February 25/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious
Isaiah04/01-06: In that day seven women  will take hold of one man and say, “We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!” In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.  Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.  It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 24-25/18
Evil Lebanese politicians/Elias Bejjani/February 23/18
Lebanon’s Former Security Chief, Jamil Al-Sayyed, Threatens News Presenter Over Tweet/Anna Pukas/Arab News/February 24/18
Does Jihad Really Have "Nothing to do with Islam"?/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 24/ 2018
The return of society to moderation/Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
A beacon of light to free minds from shackles of ignorance/Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
UK: A customized post-Brexit agreement or a dead end/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
The other side of war: The Palestinian story must eclipse Israeli Hasbara/Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/February 24/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 24-25/18
Evil Lebanese politicians
Souaid Accuses Ruling Authority of Muzzling Peaceful Opposition Group
Opposition Figures Say Authorities Pressed Hotel to Cancel Conference
Berri Calls for 'Constitutional Uprising', Unified Rhetoric to Solve Syrian Refugee Crisis
LF Rejects 'Forcing Lebanese to Choose' between Darkness and Power Ships
Qaouq: Parliamentary Elections a Historic Chance to Fortify National Choices
Jumblat Criticizes Trump's Suggestion to Arm US School Teachers
Qassem Says U.S. Pressure on Hizbullah Futile
Man Suspected of Killing Filipina in Kuwait Held in Lebanon
Saba Demands Accountability as Zahle River Turns Red
Lebanon’s Former Security Chief, Jamil Al-Sayyed, Threatens News Presenter Over Tweet
Lebanese President Suggests 3rd Party to Resolve Border Dispute with Israel

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 24-25/18
UN Security Council unanimously backs Syria ceasefire
Trump says Russia, Iran behavior in Syria a ‘disgrace’
New Strikes Hit Syria Enclave after UN Delays Truce Vote
Security Council President Says 'Almost There' on Syria Ceasefire
Strikes on Syria’s Eastern Ghouta kill 21 civilians, death toll rises to 500
Iraqi army threatens to ‘crush’ ISIS if they approach Kirkuk
Egypt court fines leading activist over insulting judiciary
US official says embassy expected to open in Jerusalem in May
At Least 23 Killed in Multiple Attacks in Afghanistan
Palestinians Enraged as U.S. Says to Open Jerusalem Embassy in May
Legalization of divorce proposed in last Catholic country where it is prohibited
New French Counter-Terrorism Plan Goes beyond Security Measures
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 24-25/18
Evil Lebanese politicians
Elias Bejjani/February 23/18
Sadly in Lebanon the political arena, (both politicians and the so falsely called parties) is mostly dominated by mere corrupted merchants and thugs who are worst than Judas Iscariot himself. For them every thing is for sale, their dignity, their conscience, their country, their families and definitely and especially their friends. ..although they know nothing about friendship. In summary because of such defiled and evil politicians Lebanon is occupied, impoverished and its people are living all kinds of hardships and miseries.
Honest and patriotic politicians are few but still always suffer because of the bad politicians' evil on going betrayal, Pharisee nature, polluted conscience and sickening mentality
Souaid Accuses Ruling Authority of Muzzling Peaceful Opposition Group Saturday 24th February 2018/The Monroe Hotel was pressured to cancel a gathering that was set to be held by former MP Fares Souaid and political analyst Redwan Al-Sayyed. The National Initiative Movement, which was set to hold its general conference on Saturday, was informed of the Monroe Hotel's sudden rejection of hosting the event despite a prior agreement between the two sides. The rejection was the result of political pressure after a security authority had asked the hotel to call off the conference, read a statement issued by the National Initiative Movement on Friday. Souaid on Saturday held a news conference accused the ruling authority of preventing the event, holding the government responsable for muzzling a "peaceful opposition group". “We were surprised yesterday when the hotel management informed us that it cannot host the conference for security reasons,” Souaid said. “You are entrusted with Lebanon, but you are abusing this trust when you act based on a security approach rather than a political one,” Souaid added in an address to the President and the Prime Minister. Later, statements issued separately by the media offices of both President Aoun and PM Saad Hariri refuting claims that the authorities had pressured the Monroe Hotel to cancel the event, saying that such allegations have certain political purposes. "If you both had nothing to do with the cancellation of the event, then tell us who's behind it and what are the measures that you intend to take in order to safeguard freedoms in Lebanon given that you are both in power," Souaid retorted. "Pressuring the Monroe Hotel to revoke the hosting of the National Initiative conference confirms that the suppression of freedoms has become a constant policy adopted by the governing authority which is using all its tools and capabilities to influence the will of the Lebanese in a bid to rig the elections," former Minister Ashraf Rifi wrote on Twitter.

Opposition Figures Say Authorities Pressed Hotel to Cancel Conference
Naharnet/February 24/18/Opposition figures on Friday accused authorities of pressing a hotel in Beirut to cancel a conference for the National Initiative Movement opposition grouping. “We had agreed with the administration of the Monroe Hotel in Beirut on holding the general conference of the National Initiative Movement on February 24, 2018 with the participation of around 1,000 invitees from all Lebanese regions,” the movement said in a statement. “We were informed today by the hotel's administration, in a surprising manner, that it is refusing to allow the conference to be held. We clearly understood that this rejection, despite the prior acceptance, is the result of political pressures on security authorities that eventually asked the hotel's administration to cancel the event,” the movement added. “Dr. Fares Soaid and Dr. Radwan al-Sayyed will hold a press conference tomorrow at 12:00 pm to comment on this,” it said.
In a tweet, Soaid warned that “the security regime has returned.”Former justice minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi meanwhile said the cancellation of the conference “confirms that attacking freedoms has become an ordinary policy for the ruling class, which is using all its tools and clientelism to impact the will of the Lebanese and manipulate the elections.”“We stand by Fares Soaid, Radwan al-Sayyed and all the participants in the initiative. We hope the side or political sides who pressed to block the conference will be honestly identified,” Rifi tweeted. In remarks to MTV, Soaid said the hotel's manager, Roy Gharios, has told him that the conference cannot be held for “security reasons.”“We had announced that the conference would be against both the ruling class and the government,” Soaid said. “I believe that this is a message from the Lebanese ruling  class, who used security agencies to cancel this conference and to tell all Lebanese that any dissent in Lebanon against the ruling class, the government or Hizbullah's arms will be subject to cancellation and persecution,” the ex-MP added. Noting that the conference will be held at another venue to be announced next week, Soaid said “the prime minister, the entire government, the interior minister, the defense minister and the president of the republic are all responsible” for what happened. “It is our constitutional right to engage in political action,” the former lawmaker stressed. “If the Lebanese state cannot guarantee the security of a peaceful conference in Lebanon, where should we go? To Hizbullah?” Soaid wondered.

Berri Calls for 'Constitutional Uprising', Unified Rhetoric to Solve Syrian Refugee Crisis
Naharnet/February 24/18/In a dialogue with university students held at Lebanon's parliament in Nejmeh Square on Saturday, Speaker Nabih Berri voiced calls for “a constitutional uprising, the development of the electoral system and lowering the voting age to 18.”Berri, speaking to students from the Lebanese American University called for “constitutional uprising utilizing democratic means and for developing the electoral system as soon as the parliamentary elections are completed.”He also said the voting age must be lowered to 18 instead of 21 which would pave way for more youth participation in national parliament. Highlighting Israel's continuous threats, he said: “Lebanon's economy and its banking system have been an economic competitor to Israel. The Resistance was a model for people's resistance and for confronting aggression.” Addressing the students, Berri said: “Your role should be focused on the fact that there is no way to curb terrorism except by coexistence of Lebanese sects and unity.”“One of the important issues is the Syrian refugees crisis. They need services, infrastructure and water networks. There are more Syrian students than Lebanese students in Lebanon. I have discussed this matter with The European Parliament. The political rhetoric to solve this crisis must be one and unified,” he concluded.

LF Rejects 'Forcing Lebanese to Choose' between Darkness and Power Ships

Naharnet/February 24/18/A controversial plan to lease power generating vessels will likely worsen the dispute between political parties after it has been put down for voting in the Cabinet, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. The Lebanese Forces said they “reject forcing the Lebanese to choose between darkness and power barges.”Sources of the LF told the daily: “During discussions of the budget (last week), we have asked for a plan with the aim of reducing squandering and securing electricity. Although we have initially approved the plan, but the illegal and non-competitive procedure of selection and prosecution led to the suspension of the interim production deal because it was not properly carried out.”“The file is at the Shura Council now because it was rejected by the Tender's Department and challenged by some ministers in addition to the Lebanese Forces,” they said. In November 2017, the Tender's Department said three companies bidding to provide electricity in Lebanon failed to meet requirements, leaving Turkish Karadeniz firm -- operator of the Fatmagul Sultan and Orhan Bey vessels that Lebanon has been leasing since 2012-- the only company to have met requirements. But under Lebanese law no award can be made if there is only one qualified bidder. The LF source stressed that “insistence to have only one company carry out the task is rejected,” pointing out that a number of solutions were turned down. “Many companies have submitted better solutions, and the amendments to the book of conditions as per the Cabinet remarks were rejected. A state offer to provide a land lot to establish a power plant on land were excluded as were gas solutions, which are less expensive. The book of conditions became tailored to meet the measurement of a power barge that could sail within days of a nearby shore,” said the sources. “We refuse under any circumstances to force the Lebanese to choose between darkness and the ships. We maintain our position of the need to adopt the legal mechanisms,” concluded the source. Minister Abi Khalil, of the Free Patriotic Movement, was accused of “tailoring” the book of terms to secure the win of Karadeniz firm.

Qaouq: Parliamentary Elections a Historic Chance to Fortify National Choices
Naharnet/February 24/18/Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections will be “an exceptional historic opportunity to fortify the options and walk in the direction of building a state of institutions and effective partnership,” said senior Hizbullah official Nabil Qaouq on Saturday. However he assured that the “Resistance will not be occupied with the elections” and forget the Israeli threats against Lebanon's oil and land border. “Has anyone heard Saudi Arabia condemn the Zionist attacks against Syria or Israel's piracy of the Lebanese oil wealth?” he asked. Adding that “what prompted Israel to continue its aggression against Syria and our oil wealth is Saudi Arabia.” Speaking at a memorial ceremony, he referred to the U.S. mediation in the oil and land dispute file between Lebanon and Israel, he said: “Lebanon was not waiting for fair U.S. mediation that secures its rights in land and sea. What stopped the aggression against Lebanon is its strength embodied in the Army, People and Resistance," equation. He accused the US mediator in the file, Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield of “taking Israel's side.”

Jumblat Criticizes Trump's Suggestion to Arm US School Teachers
Naharnet/February 24/18/Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc leader MP Walid Jumblat, lashed out on Saturday at U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion of arming school teachers to deter mass shootings after a gun rampage that killed 17 people at a Florida high school. "Instead of putting an end to the outbreak of weapons in his country, Trump wants to arm school teachers under the slogan of protecting students,” Jumblatt said on Saturday via Twitter. He added “schools will then become battlefields and students may later be allowed to arm themselves. What a crazy world!”On Thursday, Trump suggested arming teachers as he faced broken voices, tears and demands for action at a meeting with survivors of the gun rampage that killed 17 people at a Florida high school. The televised White House meeting came as students staged street protests across the country to demand stricter gun laws following the murder of 14 teens and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Qassem Says U.S. Pressure on Hizbullah Futile
Naharnet/February 24/18/Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem stressed Friday that U.S. sanctions on his party are futile. “America has failed in its wars on Hizbullah and it will not take through pressure what it has failed to take through aggression,” Qassem said during a ceremony to launch Hizbullah's electoral campaign in the Baalbek-Hermel and Zahle districts. “We are the ones who are attached to the state the same as we are attached to the resistance and we have been part of state institutions since 1992,” Qassem added. “All foreign ambassadors meet with us and tell us that we are part of the country's choices and that they cannot overlook us,” Hizbullah number two went on to say. Media reports published Friday said two U.S. Republican lawmakers have proposed a new sanctions bill against Hizbullah.
Hizbullah is branded a "terrorist" organization by the United States and is already targeted with a host of economic sanctions. U.S. efforts to pressure Hizbullah have increased under President Donald Trump's leadership.

Man Suspected of Killing Filipina in Kuwait Held in Lebanon

Associated Press/Naharnet/February 24/18/One of two suspects in the gruesome death of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait has been arrested in Lebanon, the Philippine foreign secretary said Friday. Alan Peter Cayetano said he has told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about the arrest of Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf but added that Assaf's Syrian wife, who is also a suspect in the death of Joanna Demafelis, remains at large. The discovery of Demafelis' body on Feb. 6 in a freezer in Kuwait City, where it had reportedly been kept for more than a year, sparked outrage in the Philippines and refocused attention on the tragic plight of poor Filipinos toiling mostly as maids abroad. It prompted Duterte to ban the deployment of new Filipino workers to Kuwait, where many abuses have been reported. Assaf and his wife employed Demafelis. Duterte and other officials have asked Kuwaiti authorities to hunt for the couple. "Assaf's arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance," Cayetano said in a statement, adding that he expects Kuwait will seek Assaf's extradition.
After attending Demafelis' wake on Thursday in her hometown of Sara in the central Philippines, Duterte told reporters the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait would continue and could be expanded to other countries. Duterte said Demafelis' body bore torture marks and signs that she was strangled. He said the government is conducting an assessment to "find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation." The Philippines is a major labor exporter with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad. The workers have been called the country's heroes because the income they send home has propped up the Southeast Asian nation's economy for decades, accounting for about 10 percent of its annual gross domestic product. Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of the country's worldwide diaspora of mostly maids, construction workers and laborers. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told a Senate hearing Wednesday that he has recalled three Filipino labor officers from Kuwait to face an investigation. They failed to act on a request by Demafelis' family for help after she went missing in January last year, he said. Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration reported that at least 196 Filipinos had died in Kuwait in the last two years, mostly for unspecified medical reasons but also four who committed suicide. The sheer number of Filipino workers abroad makes monitoring their wellbeing an overwhelming task. That is often complicated by workers not having proper travel and work documents, such as in Kuwait, where nearly 11,000 of the more than 252,000 Filipino workers are in the country illegally or are not properly authorized.

Saba Demands Accountability as Zahle River Turns Red Saturday 24th February 2018/The residents of Zahle were shocked on Saturday to see an alarming sight in their long-celebrated Bekaa city: a bright red Berdawni River. People there are used to hearing many excuses about the reason behind the dyed water, while they know very well its origin and the reality behind it. The Kataeb's candidate for the Greek Orthodox seat in Zahle, Charles Saba, wondered why the financial prosecutor and the relevant judicial authorities in Bekaa haven't taken any action so far, adding that anyone who is suspected of polluting the river should be questioned. “It is time for Wissam Tannoury, head of the Qaa al-Rim municipality and owner of the Mimosa plant, to pay attention to his own health and ours, as well as to his economy and ours,” Saba wrote on Twitter.
Lebanon’s Former Security Chief, Jamil Al-Sayyed, Threatens News Presenter Over Tweet
/اللواء جميل السيد يهدد جسيكا عازار
Anna Pukas/Arab News/February 24/18
LONDON: A television news anchorwoman in Lebanon has vowed to defend her right to freedom of expression after being threatened with legal action by a former security chief who is now a candidate in the country’s upcoming elections.
News presenter Jessica Azar says she will not be intimidated by Jamil Al-Sayyed, former head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, who has threatened to sue her over what he considered were slanderous comments on Twitter.
“This is not how the media should be dealt with in Lebanon,” said Azar. “I have the right to defend freedom of speech and to express my opinion, and the support I have received shows Lebanon will not let freedom of speech be harmed.”
Azar’s case has sparked outrage not only from other journalists but also from the public. The hashtag #wearesupportingjessicaazar was trending on Friday, and supporters posted pictures of Azar with a gag superimposed over her mouth and the Twitter bird symbol with its beak tied up with rope.
The 31-year-old presenter told Arab News she also has the support of Melhem Riachy, Lebanon’s minister of information.
“He just called me, he supports me and he is going to tweet about it,” she said.
The furor began six days ago when journalist Diana Moukalled tweeted about Al-Sayyed’s candidacy, saying he had “mischief” on his hands. Azar retweeted the comment without adding any remarks of her own.
“On Thursday, I was off and got a call from my office saying there was a man there with some papers for me, and that if I refused to delete the retweet, I would be sued,” Azar said.
She responded on Twitter, saying she felt honored to be among Al-Sayyed’s targets.
“It is an honor that he has brought a case against me. Just a retweet has stirred Jamil’s longing for the hateful past that has become obsolete in Lebanon and the Arab world, ” Azar wrote.
On Friday, Al-Sayyed tweeted what appeared to be a veiled threat against Azar. Without naming her, he wrote: “Some female media personalities have insulted our dignity on Twitter. Our lawyers have sent them a letter asking them to ‘remove the abuse so that we do not have to complain and we hope to get a good response.’ They responded with derision. When anyone insults your dignity, there are two routes before you — you can either resort to the law or take matters into your own hands. We resorted to the law.”
Al-Sayyed’s lawyer, Charbel Ghoussoub, told Arab News that Al Sayyed had not launched a lawsuit against Azar and Moukalled but only sent them a legal warning letter, urging both to remove their “libellous” Twitter posts.
The letter was delivered to Azar’s workplace at MTV television station, but as of late Friday, Moukalled had yet to receive her letter, apparently because Al-Sayyed’s lawyers had been unable to locate her address.
Moukalled told Arab News she would not comply with any demand to remove her tweets.
“I’m not going to remove my tweets. I believe Jamil Al-Sayyed is a public figure — he was an official, he represented the government in the security office — and my comment was related to a period I have lived through in Lebanon as a journalist and as a citizen. I met a lot of people telling their stories about their ordeal with Jamil Al-Sayyed.”
Al-Sayyed, 67, was director-general of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate from 1998 to 2005, a dark period in the country’s history when it was recovering from civil war and living under quasi-occupation by Syria. He was implicated in the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri and spent four years in detention before being released for lack of evidence.
His row with Azar and Moukalled highlights the changing landscape for the press in Lebanon in the run-up to the May elections — the first for eight years. Long regarded as a bastion of free speech in the Middle East, the country appears to be conducting a concerted clampdown on journalists, commentators and bloggers.
Leading talk show host Marcel Ghanem is facing legal action because of remarks made by a guest on his popular talk show, “Kalam Ennas,” in November. In a live broadcast, Saudi journalist Ibrahim Al-Merhi accused the president, Michel Aoun, and Nabih Berri, speaker of the parliament, of being “partners” in “Hezbollah’s terrorism.”
“The Lebanese journalist used to be a pioneer for freedoms for the entire Arab World,” said Ghanem. “Is it possible that today Lebanese journalists are afraid of the spectre of the authorities?”
A military court sentenced Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese analyst and outspoken critic of Hezbollah based at the Washington Institute, to six months in prison for claiming the Lebanese army was soft on Shiite Hezbollah but tough on Sunni extremists.
The justice minister, Salim Jreissati, said Ghaddar’s comments — made in 2014 at a US symposium — were tantamount to accusing the army of treason, which was not protected by the freedom of speech principle in the Lebanese constitution.
Last July, journalist Fidaa Itani was detained and interrogated after criticizing the army’s treatment of Syrian refugees in a Facebook post. Diana Moukalled recalled Al- Sayyed’ s role in prosecuting writer Samir Kassir, who was killed by a car bomb in 2005.
But Azar said that in imposing the crackdown, the authorities had not reckoned with public opinion.
“It is true that attacks on the press are increasing, but the voice of the people is also increasing,” she said. “Whenever it happens, the people speak out loudly and half of Lebanon tweets about it. The Syrian phase is over.”
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also voiced its concern over increasing harassment of the media in the country.
“More journalists are being prosecuted for defamation and the use of military courts is disturbing,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the CPJ.
“What is of even greater concern is the government specifically targeting people through social media and online. In Lebanon, the authorities have invested in technologies and tools to enable the security apparatus to monitor and mount surveillance on and abuse the privacy of individuals.
“There are countries in the Middle East which have traditionally been open but which are becoming more aggressive toward critics.
“Undoubtedly, there is tension in Lebanon ahead of the first elections to be held there for years. People are looking forward to stable government, but not all parties can agree on what stable government looks like,” Mansour said.
The lawyer acting for Lebanon’s former head of General Security, Jamil Al-Sayyed, told Arab News that he had been asked to send a legal warning to Moukalled and Azar, urging both to remove their posts on Twitter.
“We addressed them with a notarized warning,” said Charbel Ghoussoub, Al-Sayyed’s legal representative.
He said the warning is not a lawsuit, but an ultimatum served to Moukalled and Azar by a court bailiff delegated by a notary public.
Al-Sayyed described the Tweet, which described him as “a man of mischievous hands,” as libelous and said it “offended him personally.”
Ghoussoub said Azar had been served with the warning at the television station where she works, but the bailiff had handed the warning to the gatekeeper rather than directly to the presenter who was not there at the time. The gatekeeper than misinformed Azar that it was a full lawsuit rather than a warning, Ghoussoub said. Moukalled had not been served with the warning yet since her address was still unknown, he said.

Lebanese President Suggests 3rd Party to Resolve Border Dispute with Israel
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 24/18/Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said that a maritime border dispute with Israel could be settled through a third party under United Nations sponsorship “to demarcate the border and resolve this problem.”  “The current situation does not permit Israel to encroach on the border because there is a Lebanese decision to defend the land and sea border,” Aoun said in an interview with the Iraqi Al-Sumaria TV. The president said he informed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Beirut last week that Lebanon has maps dating back to the 1920s that confirm its rights to its land. “The whole world has [access to] them and they can’t be manipulated. What Israel is demanding in this respect will lead to the loss of these rights,” Aoun said. “Let Israel resort to [international] arbitration. Or else, the consequences could be tragic and Israel realizes what that means to reach these consequences.” US envoy David Satterfield, who is mediating between Beirut and Tel Aviv, left Beirut Friday after holding talks with top Lebanese officials. The interview with Aoun was conducted during his official visit to Iraq this week. Excerpts of the interview were released by the presidential media office on Friday.  Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin denied that a letter he delivered to Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil from his Russian counterpart had anything to do with the border dispute between Beirut and Tel Aviv or offshore block 9 which holds gas reserves. “Russia does not have a special role in this regard. This is clear to everyone,” Zasypkin said. He told reporters that he discussed with Bassil the developments in the region.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 24-25/18
UN Security Council unanimously backs Syria ceasefire
AFP, United Nations/Saturday, 24 February 2018/ With Russia’s backing, the UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations. The resolution demanding the ceasefire “without delay” was adopted as Syrian government forces pounded the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where hundreds have died during a week-long assault. “We are late to respond to this crisis, very late,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote, accusing Russia of stalling the vote. More than 500 people, including more than 120 children, have been killed in seven days of relentless airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as “hell on earth.”Hala, 9, receives treatment at a makeshift hospital following Syrian government bombardments in Eastern Ghouta on February 22, 2018. (AFP) The resolution demands a cessation of hostilities “without delay” throughout Syria to allow the “safe, unimpeded and sustained” deliveries of aid and evacuations of the sick and wounded. To win Russia’s approval, language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after the adoption of the draft was scrapped, replaced by “without delay,” and the term “immediate” was also dropped in reference to the aid deliveries and evacuations. Diplomats said they were confident that this would not open the door to postponing the ceasefire, as council members had made clear in negotiations that the truce must quickly come into force. Guterres is to report to the council in 15 days on the ceasefire, diplomats said.

Trump says Russia, Iran behavior in Syria a ‘disgrace

AFP/Saturday, 24 February 2018/US President Donald Trump on Friday slammed as a "disgrace" the actions of the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian backers, as the world struggles to stop a deadly assault on a rebel-held enclave near Damascus. "I will say what Russia and what Iran and what Syria have done recently is a humanitarian disgrace," Trump told a news conference. "What those three countries have done to those people is a disgrace."The US State Department has said Russia -- whose air force is also striking Eastern Ghouta -- has a "unique responsibility" for the mounting death toll in the besieged enclave.
New Strikes Hit Syria Enclave after UN Delays Truce Vote
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/18/Air strikes and rocket fire hit the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta for a seventh straight day on Saturday after the United Nations again delayed a vote on a ceasefire. The Damascus government launched a devastating bombardment of the enclave just outside the capital last Sunday that has now killed at least 474 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Britain-based monitor of the war said three civilians were killed and 12 wounded in Russian air strikes on the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta early Saturday. Moscow, which intervened militarily in support of its Damascus ally in 2015, has denied any direct involvement in the Eastern Ghouta bombardment. The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used. US President Donald Trump on Friday said Russia's recent actions in Syria were a "disgrace". Friday's civilian death toll in the enclave -- under siege by the Syrian army since 2013 -- totalled 41, including 17 children, according to the Observatory. The UN Security Council had been due to hold a vote on Friday on a resolution calling for a month-long ceasefire to allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of seriously wounded civilians. But the vote was postponed until 1700 GMT on Saturday as Western powers bickered with Russia over the wording. Control of Eastern Ghouta is shared between two Islamist factions and Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and Russia insists there can be no ceasefire with the jihadists or their allies. Russia has been pressing for a negotiated withdrawal of rebel fighters and their families like the one that saw the government retake full control of second city Aleppo in December 2016. But all three rebel groups have refused. World leaders have expressed outrage at the plight of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, which UN chief Antonio Guterres called "hell on earth", but have so far been powerless to halt the bloodshed. The enclave is completely surrounded by government-controlled territory and its 400,000 residents are unwilling or unable to flee the deadly siege.
Security Council President Says 'Almost There' on Syria Ceasefire
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/18/U.N. Security Council diplomats are "almost there" in their bid for a deal with Russia on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, the council president said Friday. "We are still working on the language, on some of the paragraphs, but we are almost there," said Kuwait's Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi, who holds the presidency this month. The council is scheduled to meet at 2:30 pm (1930 GMT) to vote on a draft resolution demanding the truce to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations. Kuwait and Sweden presented the proposed measure two weeks ago but negotiations have dragged on as Syrian government forces wage a fierce air assault on Eastern Ghouta. More than 400 people have been killed in the six-day offensive on the rebel-held enclave, where U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said 400,000 Syrians are living in "hell on Earth."In a concession to Russia, the draft resolution states that the ceasefire will not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or al-Qaida, along with "individuals, groups, undertakings and entities" associated with the terror groups. Diplomats said negotiations were focused on Russian demands that rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces comply with the truce. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier criticized the draft resolution, saying that "no one can answer the question if the fighters will respect this truce... no one is giving guarantees.""In order for this resolution to be effective -- and we are ready to give our agreement to a text that does that -- we propose a plan allowing for a real truce and based on guarantees from all those who are inside and outside Eastern Ghouta," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow. Lavrov pointed to the Americans, who have "influence on the extremist groups remaining in this suburb of Damascus."Negotiations also focused on ensuring the ceasefire goes into effect immediately and for aid deliveries along with medical evacuations to also begin as soon as the truce begins. A previous draft had proposed that the ceasefire start 72 hours after the adoption and deliveries 48 hours after that. The text would demand the immediate lifting of all sieges including in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya and order all sides to "cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival."
More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from the homes in the war, which next month enters its eighth year with no end in sight.

Strikes on Syria’s Eastern Ghouta kill 21 civilians, death toll rises to 500
AFP, Reuters/Saturday, 24 February 2018/A surge of rocket fire, shelling and air strikes has killed nearly 500 people since Sunday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included more than 120 children. Air strikes killed 21 civilians in the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Saturday as major powers bickered over the terms of a ceasefire, a monitor said.
Devestating bombardment
Twelve were killed in the enclave’s largest town Douma, which has been repeatedly hit in the devastating bombardment the government launched last Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Damascus government and Russia, its ally, say they only target militants. They have said they seek to stop rebel mortar attacks on the capital and accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields. Rescuers in Syria’s eastern Ghouta said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war. Warplanes pounded the rebel enclave on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.(With Agencies)

Iraqi army threatens to ‘crush’ ISIS if they approach Kirkuk
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 24 February 2018/Commander of the second special operations in the Iraqi army, Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi, warned ISIS and Peshmerga forces on Friday that the national army will “crush” anyone that approaches the outskirts of Kirkuk. Saadi continued saying that the security situation in Kirkuk is under control. He also denied any ISIS militant presence in the city or plans to attack them. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said that hundreds of injured children in Mosul are suffering and not receiving appropriate treatments for their conditions.

Egypt court fines leading activist over insulting judiciary

The Associated Press, Cairo/Saturday, 24 February 2018/An Egyptian court has fined one of the leading activists behind the 2011 uprising $565 (10,000 Egyptian pounds) during his re-trial over insulting the judiciary. Saturday’s ruling on Ahmed Douma, reported by the state-run Al Ahram newspaper, is a response to his appeal against a 2014 ruling in the case sentencing him to three years in prison plus the fine. In 2015, Douma was sentenced to life in prison in another case dating back to December 2011, when clashes erupted between protesters and security forces outside Egypt’s Cabinet building. Douma, who was granted a retrial in that case last October, faces accusations of illegal protesting, assaulting security personnel and attacking government buildings.

US official says embassy expected to open in Jerusalem in May
Agencies/Saturday, 24 February 2018/The United States is expected to open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May, a US official told Reuters on Friday, a move from Tel Aviv that reverses decades of US policy.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in contact with the US Administration and will respond if and when an American announcement is made on the planned US Embassy move to Jerusalem, an Israeli government source said on Friday. US President Donald Trump announced last year that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating even Washington’s Arab allies and dismaying Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as their capital. A May opening appears to represent an earlier time frame than what had been expected. While speaking in the Israeli parliament last month, US Vice President Mike Pence said the move would take place by the end of 2019.
The opening will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, said the US official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Palestinians slam US embassy Jerusalem opening as 'provocation'. The Palestinian leadership on Friday slammed a US decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem in May, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, as "a provocation to Arabs". The founding of Israel seven decades ago on May 14 1948 is mourned by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe" when an estimated 750,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's creation. "The American administration's decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and choose the Palestinian people's Nakba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law," Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) number two Saeb Erekat told AFP. He said the result would be "the destruction of the two state option, as well as a blatant provocation to all Arabs and Muslims." Israel follows the Jewish lunar calendar and this year's official independence celebration falls on April 19. Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz was quick to welcome the opening date. "I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US on his decision to transfer the US Embassy to our capital on Israel's 70th Independence Day," he wrote in English on his Twitter account. "There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!"US President Donald Trump in December broke with decades of policy in Washington by officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledging to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv. Since that declaration 27 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed in violence. Arab and Muslim leaders have warned that there could be a further escalation if the embassy is moved. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war, as the capital of the state to which they aspire. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. There is a broad international consensus that the dispute must be resolved as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Embassies in Israel are therefore in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem. The US state department said that ambassador David Friedman would initially work out of the large US Consulate General in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, situated between the east and west sides of the city. Eventually a permanent embassy building would be constructed, it said. The relatively new consulate complex, on the edge of Jerusalem adjacent to Jewish and Palestinian residential neighborhoods, could pose potential challenges to US and Israeli security personnel.

At Least 23 Killed in Multiple Attacks in Afghanistan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/18/At least 23 people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in multiple suicide bombings and attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, the latest in a series of assaults in the war-torn country. In the biggest attack, Taliban militants stormed an army base in the western province of Farah overnight, killing at least 18 soldiers. "Last night a big group of militants attacked an army base in Bala Buluk district of Farah. Unfortunately, we lost 18 soldiers, two soldiers were wounded. We have sent more reinforcements to the area," defence ministry spokesman Daulat Wazir said.The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Deputy provincial governor Younus Rasooli said the authorities had sent a fact-finding delegation to Bala Buluk to investigate the assault. In another attack, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the diplomatic area of Kabul during the morning rush hour, killing at least three people and wounding five others, deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP. "At around 8:30 am, a suicide bomber on foot, well-dressed with a necktie on, was identified at a checkpoint. He blew up his explosives, killing three and wounding five others," he said, updating an earlier toll. A security source who requested not to be named said the explosion happened near a compound belonging to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency. The NDS compound is located near the NATO headquarters and the US embassy.
"I was driving nearby when I heard a big explosion, the windows of my car were smashed. I saw several wounded people on the street near me," a witness told Tolonews TV adding that security forces had since swarmed the area, closing off the main road leading to the attack site.
In December, a suicide attacker on foot blew himself up near the same compound, killing at least six civilians. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack in Kabul, which in recent months has become one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians. Since mid-January, militants have stormed a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street and raided a military compound in the capital, killing more than 130 people as the city remains on high alert fearing further violence. - Car bombings -In two other attacks on Saturday in volatile southern Helmand province, suicide car bombs killed at least two soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others, officials said. In the first incident, militants used a Humvee to attack an army base in Nad Ali district but the vehicle was destroyed when soldiers identified it and hit it with a rocket propelled grenade, provincial spokesman Omar Zawak told AFP.
"Unfortunately, two soldiers were killed in the attack and seven wounded," he said. The Nad Ali attack was followed by a second suicide car bombing in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah that wounded seven people. The attack was against an NDS compound and near a police headquarters in the city, Helmand police spokesman Salaam Afghan told AFP. The Taliban claimed both attacks in Helmand. Militants including the Taliban and the Islamic State group have stepped up their attacks on beleaguered Afghan troops and police in recent months, sapping morale already hit by desertions and corruption. Afghan soldiers have taken what the UN describes as "shocking" casualties since international forces ended their combat role at the end of 2014, though troop casualty figures are no longer released..

Palestinians Enraged as U.S. Says to Open Jerusalem Embassy in May
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/18/The United States said Friday it will relocate its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May, bringing forward the contested move to coincide with Israel's 70th birthday -- and enraging Palestinians, who called it a "blatant provocation."Palestinians object to recognition of the disputed city as Israel's capital, and say it could destroy a two-state solution to the decades-old Middle East conflict. Palestinians also object to the date chosen for the embassy move -- they call May 14, on which Israel declared independence in 1948, Naqba, their "day of catastrophe."Israel's intelligence minister meanwhile congratulated U.S. President Donald Trump on the embassy move, which had previously been expected to take place in 2019, saying there was "no greater gift." The embassy move is expected to complicate efforts to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians -- and jeopardize the traditional, if disputed, U.S. role as an "honest broker" in efforts to resolve one of the world's most intractable conflicts. "In May, the United States plans to open a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The opening will coincide with Israel's 70th anniversary," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement. Until now, the U.S. embassy has been located in Tel Aviv with a separate consulate general located in Jerusalem that represents U.S. interests in the Palestinian territories. The new embassy will be initially located in a U.S. consular building in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood while Washington searches for a permanent location, "the planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking," Nauert said. The interim embassy will contain office space for the ambassador and "a small staff," she said. "By the end of next year, we intend to open a new embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space," she added. Trump broke with decades of policy in December to announce U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and a pledge to move the embassy, drawing near global condemnation, enraging the Palestinians and sparking days of unrest in the Palestinian territories.It ruptured generations of international consensus that Jerusalem's status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
'Destruction of two-state option'
The Palestine Liberation Organization immediately decried Washington's embassy announcement as a "provocation to all Arabs." "The American administration's decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and choose the Palestinian people's Naqba as the date for this step is a blatant violation of international law," PLO number two Saeb Erekat told AFP. He said the result would be "the destruction of the two-state option, as well as a blatant provocation to all Arabs and Muslims."Israel follows the Jewish lunar calendar, so this year's official independence celebration falls on April 19.
Israeli intelligence minister Israel Katz welcomed the May opening, taking to Twitter to congratulate Trump on the decision to transfer the embassy. "There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!" Katz wrote. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. Trump said his recognition of Jerusalem -- making good on a 2016 campaign pledge -- marked the start of a "new approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis and Palestinians alike have seen his move as Washington taking Israel's side in the conflict -- a view reinforced by the White House's recent decision to withhold financing for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas this week traveled to the United Nations to call for an international conference by mid-2018 in which the United States would not have the central mediating role in launching a wider peace process. Trump's envoy for Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner subsequently met behind closed doors with U.N. Security Council ambassadors soliciting their support for a prospective Trump peace plan.
While the Palestinians want a new international mechanism to shepherd peace talks, the details of the Trump plan and its timing are still unclear. The revised schedule on the embassy move comes after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged only last month to move the embassy by the end of 2019 in a speech to Israel's parliament that saw Arab lawmakers expelled after they shouted in protest. "The hardest deal to make of any kind is between the Israelis and Palestinians," Trump told reporters Friday at the White House. "We're actually making great headway. Jerusalem was the right thing to do."

Legalization of divorce proposed in last Catholic country where it is prohibited
Arab News/February 24/18/MANILA: A landmark bill was approved this week to legalize divorce in the Philippines, the last Catholic country where it is prohibited.
With the proposed bill titled “An Act providing for absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage”approved by the House of Representatives committee on population and family relations, it will now move to the plenary level. It’s the first time in the history of the Philippines that a divorce bill has reached plenary deliberations. However, the effort to legislate an absolute divorce law faces diminishing prospects in the Senate, where several senators have already expressed opposition to such measure. Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III even pointed out that not one of his colleagues had bothered to file a counterpart bill in the upper chamber. Several senators are also thumbing down the proposal to introduce divorce in the country. Instead of divorce, they are battling for a “simplified” annulment law that would make the process affordable and accessible to ordinary Filipinos.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the only bachelor among members of the Senate, stressed that he doesn’t believe in a “drive-through” divorce like the one in the United States. “What we need is a clear and reasonable process for our constituents to follow,” he said, noting that the current process of separation in the Philippines is expensive and difficult to follow. Senator Joel Villanueva, son of an evangelist, also said he is strongly against divorce, but would push for an annulment law that is “simplified and not anti-poor.”Senator Francis Escudero, likewise, said he favors a measure that will make the existing process of annulment under the civil code and the family code more affordable and accessible to all. Escudero himself has undergone an annulment process with his first wife. Senator Panfilo Lacson said he is not totally opposed to a divorce bill but would first like to see the salient features of the House version of the proposed measure. “My primary concern is the sanctity of marriage. Needless to say, I don’t want marriage and separation to be a ‘dime a dozen’ affair,” he said. So far, only Senator Risa Hontiveros has signified her support for the enactment of the bill. “If and when one is filed, I will actively participate because it is going to be a very important deliberation,” she said. Meanwhile, church leaders expressed disappointment over the passage of the bill before the lower house, as they reiterated their stance against divorce. “Divorce is a direct affront to the law ordained by God and specifically reiterated by our Lord Jesus Christ. The destruction of families by divorce is indeed a project of Satan, the enemy par excellence of God,” said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon. Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines permanent committee on public affairs, also criticized approval of the bill. “By passing this measure, Congress betrays its mandate to protect our country’s legally and morally declared social and inviolable institutions!” Secillano posted on his Facebook account. Save for the Vatican, the Philippines is the only Catholic country in the world where divorce is forbidden.
This, however, had not been a guarantee to keep many marriages intact and husbands faithful to their wives. Several politicians are also known to be philanderers.

New French Counter-Terrorism Plan Goes beyond Security Measures
Paris - Michel Abou Najm/Asharq Al Awsat/February 24/18
France ended in November its state of emergency, but terrorist threats remain and fears of new terror attacks persist. These fears are evident in Paris’ policy regarding the return of extremists to France from Iraq and Syria. France is seeking to permanently bar their entry. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe revealed during a news conference in Lille on Friday in Lille the government’s goal to eradicate terrorism and radicalism from their roots in an approach that can be summed up as “prevention is the best cure.” There are no guarantees that the current government plan will be more efficient than previous ones, but it sets itself apart from others for focusing on detecting signs of extremism in their early stages. To that end, Philippe proposed 60 measures that reflect the goal of tackling the radical threat in a serious and comprehensive manner. According to the government, there is a need for a “comprehensive strategy and not partial measures.”Despite this, some sides have criticized the plan for failing to take into consideration the economic and development aspects of marginalized regions. These regions are predominantly made up of migrants and are fertile ground for radicalization to take hold. The government was supposed to reveal its plan last autumn, but it preferred to delay the announcement to give more time for expanded consultations. It concluded that before combating extremism, its signs should be detected at an early stage. The plan therefore will prioritize addressing the emergence of these signs at schools on the pre-school, elementary and secondary levels. The government wants schools to adhere to secularism, provide specialized academic inspectors and put more effort into exchanging information with security agencies.  It is also seeking greater cooperation from internet network operators that would be asked to remove any material that promotes terrorism and extremism. In addition to the pre-emptive work, the government wants to activate punitive measures. It is seeking greater cooperation from the local municipal authorities and train its best employees on how to detect signs of extremism.
Two sectors that require serious ideas remain unaddressed: The first is how to manage prisoners held on terrorism or extremism charges, and second is how to deal with minors returning from Syria and Iraq.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 24-25/18
Does Jihad Really Have "Nothing to do with Islam"?

Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 24/ 2018
"National Security officials are prohibited from developing a factual understanding of Islamic threat doctrines, preferring instead to depend upon 5th column Muslim Brotherhood cultural advisors." — Richard Higgins, NSC official.
At the heart of the problem lies the fantasy that Islam must be very similar to other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, out of which it was, in fact derived.
The use of force, mainly through jihad, is a basic doctrine in the Qur'an, the Prophetic sayings (ahadith), and in all manuals of Islamic law. It is on these sources that fighters from Islamic State, al-Qa'ida, al-Shabaab, and hundreds of other groupings base their preaching and their actions. To say that such people have "nothing to do with Islam" could not be more wrong.
Recently, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster once again downplayed the significance of faith by claiming that Islamic ideology is "irreligious"; meanwhile, up to 1.5 billion Muslims continue claiming, as they have done for 1400 years, that it is.
As Stephen Coughlin, an expert on Islam, told Gatestone, "It is the believers who define their religion, not the non-believers. If someone says his religion is that the moon is made of green cheese, that has to be your starting point."
On February 20, 2017, President Trump appointed McMaster, a serving Lieutenant General of the US Army, to the important position of National Security Advisor, after the forced resignation of Michael T. Flynn. McMaster came to the post with a reputation for stability, battlefield experience, and intelligence. According to the Los Angeles Times:
"It is not an overstatement to say that Americans and the world should feel a little safer today," tweeted Andrew Exum, an author and academic who saw combat in Afghanistan and writes widely about military affairs."
After the controversies surrounding McMaster's predecessor in office, McMaster came as a safe hand.
It was not long before divisions opened up within the NSC, however, with quarrels, firings, and appeals to the president. Many controversies remain today. By July, it was reported that Trump was planning to fire McMaster and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. By August, however, McMaster's position seemed secure.
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss issues McMaster's spell at the NSC has brought to light, except for one: McMaster's position on Islam and terrorism. It became a cause for contention early in McMaster's incumbency and continues to engender divisions, not just among NSC staff, but also with the president. The general's viewpoint, which he has often expressed, is that international terrorism has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, a notion he seems to believe to the point where he has banned the use of the term "radical Islamic terrorism" -- a term that Trump uses often.
In an all-hands meeting of the NSC on February 23, 2017, three days after his appointment as NSC Director, McMaster said jihadist terrorists are not true to their professed religion and that the use of the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" does not help the US in working with allies to defeat terrorist groups:
"The phrase is unhelpful because terrorist organizations like ISIS represent a perversion of Islam, and are thus un-Islamic, McMaster said, according to a source who attended the meeting."
More recently, on December 3, in an interview with Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, McMaster stated that "we make sure we never buy into or reinforce the terrorist narrative, this false narrative that this is a war of religion". He followed this by elaborating on the criminality and supposed secularism of Muslim terrorists:
"Those who adhere to this ideology are really irreligious criminals who use a perverted, what the President has called a wicked interpretation of religion, in an effort to recruit young, impressionable people to their cause, to foment hatred".
In taking that stance, McMaster has broken with many members of his own staff, several of whom he was later to fire, and with the Trump administration itself. This desire to deny a connection between Islam and terrorism or to distinguish between a "pure" Islamic religion and "perversions" of it had been for many years a characteristic of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, as well as Hillary Clinton's tweets, when "this has nothing to do with Islam" was an oft-repeated refrain.
One of the people whom McMaster fired is Richard Higgins, a top NSC official who had written a memoir in which he warned of the dangers of radical Islam and its alliance with the far Left. In a lengthy document, Higgins wrote:
Globalists and Islamists recognize that for their visions to succeed, America, both as an ideal and as a national and political identity, must be destroyed...Islamists ally with cultural Marxists...[but] Islamists will co-opt the movement in its entirety...
Because the left is aligned with Islamist organizations at local, national, and international levels, recognition should be given to the fact that they seamlessly interoperate through coordinated synchronized interactive narratives...
These attack narratives are pervasive, full spectrum, and institutionalized at all levels. They operate in social media, television, the 24-hour news cycle in all media and are entrenched at the upper levels of the bureaucracies.
Clearly, Higgins did not mince his words, yet what he wrote seems entirely appropriate for the NSC, a body charged with the protection of the United States from radicalism of all kinds. According to Meira Svirsky, writing for the Clarion Project
Lamenting the lack of education given to government officials about radical Islam, Higgins previously wrote, "National Security officials are prohibited from developing a factual understanding of Islamic threat doctrines, preferring instead to depend upon 5th column Muslim Brotherhood cultural advisors." [1]
Higgins's stress on the lack of education about Islam is a vital recognition that something has been going wrong for years when it comes to American and European official responses to the religion and its followers. Rightly cautious about genuine Islamophobia, the growth of hate speech and intercommunal strife, governments and their agencies have adopted policies and measures to preserve calm even in the face of growing levels of terrorism by Muslims. Europeans in Paris, Barcelona, Manchester, London, Brussels, Berlin and Nice, to name just a few places, are at the forefront of attacks inspired by Islamic State, al-Qa'ida and other radical groups. But the US has suffered the heaviest casualties, with thousands slaughtered in the 9/11 attacks.
In the face of a renascent and at times violent Islam, politicians have adopted the policy of denying any connection between terrorist events and Islam. Many religious leaders have done the same. McMaster has adopted this policy, keeping him in line with established approaches:
"HR McMaster, a respected army lieutenant general, struck notes more consistent with traditional counterterrorism analysts and espoused consensus foreign-policy views during a meeting he held with his new National Security Council staff on Thursday".
According to Svirsky:
McMaster believes the "Islamic State is not Islamic," going so far as to describe jihadists as "really irreligious organizations." As did former president Obama, he opposes use of any language that connects Islam to terrorism.
McMaster also rejects the notion that jihadists are motivated by religious ideology. Instead, he says they are motivated by "fear," a "sense of honor" and their "interests," which he describes as the roots of human conflict for thousands of years. He believes U.S. policy must be based on "understanding those human dimensions."
There may be signs that McMaster, though he still has some way to go, at least recognizes that some deeply religious Islamic organizations are a threat to the West. Writing on December 13, Meira Svirsky cites a speech McMaster gave at Policy Exchange in Washington:
"Declaring the ideology of radical Islam an obvious and 'grave threat to all civilized people,' U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster singled out the Muslim Brotherhood and its brand of political Islam as a specific threat".
In that speech, the general spoke of Turkey and Egypt as two major sources of support for the Brotherhood, including its Palestinian branch, Hamas. He clearly sees the threat, but does not, as yet, fully understand the meaning of its religious dimension (however much other factors play a role in terrorism).
I have no wish to be disrespectful towards McMaster, who carries out a vital task in securing the lives and property of so many Americans, but I fear his statements show that he has little or no knowledge of Islam, its teachings, or its history. Either that or he has invented a form of Islam that bears no resemblance to the religion that many of us have spent most of our lives studying. Not implausibly, he has given ears to advisors, possibly including Muslims, who have sought to play down any possible link between violence and the Muslim faith.
This willingness, even eagerness, to misrepresent Islam plays directly into the hands of anti-Western Muslims, radicals who anticipate the coming of an apocalyptic global Caliphate. In a recent article, Professor Richard Landes of Boston University lists the many ways in which this is done:
Only the most fervent of true believers could think that, even with Allah's help, the global Caliphate was possible. In order to succeed, da'wa [outreach; proselytizing] Caliphaters needed the assistance of the targeted kuffar population to:
Disguise their ambition to subject the kuffar, by downplaying jihadi acts of war and their deployment among the targeted population.
Insist that "except for a tiny minority," the "vast majority" of Muslims are moderate and peaceful, and Islam is a "Religion of Peace" that has nothing to do with the violence of jihadists.
Accept those who fight for the Caliphate with da'wa as "moderates" who have "nothing to do" with "violent extremists."
Engage these "moderate" Caliphaters as advisors and consultants in intelligence and police work, as prison chaplains, community liaisons, college teachers, and administrators.
Present Caliphater war propaganda as reliable information, as news.
Attack those who criticize Islam (including Muslims) as xenophobic and racist Islamophobes.
Adopt the Caliphater's apocalyptic enemy as their own, so that the kuffar join in an attack on one of their key allies.
Legitimate jihadi terrorism as "resistance" and denounce any recourse to violence in their own defense as "terrorism."
Respect the dignity of Muslim beliefs even as Muslims heap disdain on their beliefs.
Take seriously Caliphater invocations of human rights when, in reality, they despise those rights for women, slaves, and infidels.
Welcome an angry "Muslim Street" in the heart of their capital cities.
At the heart of the problem lies the fantasy that Islam must be very similar to other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, out of which it was, in fact derived. This would mean that Islam consists only of doctrines about a single God, heaven and hell, sin and punishment, spiritual endeavor, together with practices such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and alms-giving. There would be nothing to concern us were that the case, and certainly no reason to connect the faith with a few supposedly fanatical people who have misguidedly distorted it and turned to violence.
But that would be to ignore the totality of Islam. Apart from 12 years at the start of Muhammad's mission, Islam has encompassed far more than worship and moral behavior. From the moment Muhammad led his followers from Mecca to Medina in the year 622, his religion became a system of government, of law, and of war. Several battles were fought with his Meccan opponents; the Jews of Medina were either driven out by force or executed and enslaved, and Muhammad returned to Mecca as its conqueror. On his death, his first successor embarked on a two-year war to bring recalcitrant tribes back within the fold, sent out armies to the north and, in just a few years, began the wave of invasions that made Muslims victorious across most of the known world. Of the first four "rightly-guided" caliphs, one was assassinated by an Iranian captive and the other two by other Muslims. Muhammad's grandson, Husayn, was killed with his family in Karbala in 680 by the second of the Umayyad caliphs, before further internal wars. Jihadi wars continued, year in and year out, after that; they are still invoked by modern terrorists. Islam has never been at peace with the non-Muslim world.
The use of force, mainly through jihad, is a basic doctrine in the Qur'an, the prophetic sayings (ahadith), and in all manuals of Islamic law. (For examples, see here, here, here and here.)
If jihad were permitted only in self-defence, then excuses implying aggression, as we have seen, would need to be readily available to justify attacks. As the Washington Post wrote a fortnight after the attack on the United States on 9/11/2001:
At the heart of the bin Laden opus are two declarations of holy war -- jihad -- against America. The first, issued in 1996, was directed specifically at "Americans occupying the land of the two holy places," as bin Laden refers to his native Saudi Arabia, where 5,000 U.S. troops have been stationed since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The two holy places are Muslim shrines at Mecca and Medina.
In 1998, he broadened the edict to include the killing of "Americans and their allies, civilians and military . . . in any country in which it is possible to do it."
It is on such Islamic sources that fighters from Islamic State, al-Qa'ida, al-Shabaab, and hundreds of other groupings base their preaching and their actions. To say that such people have "nothing to do with Islam" could not be more wrong.
It is not only wrong, it is demeaning to the many ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Ibn Warraq and reformist Muslims who are fully aware of the connection, but are often apparently considered delusional or even fanatical. Last year saw the publication of Ibn Warraq's detailed study, The Islam in Islamic Terrorism: The Importance of Beliefs, Ideas, and Ideology, which takes the reader through all the violent or violence-promoting individuals and groups in Islamic history, with discursions on the thinking behind them. With few exceptions, these individuals and groups are far from minor or obscure.
In chapter one of his book, Ibn Warraq examines what he calls the "Root Cause Fallacy", whereby politicians, security advisers, and others deflect attention from religion as a motivator for terrorism. He shows that most radicals and terrorists are not primarily inspired or justified by poverty, lack of knowledge of Islam, lack of education, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestine, anti-Semitism, U.S. Foreign policy, Western Imperialism, or revenge for the Crusades. He refers (p. 31) to David Wurmser of the American Enterprise Institute and his view that:
"Westerners attribute too many of the Arab world's problems 'to specific material issues' such as land and wealth. This usually means a tendency 'to belittle belief and strict adherence to principle as genuine and dismiss it as a cynical exploitation of the masses by politicians. As such, Western observers see material issues and leaders, not the spiritual state of the Arab world, as the heart of the problem'".
Overall, Ibn Warraq draws on an extensive body of scholarship, mainly from leading Western scholars of Islam and authoritative sources such as The Encyclopedia of Islam. McMaster and others, who repeat the mantra that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, are hardly in a position to override comment by individuals who have spent a lifetime deeply involved in the study of Islam through its original sources.
Ibn Warraq, moreover, cites (pp. 139-140) several Western and Muslim scholars who have said repeatedly that the idea that the "true jihad is a spiritual struggle" is completely unauthentic. It is arguments based on a reading of texts in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other languages that deserve to be treated as the basis for policy-making, identifying which people may be potential terrorists, or evaluating the true intentions of US-based Muslim associations such as CAIR or ISNA.
Clare Lopez, vice president of research and analysis at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, has commented on the broad lack of knowledge about Islam and how it has distorted thinking within national bodies. Beginning with criticism of McMaster, she raises broader issues:
McMaster is just wrong for NSC on so many counts. I think at least in part because, like others across national security at his level, who made rank in years post-9/11, he was systematically denied fact-based training about Islam, jihad, Shariah and the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] – whose affiliates, associates, operatives, fellow travelers and useful fools remain embedded within and close to the federal government and local law enforcement at various levels.
Now, of course, anyone who's ever taken the oath to the Constitution has an affirmative obligation to know the enemy and that McMaster did not do this is his responsibility alone.
Those who got promoted within the military-security establishment over the past eight years got there precisely because of a "willful blindness about Islam".
The problem for the United States government, Congress, Senate -- and many important agencies which find themselves called on to discuss, monitor, report on, or make policies about Islam, American Muslims, Muslims worldwide, and more -- is knowing where to look for accurate and authentic information. In the past, all of these have depended on Muslim academics, uncritical and cosmetic non-Muslim professors and commentators such as John Esposito, Karen Armstrong and the many teachers identified by Campus Watch; numerous university and college Islamicists with vested interests in posts funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim states (see here); self-appointed Islamic authorities such as CAIR, and amateurs within US institutions.
Criticism of Islam has become taboo and has been denounced as a right-wing or even far-right prejudice. The present writer, however, a political centrist, sees nothing wrong in bringing reasoned and fact-based criticism to bear on Islam, just as one would to every other ideology, from Marxism to Fascism. One can also appreciate the stunning contributions Muslims have made to science, art, architecture, calligraphy, music, and the spiritual endeavors of Sufis and Shi'i mystical philosophers. It is important for everyone to step back and bring accuracy and balance to the way we regard a large and expanding religion.
*Denis MacEoin has an MA in Persian, Arabic and Islamic History from Edinburgh University and a PhD (1979) in an aspect of Shi'i Islam in 19th-century Iran. He taught Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Religious Studies Department of Newcastle University and has published many books and articles on Islamic topics.
[1] There is evidence that the international Muslim Brotherhood is working for influence in US politics and that it has already placed people within several US bodies. See here.
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The return of society to moderation
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
Making things easier is one of the lofty ideals of the religion of Islam. It is the basis for all the rituals that are made obligatory for the faithful. Ease is the opposite of hardship as the Holy Qur’an puts it. “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.”
The Qur’anic verse related to fasting gives exemption for the sick and those who are traveling from observing fasting on the condition that they have to make it up later. Such concessions are applied to other obligatory rituals as well.
Allah has provided ease with every hardship. The Qur’an says in Surah Inshirah: “For indeed, with hardship (will be) ease.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) never had two choices, except that he chose the easier of them. But some people tend to be hardened and narrow in their viewpoints on religious matters, though it has no basis either in the Book of Allah or in the Tradition of the Prophet (Sunnah).
There have been two incidents in our society recently indicating that clerics are instrumental in making things easier for people as well as in enabling them to stay away from hardening and making things harder for people. The first incident was the fatwa (religious edict) issued by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and adviser at the Saudi Royal Court, who is known for his moderate viewpoints.
During his recent radio and television program, he was asked about the abaya worn by women. Sheikh Al-Mutlaq answered that there are two major types of abaya. One is the abaya which is placed on the head, and the majority of preachers and scholars advocate for it.
‘No condition in Islam’
The second is the abaya that is placed on the shoulders, and some preachers and scholars forbid this type of abaya considering that wearing it is an aberration from religious principles. In his fatwa, Sheikh Al-Mutlaq absolutely nullified this false notion saying that this is an inferior view. He said: There is no difference between these two types of abayas. He went further saying that Islam sets no condition that women need to wear an abaya. In fact, the abaya is only a means to cover (a woman’s body), and women can wear any dress that covers what must be covered from the body of a woman.
Sheikh Al-Mutlaq’s comments drew mixed reactions with some supporting and others criticizing and opposing him. This prompted the Sheikh to make a statement in which he explained what he had previously said on the topic, giving a befitting reply to those who criticized and opposed him. He emphasized that more than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas. “Some of these Muslim women do not know about abayas and they wear various other types of dresses, which are not akin to abayas. However, they are confident that they are wearing dresses that fulfill the purpose of covering the body modestly as ordained by the Islamic Shariah.”
He also noted that not wearing an abaya cannot be called either a violation of the teachings of Islam or non-compliance to achieve the real purpose of the Islamic Shariah with covering the body by the Muslim women.
There is no longer any justification for tightening and hardening religious matters for people on an issue that did not exist 30 years ago in some parts of the Kingdom when women did not use abayas.
The fatwa of Sheikh Al-Mutlaq is not the first of its kind. Several eminent scholars have spoken on the subject and have said that it is permissible for women to wear abayas from the head or from the shoulders or to wear an alternative to the abaya. However, it is interesting to note that no one expected this fatwa to come from Sheikh Al-Mutlaq at this time.
There is no longer any justification for tightening and hardening religious matters for people on an issue that did not exist 30 years ago in some parts of the Kingdom when women did not use abayas and many of them did not even know about them at that time.
The dispute about wearing abayas from the head or from the shoulders originated as a result of the toughening of the position by some preachers. This reached the point that some people disapproved of wearing abayas from the shoulders, considering that it was contrary to the teachings of the religion.
The second incident was the outlook of some preachers about offering roses as a gift to some passersby on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, after some scholars issued a fatwa that doing so was permissible. No one dares to do such a thing because it is regarded as a forbidden act by some scholars. However, some other scholars consider this not to be a forbidden act but only an undesirable one in view of the fact that it is a celebration of non-Muslims and an invitation to forbidden love-making.
Some scholars do not see any sin if someone presents a rose to his mother or wife or daughter on that day. But some scholars oppose this also on the grounds that there should not be any special day set aside in a year to celebrate the festival of love. As for love, it must be given uninterruptedly to those who deserve it. In the Holy Qur’an Allah says, addressing His messenger: Say, (O Muhammad), “If you should love Allah, then follow me, (so) Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

A beacon of light to free minds from shackles of ignorance
Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
When passing through a quite alley in the city of Jeddah, a small villa drew my attention and it evoked in me visions of the artistry Bahrain has long embraced — a place where art lovers reside in their own imaginary realms; an odd mélange of mad fervor and aesthetic excellence.
The villa had a low wooden wall and a large door from which one could catch a glimpse of a hastily furnished salon. This home of art — the Misk Institute — reminded me of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘The Kurd has nothing but the wind’, when while describing the novelist Salim Barakat’s house, the poet says: “His house is clean as the rooster’s eye, neglected as the chieftain’s tent whose people are scattered about as feathers; a rug of creased wool, an abraded dictionary, hurriedly hard bound books, pillows embroidered by the needle of a café attendant.’
The spirit and serenity of art was palpable in the place and was conveyed by the sundry collection of paintings, photographs, movies, and books, as well as recordings and other collectibles. This collection of art and other curiosities acted to spark a constant need in me for discovering alluring realms.
Cherished stories
Inside the house was another space that my friend Mahmoud Sabbagh had allocated to film parts of his cinematic productions and works. Meanwhile, the artist Ahmed Matar was bent on narrating to us what he had caught with his camera about of the history of Mecca. He also narrated his cherished stories of the ancient city of Matar, before lapsing under the spell of his camera and its endless escapades and adventures.
The small gathering represented the perfect opportunity to engage in debate and discussion of the arts and their future in the Kingdom, as well as about the new generation that longs to express itself by using art through unconventional ways. These methods transcend the status quo, opening the door to a plurality of views that knows no limits and it is in fact our duty to embrace this cultural mosaic.
In its true essence, art refuses to be passive, or to be used as a means to promote a particular agenda, for it is wary of losing its spontaneity and beauty.
Art is not a collection of monotonous works, paintings, pictures or visual and audiovisual pieces with which to furnish a place and decorate streets, avenues or squares. It is not a mere piece of decoration to be overlooked as part of the background. Art is not a luxury that is disposable on a whim, but an integral part of the internal landscape that can only acquire its pertinence and meaning through life itself.
Art is a complete lifestyle and produces its own culture, its own liturgy and philosophy along with its methods and objectives. In its true essence, art refuses to be passive, or to be used as a means to promote a particular agenda, for it is wary of losing its spontaneity and beauty.
The Misk Institute, presided by Ahmed Matar, is an important creative space for hundreds of aspiring Saudi artists. It supports their projects and provides them with the opportunity of getting acquainted with new concepts and to interact and have different experiences with other cultures within and outside the Kingdom. As eloquently expressed by Emil Cioran: “True contact between beings is established only by mute presence, by apparent non-communication, by that mysterious and wordless exchange which resembles inward prayer.” And this is precisely what arts aspire to achieve through invisible bridges of communications with which to interact with other beings, supplying the universe with energy and effervescence that so many other powers are incapable of providing. One can even venture to say that no other power can dethrone art!

UK: A customized post-Brexit agreement or a dead end?
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
The British public and many across the world who wish well for the Island nation are becoming more confused by the day at the pace of Brexit negotiations and what has or has not been agreed with the EU. For something as important as the decision to exit the European family with huge implications for the UK’s foreign and domestic economy for generations to come, the decisions made are no laughing matters. British Prime Minister Theresa May has presented her updated vision for Brexit to her ever more divided cabinet colleagues in which some of the major internal Brexit-related knots came to the front but left us no wiser on whether her colleagues stood shoulder to shoulder in the negotiations with Brussels.
May publicly acknowledged that the UK is seeking a transition period, in order to avoid a "cliff edge." While the British government seemed to be aiming for a two-year transition, some believe that May prefers a longer hiatus of three years, which would give her enough time to prepare for elections, to be held on their scheduled date, in 2022 and if this is the case then the UK is aiming for a final deal that will look like an Association Agreement (i.e. EU/Ukraine) but that will not be called so for obvious political reasons. The EU usually operates with “models” for international agreement, but the UK government is determined to have its own unique relationship. And then there was the ‘Macron’ effect.
French President Macron met Prime Minister May to discuss bilateral issues unrelated to the UK exit from the EU such as military, security and cultural cooperation. But Macron used a press conference to insist that continued full access to the EU’s single market required accepting the bloc’s rules. Macron may have also raised hopes for Britain’s post-Brexit relations with the European Union, saying the U.K. will likely end up with something “between full access and a trade agreement. However in a pointed reference, Macron said access for financial-service companies also required accepting the obligations, but said he didn’t want to “unplug” London’s financial sector from the EU. ‘It doesn’t make sense, because it’s part of the whole financing of our European Union’. This is sweet language for the UK with the economy so much dependent on the financial sector and also for Gulf financial institutions with links to London.
Businesses and Brexit realists like Philip Hammond want in, for the sake of the economy and a solution to the Irish border; Brexiteers want out. Some want a deal that might cover goods but not services. Some want a trade deal that would include the EU’s best part of the agreements with Japan , Canada and South Korea along with financial services not covered by these agreements . What the government wants is now anyone’s guess. For a good measure enter Nigel Farage, the UKIP champion of Brexit who has now said that maybe the British public need to have another referendum to once again express their willingness to exit the EU but few are willing to go this way again and face public anger.
Divorce talks
On the plus side, concerns about EU citizens’ net migration to the UK have vastly subsided with numbers falling dramatically from 327,000 to 246,000 a year, which has lifted some of the pressure on May to fully “close the borders.” Third countries, with which the EU has trade deals, are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the status quo during a transition period, which the British government seems oriented now to request. That would also give the UK more time to negotiate FTAs with such third countries later on, a task that itself will not be easy. During May’s visit to India, for instance, President Narendra Modi made it clear the Indian government would request a further 40,000 immigration visas for Indian citizens to the UK as a price for a bilateral FTA.
Both the EU and the UK are well aware that a simple Free Trade Agreement would not be broad enough to cover all the desired fields of future cooperation between the two parties. May has – while offering up an opening 20 billion Euro bid to the EU - given instructions to UK negotiators to stick to their guns in refusing concessions on at least part of the so-called “Brexit bill.”
Despite the press focus on the perceived lack of any progress in negotiations, some progress has been achieved in the main chapters of the so-called “divorce talks,” the ones the EU sees as key conditions for future trade negotiations. For one, both sides are closer to settling the status of EU citizens in Britain, and UK citizens in the EU, with some progress made specifically on social security coordination and healthcare. One of the remaining sticking points is the UK demand that the approximately 3 million EU citizen living in the UK apply for residency on an individual basis (even when members of the same family), while the EU side advocates a collective approach whereby EU citizens with rights in the UK are identified and their rights are recognized. And a suggestion has finally been made by the EU for solving the Northern Ireland issue, namely the extension of a customs union and the single market to Northern Ireland in order to avoid a hard border on land. EU officials acknowledge this is politically unacceptable for the UK side, but at least it is a start.
All in all, while negotiations will be complex and exhausting, chances that any of the two parties will walk away are minimal, despite a war of words between Britain’s Brexit Secretary Davis and EU Chief negotiator Barnier, and many believe chances of a disruptive cliff edge - a gap between the end of the transition period and the entry into force of the FTA - are very slim. The key for Brexit watchers is what is taking place amongst UK politicians, especially the ruling Conservative party. Party rebels Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke reiterated their position to keep Britain in while Amber Rudd weighed in that a customs arrangement was “an alternative”. Finally, the besieged Prime Ministers office said that the UK would not be a member of either “the” or “a” customs union, but would seek a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” or a “new customs partnership”. So, is a custom-made Brexit on the way?

The other side of war: The Palestinian story must eclipse Israeli Hasbara
Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/February 24/18
Not only is the Palestinian political decision splintered amongst factions, but the Palestinian story is too divided, misused and, at times, disfigured.
The crisis of the Palestinian narrative, however is relatively recent, thus, through decided and concentrated efforts it can be remedied. It was the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 that shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, as it also weakened and divided the Palestinian people.
But how are we to reclaim the clarity and integrity of the Palestinian story if the Palestinian political viewpoint is still beholden to the self-seeking political aspirations of competing factions?
Surely, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and the dominant branch of his Fatah party are not keen on giving the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees a central spot in their political program. To the contrary, Abbas actually stated that he has no interest in going back to Safad, the Palestinian town from which his family was expelled in 1948.
Such an attitude is expected from the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership, whose language and political outlook is still bound by the limits of Washington’s-long espoused ‘peace process’; However, it’s this kind of political expediency that has ravaged the Palestinian narrative, which, in its current form is hardly a reflection of the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people.
Until the Palestinian leadership is itself reclaimed by the Palestinian people as a platform for true democratic expression, it is the responsibility of the intellectual to safeguard and present the Palestinian story to the world in the most authentic, egalitarian way possible.
Indeed, the story of Palestine is not the story of factions; the latter are but a byproduct of a tumultuous and multifaceted history – colonialism and resistance, foreign political and ideological influences and the fierce competition of various social movements.
Essentially, the story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian villages in 1948. If Palestinians didn’t resist, their story would have concluded right there and then, and they too would have disappeared.
Those who admonish Palestinian resistance, including armed resistance, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – for example, the sense of collective empowerment and hope amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth", Jean-Paul Sartre describes violent resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which "a man is re-creating himself."
Recreation of the self
And indeed, Palestinians, for 70 years embarked on that journey of the recreation of the self. They resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divides that were erected amongst the people.
Relentless resistance, a notion now embodied in the very fabric of Palestinian society, denied the oppressor the opportunity to emasculate the Palestinian, rendering him or her a hapless victim, a wandering refugee without valor and without a plan.
The collective memory of the Palestinian people should, therefore, build the cornerstone of the creation of meaning: of what it means to be Palestinian and what the Palestinian people are, and stand for as a nation – and why they have resisted all of these years.
A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is required today more than any other time in history.
The elitist interpretation of Palestine has failed, as Oslo too proved worthless, a tired exercise in empty clichés aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.
A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is required today more than any other time in history.
Not only did Abbas and his men try to muzzle the political will of the Palestinian people, and falsely claimed to represent all Palestinians, they have also robbed Palestinians of their narrative, one that unites the fellahin and the refugees, the occupied and the shattat (diaspora) communities into one distinct nation.
It is only when the Palestinian intellectual is able to repossess that collective narrative that the confines placed on the Palestinian voice can be finally broken. Only then can Palestinians truly confront the Israeli Hasbra and US-Western corporate media propaganda, and, at long last, speak unhindered.
And, for the story of the people to be told accurately and fairly, the storyteller must be a Palestinian. This is hardly the outcome of any veiled ethnocentric sentiment, but because facts often change in the process of interpretation, as explained by late Palestinian professor Edward Said.
Said wrote in ‘Covering Islam,’: “.. facts get their importance from what is made of them in interpretation… for interpretations depend very much on who the interpreter is, who he or she is addressing, what his or her purpose is (and) at what historical moment the interpretation takes place.”
Of the many interpreters of the facts pertaining to Palestinian history, neither the Palestinian historian nor the Palestinian people are at the heart of the story. This predisposition is not only pertinent in the case of Palestine, but an ailment that has afflicted Middle East history, politics and journalism for decades.
Middle East historiography is “a stepchild of orientalism,” wrote Dr. Soha Abdel Kader, where “Middle East history bears the imprint of its birth up to the present in its use of sources, its methodology, and its isolation.”
Concurrently, 'history from below' has also received much attention among Palestinians. ‘Adab al-Sijun’ – ‘Prison Literature’ – has remained a staple in most Palestinian book stores and libraries until this day.
‘History from below’ contends that while individuals or small social groups (ruling elites and their benefactors) might prompt certain historical events, it is largely popular movements that significantly influence long-term outcomes.
The First Palestinian Intifada was the model demonstrating this assertion. The constant calls for a ‘Third Intifada’ by many Palestinians – although at times lacks understanding of how collective movements are mobilized – demonstrate the kind of astute awareness that only Palestinians are ultimately capable of determining their own reality.
There are other obstacles as well, lead amongst them is an unwavering attempt by Zionist (and many western) historians and institutions to replace the Palestinian historical narrative, whenever it exists, with a Zionist one.
In the Zionist Israeli narrative, Palestinians, if relevant at all are depicted as drifting nomads, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a duplicate narrative to the one that defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the resisting natives, always.
Such clarity in the Zionist political discourse was consistently translated to the kind of military aggression that ethnically-cleansed nearly a million Palestinians from their land in 1947-48 and continues to drive the colonial settlements enterprise in the Occupied Territories.
It also continues to be championed by historians, media and political scientists without much quarrel. In his 2004 interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli historian, Benny Morris’ views on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians exemplifies the depth of moral depravity of the Israeli narrative: “I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands...There was no choice but to expel that population.”
The Palestinian intellectual must now step up. It is sorely needed that, we, as Palestinian writers, historians and journalists assume the responsibility of reinterpreting Palestinian history, internalizing and communicating Palestinian voices, so that the rest of the world can, for once, appreciate the story as told by its wounded but tenacious victors.