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Lebanon’s Aoun: Talks underway amid disputes with Israel
over border wall
Reuters/Thursday, 8 February 2018/ Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Thursday that talks were underway "to prevent Israeli greed" amid bilateral disputes over a border wall and an offshore energy block in disputed waters. "Communications are ongoing through the United Nations and friendly states to handle this issue... hoping that Israel does not escalate," Aoun told a cabinet session, according to his office."We will confront any attack" on Lebanon's territory or waters, he said. Lebanon vows to block Israel border wall. Lebanon vowed on Wednesday to prevent any territorial intrusion by a border wall which Israel is building, and Israel said it wanted foreign mediation to resolve a maritime energy dispute with its northern neighbor. Lebanese leaders have accused Israel of threatening the stability of the border region. Arguments over the wall and Lebanon’s plans to explore for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters have increased friction between the two enemy states. “This wall, if it is built, will be considered an assault on Lebanese land,” the secretary-general of Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council said in a statement after a meeting of senior government and military officials. The council “has given its instructions to confront this aggression to prevent Israel from building (the wall) on Lebanese territory,” it said, without elaborating. The council includes Lebanon’s president, prime minister, other cabinet ministers and the army commander. Israel has said the wall is entirely within its territory. One Israeli official told Reuters that parts of the wall were being erected closer to the border than a current frontier fence, which in places runs well to the south due to topography. The Lebanese government says the wall would pass through land that belongs to Lebanon but lies on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, where the United Nations demarcated Israel’s military withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. Calm has largely prevailed along the frontier since 2006, when Israel fought a war with Lebanon’s heavily-armed Shi‘ite Muslim Hezbollah movement. The month-long conflict killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers. In a televised address last month, Hezbollah’s leader cautioned Israel to take the Lebanese government’s warnings over the wall “with utmost seriousness”. “Lebanon will be united behind the state and the army to prevent the Israeli enemy (violating Lebanese territory),” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said. Hezbollah will “fully handle its responsibility in this regard,” he added.
Lebanon’s first offshore oil and gas exploration tender drew condemnation last week from Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He called it a “very provocative” move and urged international firms not to participate. The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles). The zone extends along the edge of three out of five energy blocks that Lebanon put to tender early last year. In December, Lebanon approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two blocks.
One of these, Block 9, juts partly into waters claimed by Israel. In a conciliatory tack from Lieberman’s remarks, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday mooted negotiations. “There is a dispute, which is no secret - it’s been going on for years - over the border demarcation between our economic waters and Lebanon‘s,” he told the Israeli news site Ynet. “We hope for, and are prepared to move forward on, a diplomatic resolution to this matter.”Steinitz said that, in 2013, US intermediaries had come close to clinching a deal involving “a kind of compromise”.“The Lebanese too have their own economic waters in which they want to search for gas and oil,” he added. “And they have such a right - so long as they do not threaten and certainly not penetrate our demarcated waters”.
Israeli Minister Holds Iran Responsible for Syria, Lebanon Strikes
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/Syrian air defense systems intercepted an Israeli air attack on a military position near the capital Damascus on Wednesday, Syrian forces said as an Israeli minister held Iran directly responsible for such raids."This morning, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles from Lebanese airspace on one of our military positions in the Damascus countryside," said a Syrian military statement carried by state media. "Our air defense systems blocked them and destroyed most of them."The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said at least some Israeli missiles had hit military targets near Damascus."Syria's air defense system blocked some of the missiles, but others hit ammunition depots near Jamraya," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. The raid came as Israeli minister Naftali Bennett said: "Iran is behind the anti-Israel activity in Syria and Lebanon."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali “Khamenei is willing to fight Israel until the last drop of Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan blood, but does not send his own troops. For 30 years we have been sending our soldiers to fight Iran’s” proxies in the region, he said. He neither confirmed nor denied Wednesday's raid but said: "The force behind everything is Iran and we must pinpoint the laser on it. I am putting forward a strategic line and saying that we will not be handling things with surgical precision, we view neighborhoods that have rockets as legitimate targets." Bennett was responding to a question whether an attack on Iran was imminent. Between 2006-2012 Iran was able to transfer to Hezbollah 130,000 rockets, he said, describing it as a “strategic failure” by Israel. “Now they are seeking to make all those rockets precise and we will not allow that to happen," Bennett warned. Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes inside Syria in the course of Syria's civil war, against suspected arms shipments believed to be bound for “Hezbollah,” which is fighting alongside Syrian regime forces.
UNIFIL Chief Inspects Blue Line as Israel Embarks on
Border Wall Construction
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/Naharnet/February 08/18/UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary on Thursday inspected the Blue Line area, south of al-Naqoura, where Israel has started to build a controversial separation border wall that Lebanon says would encroach on its territory. Israel has started constructing the wall along its border with Lebanon on Wednesday. Lebanon's Higher Defense Council met afterward and instructed the Lebanese Armed Forces to confront any Israeli territorial or maritime border violations. Lebanon has pledged a diplomatic push to prevent construction of the wall between the two countries as tensions mount over off-shore exploration for oil and gas. President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri pledged to "pursue efforts to mobilize at the regional and international level to block building of the wall by Israel.”Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, confirmed the beginning of works in Naqoura area and said the force is "fully engaged with both parties in order to find common solutions." "Any work that is conducted along the Blue Line should be predictable and also coordinated with UNIFIL in order to prevent misunderstanding and decrease tension," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the UNIFIL base in Naqoura. Lebanese and Israeli military officials had on Monday attended regular U.N.-sponsored talks on the border. Tenenti said both parties demonstrated their commitment to preserve stability. Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated "Blue Line" that was drawn up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory. Israel has dismissed these claims and said Tuesday that "construction continues as usual". The renewed focus on the wall comes as the two sides spar over Lebanon's plans to explore for oil and gas off shore in waters eyed by both sides. Beirut is set to sign contracts with a consortium including French firm Total, Italian company ENI and Russia's Novatek to begin looking for energy deposits off its Mediterranean coast in 2019. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month said awarding such bids amounted to "provocative behavior" by Lebanon's government. The statement from Lebanon's presidency denounced the Israeli "allegations" and warned against attempts to "usurp" its resources. Despite the hostility between the two countries, Israeli and Lebanese military officials meet regularly under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to discuss border issues. On Monday a meeting was held and discussions focused on "engineering works south of the Blue Line," UNIFIL said in a statement. "Any activity close to the Blue Line should be predictable, with sufficient prior notification to allow for coordination by the parties, so as to avoid misunderstandings and prevent incidents," it added.
Lebanon Says Contacts Underway to Ease Tensions with Israel
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 08/18/Diplomatic contacts are underway between Beirut and "friendly countries" to ease tensions with Israel over a cement wall it is building along the border which Lebanon says would encroach on its territory, the government said Thursday. Acting information minister and Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi told reporters after a government meeting that top Lebanese officials are in contact with the United Nations and some countries that he did not name to try and decrease tensions that have escalated over the construction of the wall. On Thursday, an Associated Press team saw construction workers on the Israeli side of the border setting up the concrete wall. A flatbed truck carrying giant cement barriers was seen at the border as a crane lifted cement blocks and placed them on the border. An Israeli bulldozer was seen excavating at the border line. President Michel Aoun tweeted earlier that the contacts aim to prevent Israeli "ambitions" from taking over Lebanon's land and water, adding that the country would confront any Israeli attack. Bou Assi quoted Prime Minister Saad Hariri as telling the Cabinet that he, along with Aoun, the parliament speaker and the foreign minister are conducting the contacts and "we hope they will lead to positive results." On Wednesday, Lebanon's Higher Defense Council instructed the military to confront Israel if it goes ahead with plans to build the cement border wall, labeling it as an "aggression" against Lebanon's sovereignty. Lebanon and Israel are technically at war and have fought several wars over the past decades.Also on Thursday, Aoun received David Satterfield, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state, and American ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard. Lebanese and Israeli military officials held an indirect meeting Monday to discuss the issues in regular U.N.-sponsored talks. Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon's exploration tender as "very provocative" and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours."His comments drew sharp condemnation from Hizbullah and Lebanese officials, including Hariri, who described Lieberman's comments as a "blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects."Bou Assi quoted Hariri as saying Thursday that area in the water that Israel is claiming "is owned by Lebanon."
Satterfield Tours Blue Line, Meets Aoun and Army Chief
Naharnet/February 08/18/David Satterfield, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state, on Thursday toured the Blue Line – the U.N.-demarcated border line between Lebanon and Israel – amid high tensions in the area.
Accompanied by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, Satterfield arrived earlier at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in Naqoura where he held talks with the force commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary. The National News Agency said talks tackled the latest developments in the South, especially the issue of Israel's construction of a controversial border wall which Lebanon says would encroach on its territory. Later in the day, Satterfield held talks in Baabda with President Michel Aoun. The meeting addressed “the general situations and the latest developments in the South in light of the Israeli threats, after Israel started building a cement wall off the southern border and following its defense minister's claim that (offshore gas) Block 9 belongs to Israel,” NNA said. “The discussions tackled the U.S. efforts addressing the new situation, with Satterfield offering suggestions aimed at preserving stability and calm in the border region,” the agency added. Aoun for his part informed the U.S. visitor of Lebanon's stance, which was declared in Thursday's cabinet session and in the meeting of the Higher Defense Council on Wednesday. Satterfield meanwhile emphasized to Aoun his country's support for the Lebanese state institutions, especially the army and security forces, lauding “the role they are playing to protect stability in Lebanon,” NNA said. Also on Thursday, the visiting U.S. official held talks with Army Command General Joseph Aoun, in the presence of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard. Talks tackled the general situations in Lebanon and the region and cooperation between the two armies, as Gen. Aoun briefed the U.S. visitor on Israel's violations against Lebanese sovereignty and the latest developments in the South. The army chief warned that Israel is seeking to build a wall that passes in areas claimed by Lebanon. Separately, Satterfield and Richard visited the tomb of slain ex-premier Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut where the U.S. diplomat laid a wreath of flowers.
Satterfield described the late ex-PM as an unforgettable person and a great friend of the United States.
Cabinet Agrees to Enlarge Airport, Discusses Israeli Threats
Naharnet/February 08/18/Lebanon's government convened in a normal session on Thursday at the Presidential Palace in Baabda to tackle 93 items on its agenda, the National News Agency reported. The meeting was chaired by President Michel Aoun in the presence of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and ministers, said NNA. Aoun highlighted Israel's recent threats at the beginning of the meeting assuring that “Lebanon will continue its contacts to curb Israel's greed. We shall confront any assault against our land and maritime territory,” he said. The President has also urged the Cabinet to speed up discussions on the State's budget and to complete preparations for Lebanon's participation in three upcoming conferences including the Rome II Conference, the Paris IV conference also known as the Cedar Conference and the Brussels Conference.For his part Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: “The Higher Defense Council has taken decisions supportive of Lebanon's independence and right to defend its land. At the same time, we are working with all friendly countries and the United Nations to counter Israel's greed. We hope we reach results.”The Cabinet then formed a panel tasked with "studying the plan for expanding the Rafik Hariri International Airport and launching the urgent phase which is estimated to cost $200 million."It also approved the appointment of Jalal Suleiman as inspector general at the Central Inspection Bureau. Speaking to reporters after the session, Sport and Youth Minister Mohammed Fneish of Hizbullah said: “We are keen on our rights as a state and our sovereignty over our land is nonnegotiable.”“Our armed forces are practicing their right in defending the country's sovereignty,” he added. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq meanwhile announced the approval of a plan for digitizing the personal status department in partnership with the private sector. He also said he agreed with Justice Minister Salim Jreissati to implement “a transitional and quick plan to resolve the problem of prison crowdedness.”Speaking to reporters prior to the session, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan of Hizbullah hailed the climate of understanding that prevailed in the country, highlighting the unanimous national position to confront any possible Israeli hostility. For his part, Information Minister Melhem Riachi indicated that he would ask the Cabinet to allow journalists and civil servants to cast their vote on the same day, so that they would be able to participate in the electoral process and cover the polls.
Aoun Signs Decree Promoting Army and Security Officers
Naharnet/February 08/18/President Michel Aoun has signed on Thursday the officers’ promotion decree of the army, security forces, general security, state security and customs. The signing comes one day after State officials, Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Saad Hariri, agreed to end a row over an officers seniority decree by signing a new decree merging the disputed decree with the stalled promotions decree. LBCI said although reports said the decrees were signed on Wednesday, but “it seems that the Premier forgot to sign the promotions decree which delayed the whole procedure until Thursday.”
Aoun will therefore “sign the decrees today,” it said. As part of a solution the officials agreed in a tripartite meeting at the Baabda Palace that the decrees will carry the signatures of Aoun, Hariri, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf. The contentious seniority decree grants one-year seniority to a number of officers. Speaker Nabih Berri was infuriated after it was signed by Aoun, Hariri and Sarraf without being referred to the finance minister to place his own signature on it. Berri and Khalil had insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him had argued against. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun's military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.
Lebanese Prosecutor Demands Death for Killer of UK Woman
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 08/18/A Lebanese investigative judge on Thursday demanded the death penalty for a suspected killer of a British woman whose body was found near Beirut two months ago. Lebanese officials said Judge Hanna Breidi issued an indictment Thursday demanding the maximum penalty for Tarek Houshi, 29, accusing him of raping Rebecca Dykes before strangling her with a rope. They added that Uber driver Houshi raped and killed Dykes in Beirut then threw her body off a road east of the capital. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.Dykes was found dead on Dec. 16 on the side of a road, strangled and reportedly showing signs of sexual assault. Houshi was arrested days later. Breidi referred Houshi to the criminal court.
Several Lebanese, Syrians Injured in Koura Town Brawl
Naharnet/February 08/18/Several Lebanese and Syrian citizens were injured Thursday in a brawl in the Koura District town of Batroumine, the National News Agency said. “Clashes and fistfights erupted between them in the same building following acts of provocation,” NNA said. It added that an unknown individual had fired gunshots during the incident. Security forces have since intervened to contain the situation and arrest the culprits.
6 Teachers Briefly Detained after Scuffles near Baabda Palace
Naharnet/February 08/18/Six teachers staging a sit-in near the presidential palace in Baabda were arrested Thursday after they attempted to block the road, the National News Agency said. The protest that was held during a cabinet session at the palace witnessed scuffles between teachers and security forces. Protesters demanded the release of their colleagues and to meet with President Michel Aoun. NNA later reported that the six teachers were released, identifying them as Wassim Nassar, Mohammed Qassem, Imad al-Armali, Ramadan Hashoum, Ali Khreis and Jaafar Bahsoun. Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh meanwhile condemned “security forces' behavior against teachers staging a sit-in on the road of the presidential palace.”“I deplore the unacceptable violence in a republic that claims respecting freedoms,” Hamadeh added.
Airport Police Foil Drug Smuggling Attempt
Naharnet/February 08/18/Beirut airport police arrested a drug-smuggler female after seizing ample amounts of narcotic that she hid in boxes of sweets, the National News Agency reported on Thursday. NNA said that the police searched the woman's luggage and found the drugs packed and hidden in sweets boxes.The woman was trying to smuggle the drugs to Brazil, it added.
Decree crisis resolved, ending Aoun-Berri feud
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/February 08/18
BEIRUT: In a quick implementation of an agreement reached by the country’s top leaders during their ice-breaking meeting at Baabda Palace, relevant ministers signed Wednesday a combined decree that seeks to advance the seniority and rank of a number of Army officers by one year and also secure promotion to other officers, political sources said. The move, agreed upon by President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri during their reconciliation meeting at Baabda Palace Tuesday, finally resolved a 2-month-old standoff over the officers’ decree between the president and the speaker that heightened political tensions in the country and threatened to paralyze the work of Parliament and the Cabinet. “Relevant ministers, including Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, signed Wednesday a decree that combined [advancing] the seniority [of a number of Army officers by one year] with [securing] the promotion of other officers,” a political source told The Daily Star Wednesday. The other two relevant ministers are Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf. After it has been signed by the three ministers, the combined decree would be presented to Aoun and Hariri for their signature. The combined decree will later be published in the Official Gazette to become effective.
Justice Minister Salim Jreisssati, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement, said the resolution reached for the officers’ decree crisis was fully in conformity with the Constitution, dismissing any political deal among the three leaders. “It was not a political or compromise solution. It was a legal solution par excellence,” Jreissati, one of eight ministers loyal to Aoun, said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Wednesday night. He said the solution to the decree crisis took into account that the decree signed early in December by Aoun, Hariri and Sarraf and skipped the finance minister’s approval had become effective, while the decree that seeks to secure promotion to other Army officers required the finance minister’s signature because it incurred financial burdens.
“We can say that the decree [crisis] is behind us,” Jreissati said.
Berri has rejected the controversial decree that seeks to promote around 200 Army officers – all Christians aside for 15 Muslims – who served with Aoun in the late 1980s when he was Army commander, advancing their seniority and rank by one year, because it skirted the finance minister’s signature. Khalil is a key political aide to Berri who has warned that overriding the finance minister’s approval would place the Taif Accord that stipulated equal power-sharing between Muslims and Christians in jeopardy. The resolution to the decree crisis appeared to be based on a proposal by Berri, which essentially calls for combining the controversial decree along with other decrees securing promotions for all officers in the military corps, into one decree to be signed by the relevant ministers, that is, the defense, interior and finance ministers, before presenting it to the prime minister and the president for their signature.
During their talks at Baabda Palace, Aoun, Berri and Hariri agreed to revive the work of the Cabinet and Parliament, and create a favorable political and security climate for Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years set for May 6. They also agreed on a series of measures to prevent Israel from building a concrete wall on Lebanese territory on the Lebanese-Israeli border and a possible Israeli encroachment on Lebanon’s oil and gas wealth in Lebanese territorial waters. The leaders agreed on opening a new parliamentary cycle to allow MPs to endorse urgent draft laws, including the 2018 draft state budget.
In addition to the resolution to the decree crisis, Jreissati said the three leaders agreed on the need to endorse the 2018 draft state budget as soon as possible and also on a one-time suspension of an item in the new proportional electoral law relating to the use of magnetic or biometric voting cards in the upcoming parliamentary polls in order to avoid a legal challenge of the entire election process.
Berri Wednesday reiterated his satisfaction with the results of the Baabda talks.
“An agreement has been reached on a mechanism according to constitutional and legal procedures to tackle outstanding files and issues. But what matters is implementation [of the agreement],” Berri was quoted as saying by an MP during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
The speaker underlined the need for the Cabinet to speed up studying and approving the 2018 budget so that Parliament can ratify it before parliamentary blocs begin preparations for the elections. The Baabda meeting was called by Aoun following a telephone conversation with the speaker last week in the wake of a wave of street protests by Berri’s supporters who blocked main roads in various areas in Beirut with burning tires and dumpsters in response to a video in which Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, was shown calling Berri a “thug.” The street protests culminated with a push by Berri’s supporters into the Christian town of Hadath in a serious incident that put the country on the verge of renewed sectarian violence
Meanwhile, the Cabinet is set to meet under Aoun at 11 a.m Thursday at Baabda Palace, ending a two-week hiatus caused by political tensions between the president and the speaker. The Cabinet agenda includes 93 items, including requests by some ministers for allocations from extra-budgetary spending, approval of ministers’ travels to attend conferences abroad, as well as Aoun’s planned visits to Iraq and Armenia. The agenda also includes a proposal by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry to upgrade and expand Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport and the implementation of the urgent phase of the project at an estimated cost of $200 million. Machnouk said he would present two proposals during the Cabinet session, one calls for a one-time suspension of the use of the magnetic voting cards in the upcoming elections to head off a legal challenge of the election results, and the other calls for making the personal status department computerized.
Environment Minister Tarek Khatib said that he would ask the Cabinet to approve $20 million dollars to begin the closure and rehabilitation of informal dumps across Lebanon. The initial $20 million allocation falls under the article of Khatib’s recently adopted waste management plan that calls for the gradual closure and rehabilitation of random dumps. The Council for Development and Reconstruction is mandated to deal with these dumps across Mount Lebanon, Kesrouan and Jbeil, a statement from Khatib’s office said. The statement put the number of unlicensed, ad-hoc dumps across Lebanon at 941, covering a total space of 8 million cubic meters.
Much of the waste in the dumps is regularly burned, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, in violation of the right to health of Lebanon residents, HRW said. The burning of trash is also illegal in Lebanon and can lead to municipalities being fined. Khatib’s proposal, endorsed by Cabinet last month, called for Chouf and Aley’s waste to be dumped at Costa Brava, which will be expanded in order to absorb the increased amounts. The planned expansion of coastal landfills, which were originally billed as “temporary” solutions to Lebanon’s 2015 garbage crisis, has been criticized by activists and environmentalists for being shortsighted and leading to the pollution of the sea in contravention of international conventions Lebanon has ratified.
Lebanon says contacts underway to ease tensions with Israel
CBC News/ BASSAM HATOUM, ASSOCIATED PRESS NAQOURA, Lebanon Feb 8, 2018
Diplomatic contacts are underway between Beirut and "friendly countries" to ease tensions with Israel over a cement wall it is building along the border which Lebanon says would encroach on its territory, the government said Thursday. Cabinet Minister Pierre Abi Assi told reporters after a government meeting that top Lebanese officials are in contact with the United Nations and some countries that he did not name to try and decrease tensions that have escalated over the construction of the wall. On Thursday, an Associated Press team saw construction workers on the Israeli side of the border setting up the concrete wall. A flatbed truck carrying giant cement barriers was seen at the border as a crane lifted cement blocks and placed them on the border. An Israeli bulldozer was seen excavating at the border line. President Michel Aoun tweeted earlier that the contacts aim to prevent Israeli "ambitions" from taking over Lebanon's land and water, adding that Beirut would confront any Israeli attack. Abi Assi quoted Prime Minister Saad Hariri as telling the Cabinet that he, along with Aoun, the parliament speaker and the foreign minister are conducting the contacts and "we hope they will lead to positive results."
On Wednesday, Lebanon's top security body instructed the military to confront Israel if it goes ahead with plans to build the cement border wall, labeling it as an "aggression" against its sovereignty. Lebanon and Israel are technically at war and both countries have fought several wars over the past decades.
Also on Thursday, Aoun received David Satterfield, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state, and American ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard. Aoun's office gave no further details about the meeting. Lebanese and Israeli military officials held an indirect meeting Monday to discuss the issues in regular U.N.-sponsored talks. Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the countries' maritime border. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon's exploration tender as "very provocative" and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours."His comments drew sharp condemnation from the militant Hezbollah group and Lebanese officials, including Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman's comments as a "blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects."Abi Assi quoted Hariri as saying Thursday that area in the water that Israel is claiming "is owned by Lebanon."
*Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.
Trial Begins Of 4 Saudis Linked To Hezbollah Terror Cell
Arab News/ Friday 9 February 2018/JEDDAH: The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh on Thursday began the trial of a terrorist cell of four Saudis linked to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. The court’s first session revealed that three of the cell members coordinated with a wanted fugitive in Iran. They were convicted of joining a Hezbollah training camp to manufacture and deploy C4 and TNT explosives for use in the Kingdom. Their aim was to cause chaos, target security men, smuggle guns into Saudi Arabia, finance terrorism via an organized gang, and smuggle fugitives from the Kingdom to Iran by sea. The prosecutor called for the death penalty. Failing that, he demanded the most severe punishment (imprisonment and financial penalty) for having violated border security and many other regulations. Kalashnikov rifles, bullets, machine guns and money were seized. The convicts are banned from traveling.
Five Reasons Why Israel Is Ready For War With Hezbollah
صحيفة الجيروزاليم بوست: الأسباب الخمسة التي تبين أن إسرائيل مستعدة للحرب مع حزب الله
Jta/Ron Kampeas/Jerusalem Post/February 08/18
12 years ago, Hezbollah and Israel were left gutted by a summer war that was costly for both sides.
WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple, straightforward message this week when he toured Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon with top security officials. “Our face is turned toward peace, we are ready for any eventuality, and I don’t suggest anyone test us,” he said Tuesday in a video message he posted on Twitter, the sound of helicopter blades whirring in the background. The mixed message signaled Israel’s ambivalence about taking on the terrorist group Hezbollah 12 years after Lebanon and Israel were left gutted by a summer war. The 2006 war was costly for both sides: Hezbollah, the preeminent militia in Lebanon, lost political capital for inviting a devastating response to its provocations along Israel’s border. Israel’s military and political class at the time paid a price for not decisively winning a war that precipitated a mass internal movement of civilians southward.
Yet the sides are making increasingly belligerent noises. Here are five factors contributing to increasing tensions along the border.Syria may be winding down, and Iran is winding up. The Assad regime, along with its allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy in the region — have the opposition in Syria’s civil war on the run. Iran and Hezbollah are striking while the iron is hot, establishing preeminence in the region. Iranian brass recently toured southern Lebanon and Tehran, according to Israeli reports, and Iran is financing a military factory in Lebanon. Israeli officials reject a permanent Iranian presence on its border — a message that Netanyahu delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met last month in Moscow. “I told him that Israel views two developments with utmost gravity: First is Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, and second is Iran’s attempt to manufacture – in Lebanon – precision weapons against the State of Israel,” he said after the meeting. “I made it clear to him that we will not agree to either one of these developments and will act according to need.”
A U.S. leadership vacuum is creating anxiety.
President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian missile base last year after it was revealed that Syria used chemical weapons against civilians, but otherwise the U.S. engagement with shaping the outcome of Syria’s civil war has been desultory. Russia is filling the vacuum, which is stoking Israeli anxieties. Despite generally good relations between the Netanyahu and Putin governments, Israel cannot rely on Russia to advance Israeli interests in the same way it has with the United States. “As the shape of the Syrian war changes, Israel may find its working relations with Russia undermined by Moscow’s desire to exercise influence in Syria generally from afar, and by its shifting relations with Iran,” Shoshana Bryen, the senior director at the Jewish Policy Center, wrote this week in The Algemeiner.
Absent focused U.S. leadership, Israel may strike out on its own to prevent Hezbollah from becoming the preeminent force in the nations to its north.
There are signs that the Trump administration, albeit belatedly, is noticing what its absence has wrought: Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said 2,000 U.S. troops currently in Syria to assist pro-Western rebels would remain stationed there to mitigate against a permanent Iranian presence in Syria.
New fences make restive neighbors. Israel is building a wall on its northern border along a line demarcated by the United Nations in 2000, when Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel is building the wall in order to prevent the deadly Hezbollah incursions that spurred the 2006 war, which claimed 1,200 Lebanese lives and more than 60 Israeli lives. But neither Lebanon nor Hezbollah accepted the demarcation as a permanent outcome, citing disputes over small patches of land that extended back to the 1949 armistice, and the Lebanese government and Hezbollah have threatened action.
Oil and gas
Lebanon last month approved a joint bid by Italian, French and Russian oil companies to explore seas off its coast. Israel claims a portion of the waters. Israeli leaders have called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute, but the competing claims are aggravating tensions between the countries.
Hezbollah, intermittently, has also threatened to attack Israeli platforms in the Mediterranean extracting natural gas.
The Gaza Strip also is restive, with an increase in rocket attacks from Hamas and Israeli retaliatory strikes after Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An Israel distracted by an engagement with Hamas and other terrorist groups in the south could be seen by Hezbollah as an opening to strike in the north.
Atacking Hezbollah Might Have Devastating Consequences
صحيفة الجيروزاليم بوست: قد تكون لضرب حزب الله عواقب مدمرة
Alon Ben-David/Jerusalem Post/February 08/18
According to reports from Syria, Israel Air Force attacks have become routine, and not even the Russians seem to have accepted the new status quo.
It happens just about every year around springtime. When the sun starts shining, Israeli security experts start spouting the odds of another war breaking out in the summer. Maybe it's because of the unusually warm weather this week, but this year these rumblings seem to have started ahead of schedule, with talk of a Third Lebanon War. One possible cause could be the growing tension from the precision missiles factory Hezbollah is building near Beirut. The threat might be real, but declarations and threats won't be enough to thwart it.
In the three years since Operation Protective Edge ended, the IDF has been focusing its energy on preventing Hezbollah from growing stronger. The minor military incidents that take place between wars have become the IDF's prime preoccupation. According to reports from Syria, Israel Air Force attacks there have become routine, and not even the Russians seem to have accepted the new status quo.
Iran and Hezbollah have finally realized that all their shipments that pass through Syria will be exposed to attacks by Israel Air Force jets. The attempt by Iran to build a precision missiles factory in Syria was thwarted by Israel last September (according to reports in the foreign media). As a result, Hezbollah decided to try to circumvent Israeli counter-terrorism activity by moving the factory to Lebanese soil.
Unlike in Syria, Israel operates in Lebanon under a different deterrence equation that is dictated by Hezbollah. Four years ago, in February 2014, Israel Air Force attacked a weapons depot in a Lebanese town near the Syrian border. Hezbollah declared that it would not tolerate such attacks and one month later it followed through with its threat and detonated an explosive charge on an IDF convoy on Mount Dov. Thankfully, there were no casualties.
Immediately following the attack, Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, announced that this would be the equation from now on: every time Israel attacked Lebanon, there would be an attack on Israel's northern border in response. For some reason, Israel has accepted these game rules and refrained from attacking any locations on Lebanese soil. Nasrallah's mouthpiece, journalist Ibrahim al-Amin, makes sure to remind us every few months in his articles that this equation is still valid and volatile.
Over a year ago, Israel began monitoring preparations by Iran to construct a missile factory in the Beirut area. The threat is clear: missiles from such a factory would give Hezbollah the ability to attack strategic sites in Israel with the precision of being able to pinpoint a specific house, and would arm the terrorist organization with hundreds of newly built missiles every year. We can assume that Israel searched for ways to thwart the construction of this factory, but the article that was published this week by IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis in the Arab media indicates that these efforts were unsuccessful.
When Israel has the ability to operate clandestinely, it doesn’t make public declarations and threats. The publication of this unusual article signals that Israel has despaired from its attempts to stealthily thwart construction of the factory, and that it's seriously considering carrying out an aerial attack. This is a very serious dilemma: An Israeli attack would provoke Hezbollah to retaliate on Israel's northern border, which could easily escalate into a Third Lebanon War, which neither Israel nor Hezbollah are interested in starting.
This is the message that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought to Russian President Vladimir Putin: The continued construction of the factory will lead the region to the brink of war. It's hard not to be impressed by the way Netanyahu managed to connect with the Russian president. There is a lot more here than just the protection of mutual interests – Putin personally holds Netanyahu in high esteem and he also has a special relationship with Israel, which he views as a country with strong cultural ties to Russia. Netanyahu's ability to receive an audience with Putin now, especially the same week he met with the US president, is a great strategic asset for Israel.
Putin respects Israeli interests with regards to Syria, a state now under Russia's wing. He's not allowing the Iranians to get too close to the Golan Heights and has held back from intervening when the Israel Air Force carries out missions there. But with all due respect for Netanyahu, Putin can't really (and probably has no desire to) intervene in what is happening in Lebanon. He will pass on the Israeli message to his partners in Tehran and Beirut, perhaps with an aside that Russia has no interest in a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but the chances that he'll order them to halt construction of the factory is remote.
While Netanyahu is trying to push forward with quiet diplomacy in Moscow, back at home, a noisy group of individuals concerned about Israel's security are already pointing towards the next war. Hezbollah doesn’t need these descriptions. Its leaders understand quite well that it won't be the same organization and Lebanon won't be the same country after the next war. It would hurt the Lebanese to a much greater extent and push Lebanon back a few decades.
Hezbollah might not win the next round of violence, but it could succeed in putting the Israeli people through an extremely difficult period like it hasn’t experienced since the War of Independence. It could deliver a severe blow to the Israel's civilian and military populations, and possibly even temporarily occupy a few Israeli communities. The face of Israeli society could be drastically changed, leading a certain percentage of Israelis wondering if they have a future here.
Both sides well understand the power that such destruction would have, and so Israel and Hezbollah are both deterred from entering into conflict. Hezbollah is also not really prepared to go to war today – it would prefer first to bring back its 6,000 soldiers who are currently stationed in Syria to Lebanon, but it might be some time before that's possible. And yet, even in its limited capacity, Hezbollah is managing to conduct a damaging campaign against Israel. Therefore, I recommend that all the Israeli leaders who have been going on lately about attacking Lebanon think carefully about how such a war might end, and whether the heavy price we'd have to pay as a society would make it worthwhile.
The missile factory in Lebanon might turn out to be the most difficult dilemma Netanyahu will ever face. If you look at how previous prime ministers dealt with such issues, the most common mode of action was inaction. That is just human nature: People judge the failure to make a decision more leniently than making a wrong decision. All leaders prefer to avoid decision-making over making a decisive move, and Netanyahu's talents in this area are far superior than all his predecessors. The thing is – in this case, not making a decision regarding the Iranian missile factory could have incredibly devastating consequences.
*Translated by Hannah Hochner.
U.S. jobless claims drop to near 45-year low
Lucia Mutikani/ReutersFebruary 8, 2018
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, dropping to its lowest level in nearly 45 years as the labor market tightened further, bolstering expectations of faster wage growth this year. The second straight weekly decline in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday also pointed to strong job growth momentum, which could further drive the unemployment rate lower. "The extremely low level of claims is a sign of tightness in the labor market and suggests that February is shaping up to be another solid month for job creation," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 221,000 for the week ended Feb. 3, the Labor Department said. Claims fell to 216,000 in mid-January, which was the lowest level since January 1973.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 232,000 in the latest week. Last week marked the 153rd straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The tighter labor market is starting to exert upward pressure on wage growth. The Labor Department reported last week that average hourly earnings jumped 2.9 percent year-on-year in January, the largest gain since June 2009, after advancing 2.7 percent in December. Employers added 200,000 jobs to their payrolls last month. Strong wage growth supports optimism among Federal Reserve officials that inflation will increase toward the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target this year. U.S. financial markets expect the Fed will raise interest rates in March. The Fed has forecast three rate increases for this year after lifting borrowing costs three times in 2017.
ECONOMY LIKELY OVERHEATING
Prices for U.S. Treasuries fell, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note rising to a near four-year high also as the Bank of England said interest rates probably need to rise sooner. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies. Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower. "For Fed officials it is damn the torpedoes and plunging stock prices and keep with the game plan to raise rates gradually as the economy is showing increasing signs of overheating," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. "The Fed may be out of step with current economic conditions and behind the curve." Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, declined 10,000 to 224,500, the lowest level since March 1973. The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 33,000 to 1.92 million in the week ended Jan. 27. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 12,500 to 1.95 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Phil Berlowitz)
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 08-09/18
200 dead as toll rises over four days of raids on Ghouta
AFP/Thursday, 8 February 2018/A fourth consecutive day of heavy regime air strikes on the militia-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus killed 40 people and injuring 125 more, on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, reported. The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the strikes hit at least six different locations in the besieged district. The observatory reported 200 dead as toll kept rising over four days of raids on Ghouta. The highest toll was in the town of Jisreen, where eight civilians were killed. Two children and a woman were killed in the town of Saqba, the war monitor said. In the aftermath of the raid on Saqba, an AFP correspondent saw damaged storefronts and streets littered with human remains and destroyed cars. A man carrying his young daughter was screaming for an ambulance to take her to the nearest makeshift clinic. Eastern Ghouta, which lies just east of the capital Damascus, is controlled by militant factions including Islamists.An estimated 400,000 people live under a suffocating government-imposed siege, which has made food and medicine nearly impossible to access. Syrian government warplanes have ratcheted up their bombardment of Eastern Ghouta this week, leaving dozens dead and hundreds in need of medical care. Regime bombing raids left 38 civilians dead on Wednesday, the Observatory said in a new toll. It came on the heels of the bloodiest day in months for Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, when 80 civilians were killed in strikes. In apparent retaliation, one person was killed in rebel mortar fire on the regime-controlled part of the town of Harasta, according to state news agency SANA.(With Reuters)
US-led coalition strikes Syrian pro-regime forces after
Reuters, Washington/Thursday, 8 February 2018/US aircraft carried out rare, retaliatory strikes in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province on Wednesday against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after they attacked US-backed fighters’ headquarters there, US officials said. No US troops embedded with the local fighters at their headquarters were believed to have been wounded or killed in the attack, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The US-led coalition fighting ISIS described the attack on the headquarters as “unprovoked,” but offered little information in its terse statement confirming the attack.The coalition did not disclose whether US troops had been present or involved in the retaliatory strike or offer any details on which forces attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces’ headquarters. The SDF are a US-backed alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria. “Syrian pro-regime forces initiated an unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters Feb. 7,” the statement said. It said the incident took place 8 km (5 miles) east of the Euphrates River. “In defense of coalition and partner forces, the coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition’s defeat-Daesh mission,” the statement said, using an Arab acronym for ISIS. The Syrian army is backed by Iranian-backed militias and Russian forces. The US-led coalition did not say whether any pro-Syrian fighters were killed in the retaliatory strike.
Syria: Rescuers Scramble to Cope with Raids amid More
Deaths in Eastern Ghouta
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/A fourth consecutive day of heavy regime raids on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus killed 22 civilians on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said as exhausted emergency workers struggled to rescue and treat affected residents. The civilian toll was first reported at nine on Thursday morning but almost immediately began to rise, mirroring previous bloody days in the besieged district. Wednesday's strikes hit at least six different locations in Eastern Ghouta, said the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman. The highest toll was in the town of Jisreen, where eight civilians were killed. An estimated 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta under a suffocating regime-imposed siege, which has made food and medicine nearly impossible to access. Syrian regime warplanes have ratcheted up their bombardment of Eastern Ghouta this week, leaving dozens dead and hundreds in need of medical care. In apparent retaliation, one person was killed in rebel mortar fire on the regime-controlled part of the town of Harasta, according to state news agency SANA. The uptick in bombardment on Eastern Ghouta has left already-overburdened medical staff and emergency workers struggling to rescue and treat affected residents. "We can't keep up. We're trying as much as we can," rescue worker Abu Mohammad Omar told AFP. "We're rushing, doing the work that we're doing, but we can't get to everything."With few bulldozers and precious little fuel to operate them, rescue workers are struggling to reach trapped civilians in time, said Omar. The 23-year-old's voice cracked as he described trying to find survivors in the rubble of a five-storey building in the town of Douma on Tuesday. "There was a huge, huge escalation against the city. More than one place was reduced to rubble. The machines we had couldn't keep up," he said. They searched one collapsed building for 10 hours for any survivors, but eventually had to move on to another bomb site. At 1:00 am on Wednesday morning, after scouring the rubble for a single suspected survivor, a salvo of bullets and rockets forced them to abandon the search. Abu Samer, an ambulance driver in the town of Hammuriyeh, said he sometimes jumps into his vehicle to find the petrol tank empty. "The difficulty for us is the lack of fuel. If there was fuel, I could go to any bomb site," the 40-year-old told AFP. The city streets on Wednesday were a hellish scene, Abu Samer said: no signs of life, but piled high with rubble and human remains. Doctors are also struggling at Eastern Ghouta's stretched hospitals. "Every day, they bring us a lot of wounded people. Sometimes we can keep up, other times we can't," said Osama, a paramedic at the Damascus Countryside Specialised Hospital.
Russia to Contain Iranian-Turkish Dispute in Syria
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/Russia on Wednesday warned both the Turkish and Iranian sides about the need to bypass their disputes sparked by Ankara’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in the northern Syrian district of Afrin. The dispute between both sides was the main subject of talks held between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani over a telephone conversation last Tuesday. “The current contacts between Tehran and Ankara were encouraged by Moscow, that interfered to contain the escalating disputed between both sides,” a Russian diplomatic source told Asharq Al-Awsat. The Kremlin on Wednesday did not rule out holding a summit between presidents of the three countries “if needed.”Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu paid a surprise visit to the Iranian capital Tehran on Wednesday. Diplomatic sources in Ankara told Asharq Al-Awsat that Cavusoglu’s visit aims to dissipate Tehran’s angers after Turkish forces clashed with some forces present in the Syrian regime-controlled areas near Afrin and Idlib, pushing Iran to call on Turkey to stop its ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in northern Syria. The sources confirmed that Ankara hopes to keep its coordination with Iran, which signed with Russia and Turkey a memorandum on setting up de-escalation zones in Syria, entered into force on May 6, 2017. “The Turkish military operations in Syria were discussed during Cavusoglu’s visit,” the sources added. In Syria, regime forces continued on Wednesday to pound the besieged areas of eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus, raising the number of casualties to more than 100 in two days. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that regime forces launched 22 airstrikes on Ghouta Wednesday, a day considered one of the bloodiest in Syria. He added that the total number of casualties caused by Wednesday’s attacks is considered the largest in the ranks of civilians in Syria since nine months.
Turkey says to host Syria summit with Russia, Iran
AFP, The Associated Press, Ankara, Turkey/Thursday, 8 February 2018/Turkey on Thursday said it planned to host in Istanbul a new three-way summit on Syria with the presidents of Russia and Iran aimed at reviving a drive to bring peace to the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to hold the summit in Istanbul alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in telephone talks on Thursday, a Turkish presidential source said. They also discussed the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, where dozens have been killed in aerial strikes in the past few days.Putin had already hosted a similar summit with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in November. urkish official told AFP the date for the Istanbul summit would be fixed later, without giving an indication when this might be. In its readout of the talks, the Kremlin said Putin and Erdogan “confirmed their commitment to a political settlement” to the Syrian conflict. “The importance of joint Russia-Turkey-Iran work was emphasized and new contacts at different levels would be discussed” it said, without confirming that a leaders' summit would be held in Istanbul. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said a summit had been discussed but no date had been decided.
Erdogan and Putin also discussed the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish militia in their northwestern enclave of Afrin, the Turkish source said. Some Russian officials have expressed concern about the Turkish offensive but analysts believe it would never have gone ahead without at least the tacit assent of Moscow. The two also agreed to accelerate work to establish new “observation points” in the northwestern province of Idlib to reduce violence, the source added. A convoy of Turkish troops on Monday entered Idlib -- which is largely controlled by rebel forces -- to set up an “observation point” in line with peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana. The talks sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia, set out the creation of four so-called de-escalation zones; Idlib, the greater Damascus area, the southern region of Daraa and the city of Homs. It was not immediately clear when the Istanbul meeting would take place.The summit, if it takes place, will be the latest example of the increasingly intense contact between Ankara and Moscow over Syria. Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow’s military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict. Turkey, however, has backed the rebels seeking Assad’s ouster in a seven-year conflict that has left more than 340,000 dead. But Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.
Israel Names New Jordan Envoy After Diplomatic Crisis
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/Israel has nominated a new ambassador to Jordan, the foreign ministry announced, bringing to an end a months-long dispute sparked by a deadly shooting. Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Amir Weissbrod, head of the ministry's Middle East bureau, would be appointed head of mission to Amman pending government approval. The foreign ministry named Amir Weissbrod as the new ambassador, the first since the incident at the Israeli embassy in Amman led the Jewish state to withdraw its staff. On July 23, a security guard at the embassy shot dead a Jordanian worker who had stabbed him in the back with a screwdriver after coming to an apartment to install furniture, according to the Israeli foreign ministry. A second Jordanian, the apartment's landlord, was also shot dead -- apparently by accident. The embassy was closed after July's incident, and Israel's ambassador returned to Israel along with the guard involved. The guard, who claimed self-defense, was briefly questioned by investigators in Jordan before returning to Israel along with the rest of the embassy staff where he received a hero's welcome at home, angering Jordanians. The shooting triggered a crisis between the two countries, which signed a peace treaty in 1994 and cooperate on security and other issues. The incident and Israeli response sparked widespread anger in Jordan, and Amman later said it would not allow the embassy staff to return until Israel opened a serious investigation and offered an apology.
An agreement was reached in January in which Israel expressed regret over the shooting and agreed to offer compensation for the victims, according to media reports. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab nations that have peace treaties with Israel.
Iranian Parliament Decides to Question Rouhani
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/A political crisis in Iran aggravated on Wednesday after deputies garnered the needed votes to question President Hassan Rouhani over the country’s economic and financial policies.A total number of 76 members of Iran’s parliament have filed a request to grill Rouhani, although such step requires the vote of only 70 deputies out of the 290-member parliament. There was no immediate information on when the parliamentary economic committee would kick off the questioning. Speaker Ali Larijani has already sent to the committee the request signed by MPs from the reformist and conservative movements concerning the economic situation in the country and the bankruptcy of financial institutions. Rouhani’s allies reject the grilling of the president over economic and financial issues. “The proposal to question the president is very important because since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iranian presidents have been only questioned twice by parliament,” a journalist who is an expert in Iranian parliamentary affairs, Ehsan Mehrabi, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday. He recalled that the first elected president, Abolhassan Banisadr, was interrogated by parliament before being dismissed from office in 1980. Also, former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was questioned by Iran’s Majlis. In a related development, Iran's former president Mohammad Khatami called on his reformist movement to fight poverty and corruption in the country. Despite supporting Rouhani, Khatami called on the president not to ignore popular demands. Meanwhile, the Center for Strategic Studies, which operates as part of the Iranian president's office, published a survey prepared by a number of experts about demonstrations that took place in Iran last month. According to the survey, 75 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the general situation in the country. While 60 percent still believed there is a possibility to introduce reforms, 31 percent of respondents believed the opposite.
UK Says Iran Must Avoid Actions that Threaten the Region
Al Sharq Al Awsat/February 08/18/Britain said on Thursday it was working with its partners to tackle US concerns over the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers, but said Tehran must avoid steps that threaten the security of the Middle East. Iran “needs to avoid taking actions which threaten regional security," Britain's Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt told an economic conference in Paris. He specifically pointed to Iran’s supply of ballistic missiles to Houthi insurgents in Yemen. With US President Donald Trump warning of a last chance for "the worst deal ever negotiated", Britain, France and Germany are working on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran's ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord. But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Thursday there was no link between its influence in the Middle East region and the nuclear deal. Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the same conference in Paris, Araqchi said: “There is no link between the deal and our role in the region."The United States and Europe want Iran to curb its influence in the Middle East.
US dismisses fears of wider war after deadly Syria clashes
Reuters, Washington/Friday, 9 February 2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis dismissed concerns on Thursday that the United States was being dragged into a broader conflict in Syria, after a major clash with pro-Syrian government forces overnight that may have left 100 or more of them dead. The US-led coalition said it repelled an unprovoked attack near the Euphrates River by hundreds of troops aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who were backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars. The incident underscored the potential for further conflict in Syria's oil-rich east, where the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias holds swathes of land after its offensive against ISIS. Assad, who is supported by Russia and by Shi'ite militias backed by Iran, has said he wants to take back every inch of Syria. The pro-government forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham" east of the Euphrates in Deir al-Zor province, said a US official on condition of anonymity. US Senator Tim Kaine, who sits on Senate foreign relations and military oversight committees, said the episode raised serious concerns about the open-ended US military presence in Syria. "I am gravely concerned that the Trump administration is purposefully stumbling into a broader conflict, without a vote of Congress or clear objectives," Kaine said. Mattis described the attack on the US-backed fighters, who were accompanied by US special operations forces, as "perplexing." But he described the retaliatory US-led coalition strikes as defensive and limited in nature.Asked whether the US military was stumbling into Syria's broader conflict, Mattis said: "No. This is self-defense."
"If we were getting involved in a broader conflict, then it would have had an initiative on our part," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. No US or US-backed forces died but the US official who spoke anonymously estimated that more than 100 pro-Syrian government forces were killed in the counter-attack. Syrian state television reported that the coalition had caused "dozens of dead and wounded" by bombing pro-government forces. But a commander in the military alliance supporting Assad disputed the death toll, saying seven members of the pro-government forces were killed and 27 injured. In a letter to the United Nations, Syria's foreign ministry described the strike as a "war crime" and called for the coalition to be dismantled, Syrian state news agency SANA said. "We demand (that the international community) condemn this massacre and hold the coalition responsible for it."
US tells Syria: we're not seeking conflict
The US-led coalition was set up in 2014 to battle ISIS fighters in both Syria and Iraq, who were largely defeated last year. Some 2,000 US forces remain on the ground in Syria, allied to the Kurdish-led SDF alliance, which holds the largest swathe of territory still outside the control of the government.
The Syrian civil war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, while drawing in regional countries and global powers supporting client factions on the ground. US forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions with Russia. But this may have been the largest single assault on a US-accompanied position to date. Still, these episodes have been sporadic. US-backed SDF and the pro-Syrian forces had largely avoided direct confrontation while both were fighting the common ISIS enemy. Moscow and Washington maintain contacts in eastern Syria to prevent unexpected confrontation between forces they support. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told a news briefing that Washington was not "looking for a conflict with the regime."Still, the incident underscored growing tensions in Syria amid reports of Syrian chemical weapons use elsewhere in the country. The US State Department on Thursday deplored the alleged use of chemical weapons and backed a call from the United Nations to put violence in Syria on pause for a month in order to deliver humanitarian aid and facilitate the evacuation of civilians. Russia said the proposal was a non-starter. "That's not realistic. We would like to see a ceasefire, the end of war in Syria, but the terrorists, I’m not sure they are in agreement," said Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the proposed one-month ceasefire.
The coalition said the attack occurred around 8 km (5 miles) "east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line in Khusham", a town southeast of the provincial capital, Deir al-Zor. The US-led coalition had alerted Russian officials about the presence of SDF forces, the US official said. One SDF fighter was wounded, the official said. Nouri Mahmoud, spokesman for the SDF's most powerful element, the Kurdish YPG militia, described the clash as "skirmishes" and said each side had returned to their former positions. "We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh (ISIS) in September 2017," the US official said. Russia's Interfax cited the Defense Ministry as saying the incident showed the US goal in Syria was not to battle ISIS but "the capture and withholding of the economic assets", an apparent reference to the Khusham oil field.
Russia's Defense Ministry said the pro-government militias involved in the incident had been carrying out reconnaissance and their activities had not been previously agreed with Russia.
US not planning to contribute money at Iraq reconstruction conference
Reuters, Washington/Thursday, 8 February 2018/
The United States does not plan to contribute any money at a conference in Kuwait next week to fund Iraq’s reconstruction drive after the war against ISIS, US and Western officials said, a move critics say could deal a new blow to American standing internationally. “We are not planning to announce anything,” a US official said on Thursday regarding financial assistance at the conference, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend. The official, however, said Tillerson could still decide closer to the time to announce a contribution. Washington instead is encouraging private-sector investment and counting on Iraq’s Gulf neighbors, particularly Sunni regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, to pour in money as part of a rapprochement with Baghdad meant to reduce Shi’ite rival Iran’s influence in Iraq. President Donald Trump said during the 2016 US presidential campaign that if elected, “the era of nation-building will be ended.”Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said his country needs up to $100 billion to fix crumbling infrastructure and cities devastated by the conflict against ISIS. A shortage of reconstruction funds could increase the danger of reinvigorating grievances among the minority Iraqi Sunnis against Iraq’s Shi’te-led government. In response to a query to the State Department about the lack of a US contribution, a US official pointed to the billions of dollars the US has committed to financing loans and restoring basic services to Iraqi towns and cities in the immediate aftermath of fighting.
“The immediate stabilization needs remain vast, and limited US government resources alone cannot meet these current and pressing needs, let alone consider supporting long-term reconstruction,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said Washington strongly supports the conference and would “continue to work with the Government of Iraq and the international community to help address the needs of the Iraqi people as they recover and rebuild their country.”Jeremy Konyndyk, who served from 2013 to 2017 as head of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, said that by not contributing to reconstruction, especially in combat-ravaged areas dominated by Sunnis, the Trump administration could help set the stage for a new insurgency. “We’ve seen this movie before. There is a very real risk if the US doesn’t put money into reconstruction, that having just won the battle, you lose the peace,” said Konyndyk, now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development think tank.
Fifteen years after US invasion
The United States, which invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple the late President Saddam Hussein and more recently led an international coalition fighting ISIS, has pumped billions of dollars into Iraq. In January, the US government said it planned to provide $150 million for stabilization operations in 2018 - funds that would go to restoring basic utilities and grants to small businesses - bringing Washington’s total contribution to $265.3 million since 2015. The US government has also provided $1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance for Iraq since 2014, making it the single largest donor to address the Iraqi crisis. “Absolutely nothing,” said a Western official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, when asked whether Washington would announce any financial contributions at the conference to fund long-term reconstruction projects. Mdhair Saleh, Abadi’s economic advisor, would neither confirm nor deny the lack of a US contribution. “The question is not about direct financial assistance,” Saleh said. “I think US policy is to support private-sector investment in Iraq. As for direct support in the Kuwait conference on the part of the government, I have not heard anything.”
‘Lose the peace’
James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Iraq, said the United States had already “poured billions and billions of dollars into Iraq” for the fight against ISIS, the equipping of Iraqi forces and humanitarian aid. “Only the United States can organize the diplomatic, reconstruction, military and political sinews of a strategy for the international community,” Jeffrey told Reuters. “The fact that we’re not putting any money up will weaken our case, and that’s unfortunate.”A US official in Baghdad said the US role in the Kuwait conference would be focused on opportunities “for true private-sector investment or public-private partnerships with the Iraqi government.”“What we are trying to do in Kuwait next week is to put together companies that want to look at Iraq ... and possibly also talk about ways to finance projects,” added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A State Department official said Washington was counting on other countries to step up, adding that more than 100 US companies would be at the event. Konyndyk, the former USAID official, said business people would want to see the risks of their investments in Iraq mitigated by US government contributions. “If the US government wants to see private-sector investment go in, they need to put skin in the game,” added Konyndyk, saying a contribution also would demonstrate American commitment to reducing Iran’s influence. Iran, by leveraging its ties with Iraq’s majority Shi’ites, emerged as the main power broker in Iraq after the United States withdrew its troops in 2011.
Houthi leader killed in precision strike along with 35 others
Hani al-Safyan, Al Arabiya English/Friday, 9 February 2018/ Leading Houthi leader, Muhsin Muhammad al-Ghuraibi, was killed along with 35 militia members in the Yemeni province of Al Jawf on Thursday. The strike also killed Abu Jihad al-Hamzi supervisor of preventive security, Abu Mortada the engineers battalion commander and Abu Ruhollah commander of the Jawf front. The Yemeni National Army responded to an attack by the militias on al-Jawf province that killed three minors. Coalition aircraft provided support and conducted precision air strikes on three Houthi military formations. The coalition also destroyed an anti-aircraft position that the militia had tried to use in targeting coalition fighters. Thursday morning, Houthi military vehicles in Jawf province were also targeted while enroute to supply the militia controlled fronts. A military source confirmed that the National Army monitored the military vehicles, which were carrying ammunition and supplies, heading towards the front.
Houthis assassinate activist Reham Bader in Taiz
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 8 February 2018/ The Houthi militia in Yemen assassinated activist Reham Bader Mohammed Abdul Wassa (known as Reham Al-Bader) while she was on the humanitarian relief mission east of Taiz.Al-Bader was killed by a sniper along with another member of the team called Mu'men Saeed Hammoud Salem. A third team member named Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saamt suffered from serious injuries. The human rights group was working on humanitarian relief campaigns in Yemen. They worked on documenting humanitarian conditions and violations, where the Houthi militias have targeted relief teams in Sala area east of Taiz. Reham lost her brother activist Ahmed Badr, who was killed on March 22, 2017 in the front of the military hospital in Taiz. Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, Prime Minister of Yemen, mourned the death of Reham over his twitter account saying: "My deep condolences to the family of the martyr and the human rights activist, who is a member of the monitoring team at the National Committee for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations, Reham Badr, who was shot dead by the Houthi militia while observing violations that affect the residential neighborhoods in the city of Taiz, may she rest in peace."
Yazidi girl who escaped ISIS captivity dies of acute
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 8 February 2018/Shahd Khodr Mirza, a Yazidi girl who hails from the town of Tal Banat in Iraq, passed away on Tuesday at 16 years old after being under ISIS captivity for three years. Shahd died at a hospital in Dahuk in Iraq’s Kurdistan after suffering from acute heart failure which may have resulted from the physical and psychological torture she suffered while being held by ISIS. Farida Fleit, who works at the NGO Yazda which supports Yazidi minorities, told Al Arabiya that Shahd was continually raped by several ISIS members during her years of captivity. Quoting Shahd’s 12-year-old brother, Farida said Shahd and her brother, Shaher, were kidnapped in front of their school in Talafar in 2014 by an Iraqi man. After the man raped and tortured her, Shahd was then “sold” in Syria to an ISIS member named Abu Khalil al-Baghdad. Shaher was separated from his sister and taken to an ISIS camp in Syria. Shahed and her brother escaped when the man who had bought Shahd, Abu Khalil, was moving them to another area in Syria. During their journey, they passed by a location controlled by Kurdish units where Shaher told Kurdish fighters that Abu Khalil was an ISIS member.The siblings were then taken to Iraq where they reached the town of Khan Sour on January 5. Shahd was immediately transferred to hospital according to Fleit who was with her three days prior to her death. The fate of her father, four brothers and two sisters remains unknown as ISIS also kidnapped them on the same day she was abducted. Shaher is now with his mother and uncle and lives with the hope of learning anything about his father and siblings.
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on February 08-09/18
Feminism, Swedish Style
Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/February 08/18
A Swedish court ruled against the parental rights of Alicia, a Swedish citizen, and handed over her children (also Swedish citizens) to a foreigner who is known to have raped their mother, in the context of an Islamic sharia "marriage," when she herself was a child.
Sometimes, when one points out these rules, people will respond: "Well, the Bible says such-and-such." The point is not that these things are written in Islamic scripture, but that people still live by them.
Swedish officials have not made any "mistakes" in Alicia's case. Every single action on their part has been rooted in a philosophy that they thoroughly understand and in which they deeply believe. They are, as they love to proclaim, proud feminists, whose ardent belief in sisterhood ends where brutal Islamic patriarchy, gender oppression, and primitive "honor culture" begin. That is feminism, Swedish style.
In practice, as it happens, this compulsion to respect the different priorities of other cultures is most urgent when the culture in question is the one in which female inequality is most thoroughly enshrined and enforced.
"Sweden has the first feminist government in the world," brags the Swedish government on its official website. Meaning what, exactly?
"This means that gender equality is central to the Government's priorities... a gender equality perspective is brought into policy-making on a broad front... The Government's most important tool for implementing feminist policy is gender mainstreaming, of which gender-responsive budgeting is an important component." Accompanying this patch of bureaucratic rhetoric is a photograph of Sweden's current government of twelve women and eleven men.
Pictured: Sweden's current, proudly feminist, government cabinet, for whom "gender equality perspective is brought into policy-making on a broad front," and "gender-responsive budgeting is an important component." (Image source: Government of Sweden)
Of course, there are various types of feminism. Sweden's preferred type is not about universal sisterhood and the spreading of sexual equality around the globe. No, it is "intersectional" feminism. What is "intersectional" feminism? It is a species of feminism that, in accordance with the relatively new academic concept of "intersectionality," accepts a hierarchy whereby other "victim groups" -- such as "people of color" and Muslims -- are higher up on the grievance ladder than women, and whereby women who belong to those other groups enjoy an even more exalted status as victims than white female Christians or Jews. This means that "intersectional" feminists must be culturally sensitive and culturally relative, recognizing and privileging culturally predicated values other than sexual equality. They must be feminists who understand that while no expression of contempt for the purported tyranny of Western males can be too loud, overstated or vulgar, they must, in their encounters with less feminist-minded cultures, temper their devotion to female equality out of respect for those cultures' different priorities. In practice, this compulsion to respect the different priorities of other cultures is most urgent, and the respect itself most cringing when the culture in question is the one in which female inequality is most thoroughly enshrined and enforced.
This brand of feminism, needless to say, is not confined to Sweden. Last year, on the day after Donald Trump's inauguration, it was on full display in the United States at the Women's March, where the new President was universally denounced as a personification of patriarchy, while Linda Sarsour, a woman in hijab and champion of Islamic law (sharia), became an overnight feminist heroine.
What is Sarsour promoting? Under sharia law, a woman is expected to be subservient and obedient. Her testimony in court is worth half that of a man, because she is "deficient in intelligence." A daughter should be given an inheritance only half that of a son. A man is not only permitted -- but encouraged -- to beat his wife if she is insufficiently obedient. A man may take "infidel" wives, but a woman may not wed outside the faith. A man may have up to four wives, but a woman can have only one husband. A man can divorce his wife simply by uttering a few words; a woman, if she wants a divorce, must subject herself to a drawn-out process at the end of which a group of men will rule on the matter. A man is entitled to have sex with his wife against her wishes and, under certain circumstances, other women as well. And that is just the beginning.
Sometimes, when one points out these rules, people will respond: "Well, the Bible says such-and-such." The point is not that these things are written in Islamic scripture, but that people still live by them. Moreover, at the Women's March last year, Sarsour, a woman who champions these profoundly inequitable, profoundly anti-feminist codes of conduct, was applauded. That is "intersectional" feminism raised to the point of self-destruction.
Still, in no country have the precepts of "intersectional" feminism been more unequivocally endorsed by the political and cultural establishment, and more eagerly internalized by the citizenry, than in Sweden. Case in point: one of the consequences of "intersectional" feminism is a severe reluctance to punish Muslim men for acting in accordance with the moral dictates of their own culture; and it is precisely because of this reluctance that Sweden, with its "feminist government," has, according to some observers, become the "rape capital of the West." Moreover, it was "intersectionality" that, last year, led every female member of a Swedish government delegation to Iran to wear head coverings and to behave like the humblest harem on the planet. "With this gesture of subjugation," observed one Swiss news website, "they have not only made a joke of any concept of 'feminism' but have also stabbed their Iranian sisters in the back."
Yet another example of "intersectional" feminism is the 45-year-old Swedish woman who worked in a group-home for "unaccompanied refugee children." In November 2016, presumably out of the goodness of her heart, she took into her home Abdul Dostmohammadi, an Afghan former resident of the group-home, after he turned 18 and could no longer live there. Within a month they were lovers; some months later, as recently reported, Dostmohammadi sexually molested her 12-year-old daughter. When the girl told her mother, her mother did nothing, explaining later to authorities that she had feared Dostmohammadi would be deported.
When the girl told her father, who lives elsewhere, he informed the police. The mother need not have worried about deportation: Dostmohammadi was given a three-month suspended sentence, charged a small fine, and ordered to perform community service. Such is the power of "intersectional" feminism in Sweden's system: it enables a Swedish mother -- and a Swedish court -- to accord lower priority to the welfare of her sexually-molested child than to the welfare of the Muslim man who assaulted her.
I will close with another example of institutionalized "intersectional" feminism in action: Alicia's Iraqi parents took her to Sweden when she was four. When she was 13, they took her back to their homeland to marry her 23-year-old cousin. Returning alone to Sweden, Alicia, a Swedish citizen, gave birth to twin boys, who at birth automatically became Swedish citizens. After she cared for them for a period of time, her children were taken away, against her will, to be raised in Iraq by her husband. Last year, he petitioned the Stockholm municipal court for sole custody. On January 9, 2018, the Stockholm Municipal Court ruled in his favor, on the grounds that the twins had lived longer with him than with Alicia, who is now 24.
A Swedish court ruled against the parental rights of a female Swedish citizen and handed over her children, also Swedish citizens, to a foreigner who is known to have raped their mother, in the context of a sharia "marriage," when she herself was a child. Juno Blom, an expert in "honor-related" violence, is one Swedish woman who apparently did not get the memo about "intersectional" feminism. Calling the court's ruling a "disgrace," Blom charged that Sweden has failed Alicia throughout her life:
"A little girl was taken out of Sweden, married off, raped, and deprived of her children without action by the authorities. And now they have put the last nail her coffin by denying her custody. I have probably never seen a case in which so many mistakes have been committed."
Blom does not seem to understand. Swedish officials have not made any "mistakes" in Alicia's case. Every single action on their part has been rooted in a philosophy that they thoroughly understand and in which they deeply believe. They are, as they love to proclaim, proud feminists through and through. It just so happens that, in deference to the edicts of "intersectionality," their ardent belief in sisterhood ends where brutal Islamic patriarchy, systematic gender oppression, and primitive "honor culture" begin. That is feminism, Swedish style.
*Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
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How the rapid pace of life calls for renewed change
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/February 08/18
It’s said that a man once headed to Mecca to perform pilgrimage, and he violated some details so he called a sheikh he knows for a fatwa (religious edict). He demanded a strict fatwa that asserts it will redeem his violations. After insisting that the sheikh issues a suitable fatwa, the sheikh finally mockingly told him to slay 10 camels and to personally distribute their meat in the mountains around the Great Mosque at night. This story reflects the tendency to adopt extremist approaches when performing religious rituals. Resorting to obligatory duties as the only way to acquit one’s conscience is an act of extremism.Islam sets few obligations and plenty of facilitations. Sharia was established on the originality of self-innocence and on the concept that forgetfulness and mistakes while committing a ritual does not annul the latter. The principles of permission, facilitation and forgiveness are the basis of sharia. If we examine the rules of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, we’d realize they’re actually simple. Any elementary student can understand them and follow them. Therefore, abiding by strict obligations and punishment has nothing to do with sharia.
Enjoying the permissible
Mixing jurisprudential, historical and preaching concepts violated pardon principles which Sharia let them be so people can comfortably live and enjoy the permissible as obligations do not mean destroying life, abandoning reality and continuously yelling at Muslims during sermons to call on them to abandon the permissible. Al-Shatibi in his book Al-Muwafaqaat (The Reconciliation of the Fundamentals of Islamic Law) criticized this approach and warned of resorting to sayings and narratives as exploiting them aims to harm the permissible and trivialize life. Using them as an argument without closely examining them yields no results either. Mixing jurisprudential, historical and preaching concepts violated pardon principles which sharia let them be so people can comfortably live and enjoy the permissible as obligations do not mean destroying life, abandoning reality and continuously yelling at Muslims during sermons to call on them to abandon the permissible
The Prophet [PBUH] and the Quran allowed people to engage in what is permissible; therefore, those who desire to abandon life have no authority over others to generalize what they want when it contradicts with Sharia.Abdelmajid al-Sagheer further explained Shatibi’s ideas in his study, ‘Fundamentalist thought and the problematic authority of Sharia in Islam.’ Sagheer wrote: “The permissible in sharia falls within the principle of making choices. It may be used to serve what’s necessary or to complement something else. In this case, it will govern achieving purposes, especially when taking into consideration the qualitative difference between individual dimensions and collective dimensions of obligatory rulings.” Shatibi liberates the permissible from obligatory rulings as doing otherwise contradicts with sharia. He says: “If the permissible is used to serve a need but corruption follows, the latter does not annul the permissible.”
Many Muslim societies tended to adopt extreme ideas due to certain cultural, political and ideological reasons. Individuals do not view the permissible as something that’s protected by Sharia. Preaching became an alternative jurisprudence that contributed to collective neurosis among Muslims.
Discussing the afterlife became more common than discussing the world. The same applies to discussing the signs of the hour during eras that often let political influences and power imbalances affect religious legislation. This has been clear in the Islamic history of legislation and jurisprudence.
Sagheer thus states that the 8th century was the century of sharia purposes and political writings. “Yes, the 8th century was the century of Shatibi and Ibn Khaldun. However, it was also the century of Ibn Taymiyyah, Tufi, Ibn Qayyim of the Hanbali school. It was also the century of Ibn Farhun, Ibn Ridwan, Al-Sabky, Ibn Gamaa and others from the Shafei and Maliki schools of thought. The writings of Al-Maqrizi, Ibn al-Azraq, Ibn al-Sakkak and Ahmad Baba Timbukti also highlighted two major interests: the purposes of sharia and Islamic politics,” Sagheer said. Enlightened jurists must now resume researches on jurisprudential analysis and conclusions according to what suits the rapid pace of life and the renewed needs of the Islamic communities that suffer from neurosis and excessive concerns.
Desperate Islamist parties raise the bogey of Baath resurgence in Iraq
Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/February 08/18
Some Iraqis amuse themselves by imitating the reply of an elderly woman who was approached on the street by a television reporter a few years ago. The reporter had asked her, “In your opinion, what is the difference between the current regime (under the control of Islamist parties) and the former regime (that of Saddam Hussein)?”In a very distinctive and outspoken manner she answered: “May God punish the current regime which makes Saddam Hussein’s era look like a blessing.”Aside from the humor in the style of her response, the answer echoes the general feeling of frustration, disappointment, and even desperation over life in Iraq since 2003. Iraqis had eagerly awaited the dawn of a new and glorious era as well as a new regime that would free them from the enormous hardships they had endured for decades under the Baathist regime of Saddam. But the opposite actually happened. Many Iraqis feel that they wake up from one nightmare only to witness another and many feel betrayed by those who had promised to turn their dreams into reality. In the marketplace and on public transport, cafes and social gatherings, Iraqis frequently compare the current situation with the times gone by, particularly on issues of security and public services. Very often they lament the loss of the earlier dispensation which they claim “provided security, public services and free ration”. The effects of its unmitigated tyranny, blatant repression and devastating wars are still fresh in collective memory, even as the party continues to refrain from apologizing for its mistakes
Their view is obviously simplistic and influenced by nostalgia. The two regimes are incomparable. Indeed human aspirations are boundless, and if a system fails to meet them to a reasonable extent it leads to a frustrating response like the joke of the elderly woman. However, the ruling elite should take cognizance of the resentment and what people complain about. It might help them make amends, if not atone for the inadvertent ills resulting from their various policies. However, the reality is somewhat different. For example, one of the most pervasive problems facing the current regime is endemic administrative inefficiency and corruption, which is affecting even those leaders who have vowed to fight it. Even the most powerful parties in power, Shiite and Sunni, are involved in huge corruption scams, which have been estimated to cost more than $300 billion so far. Often the present political system starts highlighting the monstrosities committed by the Baathist regime of the past to present themselves in a better light, but this does not absolve the present government from making the required changes in the political system. For example, when a series of demonstrations broke out in various Iraqi cities in early 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and in light of the deteriorating public services (electricity, health and education) and alarming rise in poverty, unemployment, administrative and financial corruption, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claimed that the Baath party and al-Qaeda were behind these demonstrations. He used the pretext to impose a curfew in Baghdad during the days of demonstrations. However, the demonstrations continued and proved that they did not involve Baath or Al Qaeda elements. The activists were all supporters of the new regime, most of them belonging to leftist parties, joined by thousands of ordinary people who complained about lack of security, rampant corruption, unemployment and poverty.
These days, the bogey of the Baath Party has resurfaced in the wake of parliamentary elections to be held in May. In order to understand the reason for resurrecting this fear again, it is important to note that the great predicament facing many influential parties (mainly Islamists). Over the past two and a half years, there has been a groundswell of discontent in many cities, a movement that has stripped the facade of sanctity put on by various Islamist parties. This has led many of them to even give up their erstwhile Islamic names and have started using election slogans that speak of democracy and other more liberal ideals.
Two weeks ago, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis — a powerful figure in the current regime and deputy chairman of the Popular Mobilization Forces warned against the return of Baath parties to political life saying that “The Baath is now organizing its ranks and penetrating government departments. It is seeking to enter the election process with different lists and names.”For ordinary Iraqis, Baath Party is no longer an issue of interest. It is hard to imagine that Iraqis will accept its return. The effects of its unmitigated tyranny, blatant repression and devastating wars are still fresh in collective memory, even as the party continues to refrain from apologizing for its mistakes. The situation of political stalemate and confusion in Iraq continues as people wistfully compare present times with the past. This can only help the Baath parties as they might continue to haunt the imagination of Iraqis.
The secret behind popular beliefs
Reem Al-Kamali/Al Arabiya/February 08/18
Popular beliefs are an important part of our behavior and character. They’re deep-rooted and we often use them on a daily basis although they are illogical. We don’t want to eliminate them after we fondly inherited them. This is why many people protect them even though they are irrational. Who hasn’t been to a museum somewhere in the world and saw a painting that reflects a popular belief? Who hasn’t read a popular novel that highlights a culture’s legacy? Or watched a movie or a cartoon that’s based on popular beliefs? I bring this up today because I am reading an interesting book entitled “Popular beliefs in the UAE.” It was published this year by Emirati researchers Aisha Balkheir and Ibrahim al-Hashemi. They wrote the book together to collect most of our popular beliefs. While reading the book, I realized many of these beliefs have not disappeared. The book is worth reading because it reminds us of what our predecessors believed in. For example, they believed yawning a lot was a sign of envy, sprinkling salt in the corners of a new house was a must before moving in, noise at the time of sunset is bad because it may lead to grief and that whistling invites snakes.
Who hasn’t been to a museum somewhere in the world and saw a painting that reflects a popular belief? Who hasn’t read a popular novel that highlights a culture’s legacy?
They also believed in putting kohl on the baby’s eyes so he grows up to have beautiful eyes and that if the baby stutters, it means someone slapped him on the hand and that if someone kissed his hand, he will grow up to be stingy.
When the child’s milk teeth fell out, they’d dump the teeth in the direction of the sun while saying “we’ve given you the donkey’s tooth so grant us the deer’s” in hopes he will grow up to have beautiful tooth. They also believed popping fingers was a shameful act, that a shoe upside down was a bad luck and that putting henna (natural dye) on the bottom of the foot decreases headaches. They also thought that if a husband’s stick frequently fell down, it meant his wife was cheating on him, that playing with scissors causes family disputes, that drinking coffee from a broken cup brought poverty, that wearing a gown upside down is bad luck and that sneezing while talking meant honesty. There are many interesting beliefs that were part of this kind social culture. They’ve now become part of a historical and educational legacy after generations inherited them.
Significance of India as guest of honor at Janadriya
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/February 08/18
The Janadriya Festival, which is the largest cultural event in Saudi Arabia that attracts global and Arab attention, kicked off on Wednesday.Last year, Egypt was the guest of honor. This year, it’s India. It’s a wise choice as India is an integral part of culture in the Arab Gulf and the Peninsula.
This year marks the 32nd Janadriya Festival which was first sponsored by late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The Jenadriyah Festival has become a major part of the Saudi cultural scene and entertainment sector and a link between the past and the present. The festival highlights heritage and sheds lights on all cultures within the kingdom. It includes a cultural program, hosts Arab and non-Arab figures and organizes debates and lectures. Relations with the Indian subcontinent, i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others, have influenced Arab culture and past trade through the Arabian Peninsula. These religious, economic, social, cultural and artistic ties require countless books to list. India is an influential player in the modern world. It has a giant economy, is a leader in digital technology and has an influential position in BRICS
Our grandparents used to say: “India is yours if you have lost most of your possessions.”The saying signifies the Indian subcontinent’s rich resources. As we know, India was one of the major British colonies. The East India Company which was established in 1960 resulted in British military and political presence in India and the Arabian Peninsula through the British naval deployment in the Gulf. Arab traders, from Kuwait, Oman and east and west of the Arabian Peninsula, have had special relations with India through the Zainal family whose patriarch founded Al-Fallah schools in Mecca and who was a famous pearl trader with solid commercial ties with India. Mumbai was a social, scientific and commercial center for the rich people of Najd as well as for Kuwaitis, Bahrainis and Emiratis. India is an influential player in the modern world. It has a giant economy and it is a leader in digital technology. This is in addition to its influential position in BRICS. It was a wise decision to host India as a guest in the Janadriya Festival. Perhaps it will be a chance to examine the past and present in favor of interests between Arabs and Indians.
Should We Allow Air India To Fly Through Saudi Airspace?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/ 2018
Air India’s desire to fly through Saudi Arabia to the West and stop in Israel has been covered widely in the current “enemy” media, accusing Saudi Arabia of allowing the Indians to pass through to the old “enemy,” Israel. The body concerned, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), has denied the claim and said that it had not given its consent.However, let us consider the issue realistically, from the logic of interests and international relations. The truth is that there is no strong motive and no political logic in preventing the world’s civilian aircraft from crossing Saudi airspace, with the exception of three countries — Israel, Qatar and Iran. The ban on the flights of these countries should remain in place until the time comes and they are reconciled. It is hostile to exercise sovereign rights, including preventing a country from using airspace due to potential security problems stemming from allowing its aircraft to fly over the territory of the state.
Our relations with the countries of the rest of the world are good, and we are supposed to allow their civilian aircraft to pass through Saudi airspace, regardless of their destination. So if the Indian flights were going to Athens or New York or other destinations and wanted to stop at an Israeli airport, why punish them with a ban? It has to be noted that Israel benefits from transporting passengers under the ban and the absence of other international airlines that do not want to cross the additional distance, estimated at about two hours, if traveling on a tortuous route between India and Israel. In all cases, our dispute with Israel is very clear. A country like Qatar, which has almost full relations with Israel, is not in a position to dictate to us, through its propaganda agencies, how to manage our own airspace or waters.
Our relations with the countries of the rest of the world are good, and we are supposed to allow their civilian aircraft to pass through Saudi airspace, regardless of their destination. The Arab states debated the concept of the boycott and the Arab institutions concerned agreed to differentiate between the boycott that harms Israel and the boycott that harms the Arabs, and agreed on many amendments. The logic of the old boycott was not all about besieging Israel. The parties that wrote it were from the Arab left, and part of their tendency was to prevent trade with the West in general. They banned us from importing most electronics, such as Apple products, and in the past they prevented any dealing with major companies such as Xerox. The lists of boycotted products were prepared by the Damascus provincial office, which controlled the trade of the Gulf states, and these states had to follow the rules laid out by countries that did not import such products either because of their hostility to the West or the West’s prohibition on dealing with them in the first place, such as Syria.
Corruption was rampant in those procedures, leaving negotiations in the past for governments and institutions that often abused their powers to serve the whims of their governments or even personal financial interests. Later on, a major campaign succeeded in correcting the concepts of boycotting and blacklisting.
When we consider the desire of Air India, we have to think about it and about the whole issue. The Israeli airline benefits from the situation and the ban, although its aircraft fly an additional 2,000 kilometers as most companies refrain from doing so. The other point is that international airlines transfer most of their activities to destinations like Turkey and others. Besides, any political action that serves the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause, in general, loses its tools when it has no bargaining power in every crisis. Even in disputes, wars and hostilities, there is always a logic that manages relations and sanctions — so why do we not study each situation according to its circumstances instead of allowing dogmatic people and wheeler-dealers to manipulate us?
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.