February 18/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 07/01-24: "“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.Ask, Seek, Knock “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 17-18/18
History Lessons from Years Under Islamism/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
Infidel Women: Spoils of War/Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
Islamic Anti-Semitism in France: Toward Ethnic Cleansing/Guy Millière//Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
Exclusive: The Case for a «Dayton Type» Conference on Syria/Michel Duclos/Asharq Al Awsat/February 17/18
Exclusive - Reviving the Spirit of Mosul/Audrey Azoulay/Asharq Al AwsatFebruary 17/18
The Syrian people have become invisible/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/February 17/18
Syria continues to unravel in post-ISIS war/Huda al-Husseini/Al Arabiya/February 17/18
At Last, The World Wakes Up To Iran’s Malign Ambitions/Sir John Jenkins/Arab News/February 18/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 17-18/18
U.S.: 3 Charged With Trying To Export UAV Parts, Technology To Hezbollah
Satterfield Leaves Beirut With Proposals to Solve Oil Conflict
Report: Israel 'De-escalates' Gas Dispute after 'Warning' from Drilling Companies
UN Chief Warns of 'Worst Nightmare' in Case of New Hezbollah-Israel War
Berri Nixes New U.S. Proposal Maritime Border Dispute
Sami Gemayel Urges Steadfastness in Press Freedom Battle
NadimGemayel: International Treaties, Not Militias, Must Resolve Oil Dispute
Hakim: Kataeb Party Hasn't Backed Down on Any Issue It Advocated
Foreign Affairs Ministry: Transfer of both Lebanese victims' bodies awaits police, forensic doctor reports in Turkey
Lebanese, Kuwaiti Ambassadors convene in Algeria
Jumblatt via Twitter: Electoral alliances becoming clearer
Sarraf meets Aboul Gheit in Munich: For widest Arab solidarity with Lebanon against Israel's attempts to control its rights
Terrorists’ infiltration attempt from Lebanese territory towards Homs countryside foiled
UNDP administrator calls for continued support for Lebanon
Sarraf on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference: Ready to defend our land
Zeaiter lays cornerstone for border garden with Palestine: We will not accept May 17 water or oil agreement, our rights remain ours

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 17-18/18
Homs: What’s Left of the Cradle of the Syrian Uprising?
Annual Cost of Plastic Surgeries in Gulf Nearing 4 Billion Dirhams
Scores Dead, Injured in Northeast Nigeria Suicide Blasts
Israeli Protesters Call on Netanyahu to Step Down
Hamas Condemns US Bill Sanctioning it over ‘Human Shields’ Practice
Turkey Denies Use of Chemicals In Syria's Afrin
Signs of Regional-International Agreements Over Manbij, Afrin
Pakistan court sentences Zainab’s killer to death on four counts
Rape-accused Tariq Ramadan’s lawyers request release, claim health reasons
U.S. Indicts 13 Russians for Election Interference
Lavrov Calls US Election Meddling Claims 'Blabber'
Fears of Syrian War Expanding Might Trigger Peace Deal

Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 17-18/18
U.S.: 3 Charged With Trying To Export UAV Parts, Technology To Hezbollah
Stratfor/February 17/18/The U.S. Department of Justice says it charged three men on Feb. 16 with conspiring to illegally export goods and technology from the United States to Hezbollah through Lebanon from 2009 to 2013, according to a department press release. Usama Darwich Hamade and Issam Darwich Hamade are in custody in South Africa, while Samir Ahmed Berro remains at large. The indictment alleges that the men tried to export inertial measurement units used in unmanned aerial vehicles plus jet and piston engines and recording binoculars without obtaining the required export licences. In June, the Justice Department charged two Hezbollah operatives in New York and Michigan with conducting surveillance in preparation for an attack.

Satterfield Leaves Beirut With Proposals to Solve Oil Conflict
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/US acting assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, David Satterfield left Beirut on Friday carrying in his pocket a list of Lebanese proposals to solve the land and maritime border conflict with Israel after hearing a unified position against the so-called “Hoff Line,” in reference to former ambassador Frederick Hoff, who had led similar talks in the term of former US President Barack Obama. Ministerial informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Lebanese proposals include “the participation of a US representative in the regular tripartite meetings at UN positions in the Ras al-Naqoura, southern Lebanon between the Lebanese and Israeli sides. Another proposal suggests forming a four-party political committee in the presence of a US delegate. The sources also spoke about a proposition to refer the conflict to an international court or to return to the old maps currently present in Britain. In 2011, Hoff had suggested to demarcate the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, by giving Lebanon about 550 square kilometers from the 860 square kilometers area,” the sources explained. Lebanon mobilized at the political and security levels to discuss the repercussions of a border crisis with Israel, which claims the ownership of an offshore oil and gas field known as Block 9, an area in which Lebanon plans to conduct an oil and gas drilling program in 2018. Satterfield met on Friday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, carrying on talks he had kicked off when he arrived to Lebanon a week ago to prepare for the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited Lebanon last Thursday and heard the same Lebanese proposals. Sources at the Foreign Ministry told the Central News Agency on Friday that talks about a US proposal to divide the disputed area in a way to offer Lebanese 60 percent in exchange to 40 percent to Israel is not accurate, as things are more complicated. “The American side is trying today to reach a new suggestion related to the area which Israel claims the ownership, after being convinced that Lebanese is attached to rejecting the Hoff Line,” the sources said. Also on Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened on the line of the border conflict with Israel by saying that Lebanese unified official stance regarding Lebanon's rights to its offshore resources is a key factor to score victory in the regional battle over oil and gas, calling the state to approach this file from a position of strength.“If the American asks you to bow to his demands to restrain Israel, tell him that he must accept your terms so that you hold Hezbollah back from taking action against Israel," Nasrallah said.

Report: Israel 'De-escalates' Gas Dispute after 'Warning' from Drilling Companies
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 17/18/Drilling companies working offshore Israel have sent “warning signals” to Israeli authorities that escalating a dispute with Lebanon over oil drilling rights "could push them to withdraw which prompted Israel to de-escalate” tensions, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. The daily said a “Western ambassador has reassured that Israel has no intention of escalating tension with Lebanon, which was also reversed by the U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson during his stay in Beirut.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's fiery statement against Lebanon regarding Block 9 oil field “has triggered argumentation in Israel,” it added quoting the ambassador. “Companies operating in the field of offshore oil in Israel have sent warning signals to Israeli authorities informing them that any escalation of the situation would affect the work of these companies and push them to withdraw.”The “warnings” were led by the Greek company, which is operating in the field close to the disputed area with Lebanon, prompting a change in the “Israeli threat tone” and a “reduction in escalation,” it added. Lieberman has described as "very provocative" Lebanon's offshore oil and gas exploration tender and suggested that Lebanon had put out a tender to international groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours (Israeli)." Lebanon last year approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France's Total, Italy's ENI and Russia's Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of five blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one known as Block 9 that is disputed in part with Israel. Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019. Tillerson was in Lebanon Thursday on a brief stopover, and the issue topped the agenda. Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield has also been holding talks with Lebanese officials on the subject.

UN Chief Warns of 'Worst Nightmare' in Case of New Hezbollah-Israel War 17th February 2018/Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres on Friday warned of the "worst nightmare" to be faced should a new war erupt between Hezbollah and Israel. “In my recent visit to Israel, I noticed that the perception of the presence of militias very close to Iran, close to the Israeli border, and the perception of a potential arc between Tehran and Beirut allowing for the enhancement of the Hezbollah capacities, seems to be too many Israelis an existential threat,” Guterres said in his address at the opening ceremony of the Munich Security Conference. "The events of just one week ago show how dangerous this can be for the situation in the Syrian context. I would say, the worst nightmare we might be able to face, would be, and I know that both Israel and Hezbollah do not want it, but the worst nightmare would be a new war between Hezbollah and Israel," he stated. "That would mean the devastation of large parts of Lebanon. And we know that any spark can trigger it, and that we are far from being reassured that that conflict is impossible." Guterres confirmed that the UN have witnessed several conflicts in the region be it the Arab‑Israeli, the Palestinian‑Israeli, the civil war in Lebanon, Hezbollah and Israel, Iraq, the Arab Spring, and finally Syria, Yemen, and Libya, adding that he, however, has remained hopeful that they were under control and can be handled separately despite their interrelation. “The interrelation became even clearer when ISIS, with its operations, made the Iraqi crisis and the Syrian crisis so obviously interconnected,” Guterres noted. Guterres said that the mess in the Middle East is created by fault-lines between Israelis and Palestinians, the memory of the cold war that is still there and between Sunni and Shia proving that Iran has a major fault-line with Saudi Arabia and its allies, with Israel and the United States. “And more recently, I would say a Sunni‑Sunni fault‑line, very clear in relation to the crisis of the Gulf Cooperation Council that has, I am sure, many reasons explaining it, but in which a central aspect must be the different perspectives that exist about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the context of the region,” he explained. Taking into consideration all of these fault-lines, Guterres acknowledged the complexity of the situation in different countries except in Iraq which could be overcome even if a civil war takes place after Kurdistan referendum. The UN Secretary-General expressed fear that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is at dead end while in Syria the conflict seems to have de-escalated in several areas of the country. “The truth is that we are now seeing a re-ignition of that same conflict in Idlib and in eastern Ghouta, with dramatic humanitarian consequences,” he warned. "The situation in the global Middle East, is in my opinion today a qualitatively different threat that we face that requires the mobilization of all our efforts, in order to be able to fully address it," he concluded.

Berri Nixes New U.S. Proposal Maritime Border Dispute 17th February 2018/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri rejected Friday a new U.S. proposal to resolve a maritime border dispute with Israel, casting gloom over an American mediation effort in the long-simmering rift over oil Block 9 in Lebanese territorial waters. Given the sensitivities and intricacies of potential oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea in territorial waters between two neighboring countries that are technically at war, the American side is calling on Lebanon to forget about a border demarcation with Israel for now and to concentrate instead on “commercializing” the oil and gas wealth, a political source told The Daily Star. “Essentially, the U.S. proposal calls for the formation of a neutral company to be tasked with drilling, exploring and producing oil and gas reserves from the disputed maritime border areas. The company would then give a share of the produced oil to Lebanon and another share to Israel,” the source said.

Sami Gemayel Urges Steadfastness in Press Freedom Battle 17th February 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel saluted TV host Marcel Ghanem in his fight against suppression, stressing the need to confront the police state that the ruling authority is trying to establish. "Victory in this [press freedom] battle is achieved when you keep your voice free, armed with the truth. It is achieved when nothing is allowed to strike fear into the hearts of the free media figures so that we can defend the Lebanese people’s rights and confront the logic of the corrupt police state which they are trying to impose,” Gemayel wrote on his Twitter page. Gemayel's tweet was in response to TV host Marcel Ghanem’s post in which he lambasted "intruders" who are abusing power to take over the "kingdom of freedom". “Who are they and how did they get to where they are?” Ghanem wrote.

Nadim Gemayel: International Treaties, Not Militias, Must Resolve Oil Dispute 17th February 2018/MP Nadim Gemayel that most of the oil producing countries face problems with its neighbors, saying that such conflicts must be resolved through international treaties, not militias. “Who gave Hezbollah the right to stir up problems regarding the oil exploration issue? The Lebanese state has to be strict so as to preserve what is left of its prestige before the international community,” Gemayel said on his Twitter page.

Hakim: Kataeb Party Hasn't Backed Down on Any Issue It Advocated 17th February 2018/Former Minister Alain Hakim said that the Kataeb party utterly rejects the current status quo in Lebanon, stressing that it is determined to confront corruption amid the ineffective political administration ruling the country. "What the Kataeb party is proposing is to renew ourselves, look forward to the future and make the country's youth play a focal role," Hakim said. "The Kataeb is counting on the people to engage with the party in the battle for change," he added. "The Kataeb party will only ally with those who share with it the same vision and values".Hakim noted that the Kataeb party is being a constructive opposition force that is seeking to stop erroneous practices and enforce accountability for it is the people's right to assess the officials' performance and question them on any unkept promises. “We have comprehensive platforms. We haven't backed down on any issue we advocated, either the waste crisis or the high-voltage power lines in Mansourieh,” he pointed out, noting that it is shameful that some keep accusing the party of being populist every time it speaks up against a wrongdoing.

Foreign Affairs Ministry: Transfer of both Lebanese victims' bodies awaits police, forensic doctor reports in Turkey
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - In a statement by the Lebanese Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ministry on Saturday, it indicated that it had received information from Lebanon's General Consul in Istanbul, Mounir Anouti, that "the Turkish police have found the bodies of Lebanese citizen Mohammed Mahmoud Bashir, born 1978 in Sidon, and his wife Nisrine Kreidi, a Syrian born in 1978, who were killed in Arnavutkoy in Istanbul." Upon receiving the regretful news, the Lebanese Consulate immediately contacted the brother of the deceased, Bassel Bashir, who identified the two bodies at the police station. The latter disclosed that two Syrian nationals suspected of involvement in the killing were arrested. The statement denied circulated news of the deceased's missing ten-year-old son, asserting that "the deceased had only one daughter who was not present at the time of the incident."The Foreign Ministry concluded its statement by indicating that "the transfer of the bodies to Beirut is pending the Turkish police and forensic doctor's reports on the cause of the death."

Lebanese, Kuwaiti Ambassadors convene in Algeria
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - Kuwaiti Ambassador in Algeria, Mohamed Al Shabou, visited Saturday the Lebanese Embassy in Algeria, where he held talks with Lebanese Ambassador Mohamad Mahmoud Hassan on the development of Lebanese-Kuwaiti relations.
The Kuwaiti Ambassador said that his visit was to "congratulate Ambassador Hassan on his new diplomatic mission in Algeria," adding that they both stressed on continued communication to the benefit of both countries and supreme Arab interests.

Jumblatt via Twitter: Electoral alliances becoming clearer
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - "Electoral alliances are becoming increasingly clear as evident in the map before us," Democratic Leader Chief, MP Walid Jumblatt, said on Saturday via his Twitter account.

Sarraf meets Aboul Gheit in Munich: For widest Arab solidarity with Lebanon against Israel's attempts to control its rights
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - National Defense Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf renewed Saturday Lebanon's support to its Arab brethrens, asserting that "Arab solidarity is the strongest means to protect our nations, overcome our crises, put an end to wars and guide our countries to safety shores." During his meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on the sidelines of his participation in the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Sarraf also reiterated Lebanon's "strong attachment to its oil wealth," explaining Israel's attempts to control Lebanon's wealth resources and the measures adopted by Lebanon to protect its rights. "Lebanon adheres to its rights and will not relinquish them under any circumstances," stressed Sarraf, pointing to Lebanon's unanimous position on this issue and its strong support to its army and institutions. The Defense Minister called for "widest Arab solidarity with Lebanon against the Israeli attempts to control its rights, and to exert pressure on Israel to comply with the international legitimacy resolutions." In turn, Aboul Gheit rejected "any attempt on part of Israel to create problems and encroach on Lebanese rights, whether regarding Lebanon's territorial waters or Israel's construction of a wall inside Lebanese territories, in a flagrant violation of Security Council Resolution 1701 which threatens security and stability in the borderline area." Talks during the meeting also touched on the Rome Conference due to take place next month to help the Lebanese army and security forces. In this context, Aboul Gheit stressed "the need to reach closing recommendations that are supportive to the Lebanese Army."Emphasis was also pinned on the importance of Arab presence in the conference and the need for concerted efforts to make it a success.

Terrorists’ infiltration attempt from Lebanese territory towards Homs countryside foiled
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - A unit of the Syrian Arab Army has foiled an infiltration attempt by a terrorist group from the Lebanese territory into Talkalakh region in Homs countryside. SANA reporter said that the border guards of the Syrian Arab Army on Saturday clashed with a terrorist group near the village of M’arbo in Talkalakh western countryside while trying to infiltrate through one of the illegal crossings on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The clashes, according to the reporter, ended up with thwarting the attempt and killing a member of the terrorist group while the rest fled away into the Lebanese territory. --- SANA

UNDP administrator calls for continued support for Lebanon
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Achim Steiner, warned of pressures on Lebanon’s social services, infrastructure and jobs due to the impact of the Syria Crisis as he wrapped up his first official visit to Lebanon yesterday. "Almost seven years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains at the forefront of one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time and continues to show exceptional commitment and solidarity to people displaced by the war in Syria," said Steiner. UNDP remains committed to supporting the Lebanese government and local communities hosting refugees in their efforts to maintain stability and to continue its support to local communities hosting refugees."In his meetings with the Prime Minster, Saad Hariri, the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the Minister of Interior Nouhad Machnouk, Steiner discussed some of the challenges Lebanon faces seven years into the Syria Crisis. "Every refugee would like to return home but in the meantime while this is not realistic, our role is to assist Lebanon in managing the global public good it provides. At the same time the United Nations is working day and night to find a political solution in Syria" he said. He also reaffirmed UNDP’s support for the upcoming Paris and Brussels Conferences. The Administrator visited Bourj Hammoud, an area hosting 19,000 Syrian refugees, to experience first hand the impact of the crisis at the local level and how the Lebanese community and Syrian refugees manage day to day issues such as their children’s education, earning an income and accessing essential health services. "As I leave Beirut I go with a better understanding of the situation on the ground and this will assist me in mobilizing further resources to address the impact" Steiner told the Municipality and other local representatives with whom he met. During his visit, Steiner also attended a roundtable discussion on Lebanon’s efforts in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with officials from the Parliament and Government, alongside representatives of civil society and the private sector.
"As the Capital Investment Plan is finalized the SDGs provide the ideal framework for guiding a long term development vision for Lebanon," Steiner emphasized. --- UNDP

Sarraf on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference: Ready to defend our land
Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA - "Lebanon is strong in its political leadership and courageous army, and we have the necessary resources to defend our entire territories," National Defense Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf asserted on Saturday. In an interview with German TV Channel "Deutsche Welle" on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference held in Germany, Sarraf said, "Lebanon today is present in the most important security meeting in the world. There are many sessions, particularly on the fight against terrorism and the issue of Israeli attacks on Lebanon." "Without a doubt, Lebanon's priorities are to defend its territories, especially the Southern border issues," he added. In response to a question about Lebanon's readiness to go to war with Israel in defense of its borders and sovereignty, Sarraf said, "Lebanon will not wage war, but it will defend its full sovereignty and we are ready to defend our land."

Zeaiter lays cornerstone for border garden with Palestine: We will not accept May 17 water or oil agreement, our rights remain ours

Sat 17 Feb 2018/NNA -"We will never accept any May 17 water or oil agreement, and our rights will remain ours no matter the sacrifices," stressed Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zeaiter on Saturday, as he laid the cornerstone of the border garden with occupied Palestine in the South, which extends from the Gate of Fatima to the outskirts of the Southern town of Oddeisseh. In his word on the occasion, Zeaiter recalled the "sacrifices of resistance fighters for the liberation of the land and human dignity." "Agriculture is the link that strengthens the citizen's connection to his land, and steadfastness in his home and town," Zeaiter underscored. In turn, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who also took part in the event, reiterated Lebanon's rejection of any Israeli attempt to encroach on its legal rights. In this context, Khalil stressed on the Lebanese people's unanimous support to their army in confronting any breach of Lebanon's borders, and the resistance's readiness for any legitimate confrontation with the Israeli enemy. "Lebanon rejects any violation of its rights, and adheres only to the mechanisms employed by the United Nations to determine the right of each party," Khalil underlined.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on February 17-18/18
Homs: What’s Left of the Cradle of the Syrian Uprising?
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/Seven years into the war in Syria, the cradle of the uprising against Bashar Assad has devastated neighborhoods in what is seen as “Syria’s Stalingrad”, while pro-regime residents lead normal lives in other parts of the city. South of Homs, a former symbol of the rebellion, traffic is limited and most shops are closed. Destroyed buildings and lack of regime services are also a clear sign that only a handful of people have returned. Homs had a population of 800,000 before the war. But it witnessed heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels before they and their families were driven out in May 2015. More than 80 percent of the Old City is devastated. A displaced resident told Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime “turned it into Syria’s Stalingrad.”“The regime doesn’t want to rebuild it,” another man said. He doubted that Bashar Assad would allow the residents to return if the city was rebuilt.
“All of them (the residents) are rebels, he (Assad) holds a grudge against them,” the man told the newspaper.Around 30 percent of buildings are destroyed in areas that lie near the Old City.  But the regime has prevented residents to carry out renovation works and return home, another displaced man said. “The market is also still empty.”While the Old City has a few signs of life, across town streets are bustling with life. The pro-Assad district of Zahraa and others enjoy electricity and services. Schools are also open. The sectarian gap between the residents of Homs is also remarkable. Gunmen from pro-regime neighborhoods have committed atrocities against the rebellious areas, leaving scores of people dead and injured. A civil society activist told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Sunni population of Homs will not forget what happened. A man in his 60s also said that the Sunni residents fear for their lives because regime forces always raise doubt about their affiliation and their stances from Assad. The shabiha, or regime gunmen, have expelled pro-rebel families who have been living in these neighborhoods for years, another man said. The immoral behavior of the shabiha and regime forces have kept many away from their homes. A taxi driver, who was displaced from Homs to Damascus, says whenever he visits his hometown, he does not dare to enter pro-regime neighborhoods alone. A mechanic also told Asharq Al-Awsat that he couldn’t keep his shop open for long after the shabiha forced him to repair their cars without paying him.

Annual Cost of Plastic Surgeries in Gulf Nearing 4 Billion Dirhams
Dubai - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/Demands for plastic surgeries have been on the rise in the Gulf region as men and women starting from the age of 18 are seeking physical perfection. A recent study has shown that the cost of plastic surgeries in the Gulf has neared 4 billion dirhams (more than 1 billion dollars) annually, 1 billion dirhams alone in the UAE. The study, which will be discussed at the upcoming Dubai International Symposium for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (DISPRS 2018) at the end of this month, says that mainly young men and women are undergoing plastic surgeries.
The two-day event, to be held at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City on Feb 28, will feature prominent regional and international plastic surgeons who will address and discuss the latest procedures, developments and breakthroughs in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Qassim Ahli, a plastic surgery adviser at the Dubai Health Authority and a keynote speaker at the symposium, said that 60 percent of procedures focus on liposuction, tummy tucks and arm lifts that are done mainly after weight loss. Ahli said in a statement that Botox, fillers and laser form 30 percent of procedures, 75 percent of which are carried out by women. US Plastic Surgeon Dr. George Bitar also said that the symposium will include important keynote speeches by doctors from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iraq, in addition to the United States, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, India, Italy and France. The symposium is organized by Segma and held under the patronage of The Dubai Health Authority, and supported by the Emirates Plastic Surgeons Society, Bitar, who is also a keynote speaker, said. DISPRS 2018 also features a groundbreaking new public exhibition featuring major clinics and hospitals in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery, specialist cosmetics manufacturers and distributors, and for specialist medical supplies.

Scores Dead, Injured in Northeast Nigeria Suicide Blasts
A trio of suicide bombers killed 19 people at a fish market in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, capital of the state worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, its police commissioner said on Saturday. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack but the use of suicide bombers in crowded areas is a hallmark of the militant group, which has killed more that 20,000 people since 2009 and forced over two million to flee their homes. Damian Chukwu, police commissioner for Borno state, said the attack took place at the market around 20 kilometers from the center of Maiduguri at about 8:00 p.m. Friday.
"The three suicide bombers were killed and 18 other persons died. Twenty-two people were injured," said Chukwu. Babakura Kolo and Musa Ari, from the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) assisting Nigeria's military against the militants, said the bombers were all men. "We have 19 dead and about 70 others injured... Two of the bombers attacked the Tashan Kifi fish market. Then four minutes later, a third bomber struck nearby," said Kolo. "The victims included 18 civilians and one soldier. The Tashan Kifi is an informal market which serves as an eatery, market and also hang-out for residents."

Israeli Protesters Call on Netanyahu to Step Down
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/Thousands of Israelis marched in a protest Friday in Tel Aviv to call on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s resignation, days after the police recommended he be indicted for bribery and breach of trust. They also called Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to expedite the procedures of indicting the PM. The demonstrators hoisted banners calling for the “corrupt to go home,” “let’s sweep away the corrupt,” and “not right, not left – straight.”Former Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz was the key speaker at the demonstrations and called upon Netanyahu to step down immediately. On Tuesday, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, in the cases known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. "There is not one public figure who would have remained in his post with the recommendations of two bribery cases. Bibi must resign,” Hefetz said. Hefetz also called for support of current Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, who has come under criticism by Netanyahu for his handling of the investigations. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid renewed his calls for Netanyahu to step down. Regarding the police recommendations to indict Netanyahu, Lapid stated: “The prime minister can resign, take a temporary leave of absence or whatever else he chooses, but he cannot run the country in this manner.”Speaking at a party meeting, Lapid stated that the PM can't run the country his way where he is focused on his cases and following up with his attorney, instead of dealing with Iranian drones and Russia stepping on Israeli interests in Syria. Mandelblit, a former Netanyahu ally, will have to decide whether to indict the prime minister. “We have worked together with full cooperation to turn over every stone and to bring the truth to light,” Mandelblit said, adding: “I recommend being very skeptical about reports of rifts and tension between the various law enforcement bodies.” He vowed to ignore “all the background noise” and focus solely on establishing the truth. Several polls have been conducted to determine Israel's stance on the corruption cases. Israelis were split between 45 percent and 50 percent saying Netanyahu should either resign or temporarily step aside, while between 40 percent and 43 percent think he should stay. One poll found 48 percent of Israelis think he is either somewhat corrupt or very corrupt. Some 44 percent poll respondents did not think the investigation was a deliberate attempt to topple Netanyahu. Thirty-eight percent thought it was. Voters for Netanyahu’s Likud party favored the prime minister with 50 percent saying they believed his denial of the accusations and sixty percent said the investigation was a deliberate attempt to topple him and almost 73 percent, said he should stay in his position. However, another poll released indicated that the recent recommendations of Israel Police to indict Netanyahu would not have a serious effect on his Likud party or the governing coalition. If new elections were held, the Likud and five other coalition parties would garner a combined 65 seats. The Likud would continue to be the largest party in the Knesset, and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid would see his party claim 22 seats, double its current 11. Jewish Home party would rise to 11, as Arab Joint List would fall a single seat, while Zionist Union party would plummet to 15 seats, down from 24. An expert on Israeli party affairs stated that polls results indicate Israelis are convinced Netanyahu is corrupt, but there isn't an alternative among the opposition.

Hamas Condemns US Bill Sanctioning it over ‘Human Shields’ Practice

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/Hamas condemned a US bill that sanctions the group for using civilians in Gaza as "human shields," especially in the military confrontations against Israel in recent years. In a press statement, Spokesman for Hamas Fawzi Barhoum said that the bill sides with "the Israeli narrative." “These accusations are based solely on Israeli propaganda and support the Israeli narrative, which will pave the way for targeting the Palestinian legitimate right of resisting an occupying force as stipulated by the international law,” said Barhoum. “This decision comes to complete the plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people,” Barhoum added, criticizing the positions of President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli occupation and plan to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City. "In the face of this propaganda-fueled bill that acts as a cover-up for future Israeli crimes, Hamas will continue to stand with the Palestinian people and defend them from Israeli aggression that has previously perished thousands of innocent civilians," Barhoum stressed. He stressed that the step taken by the US House of Representatives will allow the Israeli occupation to take advantage of this decision to commit more crimes and violations against the Palestinians. The House unanimously passed the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act on Wednesday, which was prepared by Committee on Foreign Affairs. "It is US policy to condemn the use of human shields by Hamas as an act of terrorism and a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and to act against those engaging in or supporting the use of human shields," the bill says. The bill also accuses Hamas of taking shelter and launching offensives against Israel from civilian areas, including schools, hospitals, and mosques for too long. “Their actions have knowingly and carelessly put innocent lives at risk—in clear violation of international law.”The bill urges Trump to direct UN Ambassador "to use US influence at the UN Security Council to secure support for a resolution imposing multilateral sanctions against Hamas' use of human shields." The House’s step comes days after US designates Hamas' Leader Ismail Haniyeh as a "global terrorist.”Haniyeh is now on the US Treasury sanctions blacklist, which freezes any US-based assets he may have and bans any US person or company from doing business with him. “Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the State Department said in a statement.

Turkey Denies Use of Chemicals In Syria's Afrin
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/A Turkish diplomatic source said his country never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians, after Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group accused it of carrying out a gas attack in Syria’s Afrin region. “These are baseless accusations. Turkey never used chemical weapons. We take utmost care about civilians in Operation Olive Branch,” a source told Reuters. The source also described the accusations of wounding six civilians through a suspected gas attack as “black propaganda”.A spokesman for the Kurdish "YPG" in Afrin stated that Turkish bombardment hit a village in the northwest of the region, near the Turkish border. He added that it caused six people to suffer breathing problems and other symptoms indicative of a gas attack. Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights pointed out that Turkish forces and their Syrian rebels allies hit the village on Friday with shells. Also, medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack. Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin. Their sphere of influence expanded as they seized territory from ISIS with US help, though Washington opposes their autonomy plans as does the Syrian regime. US support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views them as a security threat along its frontier, and sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil.

Signs of Regional-International Agreements Over Manbij, Afrin

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 17/18/A Kurdish official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday that signs of regional-international agreements started to appear lately concerning the division of north Syria, where US-Turkish forces should deploy in the city of Manbij in exchange of a Russian-sponsored “symbolic presence” of Syrian regime forces in the city of Afrin. The official uncovered that contacts were currently held with Damascus to sign a text deal stipulating the symbolic entrance of regime forces and security institutions to central Afrin. “It seems Moscow, which rejected to cooperate two weeks ago, has now agreed on a new version allowing the presence of the Syrian state in Afrin. Regime forces are expected to head from Aleppo to Afrin in the upcoming hours,” the Kurdish official said. The latest development coincided Friday with a Syrian regime decision to allow Kurds demonstrate in Damascus against the Turkish military operation in northern Syria, carrying portraits of Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the PKK. Ocalan was arrested and then jailed on an island prison in Turkey, after being kicked out of Damascus 19 years ago following a deal with Ankara. Since 1999, Turkey considers Ocalan’s PKK party as a terrorist organization. Kurdish officials said they had informed the US army about their contacts with Damascus, adding that “the Americans did not mind.” Turkish sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday that Ankara had proposed to Washington the deployment of Turkish-US forces in Manbij to kick out Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to east Euphrates. The Kurdish official said that since the start of Turkey’s “Olive Branch” operation, leaders from the YPG started to contact Damascus, asking the regime to send its “Border Guards” to defend Syria’s northern border. The official said that Russia had prevented Damascus from achieving such mission, due to a deal signed between Turkey and Russia allowing Ankara to protect its national security from northern Syria and stipulating the withdrawal of Russian forces from Afrin to other areas.

Pakistan court sentences Zainab’s killer to death on four counts
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 17 February 2018/An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has found Imran Ali guilty in the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Amin, and have ruled on Saturday to sentence him to the death penalty on four counts, reported Dawn news. The four counts are: Kidnap, rape, murder and “commiting an act of terrorism.” Ali's arrest brought to light seven more killings and many Pakistanis have demanded he be publicly executed. Ali is also facing several fines worth nearly 2 million rupees, about $31,000, for various crimes including concealing Amin's body in a dumpster. As of now, Ali has 15 days to challenge the verdict and file an appeal. Amin was raped and killed and her body was recovered from a trash heap in Kasur on Jan 9, five days after she went missing from home. Public Prosecutor Ehtesham Qadir says the court Saturday announced the decision in the presence of Mohammad Imran, who had pleaded guilty during the five-day trial. Initial reports based on autopsy published in the local media, indicate that Amin died approximately two days before her body was found last Tuesday, meaning that she was killed 2-4 days after being kidnapped. The autopsy doctor added that wounds on her nose and neck are evidence that she was tortured as well. More samples from the autopsy were taken and will be tested which will take about three months, they said. (With AFP and AP)

Rape-accused Tariq Ramadan’s lawyers request release, claim health reasons
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 17 February 2018/Rape-accused Tariq Ramadan's lawyers have claimed that the Swiss Islamist scholar was suffering from multiple sclerosis and have therefore requested his release under bail. But an appeals court in Paris which was examining his appeal against his detention on remand ordered an independent medical report on his health situation. The court refused as well to issue him a special visit permit, according to French outlets quoting his lawyers, outside what the law grants him with in regards to his visit rights. His lawyers added that Ramadan was carried by an ambulance to court on Thursday and has postponed its decision until Feb. 22. Ramadan’s lawyers claim that his health situation is not in line with his detention and that they are requesting his release and that further legal investigation into their client should continue while he is out on bail.
"His state of health worsens, especially since the judges refused yesterday to issue a visit permit to his wife and children," a source close to Ramadan and his family said on Saturday. That same source confirmed that Ramadan was hospitalized.French authorities say Ramadan is being investigated for raping two women and could be held in long-term custody while the probe continues. Ramadan, who travels frequently and has written numerous books on Islam and the integration of Muslims in Europe, is being investigated by French authorities because the rapes took place in Paris and Lyon, according to the case documents. Ramadan is a grandson of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization listed terrorist in some countries.

U.S. Indicts 13 Russians for Election Interference
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 17/18/U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies accused of running a secret campaign to tilt the 2016 presidential election. The unsealed indictment details a stunning operation that began in 2014 and aimed to sow social division inside the United States, influence U.S. politics "including the presidential election of 2016."Mueller alleges the campaign -- under the direction of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin -- by mid-2016 became focused on boosting Donald Trump and demeaning his rivals. It allegedly involved "hundreds" of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. According to the indictment, the group posed as U.S. citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram and posted content that reached "significant numbers" of Americans. The group was allegedly in contact with "unwitting" members of the Trump campaign, but had a broader "strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system." It provided content that was retweeted by both the president's sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr as well as other top campaign officials and members of Trump's inner circle."There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensten. He added that there was also no judgment on whether the campaign "altered the outcome." The allegations are a double-edged sword for Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed claims of Russian interference as "fake news" and a "hoax" designed to take away from his election victory. On one hand they confirm Russia interference, but they seem to exonerate his staff from suspicions they knowingly colluded with this portion of Moscow's election activities. Four Trump campaign officials, including his campaign manager Paul Manafort and his national security advisor Michael Flynn have already been indicted as part of Mueller's broader investigation. Trump has publicly mulled firing the former FBI director and has repeatedly sought to influence his investigation through public warnings. The White House said that Trump had been briefed on the findings and it expected to issue a statement later in the day.None of the 13 individuals are in U.S. custody.
Troll farm
The group was said to be based in Putin's home town of Saint Petersburg, but some of the accused traveled to the United States for political intelligence gathering. Stops included Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan -- a pivotal state in the election -- Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and New York. An unnamed Texas-based American political operative is said to have instructed them to focus on so-called "purple states" which swing between Republican and Democratic control. The group organized pro-Trump rallies in Florida and New York, but much of its work was focused on producing material that was damaging to the Democrat Hillary Clinton and to Trump's Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.Aside from Trump, the group is said to have supported Green presidential candidate Jill Stein and Clinton's Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Two of the firms are said to have Russian government contracts. Known as Putin's "chef," Prigozhin runs a company that works for the Kremlin to cater at receptions. He has been photographed with the Russian president. His Concord group is already under U.S. sanction. In carrying out the influence campaign, Prigozhin's group is accused of buying US social security numbers and bank account numbers. In a separate filling Mueller indicted an American named as Ricardo Pinedo for selling such items.

Lavrov Calls US Election Meddling Claims 'Blabber'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 17/18/avrov on Saturday dismissed as "blabber" accusations that Moscow had interfered in the US election that brought President Donald Trump to power. "So as long as we don't see facts, everything else is blabber," Lavrov said at the Munich Security Conference, a day after the US indicted 13 Russians for running a secret campaign to sway the American vote. The indictments -- which include the first charges laid by US special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference -- detailed a stunning operation launched in 2014 in a bid to sow social division in the United States and influence American politics "including the presidential election of 2016". Mueller alleges that by mid-2016, the campaign -- under the direction of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- became focused on boosting Trump and demeaning his rivals including Democrat Hillary Clinton. It allegedly involved "hundreds" of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. Three companies were also indicted. Mueller charges that members of the group posed as US citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, posting content that reached "significant numbers" of Americans. The content was retweeted by the president's two eldest sons Don Jr and Eric, as well as other top campaign officials and members of Trump's inner circle. The indictments made no judgement however on whether the Russian efforts had altered the outcome of the election. When asked to comment on the charges at the top security gathering in Germany, Lavrov said: "I don't have a reaction because anything and everything can be published. We see how accusations, statements, are multiplying."But he stressed that US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, had in the past "denied that any country influenced results of the election". Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had earlier rubbished Mueller's allegations as "absurd".Trump meanwhile has seized on the indictments as proof that his campaign team did not conspire with Moscow. "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president," he tweeted Friday. "The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!" None of the 13 Russian suspects are in US custody.

Fears of Syrian War Expanding Might Trigger Peace Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 17/18/Syria's civil war is in danger of flaring into a regional or even global conflict, but some diplomats hope the high stakes could, paradoxically, pave the way for a peace accord. Last week, five Russians were likely killed in a US-led coalition bombing on pro-regime Syrian fighters, the Russian government said. A few days later Israel lost an F-16 warplane in reprisal attacks against Syrian and Iranian military targets after intercepting an alleged Iranian drone. These serious and unprecedented events were discussed in an urgent mid-week UN Security Council meeting. "The ingredients for a regional or potentially major global confrontation have come together now, and the risk must be taken seriously," France's UN ambassador Francois Delattre told AFP. Since the destruction of the Iranian drone "there has been no escalation," said a colleague of Delattre's on the UN Security Council, speaking on condition of anonymity. But there is now a risk of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, possibly with new deaths, another diplomat countered. - Russia cooling on Syria? -On Wednesday, a Security Council meeting on Syria that was initially slated to be public but was ultimately held behind closed doors, suggested a turning point had been reached. The language that emerged was a mix of tension and caution that converged on one point: the need for unity to calm things down. UN ambassador Nikki Haley said peace "is urgent" in Syria, then blamed Iran for its role in the violence. "On every front of this conflict, we find fighters imported by Iran from Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan," she said. Haley described it as "a dangerous game of pushing boundaries, instead of behaving responsibly and committing to peace."Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that his country is "doing everything to prevent any major international confrontation in Syria. We are working on that hard." According to Nebenzia, no country has "delivered more than us on the political process in Syria." He cited Moscow's ties with the Damascus regime and the opposition, its support for so-called "de-escalation zones," and peace talks in Astana and Sochi which Russia says are aimed at facilitating other talks in Geneva. A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Russia is losing ground even after all it has invested militarily in Syria. Moscow's influence over Damascus remains tentative, as seen in a recent warning from the Syrian regime on the results of talks in Sochi aimed at forming a committee to amend the Syrian constitution. Syria does not want its make-up to be dictated by the United Nations, nor does Moscow seem keen on seeing Iran making inroads in Syria and risk regular clashes with Israel.
- 'Dark hours' -In closed door meetings, Russia, which may be at the end of its military and financial commitment in Syria, speaks of its will to get out of the conflict, insists it has no hidden agenda, and even goes so far as seeking Western help to persuade Damascus, according to this diplomat. This is a new position after the series of Russian vetoes in late 2017 of Western resolutions that went against Syria. "The road to peace will come when all of the parties stop provoking each other, and choose the responsible path," Haley said. In that sense the risk of a major international clash in Syria might open the doors for a breakthrough. This can serve as "leverage to obtain a peace accord in Syria at a time when lines are beginning to move," said Delattre. After seven years of a complex and devastating war that has brought in many regional and international actors, "we are back to the darkest hours," diplomats say. They point out a list of besieged areas such as eastern Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin, the target of a Turkish military operation against Kurdish militia forces allied with the United States. The operation has created tension between the United States and Turkey, two key members of NATO, a military alliance dominated by Washington.
Due to this tension, NATO strategic interests are now affected by how the balance of power in the Syrian war evolves.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 17-18/18
History Lessons from Years Under Islamism
تاريخ سنوات من العيش بالظل الإسلامي في إيران
Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
My father's generation in Iran lived in an environment in which the Islamist party of the country's clergy cunningly depicted themselves as intending no harm, supportive of the people, and not interested in power. So, before the revolution, many Iranians did not think that Khomeini's party would be committing the atrocities that they are committing now or that they would have such an unrelenting hunger for power. Instead, during this time, the country thought it was on a smooth path towards democracy, with no expectation of ever returning to a barbaric era. Even the then-US President Jimmy Carter viewed Khomeini as a good religious holy man.
Iranians did not just submit to these new laws; they rose up in protest. This uprising was met with torture, rape, and death. With the regime eager to wipe any who dared to resist, the people had no choice but to surrender. Everyone's daily activities were now under the scrutiny of the Islamists.
Many will still think it is impossible for something like this to happen in their country. What they fail to understand is that Iran is an example of exactly how successful this meticulous grab for power can be. Islamists in other countries including the West are pursuing the same techniques on the path to seizing power. It is a quiet, and subtle process, until the moment you wake up with no rights, a culture of fear, and no promise that you will live in freedom or even to see the next day.
In Iran, my generation, the first after Islamism came to power, is called the Burnt Generation (Persian: Nasl-e Sukhteh). Our generation earned this name for having to endure the brutality of the Islamist and theocratic regime from the time we were born, to adulthood. This brutality included the regime's merciless efforts, such as mass executions, to establish its power, impose its barbaric and restrictive rules, and brainwash children and indoctrinate the younger generation with its extremist ideology through various methods including elementary schools, universities, state-controlled media outlets, imams and local mosques, and promoting chants such as "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".
Women and men were segregated. Teenagers were prevented from performing daily activities considered harmless by most of the world. Any kind of enjoyable social activities were barred, including listening to music, dancing, drinking, dating, women participating in a chess championship unless you were wearing a hijab or attending a football match or other sporting event if men were playing in it. If it made you smile, if it gave you hope, it was probably against the law, such as what could be worn, whom you were allowed to talk to, what you could listen to, and whether or not you pray or fast during Ramadan. Even the most personal and private issues became the business of the regime's forces.
The main purpose of these restrictions and the intense control of the people, especially youths, was for the regime to expand its Islamist agenda domestically and abroad. These laws were enforced with cruel and violent punishments such as public flogging along with the threat of even more dire consequences, including stoning, public hanging and amputations. My generation was raised in an atmosphere of terror. While the rest of the world became more modern and developed, we were left to grapple with following Islamist laws and restrictions that were impossible to obey.
My generation in Iran should be seen as a lesson for the West. Almost every state (and non-state actors) underestimated the power that these Islamists could wield. Warning signs were overlooked. No one believed that such a massive change could occur and be enforced. Many underestimated the crimes that these Islamists were willing to commit to maintain their power once they came into control. To this day, they continue to prove that there are no limits to the cruelty and lack of humanity that they will engage in, such as conducting mass executions, executing children and pregnant women, stoning, amputations, public hanging, flogging, torture, and rape just to maintain this power.
Many underestimated the smooth-talking strategy that these Islamists were using for decades to seize power. The radical group of Ayatollah Khomeini deceived many Iranians and the international community into believing that they were peaceful and divine people. Once they had power, the truth was revealed; by then it was too late to prevent the abuse that unfolded.
My father's generation in Iran lived in an environment in which the Islamist party of the country's clergy cunningly depicted themselves as intending no harm, supportive of the people, and not interested in power. So, before the revolution, many Iranians did not think that Khomeini's party would be committing the atrocities that they are committing now or that they would have such an unrelenting hunger for power.
Instead, the country thought it was on a smooth path towards democracy, with no expectation of returning to a barbaric era. Even then-US President Jimmy Carter viewed Khomeini as a good religious holy man. According to recently declassified documents, the Carter administration even paved the way for Khomeini to return to Iran. Many internationally known scholars such as Michelle Foucault thought highly of the Islamic revolution. Foucault's enthusiasm can be seen in his articles in European newspapers, written right before and after the revolution.
They portrayed themselves as leaders of the people, as spiritual and peaceful. However, once the Islamists rose to the top, all hell broke loose. As soon as they had a stranglehold on the country, they shifted gears to become one of the most ruthless regimes in history. Once in power, their true face was revealed; at that point, there was no way to turn back.
Thousands upon thousands of people were executed simply for voicing their opinion. Many also died for crimes they likely did not commit. The Islamic law (sharia) of the ruling Shiite party was imposed on everyone. Women were forced to wear a hijab and were stripped of their rights. They could no longer leave the country without the permission of their husbands. A women could not work in any occupation if her husband did not agree to it. Women's testimony in court, under sharia, is worth half a man's testimony. Women are banned from pursuing certain educational fields or occupations, such as being judges. Women are prohibited from entering sports stadiums or watching men's sports. Women are entitled to receive half as much inheritance as their brothers or other male relatives.
Many were shocked that this political party, which spoke about the religion of peace, would do such things. Iranians, however, did not just submit to these new laws; they rose up in protest. This uprising was met with torture, rape, and death. With the regime eager to wipe out anyone who dared to resist, the people had no choice but to surrender. Everyone's daily activities were now under the scrutiny of the Islamists.
In a four month period, some 30,000 political prisoners were hanged simply for suspected loyalties to anti-theocratic resistance groups, mainly the PMOI -- incidents largely ignored by media outlets.
These are only few examples of the Islamists' atrocities that took hold of a once thriving and modernizing country. Information about their crimes against humanity would fill several books. As bad as you may think all this is, you must understand that the reality is far, far worse. The Islamist Republic of Iran, according to Human Rights Watch, became the world leader in executing children. The legal age for girls to marry was reduced to 9. Women needed the approval of their parents to marry, and girls could not object to their guardian's decision in marrying them off.
It may be hard to believe that such a murderous force could come into power so easily and fast. What is important to understand is that the Islamists and their followers work covertly in a society for decades to deceive the people and reach the top. Iran's was a meticulously planned takeover that no one saw coming. The Islamists' willingness to be patient to complete their control of the society cannot be underestimated.
Despite openly reading about all this, many will still think it is impossible for something like this to happen in their country. What they fail to understand is that Iran is an example of exactly how successful this meticulous grab for power can be.
Seeing these shrewd and calculating strategies, Islamists in other countries including the West are pursuing the same techniques on the path to seizing power. It is a quiet, subtle process, until the moment you wake up with no rights, a culture of fear, and no promise that you will live in freedom or even to see the next day. Now, those Islamists, whom almost everyone made light of, have not only been in power for almost four decades; they have expanded their expansionist ideology to other nations and taken first prize as being the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and among its leading executioners.
This is a history lesson that Western and non-Islamist countries cannot afford to ignore. It is not just about history; it is about what can happen at any moment, in any country. It is about what is happening right now, beneath our noses -- in East Asia, Canada, South America and Europe. The only defense is to recognize it and confront it at its roots, before it has the opportunity to woo your politicians. Once they worry more about their popularity with voters than about the future of the country you are electing them to run, you are done. Once there is control of the ballot box, there will be more and more control over every aspect of your life, destroying any future you had planned and leaving the country you once had loved in ruins.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.
**Enclosed Picture/Jahangir Razmi's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the execution of Kurdish men and others by the Iranian Islamic regime in 1979.

Infidel Women: Spoils of Warالنساء الكفرة: غنائم حرب
Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
The treatment of non-Muslim women as subhuman by jihadi organizations, such as ISIS or Boko Haram in Nigeria -- where "infidel" females are bought, sold, gang-raped, mutilated, dismembered and burned alive — is relatively well known from ISIS videos. Less well known is that many of these practices are still taking place, often rampantly, across the Muslim world, as a 2016 report revealed...
Such incidents occur frequently. Christian girls are considered goods to be damaged at leisure. Abusing them is a right. According to the [Muslim] community's mentality it is not even a crime. Muslims regard them as spoils of war." -Local residents, Pakistan 2014
To put it differently, all the Hollywood stars, militant feminists and social-justice warriors who are forever raging against "sexism" in the West — but who have nothing to say about Islam's female victims — are not "defenders of women's rights," but "useful idiots" dedicated to subverting Western civilization no less than the terrorists they have been apologizing and covering for.
One aspect of radical Islamist aggression that is overlooked – or purposely ignored – by Western liberals is that non-Muslim women tend to be its greatest victims. According to a recent Open Doors study, "Christian women are among the most violated in the world, in maybe a way that we haven't seen before." The study revealed that six women are raped every day simply for being Christian.
The reason for this is simple. As harsh as Islamic law (sharia) is for men, it is even more so for women. The Koran gives men the authority to beat women for disobedience (4:34), that the testimony of two women equals that of one man (2:282); most of hell's population consists of women; and women are likened to donkeys and dogs for distracting men from and annulling their prayer.
Such injustice for women is confirmed by a newly released report for the UK government on the application of sharia law in England and Wales – a report that reveals the "systemic discrimination against women."
If Muslim women are viewed and treated as inferiors by radical Islamists, non-Muslim – "infidel" – women are, doubly so. They are seen as even more despicable than their male counterparts. Add to this the sexual subjugation of permitted beatings (Koran 4:34) and sex-on-demand, and it becomes clear why they are the greatest recipients of Islamic abuse -- "meant for one thing, the pleasure of the Muslim man," as one Muslim told a group of Christian girls, before terrorizing and murdering one of them. Koranic verses such as 4:24 seem to have encouraged the sexual enslavement of non-Muslim women in the context of jihad. A victim of an acid attack. Many Islamists treat "infidel" women as if they are subhuman. Photo: Wikipedia.
The treatment of non-Muslim women as subhuman by jihadi organizations, such as ISIS or Boko Haram in Nigeria -- where "infidel" females are bought, sold, gang-raped, mutilated, dismembered and burned alive — is relatively well known from ISIS videos. Less well known is that many of these practices are still taking place, often rampantly, across the Muslim world, as a 2016 report revealed:
"Unfortunately, more and more women are the target of [Muslim] terrorist groups. There are numerous international incidents of women being kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert from Christianity to Islam by radical extremist groups.... Many are also sold on the open market. This brutality is not only occurring in the Middle East but in Africa and in many other places. In many of these countries, women are subject to persecution because they are considered second-class citizens because of their gender. As minorities in both gender and faith, Christian women face double the persecution. Although we don't have an exact number, we know that millions of women are being persecuted.... In these Muslim-dominated countries, Christian women are systematically deprived of their freedom to live and are denied basic human necessities."
According to a 2014 report, approximately 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls are abducted, enslaved and raped in Pakistan every year. These are extremely large numbers, considering that Christians and Hindus each make up a mere 1% of the country's Muslim-majority population. After a nine-year-old Christian girl was raped by a Muslim man who boasted of having "done the same service to other young Christian girls," local residents recounted:
"Such incidents occur frequently. Christian girls are considered goods to be damaged at leisure. Abusing them is a right. According to the [Muslim] community's mentality it is not even a crime. Muslims regard them as spoils of war."
Unsurprisingly, then, as the number of Muslim migrants grows in Europe, the subhuman treatment and sexual abuse of "infidel" women once relegated to Third World Muslim nations is becoming a common fixture also in the West, as here and here.
Just as Christian girls in Pakistan are seen as "meant for one thing, the pleasure of the Muslim man," so are Christian women in Europe seen by Muslim migrants to be "there for sex," as one such migrant who stalked and groped a woman in Germany said to her face.
She is but one of many women in Europe to be violated by Muslim men — although Western "mainstream media" have been trying to cover up these reports (here and here).
As a recent Voice of Europe report stated, even when some 1,000 women were sexually assaulted by Muslim migrants in Cologne,
"The reaction of the media, which professes to care about women's rights and well-being, was censorship and burying the news. This is the same reaction most Western media has in the face of migrant crime waves: Witnesses were silenced or ignored and the media didn't take its responsibility to report the truth seriously.... The exact same thing unsurprisingly happened in Sweden, a country that was once a feminist's paradise, where women enjoyed unprecedented liberty and hyper-equality, now known for its sex crimes and gang rapes."
The report -- titled, "Rape, murder and misogyny: The real victims of the migrant crisis are Europe's women" -- provides a few choice examples:
· In Austria: A 72-year-old grandmother was raped by an Afghan minor; as a result she lost the will to live [and died].
· In Belgium: A young girl was drugged and raped by a migrant after she asked the way to the station.
· In France: Two teens were stabbed to death by a migrant in Marseille.
· In Germany: A 19-year-old student was raped and murdered by an Afghan migrant.
· In Germany: A 17-year-old girl was stabbed to death after quitting her relationship with a migrant.
· In Italy: A Polish woman was gang raped by four migrants in Rimini.
· In the Netherlands: A young girl was raped and almost drowned by an asylum seeker in Kampen.
· In the Netherlands: A woman was gang raped by a group of Africans.
· In Sweden: A girl was stabbed to death after rejecting an asylum seeker.
· In Sweden: A woman in a wheelchair was gang raped by a group of migrants.
· In Switzerland: Six women were sexually assaulted by "dark skinned" men.
· In the UK: Muslim Grooming gangs targeting white girls have been around for decades.
Such incidents explain why a product introduced in Germany – women's underwear with rape alarms -- was sold out of stores almost as soon as it arrived.
Had these acts been "committed under any other circumstances," the Voice of Europe assessed,
"They would have been classed as either war crimes or crimes against humanity...It is clear that the real victims of the migrant crisis are Europe's women: They are quickly losing the freedom they fought for and are clear targets for guests who have been accepted into our societies."
To put it differently, all the Hollywood stars, militant feminists and social-justice warriors who are forever raging against "sexism" in the West — but who have nothing to say about Islam's female victims — are not "defenders of women's rights," but "useful idiots" dedicated to subverting Western civilization no less than the terrorists they have been apologizing and covering for.
**Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (a Gatestone Publication, published by Regnery, April 2013), is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Islamic Anti-Semitism in France: Toward Ethnic Cleansing
Guy Millière//Gatestone Institute/February 17/2018
Graffiti on Jewish-owned homes warn the owners to "flee immediately" if they want to live. Anonymous letters with live bullets are dropped into mailboxes of Jews.
Laws meant to punish anti-Semitic threats are now used to punish those who denounce the threats. A new edition of a public school history textbook for the eighth grade states that in France it is forbidden to criticize Islam.
Those French Jews who can leave the country, leave. Most departures are hasty; many Jewish families sell their homes well below the market price. Jewish districts that once were thriving are now on the verge of extinction.
"The problem is that anti-Semitism today in France comes less from the far right than from individuals of Muslim faith or culture". — Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Friday, January 12, 2018. Sarcelles. A city in the northern suburbs of Paris. A 15-year-old girl returns from high school. She wears a necklace with a star of David and a Jewish school uniform. A man attacks her with a knife, slashes her face, and runs away. She will be disfigured the rest of her life.
January 29, again in Sarcelles, an 8-year-old boy wearing a Jewish skullcap is kicked and punched by two teenagers.
A year earlier, in February, 2017, in Bondy, two young Jews wearing Jewish skullcaps were severely beaten with sticks and metal poles. One of the Jews had his fingers cut with a hacksaw.
Before that, in Marseilles, a Jewish teacher was attacked with a machete by a high school student who said he wanted to "decapitate a Jew". The teacher used the Torah he was carrying to protect himself. He survived but was seriously injured.
In France, anti-Semitic attacks have been multiplying.
Most are committed in broad daylight; Jews know they have to be street-smart. Some attackers break into Jewish homes.
In September 2017, Roger Pinto, president of Siona, a leading pro-Israel organization in France, was beaten and held for hours by people who forced open his door.
Sarah Halimi, an elderly Jewish lady, was beaten and tortured in her Paris apartment, then thrown from her balcony.
On January 18, 2018, six days after the knife attack in Sarcelles, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Montreuil, east of Paris, was tortured all night by two men who broke open a window and assaulted him as he slept.
Graffiti on Jewish-owned homes warn the owners to "flee immediately" if they want to live. Anonymous letters with live bullets are dropped into mailboxes of Jews, and state that the next bullet will be fired into the recipient's head.
The word "Jew" is painted in capital letters on Jewish shops and restaurants. On the third anniversary of an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris, another kosher store was torched and destroyed.
"One racist act out of three committed in France in the last two years was directed against a Jew, while Jews now represent less than 1% of the French population", noted the most recent report submitted to the French government by the Jewish Community Protection Service.
"Anti-Semitism has grown so much recently," the report added, "that acts of aggression which cause no injury are no longer reported. Most victims feel powerless and are afraid of reprisals if they file a complaint".
Those French Jews who can leave the country, leave.
Those who have not yet decided to leave or who do not have the financial means, move to safer neighborhoods.
Most departures are hasty; many Jewish families sell their homes well below the market price. Some families end up in apartments that are too small, but prefer discomfort to the risk of being mugged or killed.
The French Jewish community may still be the largest in Europe, but it is shrinking rapidly. In 2000, it was estimated at 500,000, but the number now is less than 400,000, and sinking. Jewish districts that once were thriving are now on the verge of extinction.
"What is happening is an ethnic cleansing that dare not speak its name. In few decades, there will be no Jews in France," according to Richard Abitbol, ​​president of the Confederation of French Jews and Friends of Israel.
Without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France, said Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2016 . But he did not do anything.
Recently he said that he had done his best, that he could not have done more. "The problem," he said, "is that anti-Semitism today in France comes less from the far right than from individuals of the Muslim faith or culture".
He added that in France, for at least two decades, all attacks against Jews in which the perpetrator has been identified have come from Muslims, and that the most recent attacks were no exception.
Valls, however, quickly suffered the consequences of his candor. He was elbowed to the margins of political life. Muslim websites called him an " agent of the Jewish lobby" and a "racist." Former leaders of his own party, such as former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, said that Valls' wife is a Jew and hinted that he was "under the influence".
In France, telling the truth about Islamic anti-Semitism is dangerous. For a politician, it is suicidal.
French politicians, right or left, know that political correctness reigns, and that transgressing its unwritten rules leads to being excluded from the media and effectively ostracized. They know that some words cannot be used any more in France, and that "anti-racist" organizations ensure that no one can criticize Islam.
A new edition of a public school history textbook for the eighth grade explicitly states that in France it is forbidden to criticize Islam, and quotes a court decision to back up the claim.
Politicians see that the number of Muslims in France is now so large that it is virtually impossible to win an election without the Muslim vote, and that the difference in birthrate between Muslims and non-Muslims will make that arrangement even more obligatory in years to come.
Politicians also see that the country's 600 "no-go zones" are growing; that radicalized Muslims may kill, and that violent riots can break out at any time. In France, more than 500 people were murdered or maimed by Islamic terrorists in less than four years.
Politicians also see that waves of migrants from the Middle East and Africa have created slums largely beyond the control of the police; that French prisons are on the verge of exploding, and that Jews have no electoral weight and are essentially powerless.
Politicians therefore choose inertia, denial, cowardice.
In French Muslim neighborhoods, Islamist imams denounce the "bad influence" of Jews and spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. French politicians stay silent.
Islamic bookstores in France sell books banned elsewhere, such as the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and CDs and DVDs of violent anti-Semitic speeches by radical preachers. For instance, Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is prohibited from entering France and the US, says he regrets that Hitler did not "finish the job". French politicians stay silent.
Although synagogues in France have not been attacked since 2014, they all are guarded around the clock by armed soldiers in bulletproof vests who are protected behind sandbags, as are Jewish schools and cultural centers.
Meanwhile, laws meant to punish anti-Semitic threats are now used to punish those who denounce the threats.
Six years ago, the author Renaud Camus published Le Grand Remplacement ("The Great Replacement"), a book noting that Jews and Christians are not only being replaced by Muslims, but that they are often harassed and persecuted. He lamented the destruction of churches and described attacks on Jews as a "slow pogrom". He was condemned for "inciting hatred".
Recently, journalist Éric Zemmour observed that in Muslim neighborhoods, Muslims are now living "according to their own laws" and forcing non-Muslim people to leave. He was found guilty of "incitement" and fined.
A reporter who recently made a documentary about French Muslim neighborhoods, concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist organizations are quickly taking hold of French Muslim communities while spreading hatred towards the Jews and the West, and that they own many schools where jihad is taught .
The French government, he added, is financing these schools and is therefore complicit in sowing the seeds of a devastation that could easily go beyond the destruction of France's Jews. "The occupation of the West," he said, "will be done without war but quietly, with infiltration and subversion." No French television station has broadcast it, nor plans to. The documentary was aired only in Israel.
Anti-Israel demonstrations support terrorism. People shout, "Death to the Jews," but those people are never arrested for "hate speech".
Polls show that the unhindered dissemination of Muslim anti-Semitism and the violence that results from it has led to the rise of widespread anti-Semitism that clearly recalls dark periods of history.
A growing percentage of the French say that the Jews in France are "too numerous" and "too visible."
Reports for the Ministry of National Education reveal that expressions such as "Don't act like a Jew", intended to criticize a student who hides what he thinks, are widely used in public schools. Jewish students are more and more often the object of mockery -- and not just by students who are Muslim.
A few days ago, the comedian Laura Laune was the winner on the reality television series "France's Got Talent". Some of her jokes make fun of the fact that there were fewer Jews in the world in 1945 than in 1939. Jewish organizations protested, but in vain. Now, she appears to packed halls. The anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné also fills the stadiums where he performs.
Recently, France's prestigious publishing house, Gallimard, asked to republish the anti-Semitic writings of Louis Ferdinand Celine, a French admirer of Nazi Germany and a strong supporter of the extermination of Europe's Jews during France's Vichy regime. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he was in favor of republishing it, and stressed that one cannot deny Celine's "central position in French literature." Famous Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld replied that the writings that sent his parents to their deaths "must not be made available again." Gallimard postponed the publication temporarily.
A few years ago, the "duty of memory" -- what had been done to the Jews -- was the subject of many articles. Last month, on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, not a single French newspaper mentioned it.
French President Emmanuel Macron stayed silent. He published a tweet evoking "Auschwitz" and the need to "preserve peace, unity and tolerance". He did not say a word about Jews or the Holocaust. It is hard to see in France where "peace, union and tolerance" are today -- especially if you are a French Jew.
*Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.
**Pictured: French soldiers guard a Jewish school in Paris. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Exclusive: The Case for a «Dayton Type» Conference on Syria
Michel Duclos/Asharq Al Awsat/February 17/18
*Former French Ambassador to Syria*
Some kind of agreement between world and regional powers would be absolutely crucial to any peaceful solution for Syria.
This should have been obvious since the beginning of the conflict. Yes, horrified, sympathetic or indifferent, the world has witnessed the uprising of a people against a ferocious dictatorship. It was above all the insurrection of anger. Yes also, the international community had to deal and still have to deal with a terrible terrorist threat. But, it’s equally true that the conflict in Syria has always been about the concerns of the regional Sunni powers, the rise of Iranian influence in the region, the specific interests of Turkey, the apprehensions of Israel, the willingness of Russia to score points with the western world, the hesitations of America and so on.
Strangely enough, that regional and international dimension has been minimised by the United Nations.
The UN mediation has mainly focused on the desperate quest for a dialogue and hopefully some form of understanding between the Damascus regime and a representation of the opposition. In the same time Russians have always played a leading role in shaping the road map of the UN, in a first stage because of their massive use of their blocking power at the UN Security Council (series of vetos), and in a second stage because of their military investment on the ground. The illusion has long prevailed that the Russians were in fact in a position to drive the Syrian-Syrian dialogue towards a solution consistent with a «Russian peace».
This illusion was supported by the relatively positives results of the Astana process, with the help of Turkey and Iran, and has culminated in the pathway to Sochi.
This illusion is more or less evaporating. One could think it is time to develop an alternative approach, based on the need to work on looking at a possible alignment of the interests of regional and world powers. No doubt that such a proposal seems to be more difficult to implement – some would say more quixotic – than ever. And still more unpracticable than the current UN-Russian approach
Let’s stress two or three reasons why it is worth considering a « regional/international » angle. First, nobody can believe any more that after the seven years of hate and atrocities, death and destruction, a dialogue between the regime and the opposition, without a proper international framework, can lead anywhere. Second, the net result of what has been done until now is the division of the country into various zones of influence. Nobody can pretend that this is a reliable recipe for the return of stability. On the contrary, and this would be my third point, we are now entering a dangerous phase in which regional and world powers are on the brink of direct military confrontation, as one have seen in Afrin, Deir-ez-Zor and last Saturday after the penetration of an Iranian drone in the Israeli skies.
In short, it becomes everyday more and more visible that communication, coordination, ultimately some form of understanding are absolutely crucial if a regional war is to be avoided. « Deconfliction » or « deescalation » - or the good offices of Russia – are not enough anymore.
Someone had already suggested that a closer dialogue between world and regional powers would be appropriate. President Macron did. He made the proposal of a « contact group » around such a new « format ».
The proposal was not welcome, maybe because it came too late : things were already entrenched and it was impossible for France to change the course of current international processes (Geneva, Astana and so on). Or maybe because it was premature: but, now that Russian and Israeli jets are downed, that Turkish helicopters as well, that Russian soldiers or mercenaries are killed on the banks of Euphrates and elsewhere, now that an Iranian drone and maybe half of the Syrian air defenses have been destroyed, decisions- makers should realise that it is time to take a deep breath and think again.
A step in the right direction may have been made with the setting up of a «small group», led by the United States and comprised of France, UK, and other countries from the region. They met in Paris at the ministerial level on the 23rd of January. The aim of this group is not to constitute an alternative source of leadership but to contribute to any international process. If a bridge could be found, under the pressure of circumstances, between this group and Russia, a turning point could happen.
If this turning point is reached, two issues would really matter. First, no mistake should be made on the agenda. The fundamental question now is to see how to avoid that the de facto partition of the country spills over into a regional conflict or at least into a permanent risk of escalation. It does not mean that on behalf of stability the Damascus regime stays unchanged for ever or that a genuine cease-fire stops being an absolute priority. It means that both the regional aspects and the domestic aspects of the Syrian tragedy has to be tackled together.
Second, a rapprochement between Russia and the US small group should at some point lead to a «Dayton type» conference.
«Dayton», which in 1995 put an end to the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, is not, for all sorts of reasons, a proper model for ending the never-ending war in Syria. But what could be kept from Dayton, in due time of course, that is to say after a careful preparation, is the method: a meeting in which all stakeholders should sit at the same table and stay in the room as long as needed to find an agreement. A peace agreement. A peace agreement for Syria and for the Middle-East.
*Former French Ambassador to Syria
Exclusive to Asharq Al-Awsat

Exclusive - Reviving the Spirit of Mosul

Audrey Azoulay/Asharq Al AwsatFebruary 17/18
Audrey Azoulay is the Director-General of UNESCO
Last week, the world made a great commitment to rebuild Iraq following the recent defeat of ISIS. Recognizing the immense courage of the Iraqi people and the depth of their suffering, the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq pledged to rebuild infrastructure so that the country can once again prosper.
Mosul is the living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity. For centuries, it was at the crossroad of culture in the Middle East. From the Sumerian cities to Babylon, from the walls of Nineveh to the Silk Road, the region has been a melting pot of people and ideas. For the last three years, this story of peace – the true spirit of Mosul - has been overshadowed by another story of hatred and violence.
The conference stressed the importance of putting the human dimension at the heart of our efforts for sustainable reconstruction. So we launched “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, an initiative for the reconstruction of the Old City, both its physical infrastructure and restoring the dignity of its people. When war is waged against culture and education, response must be culture and education. This is the only long-term solution against extremism.
The destruction of the University of Mosul Library, the dynamiting of the Al-Hadba minaret and the pillaging of the Nabi Yunus Shrine, emblem of the religious coexistence of the three religions of the Book – shocked the world. Public libraries were burnt, music was silenced, artists attacked and cafes closed.
Thousands of children have learned war and been indoctrinated with an intellectually corrupt ideology. They have not received an education – the essential tool for building the future. To avoid raising a lost generation, we must teach peace but also reinfuse these communities with the culture of peace, steeped in Iraq’s rich history and cultural life.
The revival of the Old City of Mosul is the cornerstone of our initiative, supported by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. This initiative means restoring architectural symbols that bring the Iraqi people together, in all its diversity. Many key actors like the European Union, neighboring countries and international organizations expressed great interest in participating in this effort that UNESCO will coordinate.
UNESCO will bring its expertise in damage assessment to restore and reconstruct the emblematic sites of the historic center. We will work hand-in-hand with the local population and the government to restore bookshops, cultural centers and museums – including the Museum of Mosul, which was tragically ransacked.
We will provide opportunities for technical and vocational training, particularly in traditional building techniques, so that Iraqis will have the skills to actively contribute to this reconstruction.
The great civilizations of this region defined the course of humanity, through a thousand-year dialogue, which gave birth to the wheel, writing, mathematics and law. We will work with our Iraqi counterparts to ensure future generations will learn of their proud heritage, through the school materials that we are developing, including a new school curriculum, which puts humanities at its core along creativity, critical thinking and values of respect. This is the only way to ensure that fanaticism does not prevail once more.
This “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative will be UNESCO’s main contribution to the United Nations’ Response and Resilience program designed to help Iraq’s government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.
Later this year, we will organize an international conference at UNESCO Headquarters, with the Iraqi government and all our partners, to design a blueprint for this reconstruction.
Through culture and education, we can restore trust and create the conditions for a common future. This reconstruction will take time but, brick-by-brick, lesson-by-lesson, together we can revive the true spirit of Mosul.

The Syrian people have become invisible
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/February 17/18
Over the past week, the conflict in Syria has flared up again with the usual ferocity: hundreds of needless civilian deaths, new starvation sieges in so-called “de-escalation zones” as well as the systematic targeting of hospital and other humanitarian targets, reports of renewed chemical attacks, all on the back of another farcical round of diplomatic “negotiations”.
As if that was not enough, Israel is now becoming active in the conflict, with direct clashes between Israeli assets and Iranian and Syrian assets as far north as the environs of Damascus, and we have seen emerging reports that as many as 200 Russian-nationals mercenaries have been killed by American airstrikes.
Just as we thought the conflict was winding down in the wake of the collapse of ISIS in the east of the country, while the small number of rebel areas seemed on their last legs, things now look as perilous as they ever have. Syria and Russia have repeated the past mistakes of the US and the West: instead of suing for peace when they had a clear upper-hand, they have pushed for complete victory, and have encountered insurmountable resistance. At this point, it is difficult to imagine how either side of this conflict is not already completely exhausted, but here they all are, fighting as intensely as ever.
An extremely precarious existence
In all this mess, it is hard to believe that there are still civilians left in Syria to bomb and to poison with chemical weapons, but there may be as many as 13 million people who continue to seek out an extremely precarious existence in the shadow of constant airstrikes from all sides. And these 13 million people have all but disappeared from the international discourse.
The utter failure of the international community in their responsibilities towards the Syrian people have become a given fact of life in the early 21st Century.
In a sense, this was to be expected. The utter failure of the international community in their responsibilities towards the Syrian people have become a given fact of life in the early 21st Century. It is also something that Western leaders might not necessarily want to attract to much attention to, given the heavy responsibility they bear for their repeated failures to intervene in Syria on humanitarian grounds: most infamously when the Obama administration has failed to enforce the chemical weapons red line.
But the most notable failure is perhaps that of the media. Perhaps they feel that the atrocity that is Syria has become too banal to give it the ongoing coverage the humanitarian situation deserves, or perhaps they judge that the public has developed some kind of chronic fatigue of hearing about the never-ending suffering of people like themselves. It used to be that “if it bleeds it leads”, but it is not beyond conceivable that news editors are on to something: do we even have the emotional bandwidth to process the ongoing carnage, when there are so many similar humanitarian disasters going on elsewhere, like in Myanmar, or in Yemen, or in the Sahel?
But those 13 million people are another wave of refugees waiting to happen. If the fewer than 2 million people who have made it to Europe from Syria and other conflict zones have managed to produce the political upheaval on the Old Continent that they have already, imagine what another million or two might mean for the political future of the West.
The conflict is Syria concerns us directly. Whether we want to admit it or not. Whether we have the emotional energy to engage with its seriousness or not. It is not just the Syrian people who will suffer the consequences of our moral indolence. Sooner or later, we too will reap the consequences. The Syrian people may remain invisible for now. But the consequences of another migration crisis out of Syria will become painfully visible, and sooner than we might expect.

Syria continues to unravel in post-ISIS war
Huda al-Husseini/Al Arabiya/February 17/18
The war in Syria has not ended. In fact, the phase of ‘post-ISIS wars’ has just started. Syria remains a dangerous link between regional conflicts and the great powers, despite the defeat of ISIS in the east. The recent confrontation between Iran and Israel in Syria is only one of the few possibilities that could fuel the next phase of civil war in Syria.
A messier quagmire
Turkey has opened a direct confrontation with the People’s Protection Units in the northern Kurdish town of Afrin. Turkey, Iran and Russia are also competing with each other in a three-way struggle over Idlib and the downing of the Sukhoi-25 plane on February 3 is a sign of this rivalry. Meanwhile, the US-led coalition is encountering intense challenge from the Russian-Iranian coalition after US warded off a major pro-regime attack in Deir al-Zour on July 7 last year.
Iran and Hezbollah are exploiting the terms set for the ‘de-escalation zones’— a deal brokered by Russia, Jordan and the United States in southern Syria — in order to develop a military infrastructure along the Golan Heights. Israel and the US have failed to stop this development or reverse it. Israel has repeatedly asserted its “absolute freedom” to act in response to future violations of its red lines by Iran, including the establishment of Iran’s permanent military base in Syria and transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah through Syria. Israel fears that Iran will use Syrian territory to launch attacks or create a ground corridor from Iran to Lebanon after the fall of Abu Kamal (on the Iraqi-Syrian border), allowing it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.
The US has long tried to focus on fighting ISIS, ignoring the broader context of the regional war in Syria. Recent events have shown that this artificial dissociation is not sustainable.
The escalating increase of these incidents is not a coincidence, but a predictable consequence of the upsurge of the post ISIS wars in Syria. America’s opponents in Syria want to distance it from there and from the entire Middle East in the long run.
Russia and Iran have deliberately attacked US forces and their partners in eastern Syria. Hundreds of pro-Syrian fighters have launched a coordinated attack against the most relied open US allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir al-Zour, and the United States has responded with successful strikes to protect these forces, killing more than 100 Syrian soldiers. According to informed sources, Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime planned this process early, and began preparations for the attack weeks ago with the aim of increasing the Iranian presence east of the Euphrates River to seize oil and gas fields. For months, Russia and Iran have been militarily trying to reach the eastern Euphrates areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, including the city of Raqqa, as well as oil and natural gas fields east of Syria, and hand them over to the Syrian regime.
The Idlib imbroglio
For its part, Turkey is successful in its campaign against pro-regime forces in northwestern Syria and its focus is moving away from Afrin. Turkey will continue to give priority to maintaining a safe haven for the Syrian opposition in the Idlib province, which is controlled by al-Qaeda. The Kurdish armed forces have deployed a convoy of more than 100 armored vehicles to establish a control center near Al-Eiss, a key location on the front lines between opposition groups and pro-regime forces South of Aleppo. Turkey is working to establish two additional ‘control canters’ in unspecified locations in northern Syria. Turkey has also taken advantage of the de-escalation zone in Idlib and parts of the province of Aleppo, which was agreed upon by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Astana talks.
Observers believe that Turkey is seeking new assurances from Russia to maintain the safety of its troops in the province of Idlib, but these guarantees are still not enough. According to observers, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the assistance of Iran, plans to disrupt any agreement that would establish a long-term Turkish presence in Syria. Iran believes that the Turkish deployment is an attempt to block any future attack by regime supporters to lift the siege on the two Shiite towns of Fu’aa and Kafriya, near Idlib.
On the other hand, Turkey could try to exploit these tensions by pinning a wedge between Russia and Iran over the de-escalation zone in the Greater Idlib province, and there is a possibility that Turkey will escalate its participation in Idlib in part of a reaction to the continued progress of the regime and its loyalists towards the main town of Sarqib, controlled by the opposition in the Idlib Governorate. Located along the M-5 strategic highway between Hama and Aleppo, Sarqib provides an ideal starting point for operations towards Al Fu’aa and Kafriya or Aleppo.
Turkey has deployed troops in Idlib province after the Al-Sham Liberation Movement (al-Qaeda’s faction in Syria) claimed responsibility for the fall of the Russian Sukhoi in Idlib. Turkey may have provided MANPADS to signal its dissatisfaction with the ongoing Russian air campaign to support the regime's forces in Idlib. It had previously provided military equipment to the opposition forces in an attempt to stop the continuous attack of the regime on the air base of Abu al-Duhur in the eastern province of Idlib. Turkey will continue to give priority to its efforts to protect its ongoing operations against the People's Protection Units.
Confrontation over Golan Heights
It also seems that despite all the demands calling for self-control, Israel and the Russian-Iranian coalition are ready for a future confrontation in the Golan Heights. Iran and Hezbollah succeeded in forming a network of foreign and local fighters through Syria, under the umbrella of the Russian armed forces.
Iran and Hezbollah also exploited the de-escalation areas adjacent to the Golan Heights. Each party is working for its own interests in Syria, and no one cares about the continued killing of Syrians or the destruction of the country. Russia's guarantee of Bashar al-Assad’s survival is uncertain, especially if its interests call for it. Iran’s guarantee may be more honest because it will not find a better substitute for Al Assad. The relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not outweigh Russian interests in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah could not have set up bases in the Syrian south without Russia looking the other way, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he did not know there was an Iranian base in Palmyra.
US needs coherent policy
Therefore, the Syrian civil war is not over yet, as the post-ISIS wars have only begun. The United States has long tried to focus on fighting ISIS, ignoring the broader context of the regional civil war in Syria. Recent events have shown that this artificial dissociation is not sustainable.
US special forces are in Syria, and the Pentagon said on Monday that 6,000 US troops would remain in Iraq and Syria. The situation requires the United States to develop a coherent strategy to face this new reality so as not to see itself involved in the next phase of the war in Syria. Surprisingly, Bashar al-Assad’s allies say he won the war, but none of them explained what they mean by victory.
Originally published in Asharq al-Awsat.

At Last, The World Wakes Up To Iran’s Malign Ambitions
Sir John Jenkins/Arab News/February 18/18
At last, the world wakes up to Iran’s malign ambitions
Signs of the times; you know things are changing when you find Saleh Al-Hamwi, a founder of Jabhat Al-Nusra now reportedly affiliated with Ahrar Al-Sham, tweeting his welcome for recent Israeli military action in Syria and urging them to do more to combat Iranian influence there.
What prompted this outburst was, of course, the destruction by the Israeli air force of an Iranian drone that had entered Israeli airspace, air strikes on the launch site — the T4 base outside Palmyra, manned by Iranian forces — the downing by Syrian air defense of an Israeli F-16 and the subsequent air strikes against 12 targets that the Israelis suggest succeeded in destroying or severely damaging up to 50 percent of Syrian air defense assets and some other sites controlled by the IRGC, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Al-Hamwi is not the only Syrian Sunni publicly expressing a desire for more Israeli action against Iran and its allies in the Syrian theatre. We also now find some Free Syrian Army elements in southern Syria starting to be more open about the sort of support they have received from Israel — in terms not simply of medical treatment (of which we have heard much) but of logistical support and facilitation of movement. This support is clearly designed to help the FSA not just against more radical elements of the armed opposition positioned to the south of Quneitra, but also against Syrian regime, Hizbollah and Iranian forces.
Deploying the drone from an IRGC-manned air base may have been designed to lure the Israelis into an ambush. But the outcome shows the extraordinary recklessness of such a step. Iran and Hizbollah have alternately played down the clashes and suggested that the downing of an Israeli plane changes the balance of deterrence in their favour. It doesn’t, of course — not when Israel can strike targets at will inside Syria, as it has shown it can with its previous attacks on Iranian unmanned facilities and now with its follow-on sorties against manned targets.
But the problem Israel — and by extension the US, the EU, Turkey and even Russia — have is that these strikes (part of a deterrent strategy Israel has historically called “mowing the grass”) have not stopped an inexorable extension of Iranian influence across Syria. Nor have they stopped the resupply and upgrading of Hizbollah’s missile arsenal. The tactical balance holds. The strategic balance is changing fundamentally.
Iran has made no secret of its desire to control a swath of territory from the Iraq/Iran border to the Mediterranean and down to the Golan Heights. Iranian and Iraqi Shia commanders tell us openly this is what they want. They make a display of meeting and greeting each other on the Iraqi/Syrian border. The Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, then commander of the Basij, and Hajj Hashem, the Hizbollah commander in southern Lebanon, have all had themselves photographed over the past year or so near Quneitra, sometimes observing Israeli positions through field glasses. Qais Al-Khazali of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, and now Ibrahim Raisi, the hardline former presidential candidate, have most recently appeared on the Lebanese/Israeli border in company with senior Hizbollah commanders.
I hate to say I told you so (actually, I don’t!). But I did. I’ve been writing and speaking for three years now about the threat the Iranian garrisoning of Syria poses to regional stability and the probability of a regional conflict being sparked by the increasing proximity to the Golan Heights and the Israeli and Jordanian borders of significant forces from the IRGC, Hizbollah, some Iraqi Hashd Al-Sha’abi militias and the Pakistani and Afghan subalterns of Iran. And I have not been the only one. These forces are not leaving Syria. They have to stay to guarantee the Assad regime’s survival, the valuable equities its survival gives Tehran and the leverage that Tehran has and Russia doesn’t. But by staying they also virtually guarantee further clashes with Israel, which has made it absolutely clear it will not tolerate an Iranian or Hizbollah presence on or near the Syrian Golan and is fearful of a renewed Hizbollah aggression not just on its borders but inside them once the conflict in Syria is finally over.
We have empowered the clerical dictators through 14 years of permissive or confused US, European and Arab policies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, and the price is obvious. Now is the time to change the conversation.
Israel has sought help from the US and Russia in managing this dilemma. Neither has provided a solution — the US because it remains in important ways disengaged and Russia because it has other fish to fry and may be having trouble cooking them; to change the metaphor, like an overambitious juggler it is having increasing difficulty keeping all its policy balls in the air — especially managing the contradictions in its policies towards Turkey, the Kurds, the US, Israel, Iran and the Gulf. It may be that it doesn’t actually have the power of decision over the situation in Syria that some have claimed. So Israel has decided to take matters into its own hands. Since Iran shows no signs of pulling back, since a deconfliction zone between Israel, Jordan and their enemies in the Golan, the Hauran and the Jebel Druze is a joke in modern combat conditions and since Iran is unlikely to want to preserve the peace in southern Syria in a way the Assads — father and son — did from 1973 onward, this means in my view that war of some sort is almost inevitable.
This has been coming for a long time. We have empowered Iran through 14 years of permissive or confused US, European and Arab policies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where we have collectively made an impressive military effort from time to time, but without any clear policy goal. We let the Iranians colonise the Iraqi state. We have let Hizbollah transform itself from a regional defense force with a global criminal wing into a formidable and mobile transnational praetorian force (still with a global criminal wing). We throw the Iraqi Kurds under a bus because of their foolishness over the recent referendum but in the absence of any wider policy response other than sanctimonious sermonising leave the field clear for Iran to exploit. And as a consequence we are no nearer finding a sustainable policy response to a decade of Iranian advances through the institutions, territories and command structures of the greater Levant, plus a campaign of destabilization on the cheap in Bahrain and Yemen.
What’s done is done. But this will pose a serious dilemma for those states of the Gulf that believe their national security is also threatened by a resurgent Iran and do not think you can remove the threat simply by making nice with everyone. This could go lots of different ways. Iran and Hizbollah could decide that consolidating their power inside Syria, coopting the Kurds and excluding the US is the priority and seek to avoid a further direct clash with Israel that could escalate beyond their control, while continuing to probe for weakness. But miscalculations happen all too easily. And such a strategy would rely on Israeli forbearance — not a quality for which they are noted. Iran and its allies could unilaterally decide to restrict themselves to certain positions away from the most sensitive areas. But why would they do that when they continue to proclaim that Israel will cease to exist in 25 years, make such a show of their intention to retake Jerusalem and can hardly do nothing after 40 years of bloodcurdling threats? Equally, Russia and the US could decide that now is the time to intervene decisively to establish real deterrence and prevent a general conflict. But neither state seems prepared or — in Russia’s case — able to do so.
Pushing back Iran — in the best case exploiting its own overreach — is a generational task. Reconstructing Iraq is part of this and a good thing in itself; the recent Kuwait conference was important, as is the outreach by Saudi Arabia and others to key Iraqi politicians and to Najaf. But this will take sustained attention, a lot of money and even more time. And Iran will still take its cut. The same goes for Yemen and even more so for Syria.
So as a small contribution to this debate — while we are waiting for the major actors to take the stage and with an eye on what small steps others could take — I suggest that we could at least address one often overlooked factor in this overdetermined drama. In my view this is precisely the moment for a renewed and serious collective effort to achieve a Palestinian state. That would remove any spurious excuse Iran, Hizbollah and Assad might have to attack or provoke Israel; it would allow for the gradual normalization of political, economic and security relations within the region; it would simplify the lines of communication between those who see Iran as one of the two most serious contemporary threats to the broader stability of the wider Middle East and North Africa (the other being the various forms of revolutionary Islamism); and it would test the claim of the great Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, that peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of justice.
I have no doubt that, apart from the two parties principally concerned, the US is the one essential actor in all this, but I am skeptical about its current direction of travel and I do not believe in yet another fake peace conference. However, I do think there is an opening for a joint Arab-European initiative to concentrate minds, agree and set out in detail the real benefits to all sides of a real deal and what each side would bring to the table if such a deal were concluded, and make Israel, the US and the Palestinians an offer they would be fools to refuse. That would at least change the conversation and make the Arab states, the EU and maybe the US again the makers rather than simply the consumers of policy in the region.
**Sir John Jenkins is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. Until December 2017, he was Corresponding Director (Middle East) at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in Manama, Bahrain and was a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. He was the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia until January 2015.