmas Day message, which he read from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. Addressing some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans who flocked to St. Peter's Square on a mild, sunny day, Francis said the universal message of Christmas is that "God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters.""This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity," Francis said in the traditional papal "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and the world") message. Without fraternity, he said, "even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty." He called for that spirit among individuals of "every nation and culture" as well as among people "with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another.""Our differences, then, are not a detriment or a danger; they are a source of richness," Francis said. Francis prayed that all minorities have their right to religious freedom respected, noting that some Christians were celebrating Christmas "in difficult, if not hostile, situations."Communist China is witnessing a systematic suppression of religion, including some restrictions on Christmas celebrations this year. The government's suppression campaign includes re-education camps for Uighur Muslims and a crackdown on Christian churches. Without specifying religions or countries, Francis prayed for "all those people who experience ideological, cultural and economic forms of colonization and see their freedom and identity compromised."Francis urged the international community to find a political solution that "can put aside divisions and partisan interests" and end the war in Syria. He said he hoped that an internationally-brokered truce for Yemen would bring relief to that country's people, especially children, "exhausted by war and famine."He encouraged dialogue among Israelis and Palestinians to end conflict "that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."In Africa, Francis recalled the millions fleeing warfare or in need of food, and prayed for "a new dawn of fraternity to arise over the entire continent."Francis urged Venezuelans to "work fraternally for the country's development and to aid the most vulnerable." Millions of Venezuelans are fleeing their country's economic and humanitarian crisis in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history, according to the United Nations. On Monday night, the 82-year-old pope celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Ex-Mossad Head, Tamir Pardo: Russia Decided Trump Was Their Best Candidate, and Ran Him for President
تقرير من الهآرتس: رئيس الموساد الإسرائيلي السابق تامر بردو يقول بأن روسيا رأت أن ترامب هو مرشحها الأفضل للرئاسة الأميركية فرشحته

Refaella Goichman/Haaretz/December 25/18
Russia chose the most advantageous candidate and used cyber bots to catapult Trump to the position of U.S. president, Tamir Pardo says.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said Monday that Russia deployed tens of thousands of bots to influence the 2016 U.S. elections in favor of Donald Trump, but not because Trump is a great friend of Russia.
Speaking at The Marker's digital conference, Pardo said that it seems to him that the Russians simply chose to support the candidate that would be the most politically advantageous for them. Pardo said they took a look at the political map in Washington, "and thought, which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals? And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president."Many experts at the conference spoke of the dangers posed by bots, computer programs designed to run automatically and mimic the cyber behavior of a real user. Is there a business opportunity here for Israel's cyber companies? Not necessarily, Pardo said. In an interview with Sami Peretz, the ex-Mossad head said that “what we’ve seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share – democracy and the world order created since World War Two." In an interview with Sami Peretz, the ex-Mossad head said that “what we’ve seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share – democracy and the world order created since World War Two."

Arab League: Ending Syria’s Suspension Needs Consensus
Cairo – Sawsan Abou Hussein/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, Hossam Zaki, stated Monday that a decision to end the suspension of Syria’s membership from the pan-Arab body needs the consensus of all member states, adding there are no indicators for such possible change. Speaking to reporters at the League headquarters in Cairo, he said that so far there are no signs of a change in the organization’s stance on Syria's membership. “There must be consensus among member states in order to end Damascus' suspension,” he added. In response to the regime’s crackdown on peaceful protests, the 22-member Arab League suspended in 2011 the membership of Syria in a vote supported by 18 countries and opposed by Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iraq opted to abstain from voting. Members of the League have insisted that the regime should implement the Arab initiative in order to resume relations and reinstate Syria as a member. Zaki said member states have discussed the issue, but they did not lead to an agreement. The official also denied that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had coordinated with the League before visiting Damascus ten days ago. Moreover, Zaki said the Arab League supports efforts to solve the Libyan crisis, expressing hopes that Libyans place their country’s interest above all other considerations. Commenting on the situation in Yemen, he criticized the UN special envoy for not keeping the Arab League informed about the efforts to end the crisis there. He said League's Secretary General, Ahmed Abul Gheit already informed the UN Secretary General about the issue, adding that UN envoys to Libya and Syria “always coordinate with the League to reach solutions for Arab crises.”In addition, he revealed that the first Arab-European Summit would convene in Egyptian capital Cairo on February 24 and 25.

Turkey Still ‘Determined’ to Launch Operation against Kurds in Syria

Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Turkey announced Tuesday that it was still “determined” to launch an operation against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria despite a delay caused by the United States’ decision to withdraw its troops from Syria. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Tuesday that "if Turkey says it will enter, it will."He added that Turkey aimed to cross the east of the Euphrates as soon as possible, the Hurriyet daily said, without giving further details. Turkey and the United States have also agreed to complete their agreement on the Syrian town of Manbij by the time the United States finishes its withdrawal, Cavusoglu also revealed, according to the state-owned Anadolu news agency. Ankara was still working with Washington to coordinate the pullout of its forces. Cavusoglu will travel to Russia to discuss the process of the US withdrawal in the coming days, broadcaster CNN Turk said. The minister said Turkey also requested that the US take back the heavy weaponry it gave the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in its fight against ISIS, Hurriyet reported. For weeks, Turkey has been threatening to launch a new offensive against the Kurdish fighters, who partnered with the US to drive the ISIS terrorist group out of much of northern and eastern Syria. Turkey views the Kurdish forces as terrorists because of their links to an insurgent group inside Turkey. Cavusoglu said Turkey has the "strength to neutralize" ISIS on its own. President Donald Trump announced the planned withdrawal of US forces after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month.

ISIS claims attack on northern Iraqi city Tal Afar
Reuters/December 25/18/ISIS has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, the group said on its news agency Amaq on Tuesday. The attack on Tal Afar, a former ISIS stronghold, killed two people and wounded 11, according to the Iraqi military. At least two people were killed and 11 wounded on Tuesday by a car bomb in the northern Iraqi city. Tal Afar, about 80 km (50 miles) west of Mosul, experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and produced some of ISIS’ most senior commanders. The city, which had about 200,000 residents, came under the militants’ control when ISIS overran swathes of Iraq’s north in 2014.It fell to Iraqi Security Forces, backed by the US-led coalition, in August 2017, the last area to be retaken in the north before fighting moved to the Syrian border. A heavy security presence has remained since then and the city has been mostly quiet.

Iraq Denies Agreeing to Send Forces to Syria
Baghdad – Fadel al-NashmiAsharq/ Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/
The Iraqi joint operations command denied on Monday media reports that Baghdad had reached an agreement or held negotiations with the United States to deploy forces in Syria. The reports alleged that the deal would see the forces enter 70 kilometers into Syria to fill the vacuum left behind from the withdrawal of US forces. US President Donald Trump announced last week that he was pulling out his troops from Syria after declaring that the ISIS terrorist group has been defeated. The joint command added that Iraqi forces were prepared to confront any infiltration from Syria and they were “completely securing the Iraqi-Syrian border.”Media reports on Monday said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had during telephone talks with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi requested that the Iraqi forces deploy in Syria after the US troop withdrawal. Iraqi presidential spokesman Loqman al-Feely said that Salih has always stressed the importance of supporting a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. Such a goal requires coordination with neighboring countries and the international community in order to avert a new regional conflict. Abdul Mahdi had chaired a national security council meeting Sunday to discuss the US withdrawal. A statement at the end of the meeting said that the government was performing its duties to protect the country and it was taking preemptive measures to avert any possible repercussions of the US decision. Security expert Ahmed al-Sharifi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US withdrawal “will have a clear impact” on the Iraqi-Syrian border. By withdrawing from Syria, the US has handed control to Turkey, which will result in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pulling out from western Syria, he added. This will leave Iraq on the forefront of a direct confrontation with ISIS in Syria, he predicted. Meanwhile, military sources revealed to the Asharq Al-Awsat that the senior officers of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces were keen on entering Syria after the US pullout. Armed groups expert Hisham al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat that he believes that the Iraqi political and military circles were weighing their options in regards to the vacuum that will be left behind by the US troops. One option could be sending a force to fill the possible vacuum that will be left by the SDF. This however, could lead to a clash between Iraq and Turkey, which Baghdad wants to avoid, he added. Ultimately, he said, Iraq is better off relying on its capabilities and efficiently defending its border against ISIS.

Iraqi Parliament Rejects Jarba for Defense Ministry
Baghdad - Hamza MustafaAsharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Iraq's parliament failed once again Monday to vote on filling the vacant positions for key ministries in the cabinet of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. The parliament excluded by voting on Monday the candidacy of Maj. Gen. Faisal Fanar Al-Jarba, who is backed by the National Coalition, led by Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, for the post of Defense Ministry. Asked about who might replace Jabra for the post, an informed political source told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is an agreement between all Sunni blocs, from both the Reform and the Binaa alliances, to support the candidacy of Hisham Al-Daraji or Salim Al-Jabouri.”Meanwhile, voting on the candidates for the posts of interior and justice ministers was postponed. The Reform Alliance, led by the cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, obstructed the voting of candidate Falih Al-Fayadh, who is backed by the Binaa Alliance. Fayadh is viewed by the Reform bloc as "the man of Iran." During Monday’s session, deputies allied with Sadr walked out when Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi put forth Fayadh’s name for a vote, as they have done several times in the last few months, thus breaking quorum and ending the session. Deputy Salam al-Shamri from Sadr’s bloc asserted on Monday that the Sairoon alliance “has not changed its position as it continues to back professional, technocratic, and non-partisan figures for filling ministerial posts.”He said all other Iraqi parties should accept those conditions. Since late October, disputes between the Reform and Binaa blocs had prevented the formation of a full government of 22 ministers. In Monday's session, Abdul Mahdi's picks for the Education and Immigration Ministries were approved: Shaima Khalil was appointed as education minister and Nawfal Moussa as migration minister. Each candidate needs at least 166 votes out of 329 in parliament to be approved for a certain ministerial post.

Israel Wary of Trump-Erdogan Rapprochement

Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/An Israeli official expressed Tel Aviv’s concern over the growing rapprochement between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The official said that the recent spat between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a reflection of these concerns. The official told Israeli radio that Erdogan was holding greater sway over Trump and this was clear in the American president’s decision to withdraw his forces from Syria last week. He noted that the decision was made shortly after Trump had held telephone talks with Erdogan. It was claimed that Trump told Erdogan that he will leave “all of Syria for you and quit.” Such a remark indicates a real change in American policy in the region and Erdogan now appears as Trump’s “new best friend,” said the Israeli official. The already tense relations between Netanyahu and Erdogan were further strained over the weekend when the Israeli premier called the Turkish leader an "anti-Semitic dictator." His remarks were prompted by Erdogan’s accusations that the Israeli premier was “an oppressor, cruel and at the head of state terror." He made his remarks in a televised speech in Istanbul. Erdogan lambasted Netanyahu for "occupying Palestine" and committing "sins, crimes against humanity, massacres". Netanyahu responded, by tweeting: "Erdogan – the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey – should not preach to Israel.”

Poll: Netanyahu to Cruise to Victory in April Elections
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is predicted to secure an easy victory in snap elections in April, a poll found on Tuesday. The Panels Politics poll in the Maariv daily showed Netanyahu's ruling Likud party securing 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament and a majority for his current right-wing, nationalist bloc. It is the same number it took in the last election in 2015. The closest challenger, the poll said, was a hypothetical party led by former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, who has been widely touted as a potential center-left candidate. Gantz has not publicly declared a political affiliation or any intention to run. The center-left Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid came in third in the survey, with 12 seats compared with 11 in the current parliament. Netanyahu on Monday called early elections for April, setting the stage for a three-month campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader. With the traditional opposition parties splintered, the only thing seeming to stand in Netanyahu's path toward a fourth consecutive term is a potential indictment against him on corruption charges. Netanyahu is enmeshed in three graft cases and denies any wrongdoing. The indictment decision had been expected within weeks, but some Israeli media reports said the attorney general could opt to delay the move out of concern he might influence the outcome of the election. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's office said his decision would not be influenced by any political timetable. "Avichai Mandelblit has an unprecedented time bomb sitting on his desk," wrote Ben Caspit in Maariv, noting that some of Netanyahu's staunchest backers have vowed to support him even if he is convicted. "In this chaotic lunatic asylum, Avichai Mandelblit is the sole responsible adult." The Justice Ministry said on Monday, after the early election was announced, that work on the cases would continue “independent of political events”. Commentary accompanying the Maariv poll said that if Netanyahu wins the election, he should be able to able to fulfill a pledge he made on Monday to form a right-wing government similar to the one he currently leads. The poll predicted that Netanyahu, now in his fourth term, could control at least 63 parliamentary seats, two more than his coalition now holds. It surveyed 502 Israeli Jews and Arabs and had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. Other recent polls have shown Netanyahu has remained popular among Israelis despite the investigations against him.

Ex-Pakistan PM Sharif Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Graft

Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 24 December, 2018/The anti-corruption court in Islamabad found former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif guilty of fraud, sentencing him to seven years behind bars. In its ruling, the court said that the three-time prime minister was unable to prove the source of income. Under Pakistani law, this is taken to prove corruption. Sharif denied the charges which he said were politically motivated. He accused the military and courts of working together to end his political career and destabilize his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. Sharif had already been sentenced by the same court to 10 years in prison on charges related to the purchase of upscale apartments in London, after the Supreme Court removed him from power. He was freed from custody in September pending an appeal. Sharif’s supporters said he would also appeal against his latest conviction.
“Appeal is our right, we will protest but will remain peaceful,” former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who had succeeded Sharif last year, told reporters outside the courthouse.
Before the verdict, hundreds of Sharif supporters threw stones outside the courthouse at police, who fired teargas.

Iran Reveals First Budget since Return of US Sanctions

Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Iran unveiled on Tuesday its first annual budget since the United States re-imposed economic sanctions against it. President Hassan Rouhani said the budget has been adjusted to take account of Washington's "cruel" measures. The $47.5 billion budget is less than half the size of last year's, mainly due to the severe depreciation of the local currency following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The Iranian rial has fallen from around 42,000 to the dollar a year ago to around 100,000 today.
The president announced a 20 percent increase in public sector wages in a sign of the economic challenges Tehran has faced since Washington’s withdrawal. The speech gave only a few general points of the budget -- which will now be scrutinized and voted on by parliament -- but acknowledged the pressure Iran was under. "Last year we faced some problems," Rouhani told parliament in a televised speech, referring to the widespread protests that hit the country almost exactly a year ago, sparked by anger over economic and political conditions. "Those events caused the Americans to change their position regarding the Iran and the nuclear deal," he said. The renewed US sanctions include an embargo on Iran's crucial oil sector. The new budget did not say how many barrels of oil Iran hopes to sell in the next financial year, which starts in late March, but analysts believe it will be considerably less than the approximately 2.5 million it sold per day prior to Trump's withdrawal. The US granted waivers to eight key buyers of Iranian oil -- including China, India and Turkey -- though this has been a double-edged sword for Iran since it also helped push down the global price. The government is allocating $14 billion to import medicine, medical equipment and other necessities, slightly more than the $13 billion allocated last year. Lawmakers interrupted Rouhani's speech on two occasions to protest the government's water policies. Iran is suffering from a decade-long drought, and water shortages have sparked protests over the past year.

Iran: Conflicting Reports on Death of Expediency Council Head
Tehran - Adil Al-Salmi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 25 December, 2018/Conflicting reports emerged over the health of chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council (EDC), Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Some news agencies affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard announced his death, citing informed sources, while official news agencies refuted the reports, describing them as "rumors", stressing that Shahroudi was in critical condition. Shahroudi, 70, was the main candidate to replace current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, before medical reports confirmed he had a digestive disease.
Khamenei, chose Shahroudi as chairman of the Council eight months after the death of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in August 2017. In addition to his position in the Expediency Council, Shahroudi is a prominent figure of the Guardian Council, members are directly appointed by Khamenei. On August 14, 2009, Shahroudi left the post of chief justice after 10 years of service, and was succeeded by Sadiq Larijani, one of the most senior officials of the second generation in the Iranian regime. In the early 1980s, he played a key role in the establishment of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its military wing, the Badr Corps. Shahroudi received a treatment at a hospital in Hanover, Germany, but returned to the country. Human rights organizations have called on the German authorities to detain him for his role in human rights violations. On Monday, Fars, Mehr and Tasnim news agencies reported that Shahroudi has died. However, state-owned IRNA news agency described reports of his death as “rumors.” ISNA also did not confirm and published an article entitled "Hashemi Shahroudi has the hallmarks of life" in response to reports about his death. The Expediency Council held its last meeting on Sunday under the chairmanship of Ahmed Jannati, 92, who heads the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council, which fueled news of Shahroudi’s death. Jannati’s temporary presidency of the committee was interpreted as an attempt by Khamenei to choose new names, which could lead to further speculation about his successor. The Expediency Council, which has been associated with Hashemi Rafsanjani for two decades, is the highest political council that brings together senior political officials and military leaders. Its most important task is to define the country's public policies, resolve disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council, and provide advice to the Supreme Leader. Sources familiar with the matter revealed that Khamenei intends to appoint the current head of judiciary, Sadiq Larijani, as chairman of the EDC, after Iranian Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri implicitly confirmed the appointment of Ibrahim Raesi, chairman of Astan Quds Razavi. If the reports are confirmed, Raesi’s appointment will revive his chances of succeeding the Supreme Leader, after he was defeated in the presidential election 2017 by current President Hassan Rouhani, the first major elections in which he participated in response to calls from conservative circles. On the other hand, Larijani's likely appointment will renew disagreements between him and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose re-election to the Expediency Council was a surprise to his opponents, especially after being excluded from the 2017 elections. Ahmadinejad had good relations with Shahroudi, and in November last year, he asked Khamenei for the formation of a committee headed by Shahroudi to resolve differences between him and the Larijani brothers. Sadiq Larijani, along with his brother Speaker Ali Larijani, did not attend several meetings of the Expediency Council following differences with Ahmadinejad.

Italy, Russia Do Not Oppose Role for Seif al-Islam Gaddafi in Libya’s Future

Cairo – Khaled Mahmoud/Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 24 December, 2018/Italy and Russia announced that they do not oppose a return to Libyan political life by Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of later ruler Moammar. An official in the Italian government had stated that Rome “cannot claim that Seif al-Islam has no right to pursue a leadership role in his country.” It cannot oppose his return to politics if he enjoys popular support, he added. “This is democracy.” He made his remarks in wake of a surprise visit paid to Libya by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over the weekend. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, meanwhile, said that Seif al-Islam should play a role in Libya. The RIA news agency said that one of Seif al-Islam’s representatives had delivered a letter from him to Moscow earlier this month in which he had set out ideas for the political future of Libya and that he was in regular contact with Russia. “We support everyone. We believe that nobody should be isolated or excluded from a constructive political role,” RIA cited Bogdanov as saying. “That’s why we are maintaining contacts with all groups who are based in the west, east and south of the country ... Seif al-Islam has the backing of specific tribes in specific areas of Libya and all this should be part of the overall political process with the participation of other political forces.”

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 25-26/18
Why the West Must Safeguard Free Speech
Josef Zbořil/Gatestone Institute/December 25/18
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's "Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia and its Implementation Mechanisms" describes one part of its strategy as: "To call media professionals to develop, articulate and implement voluntary codes of conduct to counter Islamophobia. The OIC and its Member States should be vocal in calling media professionals to use the power they have with responsibly through accurate reporting." What, however, if those two requirements -- accurate reporting and countering Islamophobia -- conflict with each other?
"Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth." — Liu Xiaobo, Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, author of Charter 08.
"Man... does not have to accept a lie." — Václav Havel, in his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless".
"... if you lived, as I did, several years under Nazi totalitarianism, and then 20 years in communist totalitarianism, you would certainly realize how precious freedom is, and how easy it is to lose your freedom." — Miloš Forman, Czech-American film director.
It boggles the mind that any Western society would choose to forfeit the values of critical thinking and free speech. The fact is that where these values end, the West ends as well.
The freedom to express oneself without fear and the tolerance for opposing viewpoints are what binds otherwise diverse, democratic societies. In the United States, this freedom is protected by the Constitution, with only very specific limits, the key one of which was imposed in 1969, following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio. According to that ruling, inflammatory speech cannot be penalized unless it is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
The discussion of the boundaries of free speech is one that continues to arouse controversy, both in the US and abroad. It basically centers on the extent to which a country agrees with American Founding Father and fourth president James Madison, who said: "A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them."
British-Indian author Salman Rushdie -- whose book, The Satanic Verses, spurred Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill him -- clearly holds Madison's view. In the 30 years since the book was released, Rushdie has been warning about the dangers of curbing free speech. Not only did he bemoan the 2015 mass murder in Paris of the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff at the hands of radical Islamists, but he has also been an outspoken critic of Western universities censoring and banning speakers with whom they disagree. "It's nonsense, and it needs to be called out as nonsense and rejected as thoroughly as possible," he said in 2015, while accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Tribune.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) -- made up of 57 mostly Muslim-majority states(56 plus "Palestine") -- disagrees. In its 8th observatory report on Islamophobia, the OIC states, "...there is a need... to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech... [and]... Hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism." The OIC's Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia and its Implementation Mechanisms describes one part of its strategy as:
"To call media professionals to develop, articulate and implement voluntary codes of conduct to counter Islamophobia. The OIC and its Member States should be vocal in calling media professionals to use the power they have with responsibly through accurate reporting.."
What, however, if those two requirements -- accurate reporting and countering Islamophobia -- conflict with each other?
Unfortunately, many in the Western media have been acceding to such demands, either because they agree that being critical of radical Muslims constitutes "Islamophobia," or out of fear of being accused of it. The social media giant, Facebook, for example, often uses a selective definition of "hate speech" to justify censoring certain pages and posts.
The Czech Republic, whose Senate banned an appearance on its premises by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders in 2009, is no stranger to the pressure applied by radical Islamists to censor material that some consider offensive. In April, the Karolinum bookstore in Prague halted the promotion of the best-selling book, Breaking the Walls, about the migration crisis. In June, the Regional Science Library canceled a discussion with that book's author, sociologist Dr. Petr Hampl, on the grounds that: "The contents of the book and the opinions... are inconsistent with the opinions advocated by the library."
This is worse than ironic, when one considers that the late Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, author of Charter 08 -- which was inspired by Czechoslovak Charter 77 -- said: "Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth."
In his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless," Václav Havel, the dissident and later President of the Czech Republic, wrote: "Man... does not have to accept a lie. It is enough that he accepted life with lie and in lie. This already confirms the system, he fills it, he does it, he is it..."
What Havel fought for as a dissident was a society based on critical thinking and free speech. That these values have been rejected and undermined by totalitarian regimes might make sense; but it boggles the mind that any Western society would choose to forfeit those values. The fact is that where these values end, the West ends as well.
The late American architect and philosopher, Buckminster Fuller, summed it up: "There is more recognition now that things are changing, but not because there is a political move to do it. It is simply a result of the information being there. Our survival won't depend on political or economic systems. It's going to depend on the courage of the individual to speak the truth, and to speak it lovingly and not destructively. It's saying what you really know and feel is the truth, in all directions." The words about freedom attributed to the late Miloš Forman, Czech-American director of Hair, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, should be heeded by generations to come: "Because if you lived, as I did, several years under Nazi totalitarianism, and then 20 years in communist totalitarianism, you would certainly realize how precious freedom is, and how easy it is to lose your freedom." "...the cornerstone of democracy is [a] free press -- that's the cornerstone."
*Josef Zbořil, Ph.D., a Czech author, advocates a "SMART permanently sustainable free society with citizenship 4.0."
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Trump is Making Americans More Immigrant-Friendly
Francis Wilkinson/Bloomberg/December 25/18
President Donald Trump may ultimately be a unifying force on one of the most divisive issues in US politics: immigration.
That’s not Trump’s intent, of course. Having launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a demagogic assault on immigrants, Trump has been a reliable fount of calumny ever since. In public opinion, immigration is an imperfect substitute for “race.” However, Trump has succeeded in making it a more meaningful one. As numerous political science analyses have determined, Trump’s racial animus is the sticky goo that binds him to his most enthusiastic followers. That goo may be a potent political force, but it’s not a boundless one. Trump appears to have found its limits.
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has been asking survey respondents since 2005 whether “immigration helps the United States more than it hurts it.” In December 2005, 37 percent said immigration helps more, while 53 percent said it hurts.
That anti-immigrant sentiment, regularly measured by the poll, largely prevailed until 2012, when opinions started gradually to shift. In the most recent poll, taken in September, the pro-immigration “helps” line reached a peak of 61 while the anti-immigration “hurts” side hit a new low at 28. Measured from December 2005 until September 2018, there is a 49-point swing in favor of immigration “helps.”
Likewise, in June this year, Gallup recorded a new high of 75 percent of Americans saying they believe immigration is a “good thing.” In the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg wrote, Democrats ran as a “self-confident multicultural party” against a GOP running as an “anti-immigrant party.” The results were not good for the anti-immigrant side. The greatest risk for Republicans is that Trump’s racial malice will energize nonwhite voters to be more politically engaged while also alienating them, long-term, from the GOP.
That’s what may have happened in California after the state GOP’s anti-immigrant turn under Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who won election in 1994 with a sharp anti-immigrant campaign. “The California GOP went from virtually splitting the Hispanic vote in 1990 to only capturing 17 percent of it in 1998,” wrote Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute, in an analysis of the electoral consequences. By contrast, during the same period Republicans in Texas continued to be competitive with Hispanic voters and in Florida, then-Governor Jeb Bush claimed to have won 60 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2002 re-election. I asked veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, adviser to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, whether he sees Trump cultivating a California-style backlash. “Trump is doing for immigration nationwide what Pete Wilson did in 1994,” Carrick emailed. “The more we debate the immigration issue, the more supportive voters become of immigration reform.”
Political scientist Dan Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in 2017 that “Americans became more liberal on immigration at exactly the time that Trump and the Republicans turned more hardline.”However, in an email last week, Hopkins said that his research, using a survey group that has been stable over several years, suggests that the pro-immigrant drift in the electorate has slowed. “The big-picture summary from my data,” he wrote, “is one of remarkable stability since Trump took office.”That’s largely what Republican pollster David Winston sees as well. In a detailed report on the 2018 midterms, Winston concluded that the immigration debate did hurt Republican candidates. “The focus on the immigration/caravan issue instead of the positive jobs report in the last days of the campaign had a net result of late deciders breaking for Democrats by 12 points,” Winston wrote. “There is a Trump effect,” said immigration advocate Frank Sharry, via email. “When it comes to the public’s view of immigrants and pro-immigration policies, Trump has made them more popular than ever.”

May’s Other Option on Brexit
Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/December 25/18
A conventional view is forming about what happens next in Brexit. If, as expected, parliament rejects Theresa May’s deal in January, a second referendum becomes inescapable. But there is an alternative: A general election. While calls for a second referendum have some logic — if parliament can’t decide, then the public should, now that there’s more clarity about what Brexit actually means — two big problems explain why May has so far ruled it out. First, it would be seized upon by Leave campaigners as an exercise in elites bullying the masses until they give the right answer. Then there’s the matter of what is a fair question to ask. Every possible configuration, from binary choices to multiple choices, has serious flaws. If parliament rejects May’s deal, it makes sense to give voters a choice between remaining or leaving without a deal. But what if the public chooses to gas it over the cliff?
A no-deal Brexit is a risk hardliners in the Conservative Party are ready to take to achieve their bigger objective of recovering national sovereignty. That view – captured by one Brexiter’s affirmation that “if you told me my family would have to eat grass, I’d still have voted to leave” – should not be underestimated.But it’s not a risk that a sitting prime minister could responsibly run, especially not one who is head of the party that has traditionally stood for sound management of the economy and defended the interests of business. Many small and medium-sized enterprises, the backbone of the party, would be hit particularly hard by a no-deal exit. So too would the opposition Labor Party’s heartlands, which is why it has ruled it out as well.
And here we come to the prime minister’s only serious option beyond a referendum if her deal is rejected: An election. On the face of it, it’s an outlandish idea. Why would such a deeply risk-averse leader jeopardize her position? A vote isn’t due until 2022. Given the debacle of 2017, when May lost her majority, why would such a terrible campaigner hit the road again? Would her party even let her? There are logistical hurdles, but they aren’t insuperable. May would need to ask the EU to extend the Article 50 timetable to allow time for the ballot; permission would probably be granted. To call an early vote, she would need the opposition’s backing – again something they are unlikely to withhold if it could bring down the government.
For May, an election would accomplish several things at once:
First, it could be used to quash once and for all the threat of a no-deal Brexit. The Conservative manifesto would promise businesses and consumers that the party of stable economic management would never lead them to that dark place. It would bind candidates to support May’s deal, but allow them to argue about what kind of future trading relationship should follow. Negotiations over that will only begin after exit day. This would require the prime minister to drop her assertion that no deal is better than a bad deal. It was a necessary fiction during the negotiations with Brussels, but it was never quite true, and certainly isn’t when compared with her available deal.
Second, by ruling out no deal and threatening a general election, May would confront the hardliners in her party with a choice: Stay and fight on the party’s terms or form a new conservative-nationalist party (possibly with members of the pro-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party).
This new party could stand for sovereignty and traditional social conservative values. It might win votes from Labor leavers and from the Conservative Party. But its offering would finally be put to the test, instead of being confined to media briefings, plots and dinner parties of the like-minded.
That will sound like heresy to loyal Conservatives. But the party has already split. An election would be an acknowledgement that the Tories cannot heal their divisions as things stand. It will be painful; the tribal pull of party is powerful. But, it may end up that there is no will to make a break. Hardline Brexiters might just decide they can live within the fold after all. There is an opportunity for some catharsis.
Third, a general election would smoke out the Labor Party’s deliberately vague position on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s party has cleverly been able to oppose the government’s positions without tabling a realistic alternative plan for delivering on the Brexit referendum. That has allowed it to keep sweet with leave voters in Britain’s industrial heartlands and metropolitan remainers. An election would give May a slight chance of putting the focus where she would want it: On Labor’s vision of a socialist economic policy versus a Conservative offering. Given she is still ahead in the opinion polls, she might have less to fear from an election than her party thinks. There are, of course, still huge risks in holding a vote. It may fail to produce a clear majority. But if the Conservatives emerged as the largest party, she (or her successor) could still promise a second referendum offering a choice between her deal and remaining in the EU. At least then the threat of a no-deal Brexit would be off the table.It’s also possible that an election produces a victory for Labor or a no-deal faction. The risk of those outcomes, combined with the problems of a second referendum, might make May’s deal look more and more compelling to Conservative lawmakers over the next few weeks. But if, in the new year, parliament still can’t bring itself to support it, an election would allow voters to express a preference for what flavor of Brexit and what future political order they want. It would hopefully move the country beyond the existing stalemate. But not at any price, something that allowing an exit-with-no-deal option in a referendum would risk. For May, the head of a party that routinely destroys its leaders over Europe, the most outlandish way out might of this mess might just be her final option.

The Rubber Whip: Extremist Persecution of Christians, October 2018
ريموند إبراهيم: قائمة باضطهاد المتطرفين للمسيحيين خلال شهر تشرين الأول لسنة الفين وثمانية

Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/December 25/18
Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities have demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan's secession." — Morning Star News, October 17, 2018.
The head teacher of the Government Boys Primary School... assaulted Sharjeel Masih, a 12-year-old Christian student, after he touched a water tap in her presence. "I was just trying to turn off a running tap when the teacher grabbed me... and asked why I had touched the tap and made it filthy..." The boy was then suspended from school. — Pakistan.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Christians in Iraq have been abducted, enslaved, raped and slaughtered, sometimes by crucifixion. "Another wave of persecution will be the end of Christianity [in Iraq] after 2,000 years," according to Chaldean Archbishop Habib Nafali of Basra.
"Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language," according to Morning Star News. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Slaughter of Christians
Nigeria: As many as 55 Christians were murdered and a church was torched during an attack by Muslims on a crowded market in Kaduna state on October 18. A local source explained:
"A Muslim raised a false alarm about a thief in the market, which caused stampede, and then other Muslims started chanting 'Allahu Akbar [the jihadist slogan, God is Greater],' attacking Christians, burning houses and shops belonging to Christians in the town."
"When people heard 'Thief! Thief!' they were confused and started running," the reverend James Moore elaborated. "Unknown to the people, it was a strategy by the Muslim youth to attack the people. They went into killings, looting and burning." After visiting the site, Kaduna governor Nasir El-Rufai reported that so far "55 corpses have been recovered; some burned beyond recognition." He added that such Islamist attacks "cannot continue.... This country belongs to all of us; this state belongs to all of us. No one is going to chase anyone away. So, you must learn to live with everyone in peace and justice."
Separately, the Islamic State, West Africa Province, a faction of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, released a video depicting the execution of Hauwa Leman, a 24-year-old aid worker with the Red Cross. A month earlier, on September 15, they killed another aid worker, Saifura Khorsa. Both women were earlier abducted during jihadi raids and killed on the charge of apostatizing from Islam. In the video, the Muslim terrorists make Hauwa kneel down on the ground with her hands tied before shooting her. In the same video, they threatened to keep Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old Christian girl who refused to renounce Christianity, and Alice Loksha Ngaddah, a young Christian nurse with United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, and mother of two toddlers, as slaves for life. A spokesman for the Islamic terror group explained:
"We have kept our word exactly as we said, by killing another humanitarian worker, Hauwa Leman, who is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).... Saifura and Hauwa were killed because they are considered as Murtads [apostates] by the group because they were once Muslims that have abandoned their Islam the moment they chose to work with the Red Cross... If we see them, we will kill the apostates among them, men or women, and choose to kill or keep the infidels as slaves—men or women...Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them."
"From today," the Islamic terror group added that Leah and Alice "are now our slaves."
Finally, suspected Islamic terrorists abducted and murdered a Catholic tribal leader. Raphael Galadima and his wife were abducted on October 19, after he met with and complained to the local governor of the recent killings of his people by Fulani and other Muslim raiders; four other people in his convoy were killed. Although a large ransom was reportedly paid for his release, his dead body was found on October 26.
Kenya: More than 20 Islamic militants bombed a housing unit for non-local teachers and killed two Christians around 1 a.m. on October 10 in Mandera, near the Somali border, where the Islamic terror group Al Shabaab is based. "The non-local teachers were members of the Catholic Church and the East Africa Pentecostal Church," a survivor said. "The attackers knew who to attack... But thank God two of us managed to escape.... They razed the house down with the hope that none of the non-local teachers survived." Non-local teachers are often correctly assumed to be Christian. Three other Christian teachers were murdered in a nearly similar incident that occurred 8 months earlier; and in 2014, Islamic militants massacred 28 Christians, after boarding a bus and separating Christians from Muslims. Such ongoing Islamic attacks are causing Christians and their churches to rethink their existence along the Kenyan-Somali border: "I am concerned for my church members and the future of the church in Mandera," said a pastor.
"I know our presence meant a lot for the kingdom of God, but our hearts have been gripped with great fear. As a non-local pastor, I feel frightened of a possible attack on our church. My members are in a great, fearful state. We really need prayers for God's protection."
"It is unfortunate that innocent teachers who are out to bring light and open up the northeastern region are being slaughtered time to time just because of their faith," said Martin Kamutu, a teacher in Mandera.
"It is painful to lose our colleagues through such a heinous act of cowardice. Our hearts bleed because even after dedicating our time and professionalism in serving this [Muslim] community, they still hate Christians."
Also commenting on the situation, reverend John of Mandera said:
"This is another bad example of what religion can do. We are losing Christians at a very high rate in Mandera. Last month we lost five to terrorism and now again we have lost two teachers. We ask the international community and human rights groups to get involved in northern Kenya."
Persecution of Christian Apostates, Blasphemers, and Preachers
Iran: Two Muslim converts to Christianity were respectively sentenced to 18 and 12 months in prison for "spreading propaganda against the regime." However, the verdict appears to have been more specific: it reportedly said that, "believing in the Bible's authority and Jesus as Lord are attacks against Islam." Mike Ansari, an Iranian Christian activist, explained:
"If there is no codified law with respect to a particular issue, judges must deliver their judgments on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources. Iranian courts typically follow the lead of conservative clerics such as Ayatollah Khomeini who viewed apostasy a crime punishable by death.... In the last few years, most extrajudicial killings in Iran have been slowly replaced with arbitrary arrest and detention. Most of the arrested individuals are coerced to divulge information about their house church activities and those of their friends, under the threat of criminal persecution or arrest of family members."
Around the same time that these two Christians were sentenced for "believing in the Bible's authority," Iranian president Hassan Rouhani boasted before the United Nations of his nation's human rights record. His government, he said, was dedicated to "moderation and respect for human rights." He added, "We in Iran strive to build peace and promote the human rights of peoples and nations. We never condone tyranny and we always defend the voiceless. We never threaten anyone..."
Uganda: Pastor Umar Mulinde, a former Muslim who survived a horrific acid attack that permanently disfigured his face in 2011, was attacked again. "Muslim extremists forcefully broke into my home in the middle of the night," he said. His family and he managed to escape through the back door. "We narrowly survived — I only lost a number of my personal household goods and office items such as laptops, iPads and phones, but precious life remained intact.... I narrowly survived this close attempt on my life..." Police made no arrests. The former Muslim-turned-Christian-pastor recalled Christmas Eve, 2011:
"As I entered my vehicle, people came and poured acid on my face, which caused my skin tissue to melt.... Indeed it was a catastrophic effect on my human flesh which dramatically changed my life. The acid would have burned me to near death had God not helped me."
Doctors managed to save his life and he continues to evangelize throughout Uganda. As Uganda is only about 12% Muslim, government authorities are reluctant to take the threat of radicalization seriously, he said:
"All Ugandans should be concerned, because today it is me and tomorrow it may be somebody else. In my case I have been lucky to survive, but who knows whether another person will also survive like me? Christians need to have a closer look at the effects of Muslim extremist ideology and to do something about it."
In a separate incident, an October 10 report revealed the abuse a Muslim father inflicted on his wife and children after they converted to Christianity in Uganda. According to the wife, Dorika Kabuo:
"My husband of over 20 years turned violent against us when we converted to Christianity and joined the nearby evangelical church in Bwera, Western Uganda. The man we looked upon for love and care turned into a beast, beating me and my children daily because of our new faith in Christ Jesus... Being a Muslim family, my husband's relatives joined in fighting us even to the extent of abusing my children whenever they met with them..."
Sarah, one of the children, said:
"During that period, our father stopped paying for our school fees and taking care of us. He also used to beat us even without reason. He refused us to go to church, but we could sneak and go when he was away. If he learned that we were in church, he would pick his rubber whip and flog all of us."
Finally, "One evening," the mother continued,
"my husband beat us up and threatened to butcher us the following day if we continued professing the Christian faith. That very night, he chased us away. We packed a few belongings and left the place we called home to Kasese, not knowing how we would get there or where we would be staying."
However, as Christopher, another of the children, explained:
"Nothing could stop us from fellowship with other brethren because that is where we got encouragement, nourishment, and love. The church became like a home for us. The more we insisted about remaining in Christianity, the more my father's hostility escalated."
Although a pastor from the All-Saints Church of Uganda eventually found accommodations for the homeless woman and children, Dorika said her husband continued:
"He used to send Muslim sheikhs who pledged to hunt me down and poison me, but the Lord protected us. We have since changed our names and it is hard for anyone to identify us now.... Although life has not been easy after converting to Christianity, we are determined to finish the race and keep the faith."
Algeria: Two Christian men were charged with "inciting a Muslim to change his religion" after a Muslim woman and her husband, a convert to Christianity, were invited to dinner at a Christian household. in the Muslim-majority nation, the charge is considered a criminal offense. While the husband, Rachid Ouali and his 67-year-old friend, Ali Larchi, continued talking about the joys of leading a Christian life during dinner, Ouali's wife suddenly jumped and cried out, "You have brought me here to convert me and to deny my religion. You laid a trap for me," her husband explained. "She kept raising her voice to make herself heard outside." She then stormed out and went to complain to her family who lived nearby. Soon afterwards, and partially due to pressure from her family, she filed a complaint saying that her husband and his friend had taken her to a church service where they tried to pressure her to become Christian. The nation's penal code calls for a prison term of up to five years and a fine of as much as one million dinars (US $8,687) for anyone who
"incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, or using for this purpose the institutions of education, health, social, cultural, or educational institutions, or other establishment, or financial advantage; or makes, stores or distributes printed documents or films or other audiovisual medium or means intended to undermine the faith of a Muslim."
Sudan: Security officials interrupted a Christian worship service on October 10 in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, and arrested all 13 Christians present. Personnel from Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services gave no reason for arresting the Christians "except to say that they were all converts from Islam," said one report. "Authorities are targeting Christian converts from Islam in Darfur." "We are worried because their whereabouts are still unknown," said a local source who feared they might be being tortured. According to the report,
"NISS [Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services], widely regarded as a notorious agency staffed by hard-line Islamists, may hold people in detention for up to four and a half months without charges. Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities have demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan's secession."
An October 23 report notes that the 13 were eventually "released but only after they faced severe pressure for their faith and were beaten while in detention..."
Pakistan: A court sentenced a mentally disabled Christian to life in prison on the charge of blaspheming against Islam. Yaqoob Bashir, 25, was first accused of burning a booklet containing Koran verses in June 2015. He was reportedly receiving treatment at a mental health facility prior to the blasphemy accusation and subsequent incarceration. "It's unbearable and unjust," Kasur Bibi, Bashir's mother, said.
"My son is innocent. He did not insult or do blasphemy. He does not care much of these issues as his mind works differently than that of a normal person's. I am illiterate and don't know much about laws and policies, however, I just want justice for my son and to see him at home as soon as possible."
According to a report:
"During Bashir's three years and three months of imprisonment prior to his conviction, approximately 96 hearings were conducted as a part of his trial. During this period, Bashir was attacked by fellow inmates on several occasions. In June 2018, he was brutally beaten by fellow inmates for praying in their shared jail cell and sustained multiple injuries. The young Christian also found little sympathy from the courts as his appeals for bail were twice rejected, once by the Session Court and then again by the High Court of Hyderabad. While awaiting trial, Bashir suffered from multiple serious illnesses due to the poor conditions in jail and the lack of adequate medical care from jail authorities.... Since the day Bashir was accused of blasphemy, his family has been continuously monitored by extremist groups. These groups have repeatedly threatened and harassed them during court hearings."
General Persecution of Christians
Uganda: Muslims strangled and threatened a young Christian boy with death for rejecting Islam. Emmanuel, 12, was performing family chores near his home when four Muslim men abducted and carried him to a plantation a mile away sometime after 9 p.m. on October 25. "Ali Lukuman tried to persuade me to become a Muslim, which I refused, and he slapped me and I started screaming," the youth reported from a hospital bed, where he was being treated for deep strangulation marks and the ingestion of chloroform. "They continued threatening me that they will kill me if I will not convert to Islam." Emanuel's father, when he noticed the boy had disappeared, formed a search party. They eventually heard a cry and found the boy alone, "unconscious and half-dead," said his father. "My son's words could not be constructed well, as he looked confused and could not turn his neck with the strangulation marks." Ali, the head of the Muslim gang, had previously sent threatening messages to the father, such as, "If you want to stay with us in our village, then you have to become a Muslim, but if not then you have to leave."
Pakistan: Nusrat Shaheen, the head teacher of the Government Boys Primary School of District Attock, Punjab Province assaulted Sharjeel Masih, a 12-year-old Christian student, after he touched a water tap in her presence.
"I was just trying to turn off a running tap when the teacher grabbed me, called me churha (a derogatory term used for Christians) and asked why I had touched the tap and made it filthy. 'This tap is not from the country of your mother,' she said before abusing me... I had to sit outside the school for five hours."
The boy was then suspended from school. On the following day, he and his mother returned to the school to apologize in hopes of gaining re-admittance. "She [Nusrat, the head teacher] asked me to grab her feet for the mistake of my son and threatened that her brother, a police officer, would sell my younger daughter to a brothel," the mother related. The incident was reported to Pakistan's Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, who responded by suspending the head teacher.
In a separate incident, Muslim men attacked and tortured Cecil, a 15-year-old Christian boy living in Karachi. Cecil had confronted a group of Muslim seminary students who were apparently trying to convert the Christians of his village. They warned him not to "become a hurdle in their mission." Soon after, "an armed mob attacked our house and tortured family members which resulted in minor injuries to the family's women and head injuries to Cecil," said his father, Yousef.
"The mob made their way in, breaking the main gate of the house at midnight. The attackers broke the doors, windows, fans, furniture, damaged the vehicle, and looted the valuables, including two laptops, four mobile phones, and cash."
For his protection, Cecil was sent to an undisclosed location for six months, as his family hoped things would settle down. When he returned home, however, the same "religiously motivated group thrashed him badly. His foot was hit with some sharp weapon causing the skin on his foot to peel off, exposing the bones... Cecil is still under medical treatment and his life is being threatened." His father said that the attackers are threatening his family not to pursue legal action against them.
Iraq: "Another wave of persecution will be the end of Christianity after 2,000 years" in Iraq, said Chaldean Archbishop Habib Nafali of Basra in an interview. He discussed how more than a decade of violent persecution has virtually annihilated the nation's ancient Christian minority. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Christian population has dropped from 1.5 million to about 250,000 — a reduction of 85%. During those 15 years, Christians have been abducted, enslaved, raped and slaughtered, sometimes by crucifixion; about one church or monastery has been destroyed every 40 or so days — meaning about 135 Christian houses of worship, said the archbishop. While it is often assumed that the Islamic State was the source of the persecution, since that terror group's retreat from Iraq, the situation for Christians has marginally improved the archbishop said, as Christians continue to suffer from "systematic violence" designed to "destroy their language, to break up their families and push them to leave Iraq."
Italy: The government announced in an October 12 statement that it had "repatriated" — that is, deported — three African men considered a "danger for national security" for their links to "Islamic extremism." One of the men, a 24-year-old Gambian, had expressed a desire to kill "white tourists" and "Christians," as well as attack churches. Another, a 22-year-old Moroccan, had been arrested before for petty crimes, as well as for drunken and disorderly conduct. On October 2017, he had waved a kitchen knife and threatened passersby near a synagogue while shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is greater").
Algeria: Authorities closed another Christian church, even though its leaders had complied with all legal and building codes. On October 16 eight policemen appeared and sealed off the front doors of the Church of Jesus Christ in Azaghar village. According to pastor Ali Benkhelat, in December 2017,
"After their visit to our place of worship, [local administrators] asked us to provide another emergency exit door and fire extinguishers, which we have done. We even had to close the premises for three weeks for different development work. If they let us work until today, it's because they had nothing to reproach us for."
The government order to close the church down says that the "building was originally meant to be used for a poultry business." However, the pastor and other "Christian leaders said it was clean and never had chickens in it," notes the report. It added, "The sealing of the church building comes amid a rash of church closures in the past year in Algeria."
Sudan: A Muslim police officer sexually harassed a woman not dressed in traditional Islamic garb and easily identifiable as a Christian. According to the report:
"Nyankiir Kual Mayen, a 24-year-old university student, was on her way to a church service when she noticed a Public Order Police officer following her in his vehicle. Identified only as Akasha, the officer stopped her as she reached the town's main market area, she said. Women not dressed according to strict Islamic customs in Sudan are easily identifiable as non-Muslims. The officer grabbed her and groped her breast, Mayen said. He ordered her to come with him to the police station, but she insisted that it was illegal to arrest women on the street without a warrant, Mayen said. Annoyed, the officer said he would arrest her for indecent dress.... The business administration student, who is choir director at her church, was wearing a long skirt and blouse, witnesses said....The officer left.... Rights activists say Sudan Public Order Police routinely violate human rights, including religious freedom, often arresting women and forcing them to pay fines and bribes to secure their release."
*Gatestone InstituteRaymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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The year oil went from bust to boom — and back again
Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 25/18
Last week was brutal for oil prices. A barrel of Brent ended the week shy of $53, down nearly 40 percent from the highs of early October. Prices gained about $2 in early Asian trading on Monday.
The year was characterized by a bust, boom, and another dramatic bust. We should now ask ourselves three questions: What happened, what is going to happen, and what are the longer-term ramifications?
Three factors brought about the boom-to-bust moments of 2018. Firstly, it took time for the OPEC+ production cuts to take hold at the beginning of the year, as it did for the incremental production increases in the summer. If this year proved one thing though, it was that OPEC+ — which comprises the producer group’s members plus 10 other nations — will deliver on its promises, but that we need to give it the time and space to do so. In this sense, the market is probably underestimating the group’s determination and ability to deliver on the further 1.2 million barrel per day (bpd) production cut agreed in Vienna earlier this month.
Secondly, the shale space never ceased to surprise on the upside. True, there were infrastructure bottlenecks, which hampered growth in the second and third quarters. There again, the US has a very entrepreneurial economy, which reacts quickly to market forces. Shale is among its most entrepreneurial sectors, and issues such as infrastructure bottlenecks tend to get addressed quickly.
Thirdly, the Iran sanctions put a real spanner in the works. OPEC+ members, particularly Saudi Arabia and Russia, were producing at record levels earlier this year, as they anticipated up to 2.5 million bpd being taken out of the market. That looked justified in autumn when Iranian exports fell by nearly 1 million bpd in anticipation of the sanctions. However, in November the US granted eight countries waivers, and suddenly there was too much oil on the market. Prices went from boom to bust in a nanosecond.
Last week’s further slump in oil prices could not be explained by fundamentals, though. The culprit was the stock market. The Dow went negative on the year, reflecting broader market sentiment.
2018 was characterized by a bust, boom, and another dramatic bust. We should now ask ourselves three questions: What happened, what is going to happen, and what are the longer-term ramifications?
This brings us to the outlook for next year: Storm clouds are gathering over the global economy, with forecasts being downgraded due to the fear of trade wars, Brexit, euro zone wobbles and a slowing US economy. All three major oil agencies — the EIA, IEA and OPEC — are watching demand closely. We can expect a further downward revision of demand as the mood music for the global economy is turning more somber.
We also need visibility on how the US administration intends to proceed with the sanctions regime. If it leaves the waivers in place, OPEC+ has calibrated correctly and markets should balance. Yet there is also oil output to consider from Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela — which are unpredictable due to their challenging domestic circumstances.
Taking a longer-term perspective, it has become a home truth that the advent of big US shale production has changed the balance of power in the oil space. This gives validity to the OPEC+ alliance, under which the world’s second- and third-largest producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, cooperate in a bid to balance oil markets. This mechanism is important because businesses as well as consumers benefit from prices fluctuating in a predictable range.
The energy industry needs that predictability in order to schedule investments. Conventional oil is an ultra-long cycle business, and a dollar invested today will produce a barrel in four to 10 years. The industry needs to get ready now to pump sufficient barrels when shale production is expected to plateau in 2024. We cannot afford a cavalier attitude if we do not want to see the lights go out toward the latter half of the next decade. Therefore, OPEC+ members have vital work to do in balancing the markets.

A price to be paid for the new Trump ‘doctrine’

Osama Al-Sharif/Arab News/December 25/18
US foreign policy in the post-Second World War world was founded on a number of principles, mainly the defense of West European allies and other democracies against the growing menace of a communist bloc. The Middle East emerged as one of the hot spots in the Cold War face-off and the region was later considered an extension of US geopolitical domination. In the process we had the Ronald Reagan Doctrine, aimed at bankrupting the Soviet Union, and many decades later the George W. Bush Doctrine backed by the neocons that sought to wage pre-emptive wars, especially in the Middle East.
But now, in a major departure from that policy, President Donald Trump has presented what one might call the Trump Doctrine on the Middle East and the rest of the world. Basically, it echoes late 19th and early 20th century proclamations of deliberate US isolationism. But Trump's declaration, presented through a series of tweets on his decision to swiftly withdraw US troops from northern Syria, was not the outcome of high-level deliberations with defense and national security experts. At best it was and remains a whimsical decision — followed by an even more daring resolution to start a troop drawdown from Afghanistan — which has stunned Washington and most world capitals.
So dangerous is Trump’s unilateral initiative that it prompted his Defense Secretary, James Mattis, to resign in protest, although not without delivering a rebuke of the president’s decision. Other officials, including the man responsible for managing the war against Daesh, Brett McGurk, also quit. Trump’s decision was lambasted by leading politicans in Congress, from both sides of the aisle, in a rare bipartisan reprimand that has shaken Trump but failed to dissuade him.
Trump’s approach to the complex issue of the US military presence in Syria and Afghanistan was not prompted by geopolitical considerations, and he has clearly failed to appreciate the huge impact that his decision will leave on the region, his western and Arab allies, Russia, Israel, Iran, Daesh, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, to name a few. Trump viewed the move from a purely financial angle; tweeting that the US spends trillions of dollars and gets nothing in return.
Furthermore, the Trump Doctrine, if it may be called so, undermines a steady US policy on the Middle East that was followed by both Republican and Democratic presidents for decades. Trump tweeted that the US is not the policeman of the Middle East; a daring statement that challenges fundamental views of the region and its complex issues as well as long-standing US national interests, especially in the Gulf region.
Trump's declaration, presented through a series of tweets on his decision to swiftly withdraw US troops from northern Syria, was not the outcome of high-level deliberations with defense and national security experts.
Since 9/11 and the US military intervention in the region we have seen a domino effect, starting with the emergence of Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, as failing and corrupt states that eventually provided an incubator for extremist religious movements. One can argue that America’s military adventures in the region had triggered unintended consequences; Daesh being a case in point. And yes it had cost America trillions of dollars and failed to deliver the declared objective of nation building.
Afghanistan had become America’s longest war and until Trump's decision to withdraw half of his troops, hopes for a political solution were dim at best while the Taliban, as well as Daesh, had shown no signs of imminent defeat.
In Syria the US had no clear long-term strategy. It was there not to disrupt the Assad regime, it said, but to defeat Daesh. That objective was not achieved despite Trump's declaration that the US had won. America's withdrawal may give the terrorist entity a lifeline as it regroups in eastern Syria and along the borders with Iraq. Trump believes Turkey can complete the mission, but Ankara’s agenda in Syria is multifaceted.
One resounding message that Trump’s decision delivers to both allies and enemies is that the US has become an unreliable ally, as French President Emmanuel Macron stated. The move comes at a critical moment for Russia, Iran and Israel. Tel Aviv sees the US withdrawal as a reward for Iran in Syria, leaving Israel on its own to deal with a growing Iranian military presence close to its borders.
The move is a hard blow to Syrian Kurds, who had fought Daesh and were hoping to be rewarded for their sacrifice by gaining political rights in a future Syria. It is a gift to Russia which now has full political ownership of what happens next in Syria and beyond. And the decision will upset America's allies elsewhere, from South Korea and Japan to Poland and the Baltic states.
In a globalized world it is difficult to imagine the US entrenching and hiding behind the much touted Trump wall. There is no right and wrong in complex geopolitical matters; there are only consequences, intended and unintended, and the world must now deal with Trump’s non-doctrine Doctrine.
*Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Assad cleaning evidence of his crimes: No easy feat
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 25/18
As the war in Syria enters its final phase, a victorious Bashar al Assad has started to clean up evidence of his brutal crimes against humanity. During the ruthless civil war, anyone opposed to the regime, who was not immediately neutralized, was locked up in the notorious Seyedna Prison where between 10,000 to 20,000 inmates were known to be held. Now Assad cannot possibly allow these people to be released with most having witnessed firsthand his tactics of wiping out entire families of protestors, so instead he has simply accelerated the executions of the prisoners to an industrial level to leave no witnesses whatsoever. The Washington Post has obtained considerable evidence in the form of detailed witness testimonials along with satellite imagery of the fast-tracked expansion of the cemetery. Inmates it seems are now being subjected to swift trials lasting no more than three minutes before being taken to the basement to be hanged.
The Obama administration chose not to disclose this information because it was desperate to avoid its humanitarian responsibilities in Syria. Or perhaps it felt, I believe wrongly, that intervening would not help the situation
This is nothing new. Amnesty International reported that between 2011 and 2015, the Assad regime arrested and detained 117,000 people. Further reports indicate that the regime was killing around 50 people per day in the same notorious Seyedna Prison. All in all, it is believed as many as 13,000 people of the 117,000 have been killed in this manner.
But, getting rid of 13,000 bodies is no easy feat. And we had not found the mass graves. The regime and their defenders have always countered that these accusations are untrue, and that we lacked the evidence to back up those assertions.
Different strategies
However, we do have a pretty good idea of what happened to those people. It looks like the regime was then utilising a different strategy to dispose of bodies and built a crematorium at the prison complex. Aerial photography provided by the US government shows a complex of buildings at the Seyedna Prison that bears all the hall marks of a crematorium. It has the necessary intake valves, ducts, firewalls, and even when it snowed and the whole area was covered with snow it was the only building not covered. A very convenient facility to have if you have a constant stream of dead bodies to dispose of from the nearby prison. Clearly the crematorium was not sufficient to meet the increased demand of the dead bodies being produced with the new strategy of disposing of all prisoners.
And this is just one facility at one prison. There could well be others. So what do we do about it? As it turns out, not much. And haven’t been doing much for years. It seems the US government knew about this from 2012, but chose not to make this information public. The Obama administration chose not to disclose this information because it was desperate to avoid its humanitarian responsibilities in Syria. Or perhaps it felt, I believe wrongly, that intervening would not help the situation.
It seems the information was released by the Trump administration to discredit their predecessors. Or perhaps to argue that their own lack of humanitarian intervention in the conflict is no worse than the Obama policy. After all, Obama sat on this information while trying to justify his “do nothing” policy.
What is also interesting about this is that the information was not released by Secretary of State. Rather, it was released by someone much more junior. The administration is perhaps trying not to tie itself to any mast here. They do not want to back themselves into a corner from where they cannot avoid the moral imperative to act. This also lends weight to the “we’re no worse than Obama” hypothesis for their motivation.
Whatever the triangulation here, it seems that this administration is also determined to give the Syrian conflict a pass. When Trump bombarded the airfield at Shayrat in response to Assad’s latest chemical attacks against the civilian population in Idlib province in April, there were high hopes that America had grown a spine and would be ready to do what is needed to speed up the resolution of the conflict. Those hopes have since evaporated. And, as we had previously expected, the administration’s relations to Russia took precedence over any humanitarian concerns.

It was a monument of imagination, so it stayed

Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 25/18
Who would believe that Norwegian Author Jostein Gaarder (born in 1952) wrote a children’s book entitled ‘Hello? Is Anybody there?’
I know that many will be angry at me for ignoring Sophie’s World and The Orange Girl that was published in 2003 but I would say to them that the Norwegians did not appreciate Gaarder like he deserves until he published the novel The Solitaire Mystery. What’s intended is to address the author’s bravery in addressing younger readers. Who knows, perhaps Gaarder is one of those who believe in the capability of the child’s imagination to fly high and exceed that of older people. This is my point today. What makes Jostein Gaarder believe in the child’s capability to comprehend the theory of evolution and earth’s history and even access the world of the secrets of life at such an early stage?
While many in industrial societies line up to buy cinema tickets to watch a sci-fi movie with their children, the societies that still rely on collective memory teach a poem or a story that strengthens their integration in their groups.
The father who is standing in line to buy tickets and watch a sci-fi movie thinks that his son’s or daughter’s imagination is being trained to understand the future while in the second scene, the father is repeating the poem to his son as this is how he guarantees that the poem, or the story, maintains its value so his son understands what is going on when, for example, others laugh!
I notice – and I may be wrong – that the efforts which our Arab societies spend ruminating about the past and referring to a certain story but not the other prevent us from thinking enough about the future hence preparing for it
The power of imagination
I believe in the power of the imagination and call for training it no matter what the means is. I also still believe in the power of poetry and novels to overcome the bitterness of reality and also, understand it and in their necessity to move forward in life. However, I notice – and I may be wrong – that the efforts which our Arab societies spend ruminating about the past and referring to a certain story but not the other prevent us from thinking enough about the future hence preparing for it.
I am not a supporter of Edison (1847-1931) who was biased to the imagination and initially assumed the presence of knowledge when he said: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Oh Mr. Edison, we have so much junk in our countries and such little inventions!
The dear readers can notice I am biased to the imagination when a few months ago I wrote about Yuval Noah Harari and his narrative of the brief history of mankind. Today, however, I will refer to the generation of authors who tried to adapt science to serve literature. For example, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man are works whose influence we understand even on our daily lives but what many do not know is that they were written between 1895 and 1900. What’s more interesting is that their author Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) entitled a collection which included two other works, The Scientific Romances.
This approach was not unique to Wells as before him there was German astrologer Johannes Kepler who died in 1630. Kepler discovered that the planet has orbits. He did not relay this in a published scientific research but in his famous story Somnium in which the story’s protagonist travels to the moon. Kepler who has the imagination of an author and the vision of an astrologer thus describes everything on the moon even the cold emptiness on the surface of this neighbor that has never gone to sleep. Kepler wrote this story before America and the Soviet Union raced to land on the moon – a landing, which was mere imagination in the 17th century.
Some critics have criticized Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) saying that the public must not be left with him as he is “an unstable man sitting in a dim room, with a raven over his door, a bottle at his table and a pipe full of opium,” but even those who really hated his reckless and absurd lifestyle cannot underestimate his exquisite imagination when he wrote about the future in The Balloon-Hoax. I actually now reprimand Poe for his extreme modesty when he imagined balloons over the Atlantic racing after 10 centuries since his days with a speed that exceeds 100 miles per hour. Truth is this actually happened in the century after he died intoxicated in the alleys of Baltimore.
Apart from all this, I can say that the speed technology has thanks to the brave imagination of inventors today managed to add the feature of simulating humans’ characteristics of knowledge such as adding voices to computers which the pessimists – and unfortunately they are right most of the time – believe will leave us humans jobless in the near future. Integrating human characteristics in the surrounding technology is only a step towards even madder and more extreme researches.
Two months ago, I read that “awareness” is the next subject after humans finished with simulation and that robots will cancel man’s need for men. You can now access Amazon stores and finalize everything without meeting a single human being. You can also schedule your smart electric sweeper via a watch on your wrist to clean your home two hours before you return from work. However, this may seem normal. And if we expand this imagination, we imagine robots fighting wars and planning to get rid of the creature which once expanded his imagination until he managed to understand himself via his poetry and works of fiction, and then gifted awareness to his murderer!
As we approach the beginning of a new year, train your imagination so tomorrow brings what is good to everyone. Pray with me that sci-fi research does not reach a stage when robots attack us and send us a message that reads: Hello, is anybody there?

Bashir meets Bashar: Is Russia supporting Sudan’s role in solving the Syrian crisis?
Maria Dubovikova/Al Arabiya/December 25/18
On December 16, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir paid a surprise visit to Syria and held a meeting with Bashar al-Assad. It was the first visit for any Arab leader to the war-torn country since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.
Omar al-Bashir and Bashar al-Assad discussed recent developments in Syria and the region and prospects of bilateral cooperation. However, the real reason for the visit remains unclear to the international community, though some consider it a favorable sign for Bashar Al-Assad, who is seen as having started attracting Arab leaders and officials to Damascus for future cooperation and dialogue.
Sudan is not a close partner of Syria in terms of economic relations. Sudan is weak and unstable, although its military capabilities might be a matter of interest for both Syria and Russia
Russian sponsorship
Bashir, who himself was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, found a way to bust the sanctions imposed on him by the international community and make this trip through the logistical support extended to him by Russia. It is noteworthy that the ICC’s decision has not been recognized by the African Union, the Arab League, China and Russia. Bashir has ruled the country since 1989. Under his rule, Sudan has faced political instability and many protests due to poverty related issues. Recent protests in Sudan are also not related to Bashir’s visit to Damascus, but are driven by purely economic reasons.
Thus, the meeting of the Sudanese president with the Syrian leader was of one international pariah meeting the other. Not the norm, this is just a development related to Syria pointing towards settlement of the conflict. The Sudanese leader arrived on board a Russian plane that unmistakably points to the fact that Russia was the sponsor of this trip. Why has this visit taken place now? Why has Russia sponsored this visit? And what does it mean for Syria, Russia and Sudan itself?
Sudan is not a close partner of Syria in terms of economic relations. Sudan is weak and unstable, although its military capabilities might be a matter of interest for both Syria and Russia. Sudanese military forces are deployed in Yemen. As the Yemeni crisis seems to be approaching settlement in one way or the other, there are chances of Sudanese forces being redeployed to Syria.
The Syrian crisis is still far from any resolution. One of the major obstacles is the huge presence of Iranian forces on Syrian territory. The presence of Iran-backed troops in Syria is of major concern to Israel and Gulf States. They demand full withdrawal of Iranians from Syria. The sectarian divide is getting wider in the context of continuous confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Tehran is seeking many ways to tackle Saudi power and is seeking to counter Saudi influence in the Levant and strengthening its position.
Israel also has its own reasons to oppose Iran and Iran-backed militias, which it considers as grave threat to its security. Iran has started understanding that in the current scenario, Tehran has to yield to international military pressure and at least partially withdraw its forces from Syria. Russia understands that Iranian withdrawal to some extent would weaken Russian military sites in Syria, which will also adversely affect and weaken Syrian army.
Sudan enters Syrian fray
Deployment of Sudanese military forces as replacement of Iran-backed militias and troops in Syria might come as a solution for Syrians and Russians. The presence of the Sudanese army in Syria, instead of the Shiite militias might be a satisfying solution for Israel, the GCC and the international community.
Russia took the initiative of strengthening ties with Sudan in 2017. The move gained pace in the beginning of 2018 when Bashir visited Moscow in June for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to boost bilateral cooperation in the sphere of oil production with the participation of Russian oil giants, such as Rosneft, Gazprom Neft and military support extended to the Sudanese army.
Sudan is interested in Russian experience in launching joint ventures in geology and minerals to mine gold and precious stones. Russia proposes Sudan to develop ties in the sphere of transportation, humanitarian cooperation and infrastructural development. Russia and Sudan have also discussed military and technological cooperation. Being in international isolation, Russia has extended its hand of friendship to Sudan to secure its borders and to equip Sudanese army with state-of-the-art weaponry. Thus, Sudanese involvement in Syria would not only enhance Syrian-Sudanese relations, but Russia-Sudan ties as well.
The deployment of Sudanese forces, instead of the Shiite militias in Syria would significantly ease existing tensions in the region and pave the way for a peaceful settlement of many conflicts in the Middle East. If Sudan, Russia and Syria accept this solution, will Sudanese army replace Iranian forces in Syria? It all depends on developments on withdrawal of US forces from Syria which is aimed at paving the way for the Turkish troops to have an upper hand in northeastern parts of Syria against the Kurds. This is the reason for the criticism of Turkish president Erdogan of Al-Bashir’s visit to Damascus.