February 28/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land
Genesis 19/01-26: "The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.  “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.  Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.  They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here,  because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.  With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” But Lot said to them, “No, my lords please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” That is why the town was called Zoar. By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 27-28/18
UNIFIL Peacemakers Accuse Lebanese Army Of Hindering Their Work/Jerusalem Post/February 27/18
Everything Is Booming Except for Wages/Noah Smith/Bloomberg/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/
Confused about the Trump-Russia Probe? Read this Memo/Timothy L. O'Brien/Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/
How the Left Became its Own Worst Enemy – Part I/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 27/18
No One Will Intervene to Save Ghouta/Robert Ford/Former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle/February 27/18
On the question of naturalizing the children of Saudi women married to foreigners
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
The fate of extremists: The lovers/Mansour Alnogaidan/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
How Qatar covers up its dark side with the likes of Neymar/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
Yemeni crisis gradually moving towards a definitive resolution/Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 27-28/18
Hariri Accepts Invitation to Visit Riyadh Soon
Lebanon's highest judge briefs Aoun on judicial conferences
Report: Aoun, Hariri Had 'Positive' Meetings with Saudi Envoy
Hariri Heads to Riyadh on First Visit since Resignation Crisis
Saudi Envoy Describes Berri as Source of 'Hope, Optimism'
Saudi Envoy Meets Former Lebanese Premiers, Officials
Mustaqbal Lauds Saudi Envoy Visit, Slams Syrian Regime
Radioactive' Gas Canister Sparks Panic in Ouzai
STL President and Vice President Re-Elected for 18 Months
Geagea: LF Must Win Elections to Confront Isolation, Persecution Attempts
Hariri Condemns Israeli Tax Bid on Worship Sites in Jerusalem
UNIFIL Peacemakers Accuse Lebanese Army Of Hindering Their Work
Saba Asked to Give Testimony in Power Barges Deal Case
Budget committee to reconvene tomorrow: Khalil
Gemayel Expresses Steadfastness, Keenness for Expats During Meeting with Saudi Envoy
Riachy expresses solidarity with Jessica Azar

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 27-28/18
The 10 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East
Jerusalem Halts Taxes That Led To Closure Of Chhurch Of The Holy Sepulchre
Muslim World League Chief from Vienna: Religions are Innocent from Wars Waged in their Name
Fresh Violence Mars First Day of Syria Enclave 'Truce'
Khamenei: Iran’s Enemies 'Provoke' Workers Into Going on Strike
Bahrain Upholds Sentences Against Terror Convicts
Sisi Says Surprised with the Amount of Terrorists’ Equipment in Sinai, No Alternative to their Defeat
Report: Syrian Women Exploited in Return for Aid
OPCW Investigating Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria’s Ghouta
Saudi King Replaces Top Brass in Latest Shake-Up
Saudi Crown Prince Flexes Muscle with Military Shake-Up
Israel Prosecutors Seek to Extradite Woman to Australia for Abuse Trial
N. Korea General Wraps Up Controversial Visit to South
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 27-28/18
Hariri Accepts Invitation to Visit Riyadh Soon
Beirut - Thaer Abbas/Asharq Al Awsat/ February 27/18
Envoy of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Advisor at the Royal court Nizar al-Aloula told Lebanese officials on Monday that “Lebanon remains in the heart and thoughts of the Saudi leadership,” before presenting to Prime Minister Saad Hariri an invitation to visit the Kingdom that Asharq Al-Awsat learned he will answer as soon as possible. Monday’s visit also opened, wide, the door to a new phase in the mutual Saudi-Lebanese relations. Sources at the accompanying Saudi delegation told Asharq Al-Awsat that al-Aloula was keen to inform officials he met in Beirut on Monday that Saudi Arabia is working to preserve stability in Lebanon and to respect the country’s sovereignty and unity. “The Kingdom is fond of Lebanon and its people, a sentiment emanating from the historic brotherly relations between the two brotherly countries and peoples,” the sources said.
Meanwhile, sources close to President Michel Aoun hailed the outcomes of the Saudi envoy’s trip to Beirut, saying it was “more than excellent.” The sources added that the agenda of the visit signal a new phase in the brotherly relations between both countries. According to the sources, Aoun told his Saudi guest, “Lebanon and the Kingdom are brothers, and Lebanon is your second country.” The President stressed that stability in Lebanon paves the way for the return of the Saudis. “Lebanese harbor only the good to Saudis,” he was quoted as saying. Following his arrival to Beirut on Monday, al-Aloula met with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda palace. He came accompanied by Saudi Chargé d'Affaires Walid al-Bukhari and Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Yaacoub.
Al-Aloula conveyed to his host a message from Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, hereby maintaining the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon and keenness on solid bilateral ties. The Saudi envoy later met with head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea and Hariri. He is meeting on Tuesday with Speaker Nabih Berri, former President Michel Suleiman and former prime ministers, Tammam Salam, Fouad Siniora and Najib Mikati, in addition to head of the Phalange Party, MP Sami Gemayel. During his stop in Beirut, al-Aloula visited the grave of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri where he wrote the following in the record book: "Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri will remain a national and Arab symbol and Lebanon will return as the martyr wanted it, free and a beacon to the world." In a chat with reporters after the meeting, Hariri said: "Saudi Arabia's main objective is for Lebanon to be sovereign. It is also keen on the full independence of Lebanon and we will see how to cooperate with the kingdom regarding the upcoming international conferences."
Commenting on the electoral law, the Prime Minister said: "In my opinion no one has a clear picture of the alliances yet. Negotiations are underway and things will become clearer gradually. The importance of this law is that it shows the dimension of each person. The names of the Future Movement candidates will be announced soon.”

Lebanon's highest judge briefs Aoun on judicial conferences
The Daily Star/Feb. 27, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Tuesday discussed the work of the judiciary with Higher Judicial Council head Jean Fahed at the presidential palace in Baabda, a statement from his office reported. Fahed briefed Aoun on his planned participation in a conference in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 1 and 2 that will deal with the role of supreme judicial bodies in combating terrorism. He also spoke to Aoun about his participation in the launch of the Global Judicial Integrity Network, held in Vienna in April 9 and 10. Fahed was quoted as saying that the Higher Judicial Council has fulfilled all of the steps aimed at enhancing the integrity of judges, in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption. He also said the council would be holding celebrations for the centennial of Lebanon’s Court of Cassation this year, adding that the heads of Arab supreme courts and the heads of the highest courts in francophone countries would be invited. Separately, Aoun later met with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, discussing the general situation in Lebanon, Sidon and the south, the statement reported. The president also met with Abdel-Halim Caracalla, who led a delegation from the Caracalla Dance Theatre group to Baabda Palace. Aoun congratulated Caracalla on the group's success as they were set to depart on a world tour including stops in China, France, Britain and the United States, the statement said. “Lebanon is rich in its artists, intellectuals and scientists. They are an image of a nation with roots across the world,” Aoun was quoted as saying.

Report: Aoun, Hariri Had 'Positive' Meetings with Saudi Envoy
Naharnet/February 27/18/Saudi Envoy Nizar al-Alula had “positive meetings” on Monday with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri heralding for the “the re-shaping of the Lebanese-Saudi ties,” al-Akhbar daily reported on Tuesday. Sources at the Presidential Palace and the Grand Serail, said the atmospheres were positive after two consecutive meetings held by the Saudi envoy with Aoun followed by a meeting with Hariri. Al-Aloula has also visited the tomb of Hariri's slain father, ex-PM Rafik Hariri, added the daily. Prominent sources said the meetings “mark the crystallization of a new and positive Saudi atmosphere that is pushing for the re-shaping of the Lebanese-Saudi relationship.”Hariri has met an official invitation to visit the Kingdom this week, “a visit expected to open a new phase in the relationship between the PM and Saudi leadership,” they added. On Monday, Hariri's media office announced that the premier has accepted an invitation to Saudi Arabia, returning for the first time to the kingdom where he announced a shock resignation that he later rescinded. The November 4 resignation and his prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions he had been placed under house arrest, until France intervened and he returned to Lebanon where the announcement was reversed. Hariri said he would make the trip "as soon as possible", in a statement issued by his office. Relations between the two countries have been strained by the competing influences in Lebanon of regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi envoy's visit comes ahead of May 6 legislative elections, Lebanon's first since 2009 following three extensions of parliament's mandate.

Hariri Heads to Riyadh on First Visit since Resignation Crisis

Naharnet/February 27/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri traveled Tuesday evening to Saudi Arabia for the first time since his November resignation in the kingdom sparked a crisis. A statement issued by Hariri's office said Hariri left for Riyadh at an invitation from Saudi King Salman that was delivered to him Monday by Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula. He is scheduled to meet with the monarch and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the office added. The November 4 resignation and Hariri's prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions he had been placed under house arrest. France eventually intervened and the premier returned to Lebanon where the resignation announcement was reversed.

Saudi Envoy Describes Berri as Source of 'Hope, Optimism'
Naharnet/February 27/18/Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula on Tuesday described Speaker Nabih Berri as a "national leader who is a source of hope and optimism in Lebanon," following talks in Ain el-Tineh. Berri for his part said the meeting was "friendly" and hoped for other meetings in the future. Al-Aloula had started an official visit to Lebanon on Monday. He has so far held talks with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, ex-president Michel Suleiman and ex-PMs Tammam Salam and Najib Miqati.

Saudi Envoy Meets Former Lebanese Premiers, Officials
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/Senior Saudi official Nizar al-Alula continued his meetings for the second day in a row with Lebanese officials and met on Tuesday with former prime ministers Najib Miqati and Tammam Salam and Fouad Saniora. The ex-Premiers have received the Saudi diplomat at their residences in the presence of Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Yaacoub and former Saudi Embassy Charge d'Affaires Walid Bukhari. He also held talks with former President Michel Sleiman. Alula had arrived in Beirut on Monday and held separate “positive” meetings with President Michel Aoun and PM Saad Hariri. He met with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea in Maarab who held a banquet in his honor. Hariri at his meeting in Beirut with the Saudi envoy said he received an invitation to the Kingdom, and that he would make the trip "as soon as possible", a statement issued by his office had said. Al-Alula's visit reportedly aims to turn over a new leaf with Lebanon and comes four months after the shock now-reversed resignation of the prime minister from the Saudi capital. The November 4 resignation and his prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions he had been placed under house arrest, until France intervened and he returned to Lebanon where the announcement was reversed. Relations between the two countries have been strained by the competing influences in Lebanon of regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi envoy's visit comes ahead of May 6 legislative elections, Lebanon's first since 2009 following three extensions of parliament's mandate.

Mustaqbal Lauds Saudi Envoy Visit, Slams Syrian Regime
Naharnet/February 27/18/Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc on Tuesday lauded Saudi envoy Nizar al-Aloula's visit to Lebanon and the stances he announced in the country. Referring to al-Aloula's remarks in the visitors' book of slain ex-PM Rafik Hariri's tomb that the late leader "will remain a national and Arab icon" and that "Lebanon will return to be free and a beacon for the world," Mustaqbal said "this confirms the nature of the brotherly, historic, positive, constructive and deep-rooted ties between Lebanon and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."The bloc also wished Prime Minister Saad Hariri a "successful visit to Riyadh," after al-Aloula handed him an invitation from King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Turning to the Syrian developments, Mustaqbal condemned "the blatant crime against humanity that the Assad regime is committing against its people in Eastern Ghouta."

Radioactive' Gas Canister Sparks Panic in Ouzai
Naharnet/February 27/18/A gas canister found Tuesday on Ouzai's beach is emanating "radioactive" substances and the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission has been called in, MTV reported Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, the National News Agency said "rumors have been circulated about the presence of radioactive material on Ouzai's beach.""It turned out later that a small gas canister carrying a radioactive material warning, in Latin font, was found on the beach facing the Safwan bakery and the Mukhtar Jalloul shops," NNA added. "The Internal Security Forces cordoned off the site and contacted the Army Command to send an expert from the Engineering Regiment to examine the canister and determine its content," the agency added. It also said that investigations are underway to "know whether the canister came from the sea or was deliberately placed on the shore to spark panic among citizens."A statement issued by the Environment Ministry's press office said "Environment Minister Tarek al-Khatib headed to Ouzai's beach once he was informed of the presence of nuclear waste there.""It turned out that the issue is related to a gas canister containing radioactive material," the statement said. The minister immediately called Justice Minister Salim Jreissati and the head of the Lebanese Nuclear Energy Commission, Bilal Nsouli. According to the statement, Nsouli promised to send a technical team to examine the canister, reassuring that "the threat of such type of material can be contained and there is no need for panic." Khatib also called State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Peter Jermanos and asked him to launch an investigation through the Military Police to determine how the canister reached the shore.

STL President and Vice President Re-Elected for 18 Months
Naharnet/February 27/18/The Judges of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Tuesday unanimously re-elected Judge Ivana Hrdličková of the Czech Republic as STL President and Judge Ralph Riachi of Lebanon as STL Vice President. "Their new term of eighteen months starts running on 1 March 2018," the STL added in a statement. The President of the Tribunal has a wide range of tasks, including oversight of the effective functioning of the Tribunal and the good administration of justice, as well as representing the STL in relations with States, the United Nations and other entities. In the President's absence, her duties are fulfilled by the Vice-President. The re-election of the President and the Vice-President is "in accordance with Article 8(2) of the Tribunal's Statute and Rules 31 and 33 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence," the STL said. The Tribunal is trying in absentia four alleged Hizbullah members accused of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Earlier this month, prosecutors wrapped up their case after four years. They called more than 260 witnesses and showed judges some 2,470 exhibits as they laid out their case that the four suspects plotted together to blow up Hariri with a massive truck bomb. Hizbullah has denied involvement in Hariri's assassination. The case against a fifth suspect, Hizbullah military commander Mustafa Badreddine, was halted in 2016 after he was killed in Syria.

Geagea: LF Must Win Elections to Confront Isolation, Persecution Attempts
Naharnet/February 27/18/The Lebanese Forces must win the upcoming parliamentary elections to "confront all the isolation and persecution attempts that are being launched against it," LF leader Samir Geagea said on Tuesday. "I have not been able to understand this potent force that has managed to unite them against us," Geagea said added during a meeting with LF cadres and coordinators from Keserwan in the presence of LF's parliamentary candidate for the region, Shawqi Daccache. "It seems that the potent force is the LF, because it is alone standing by Lebanese legitimacy," Geagea added."You and all Lebanese are noticing what is happening inside the government and how many times they have tried to force the LF out of the government," the LF leader went on to say. He also stressed that his party cannot overlook shady deals that cost the treasury "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Hariri Condemns Israeli Tax Bid on Worship Sites in Jerusalem
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday tweeted in solidarity with Jerusalem and the Christian presence, lashing out at Israel's recent taxation measures on churches and places of worship. “Church of the Holy Sepulchre challenges Israeli measures. We stand in solidarity with Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, and with its people in protecting the presence of Christians in the holy city,” said Hariri via Twitter. Israeli authorities aim to enforce tax collection on church property they consider commercial, saying exemptions only apply to places of worship or religious teaching.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem built at the traditional site of Jesus's burial remained closed for a third day Tuesday as Christian leaders protested against Israeli tax measures and a controversial proposed law. President Michel Aoun on Monday condemned Israel's measures accusing it of “ethnic cleansing.”Christian leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday at noon in a rare move, leaving thousands of pilgrims and tourists seeking to visit what many see as the holiest site in Christianity locked outside. Church officials say the church will be closed until further notice as they seek to pressure Israeli authorities to reverse their measures.
UNIFIL Peacemakers Accuse Lebanese Army Of Hindering Their Work
القوات الدولية تتهم الجيش اللبناني بعرقلة اعمالها
Jerusalem Post/February 27/18
The UN force in Lebanon has accused Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army of hampering their work, which includes spying on the peacekeepers, in a report due to appear on the website of French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, on Friday.
The report quotes a chief warrant officer for the French contingent as saying during an interview: “In the evening we never leave the barracks because the Lebanese forces are not friendly.
However, that is when things happen.
“We are caught in the aggressor’s grip. Doing the bare minimum has become a political choice,” the officer added.
A former liaison officer with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, who was only recently transferred to another post, told the newspaper that “when we would detect military activities in our area, especially near the Blue Line [border with Israel], the Lebanese Army would prevent us from posting observers. It is as if those decisions did not come from them. Everyone knows that Hezbollah is using the area for the next war.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and senior IDF officers have repeatedly warned that the Lebanese Army has lost its independence and become an“integral part” of Hezbollah’s network.
The IDF has accused the Shi’ite terrorist organization numerous times of violating the Security Council resolution that set the terms to end the 34-day Second Lebanon War fought between Israel and Hezbollah during the summer of 2006. There are some 10,500 peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon – including some from countries that do not recognize Israel – and 585 Lebanese civilian staff members. A Finnish commander suggested to the French paper that some forces associated with UNIFIL might also be assisting Hezbollah. “I can assure you that Indonesian peacekeepers are constantly reporting Israeli movements to various Lebanese actors,” the commander is quoted as saying. He added that some of the civilian employees “do not hide their Hezbollah membership.”
In July, the IDF said Hezbollah had established observation posts under the guise of NGO “Green Without Borders” near the Blue Line since April, presumably in order to gather intelligence.
The army released footage of Hezbollah members gathering intelligence on Israel, saying that the group continues to use the NGO as a front for intelligence gathering and that it “is able to maintain the secrecy of its intentions while avoiding UNIFIL criticism by warnings from the Lebanese army.”A UNIFIL incident report seen by The Jerusalem Post states that troops were denied access to a public location in a southern Lebanese village by three men dressed in military garb who had left a mosque bearing a Green Without Borders flag.
“When the patrol reached the area, the males signaled to ZULU Patrol to stop,” it reads. “The patrol leader tried to negotiate a bypassing route in various ways but got only the same firm and polite message to leave the area.”
The report stated that it was assessed that the three men were working for Green Without Borders “as their clothing style and appearance are similar to what have been reported in some of the locations where the GWB are active.”
UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko has denied Israel’s accusations. In July, she said that UNIFIL is in contact with Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there are no violations of the resolution, “to avoid any misunderstandings or tensions that could endanger the cessation of hostilities.”
While Green Without Borders members have planted trees in the area, UNIFIL “has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the locations or found any basis to report a violation of [Security Council] Resolution 1701.” The 2006 resolution was intended to resolve the 2006 Israel- Lebanon conflict.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has said while UNIFIL is helping to maintain calm in southern Lebanon, its leadership does not do enough to prevent Hezbollah from violating the resolution. Eisenkot has accused Hezbollah of continuing to prepare itself for war in villages, cities and towns south of the Litani River, “arming itself with more lethal and accurate weapons to harm the Israeli home front.”In August, IDF Intelligence Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Jerusalem that Hezbollah was tightening its hold on Lebanon. He urged the UN to take more steps to prevent a war.

Saba Asked to Give Testimony in Power Barges Deal Case Tuesday 27th February 2018/Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim has asked Charles Saba, the Coordinator of the Lebanese Corruption Observatory and adviser to Kataeb party leader Samy Gemayel, to appear before him on Wednesday to listen to his testimony regarding the power barges deal. Saba has been questioning the transparency of the Energy Ministry's plan to rent additional power-producing vessels, casting doubt on the insistence to implement this project despite its exorbitant cost while all the other, less expensive, proposals were rejected for invalid reasons. “We have already urged the General prosecutor to expand the investigation into the power barges deal so that we would provide him with the files we possess,” Saba told the Kataeb website, assuring that he will hand Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim documents proving the violations enclosed in said project.
As for the timing of the summoning, Saba said that it comes as a result of the campaign launched by the media so as to thwart the approval of this project as President Michel Aoun and Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil announced that this issue should be settled in the next few weeks. Saba also pointed out that the Shura Council is about to issue its verdict regarding the appeal challenging the tailor-cut tenders which were carried out to award the power barges project. In another interview with Voice of Lebanon radio station, Saba warned that the files that he has regarding this issue implicate ministers and lawmakers, noting, however, that their prosecution does not fall under the financial prosecutor's jurisdictions. “I have a file that is ready as I am the Coordinator of the Lebanese Corruption Observatory and adviser to Kataeb party leader Samy Gemayel; I will handed it over to the financial prosecutor as I hope that he will further expand the investigation based on it,” Saba said. “The Financial prosecutor can act upon this file from a penal angle, but the power barges deal is a political crime whose masterminds will be held to account in the ballot boxes,” Saba added.

Budget committee to reconvene tomorrow: Khalil
Tue 27 Feb 2018/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri chaired this afternoon a meeting of the Ministerial Committee for the 2018 draft budget, in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani and ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Mohamed Fneish, Michel Pharaon, Ayman Choucair, Raed Khoury and Youssef Finianos and the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Fouad Fleifel.
After the meeting, Minister Khalil said: "Today we began to discuss the numbers of the ministries and it was clear that there is a serious commitment to the reduction by 20 percent, and there are some items that have been reduced even more. We also discussed the budgets of the presidencies of the Republic, Parliament and Council of ministers, with all departments affiliated to them. The results of the discussions were positive and discussions will continue during meetings at the Serail on Wednesday and Thursday."
Question: Will Prime Minister Hariri be present?
Khalil: He might not be present.
Question: Is this how the deficit will be reduced?
Khalil: Let us wait for the results because there are other measures besides reducing the budgets of the ministries. There are matters related to the management of the public debt. There is also a reconsideration of some of the law programs and other things. If everything goes according to the plan that we have put in the Ministry of Finance, we will come out with a positive result.

Gemayel Expresses Steadfastness, Keenness for Expats During Meeting with Saudi Envoy Tuesday 27th February 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Tuesday reiterated that the party will stand firm to its constants and stances during a meeting with Saudi envoy Nizar Al-Aloula in Saifi, in the presence of former President Amine Gemayel. Addressing reporters following the 75-minute talks, Gemayel said that he had told the visiting Saudi delegation that the Kataeb party will continue to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence no matter what. “We do not base our stances on those made by the others. We were against the presidential settlement when Saudi Arabia was supporting it, and we held onto our opposition because that settlement did not serve Lebanon’s sovereignty,” Gemayel affirmed. "We consider anyone who tolerates the current status quo and does not care about Lebanon's sovereignty as our rival,” Gemayel stated. "The people's interest is our top priority. We do not take orders from anyone other than the people."“We stressed to the Saudi envoy that we will continue to defend the values that we have always believed in, as we will cling to Lebanon's independence and neutrality which requires that the country steers clear of regional conflicts and that none of the local factions interferes in the affairs of other countries and vice versa,” he said. “We stressed that it is a top concern for us that the Lebanese nationals living in Gulf countries would not pay the price for the stances made by the State and certain local factions that are jeopardizing the expats' interests,” Gemayel stated.
"We made it clear to the Saudi delegation that the stances made by some state officials and political leaders do not reflect the viewpoints of the Lebanese."The Kataeb chief also outlined the importance of maintaining support for the Army "which is the only legitimate institution representing all the Lebanese", expressing appreciation of Saudi Arabia's continuous assistance. "We distinguish between those who support the State and others who support factions at the expense of the State."

Riachy expresses solidarity with Jessica Azar
Tue 27 Feb 2018/NNA - Information Minister, Melhem, Riachy, on Tuesday welcomed at his ministerial office MTV News Anchor, Jessica Azar, where he expressed solidarity regarding the lawsuit filed against her. Minister Riachy also met with lawyer Marwan Saqr, the attorney of Media figure Haneen Ghaddar. In this regard, Riachy contacted the Government Commissioner at the Military Tribunal, Peter Germanos, and discussed with him the need to find rapid solution to this dossier.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 27-28/18
The 10 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East
Forbes/Tuesday 27th February 2018/The Middle East and North Africa are generally seen as one of the least stable parts of the world. Indeed, the Institute for Economics and Peace ranks it the most violent region in its annual Global Peace Index.
That’s not surprising, given the civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as the insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, intermittent violence in Israel and the neighboring Palestinian Territories, plus the occasional flare-ups in Iran and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Many of the larger conflicts have become venues for proxy wars in which regional powers are testing the abilities of their rivals. In Yemen for example, a coalition involving Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others is fighting to reinstate the government of president Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi while Iran has been providing support to the main opposition group, known as the Houthi rebels. In Syria, elements of the armed forces of Iran, Turkey and others have been heavily involved alongside myriad rebel groups.
Such involvement requires heavy investment and Middle East governments have been spending huge amounts to sustain their armed forces, with the Gulf countries in particular involved in an expensive arms race. By far the biggest spender is Saudi Arabia. Last year, Riyadh's defence budget was more than next five biggest spenders in the region combined (Iraq, Israel, Iran, Algeria, Oman), according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Money is not the only criteria for judging the capabilities of a country’s military forces though. The quality and quantity of weaponry and training are also key elements, as are the number of soldiers, sailors and pilots that can be called on in an emergency. The Global Firepower (GFP) index weighs up more than 50 such factors, including the range of weapons in the arsenal, the amount of available manpower and the abilities of the local defence industry, to come up with its rankings of the most effective fighting forces globally.
Lower scores are best in the GFP index. There is a theoretical perfect score of 0.0000, although the closest any country comes to that is the U.S., which tops the rankings with a score of 0.0857. Within the Middle East, there is a wide range of results, with Mauritania the worst performer by some distance, with a score of 4.2664 which is the fourth worst out of the 130 countries ranked globally. Further up the rankings, but still not high enough to make the cut for the regional top ten despite huge investments in recent years, is Qatar, with a score of 1.8943. Also missing out from the higher echelons is Jordan, whose armed forces have often been thought of as among the most capable in the region. It is ranked at 13 in the MENA region, with a score of 1.2024.
Here though are the countries that do make it into the top ten, in reverse order.
10) United Arab Emirates
Active personnel: 63,000
2017 budget: unknown
With a GFP score of 0.9087, the UAE is ranked well ahead of most of its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. The IISS reckons the country’s forces to be “arguably the best trained and most capable among the GCC states”. They have gained valuable front-line experience in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen in recent years and the country’s special forces impressed many observers with their amphibious assault to capture the Yemeni port city of Aden in July 2015. However, the UAE’s armed forces remain relatively small, with 63,000 active service personnel.
9) Iraq
Active personnel: 64,000
2017 budget: $19.3bn
Iraq has the second highest known budget of any country in the region, although this is still a long way behind Saudi Arabia’s spending levels. The country’s armed forces have made significant gains in recent years in battles against Islamic State militants, recapturing the city of Mosul in October 2017 and driving them out of other areas of the country since then. They have been helped in that task by assistance from the US and other Western powers, as well as military advice from Iran’s Al Quds brigade. Questions remain about the long-term shape of Iraq’s armed forces post-conflict, particularly its Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Units (Al Hashd al Shaabi) and the role of Kurdish forces. Under the GFP index, Iraq’s military scores 0.8961.
8) Morocco
Active personnel: 195,000
2017 budget: $3.5bn
Morocco has the fifth largest armed forces in the region, with 175,000 army personnel and a further 13,000 in the air force and 7,800 in the navy. However, it also has one of the lowest budgets, at just $3.5bn in 2017. Despite that, it gains a GFP score of 0.8702. The country’s forces have gained useful experience as a result of political instability in its neighbourhood, in particular the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south, as well as more limited experience further afield, including as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Greater investment in its military forces is expected in the coming years, helped by support from Saudi Arabia.
7) Syria
Active personnel: 142,500
2017 budget: unknown
More than six years of fighting has left Syria’s military machine badly damaged but also battle-hardened. The IISS says the army currently has some 105,000 serving members but is short of personnel, leading to increased efforts at conscription, which many do their best to avoid. Allied militias fighting alongside conventional forces have played an important role in keeping the regime of Bashir al Assad from being toppled. The GFP index gives Syria’s armed forces a score of 0.7603.
6) Algeria
Active personnel: 130,000
2017 budget: $10bn
With the best equipped forces in North Africa – much of it sourced from Russia and, to a lesser extent, China – Algeria’s military has a score of 0.4366 in the GFP index. The country has had to battle domestic Islamist extremists for many years and faces troublesome border areas with neighbours including Libya and Mali, not to mention playing a role in supporting the Western Saharan independence movement the Polisario Front.
5) Saudi Arabia
Active personnel: 227,000
2017 budget: $76.7bn
The regional giant, at least in terms of its military budget which easily outpaces any other rival, Saudi Arabia’s GFP score of 0.4302 puts it in fifth place overall in the region. The huge amount of money being spent by Riyadh each year means the country has the best equipped armed forces in the region with the exception of Israel. Its involvement in the Yemen civil war over the past three years has given its forces valuable frontline experience, but its failure to defeat its Houthi opponents there has also raised questions about how effective a fighting force the Saudi military really is.
4) Iran
Active personnel: 523,000
2017 budget: $16bn
Iran has more men under arms than any other country in the region, with 350,000 in the army, 18,000 in the navy, 30,000 serving in the air force and a further 125,000 in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Years of international sanctions have meant it has been unable to source many weapons systems from abroad, forcing it to improvise and develop a substantial home-grown defence industry. Its armed forces are also seen as particular strong in asymmetric warfare. Iranian forces, particularly the elite Al Quds unit of the IRGC, have played a key role in the fighting in both Syria and Iraq and Tehran has also provided support to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran’s GFP score of 0.3933 puts it ahead of any of its immediate neighbours.
3) Israel
Active personnel: 176,500
2017 budget: $18.5bn
With numerous hostile neighbours to contend with, Israel has always felt the need to ensure its armed forces are clearly superior to anything they might have to face in battle. The Israel Defence Forces are the best equipped, best trained and most capable of any in the region according to the IISS, not least because of continued massive support from the US. However, the country’s GFP index score of 0.3476 still places it behind two others in the region.
2) Egypt
Active personnel: 438,500
2017 budget: $2.7bn
With a former general now in charge of the country – Abdel el Sisi – it is unsurprising that Egypt’s army is in a powerful position in the domestic political arena. The defence forces are currently in the midst of an equipment recapitalisation programme, with new fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and surface-to-air missiles all being bought in. However, the country has struggled to deal with the challenge posed by insurgent, terrorist groups in the northern Sinai Peninsula for the past few years. With a GFP score of 0.2676, Egypt is seen as having the second strongest armed forces in the region and the tenth strongest in the world overall, ahead of the likes of Italy and Pakistan.
1) Turkey
Active personnel: 355,800
2017 budget: $8bn
Viewed by the GFP as the most powerful in the MENA region with a score of 0.2491, Turkey’s armed forces have faced a turbulent few years, with many officers purged from the services following a failed coup in July 2016. Since then the country has become ever more heavily involved in the war in neighbouring Syria, culminating in the Afrin campaign launched in January 2018. The country also has important overseas military ties with Qatar and Somalia, basing troops in both countries. Not only is it seen as the strongest military force in the MENA region, it is ranked in eighth place globally, just ahead of Germany and one place below Japan.

Jerusalem Halts Taxes That Led To Closure Of Chhurch Of The Holy Sepulchre
Will the Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopen?
Jerusalem Post/February 27/18/The Jerusalem Municipality announced on Tuesday that is will halt its church property tax collection efforts in light of a decision that was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mayor Nir Barkat to form a commission to find a solution to the issue.
It was decided that Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi will head the special commission to solve the issue. Earlier this month, the municipality announced its intention to start collecting taxes from properties owned by churches that are not prayer houses. Two weeks ago, the municipality notified the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office that it will start collecting a total of NIS 650 million in tax from 887 properties on which there are no houses of prayer. It said it has refrained from such tax collections thus far because the state did not allow it. This move prompted outrage from the churches based in Jerusalem, who decided on Sunday in a rare move to close the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In a joint announcement by the three churches running the site, the moved was dubbed a “systematic campaign of abuse against churches and Christians.”

Muslim World League Chief from Vienna: Religions are Innocent from Wars Waged in their Name
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Mohammad Abdulkarim al-Issa stressed on Monday that religions are innocent from “unjust wars that are being waged in their name.”“Bloody conflicts waged under any slogan should be shouldered by the individuals or parties directly related to them,” he said in a speech before a conference of cultural and religious leaders hosted by Vienna. “When we understand the personal needs of each other’s’ religious, sectarian, cultural, and even intellectual conviction then, we will reach a high level of wisdom and growth,” Issa continued. He lamented the “void in humanity”, saying: “Religious and cultural conflicts stem from wrong approaches that never originally believed in the principles of diversity and freedom of choice.” Human solidarity is necessary for the world’s survival, he stressed. “Once we understand each others’ religious and cultural leanings, then we will attain a high level of wisdom and morality,” he added. “Islam ensured the freedom of choice of its adherents and it gave them a moral guide to follow,” he continued. “The world needs to be enlightened on justice and human values so that it can be on par with the vast material and scientific discoveries,” Issa urged. “The more we accept our ethnic diversity, the more we realize that it is a source of unity, not hate,” he said. The people of the world witnessed stability and peace only when justice and morality prevailed. He therefore called for greater awareness to confront all forms of intellectual and cultural tutelage that seeks to impose its thoughts on others, while totally disregarding diversity.
Fresh Violence Mars First Day of Syria Enclave 'Truce'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/A humanitarian "pause" announced by Russia in Syria's deadly bombardment of Eastern Ghouta struggled to take hold Tuesday, with fresh violence erupting and no sign of aid deliveries or residents leaving the besieged enclave. Nine days after Russian-backed regime forces intensified their campaign against the rebel-held enclave, the deal offered some respite to civilians who had been cowering in their basements. But the first day of a five-hour daily "pause" that was announced by Russia and kicked off at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) was marred by fresh violence that saw at least six civilians killed. Moscow's plan falls short of a broader 30-day ceasefire which was voted by the United Nations but has yet to take effect, and has inspired little trust from among the besieged enclave's 400,000 residents. The regime deployed buses at the Al-Wafideen checkpoint to transport residents wanting to use a humanitarian corridor to flee what U.N. chief Antonio Guterres last called "hell on earth."But no civilians were seen venturing towards the regime forces guarding the checkpoint, where large portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin could be seen side-by-side. State news agency SANA accused armed groups in Eastern Ghouta of firing several rockets on the path of the corridor.
'Truce a farce'
It singled out the former al-Qaida affiliate present in some parts of the enclave, accusing it of blocking civilians "to use them as human shields."Some residents left the basements they had been cowering in for days to check on their property and buy food. But many in the enclave, which lies on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital, appeared distrustful of a "pause" announced by Damascus's main ally. "This Russian truce is a farce. Russia is killing us and bombing us every day," said Samer al-Buaidhani, a 25-year-old from Douma, Eastern Ghouta's main hub. "I don't believe it's safe for me or my family to leave by this system," he told AFP. International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet told AFP that any evacuation needed deeper coordination. "Under international humanitarian law, humanitarian corridors are things which need to be well planned and must be implemented with the consent of parties on all sides, not only with one side," she said. More than 550 civilians, almost a quarter of them children, have been killed since February 18 in the Syrian and Russian bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, making it one of the bloodiest episodes of the country's seven-year-old conflict.
Violence levels were significantly lower on Tuesday as the "humanitarian pause" kicked in but six civilians were killed by regime bombardment, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Two of the victims were killed before the declared five-hour window, two during and two after, the Britain-based group said, adding that the bombardment intensified again after 2:00 pm (1200 GMT). In Hammuriyeh, another town in the sprawling semi-rural enclave, Mohammed Abdullah said the pause left civilians with a choice between two evils.
Aleppo scenario
"The truce is not in the people's interest, we have two options: death or displacement," said the 30-year-old.m "The campaign we were targeted with was an extermination campaign, not a simple bombardment. What we want is a full and permanent ceasefire for all of Ghouta," he said. That sentiment was echoed by the dominant rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta, who sent a letter to the United Nations stating their willingness to expel jihadists as soon as a full ceasefire takes effect. The Russian-backed daily five-hour "pause" falls short of a broader month-long ceasefire voted by the U.N. Security Council on Saturday.
The main rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta -- Jaish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham -- declared their "complete commitment to deport" jihadist fighters. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group made up mostly of fighters from al-Qaida's ex-affiliate al-Nusra Front, is present in some parts of the enclave. The letter said such an evacuation, which has been discussed previously but never yielded any result, would take 15 days and start when a U.N. truce takes effect. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted cautiously to the statement and said after meeting French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian that the ball was in the rebel groups' court. "We shall see in practice whether the pleas by the three illegal armed groups... to carry out the UNSC resolution correspond with their intentions," he said. The Syrian government lost control of Eastern Ghouta in 2012 and has besieged it almost ever since. The scenario put in place by the regime and its Russian ally was reminiscent of the deal that ended the battle of Aleppo in 2016. Few civilians back then initially used the Aleppo corridors unilaterally announced by Russia. Some started fleeing after renewed bombardment and the rest eventually evacuated when a multilateral deal was reached with Turkey.

Khamenei: Iran’s Enemies 'Provoke' Workers Into Going on Strike
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/Few days after hundreds of laborers had protested in various areas in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned against the expansion of labor movements against the regime as a result of the deteriorating economic situation. Meanwhile, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that his country faces major challenges both at the internal and external levels and called for a national dialogue between all Iranian parties to restore the regime's balance. Iranian workers protesting labor conditions have gone on strike in Ahvaz, west of Azerbaijan, and Lorestan following delayed payments as Iran prepares to celebrate Nowruz. In a speech addressing workers during his meeting with trade unions three weeks ago, Khamenei implicitly warned against the increased number of labor protests. Khamenei warned that Iran’s enemies have attempted to “provoke” Iranian workers into going on strike in order to drive the economy into recession. But he said the workers have “resisted” and “foiled” those attempts in recent years."One of the fundamental attempts by the enemies was provoking the workers to create recession in the factories," he said, adding: "but the workers resisted through the past years, foiling the enemies' plot."Khamenei's website, which published the statement, did not explain the reasons for their publication at this particular time. But the site usually releases "sensitive" unpublished statements given the circumstances the country is going through. It is speculated that officials' attempts to contain the protests and restore calm to the country are among the reasons why Khamenei's office didn't publish his statements three weeks ago. During his speech after the 39th anniversary of the revolution, Khamenei stated that "the regime advanced in various areas but has failed to achieve social justice" and called on Iranian officials to apologize to the Iranians.Following the presidential elections in May, Khamenei demanded that living conditions be among the priorities of Rouhani's second government. Iran began the year 2018 with popular protests against high prices. Trade unions point out that protests were a result of unpaid salaries and dues and employers abandoning their obligations towards workers. Earlier this month, the Iranian Presidential Research Center published polls showing that 80 percent of Iranians were dissatisfied with the current situation. In its recommendations, the Center advised senior officials to make urgent adjustments in order to prevent renewed protests that are expected to be more violent and challenging for the authorities. Last week, north Tehran witnessed violent clashes between supporters of Sufism and security forces in the region of Pasdaran. Five security forces and a number of protesters were killed and at least 360 arrested. On Monday, 5,000 workers from al-Ahwaz Steel Company went on strike and protested in front of the governor's office to demand financial compensation for the three-months delay of salary payment. Iranian media outlets reported similar protests in the provinces of Lurstan and Western Azerbaijan and two centers. "Ilna" news agency reported that the Interior Ministry intends to hold a meeting with representatives of workers in order to put an end to the protests. In a related matter, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Saturday that his country faces challenges in various economic, social, cultural and political areas both inside and outside the country. Jahangiri called for the need to face the challenges and "think about restoring the social balance of the system."Speaking at a ceremony on the 80th anniversary of establishing the Iranian National Library, Jahangiri said he regrets removing dialogue and "resorting to the confrontation, which leaves great pressure on society." Meanwhile, head of parliament's economic commission Mohammad Reza Pour-Ibrahimi indicated that a second request for questioning Rouhani was sent to the parliament after it was endorsed by 100 members of the parliament. The Iranian president's administration must provide convincing answers to MPs' questions in an attempt to withdraw the question. The spokesman, quoted by Fars News Agency, indicated that the second question compromises of five issues which Rouhani must address such as bank sanctions, unemployment, and economic recession.

Bahrain Upholds Sentences Against Terror Convicts
Manama - Obaid al-Suhaimi/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/
Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld Monday the verdicts issued by the fourth High Criminal Court against a defendant, who was convicted in a terrorist case and was sentenced to death, and another defendant, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and it approved revoking their Bahraini nationalities. The two defendants were also accused of being involved in a terrorist attack against police officers, which resulted in the death of a woman and the injury of three children on June 30, 2016. “The Court of Cassation upheld the appealed sentences in the case of deliberate murder and foreign intelligence connections, Chief of Terror Crime Prosecution Advocate General Ahmed al-Hammadi said, according to BNA. “The defendants were charged with the illegal handling, possession of explosives and weapons, causing the bomb explosion that claimed a human life, endangering public and private transportation, receiving training on the use of weapons and explosives, committing a terrorist crime with other accomplices, harboring a wanted terrorist and inflicting material damage in implementation of terrorist purposes,” Hammadi explained. The High Criminal Court issued in June 2016 the death sentence against the first defendant, life in jail against the second defendant and three years in prison against seven of the defendants, revoking the nationality of the first and second defendants and obliging them to pay financial compensation for the damage. The court also decided to fine the third defendant and ordered the confiscation of all seized materials, BNA reported. On November 22, 2017, the Court of Appeal issued its sentence by accepting the appeal of eight defendants in form, but it rejected it in substance and upheld the sentences. BNA said that on June 30, 2016, the suspects committed their crime of detonating the bomb that killed a woman, who was driving on Shaikh Jabir al-Ahmad Highway. The defendants were charged with the deliberate murdering of a woman as a result of detonation of an explosive device. The prosecution investigations revealed that a suspect, who resides in Iran and works for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, ordered the defendants to implement the terrorist crime by detonating the bomb in order to target police patrols and kill policemen. He provided the first and second defendants with the explosive device for this purpose. The police movement was monitored and the explosive device was placed in the crime scene to carry out the plot.

Sisi Says Surprised with the Amount of Terrorists’ Equipment in Sinai, No Alternative to their Defeat
Cairo – Mohammed Nabil Helmi/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi vowed to eradicate terrorists in northern Sinai and told the Egyptian army leaders that there was no alternative to defeating them and clearing the province from extremist groups. Sisi made his remarks on Sunday during the inauguration of the East of the Suez Canal Counter-Terrorism Command, in the presence of top state and army officials. Terrorist operations in Sinai have not been carried out in two or three years, according to Sisi, but have been orchestrated over more than 15 years within plans to take the country towards the abyss. “With all the efforts of the armed forces and the intelligence bodies, we are surprised that there are things we did not know,” he said. “Over the past three months, it was revealed that the size of the terrorists’ infrastructure - including equipment and preparations - was huge.”The Egyptian Army and interior ministry forces have launched extensive moves within the “Sinai Comprehensive Operation 2018,” which has covered the different parts of the country, according to reports by military officials. Several senior state and army officials attended Sunday’s inauguration event, including Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Minister of Defense Sodki Sobhi, Army Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid and others. A statement by Presidential Spokesman Bassam Rady said: “The inauguration of the Eastern Suez Canal counter-terrorism command comes within the framework of developing the Armed Forces’ capabilities to carry out their sacred duty of protecting the homeland with maximum efficiency.”“The president was briefed on the forces and the command’s facilities before he visited the East of the Canal Command’s headquarters, where tactics for Operation Sinai 2018 are planned,” the statement added. In what appeared to be a presidential response to media reports, mostly Israeli, about an exchange of land with Egypt that would allow the settlement of Palestinians in the Sinai, Sisi cautioned that no one would abandon Sinai. He explained: “No one misleads the Egyptians; this is our land, and we will allow no one to have ambitions in it, and will continue to build it.”In November Israeli Minister of Social Equality Gila Gamliel said that Sinai was “the best place for the Palestinians to live in.” Her statement caused a stir in Egypt, prompting Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to respond by asserting that Egyptian domestic affairs should not be “included in any statements by foreign parties most importantly when these statements touch Egyptian sovereignty.”“The Egyptian land of Sinai has been irrigated by the bloods of Egyptian martyrs who were killed while they were fighting for its liberation…Giving up on Sinai is not a matter of discussion,” Shoukry stated.

Report: Syrian Women Exploited in Return for Aid
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/A report revealed that Syrian women are being sexually abused in exchange for aid. Aid workers told the BBC that the exploitation is so widespread that some Syrian women are refusing to go to distribution centers because people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home. Despite warnings about the abuse three years ago, a new report shows it is continuing in the south of the war-torn country, said the report. One worker claimed that some humanitarian agencies were turning a blind eye to the exploitation because using third parties and local officials was the only way of getting aid into dangerous parts of Syria that international staff could not access, reported the BBC. In June 2015, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) surveyed 190 women and girls in Daraa and Quneitra. Its report suggested about 40 percent had said sexual violence took place when they were accessing services, including humanitarian aid. Danielle Spencer, a humanitarian adviser working for a charity, claimed the aid sector turned a blind eye to ensure that aid still got into southern Syria. "Sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls has been ignored, it's been known about and ignored for seven years," she said. "The UN and the system as it currently stands have chosen for women's bodies to be sacrificed. "Somewhere there has been a decision made that it is OK for women's bodies to continue to be used, abused, violated in order for aid to be delivered for a larger group of people." A spokesman for the UNHCR, Andrej Mahecic, said it was "important to understand that in any aid emergency there is a risk of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, and to abuse somebody who is in need of assistance is despicable".
He added that while the allegations relating to 2015 were "incomplete, fragmented and unsubstantiated" the UN nevertheless had taken some action when they first surfaced.
He said the UN refugee agency had no access to the area of southern Syria where the abuse was alleged to have taken place, said the BBC.

OPCW Investigating Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria’s Ghouta
Asharq Al-Awsat/Asharq Al Awsat/February 27/18/The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) opened an investigation in recent chemical weapons attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital, diplomatic sources told Reuters exclusively. The OPCW launched the investigation on Sunday amid reports of the repeated use of chlorine bombs in Ghouta this month, they said, Political leaders in France, the United States and United Kingdom said this month they would back targeted military action against Damascus if there were proof of chemical weapons use by the regime of Bashar Assad. The investigation comes as Russia ordered the establishment of an evacuation corridor and five-hour daily truce to allow residents to leave Eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people are living under siege and bombardment. Among the attacks the OPCW's fact-finding team will examine is one on Sunday which local health authorities said killed a child and caused symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine gas, the sources said. The OPCW did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the operation in public. Use of chlorine as a chemical weapons is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns into hydrochloric acid in the lungs and the build-up of fluids can drown victims. The latest OPCW mission is seeking to determine whether chemical weapons were used in violation of the international weapons convention which Syria signed in 2013 after hundreds died in a massive sarin gas attack in Ghouta. The OPCW will not assign blame. The team does not intend to travel to Ghouta because of safety concerns - two previous visits by inspectors in 2013 and 2014 were ambushed - but will gather witness testimony, photographic and video evidence, and interview medical experts. The United States fired 59 cruise missiles at Syria's Shayrat airbase in April, saying it had been used by Assad's forces to carry out a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people, many of them women and children. Syria and its close ally Russia, which provides military support to Assad's forces, deny using chemical weapons and blame insurgents. A UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, established by the United Nations to identify those responsible for chemical weapons attacks, concluded in 2016 that Syrian regime had used chlorine as a chemical weapon in three cases. It concluded last year that the regime forces were also behind the sarin nerve agent attack on Khan Sheikhoun. A renewal of the mission's mandate was vetoed by Moscow at the UN Security Council. The use of chemical weapons has become systematic in Syria's seven-year war, but political rifts between Western powers and Russia have hamstrung the United Nations and the OPCW, leaving them unable to act against violations of international law.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said his country would consider joining US military strikes against the Syrian regime if there is evidence chemical weapons are being used against civilians. He hoped Britain and other Western nations would not stand by in the event of a chemical attack, voicing support for limited strikes if there is "incontrovertible evidence" of the regime involvement. "If we know that it has happened, and we can demonstrate it, and if there is a proposal for action where the UK could be useful then I think we should seriously consider it," Johnson told BBC radio. "What we need to ask ourselves as a country and what we in the West need to ask ourselves, is can we allow the use of chemical weapons, the use of these illegal weapons to go unreproved, unchecked, unpunished," he added.
Britain is part of the US-led coalition involved in air attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but the government lost a parliamentary vote on the use of force against the regime in 2013.

Saudi King Replaces Top Brass in Latest Shake-Up
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/Saudi Arabia has replaced top military commanders, including its chief of staff, in the latest move to bring fresh blood into the kingdom's upper ranks. The changes, announced in a string of royal decrees late Monday, come a month before the third anniversary of a Saudi-led military intervention in the Yemen war which has killed thousands and triggered a humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia for decades has been home to some of the world's most restrictive policies, banning women from driving or mixing with men and outlawing cinemas and other forms of entertainment. But since King Salman named his son, Prince Mohammed, as heir to the throne in June, the kingdom has witnessed a string of reform, launched at breakneck speed and aimed at moving Saudi Arabia away from its economic dependence on oil. The monarch on Monday replaced the heads of the ground forces and air defences as well as several deputy ministers, and in a rare move named a woman to the government. "Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, Chief of Staff," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced, adding that Fayyad al-Ruwaili had been appointed as his replacement. No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul. State media said, however, the decisions were taken "upon the recommendation" of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also defence minister and widely seen as the power behind the throne.  'Indigenous defence' - Al-Bunyan's retirement comes after he inaugurated a global arms exhibition this week in the Saudi capital Riyadh by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defence company. Tamadar bint Yousef al-Ramah was appointed the deputy minister of labour and social development, a rare senior government post for a woman in the conservative kingdom. Prince Turki bin Talal, the brother of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, was appointed deputy governor of the southern Assir Province. Prince Al-Waleed, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was among the 200-some princes, ministers and tycoons detained in Riyadh's luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel over what the government calls elite corruption. The crackdown is widely viewed as a mark of Prince Mohammed's consolidation of power. The 32-year-old has pushed major economic and social reforms since his appointment. Women will be permitted to drive come June and have been recruited to work ground service in airports. The young prince has also pursued an assertive regional policy, including leading a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen since March 2015 against the Iran-aligned Huthi Shiite rebels. Analysts say the changes point to a strategy to create a self-contained defence industry. "A military transformation is underway in Saudi Arabia," Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at the consultancy Gulf States Analytics, told AFP. "The changes come on the heels of the SAMI exhibition, which is a critical part of the Prince Mohammed's reform plan to create an indigenous defence program," he said. Monday's reshuffle also came hours after six Yemeni soldiers, allied with Riyadh, were killed in friendly fire by the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its military allies last year landed on a United Nations blacklist over the killing and maiming of children in Yemen, which the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster. More than 9,200 people have been killed in the conflict and another nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera since the 2015 intervention, according to the World Health Organization. The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen is seen as a proxy war with Riyadh's regional rival Iran. On Monday, Russia vetoed a UN draft resolution presented by Britain and strongly backed by the United States that would have pressured Iran over its failure to block supplies of missiles to the Huthi rebels.

Saudi Crown Prince Flexes Muscle with Military Shake-Up

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/Saudi Arabia's sudden overhaul of military commanders is the latest power play by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he looks to revamp forces currently bogged down in Yemen. A dramatic shake-up announced in royal decrees late Monday saw top brass, including the chief of staff and heads of the ground forces and air defense, replaced and a broad defense reform plan approved. The changing of the guard comes just a month shy of the third anniversary of the launch of a Saudi-led intervention to fight Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen. Prince Mohammed has been the main driver of the once-staid kingdom's more aggressive regional push since he took over as defense minister in early 2015. But despite a multi-billion dollar military campaign, the coalition has failed to defeat the Huthis in a conflict that United Nations says has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The war's failures have exposed the limitations of Saudi Arabia's military might and accelerated the need to reform what is seen as a sclerotic military establishment. "This plan seeks to reform the Saudi armed forces from a large, inefficient fighting force full of top-level bloat to a streamlined and professionalised military," Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corporation, told AFP. "The armed forces have been plagued by wasteful spending, incoherent resource allocation, and unmeritocratic personnel policies, with the different services acting as mini-fiefdoms rather than a coherent whole."
Dead weight
Prince Mohammed's military reshuffle comes after he sidelined political rivals to become heir to the throne last June and orchestrated an unprecedented royal purge in November. The 32-year-old prince has amassed a level of power unseen by previous rulers as he oversees a sweeping programme of modernisation aimed at preparing Saudi Arabia for a post-oil era. Now the military reform plan appears geared towards reducing inefficient spending and turning the armed forces into a meritocracy, both gargantuan tasks in an institution widely seen as resistant to change. Some of the command shifts saw the removal of "dead weight" from top ranks, Wasser said -- military leaders opposed to change who were sent into retirement. They were replaced largely with younger, more flexible leaders loyal to Prince Mohammed, further consolidating his control within the military. Those retired include veteran General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, who was replaced as the chief of staff by Fayyad al-Ruwaili.Government officials insist the revamp is not prompted by the short-term problems facing the military in Yemen but is part of a long-term strategy that has been years in the making. "The most significant order issued by King Salman was approval of the Ministry of Defence development plan," tweeted Faisal bin Farhan, a senior adviser at the Saudi embassy in Washington, referring to Monday's royal decrees. "This multiyear effort, which had been under review for months encompasses all elements of the ministry including organisation, force structure and long term procurement."
Major player
The overhaul to reinvigorate the military comes as Riyadh is looking to breathe life into attempts to establish its own arms industry. Saudi Arabia has long been a major global arms importer -- but some countries now refuse to sell weapons over the kingdom's role in the crisis gripping Yemen. In a sign of its ambitions Riyadh this week held an arms exhibition by state-owned Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) that drew several global firms. SAMI's goal is to become a "major player in the global defence industry" and "localize more than 50 percent of the military spending" by 2030, according to its website.
It aims to create 40,000 direct jobs and contribute 14 billion riyals ($3.7 billion) to the kingdom's gross domestic product by 2030. "The military shake-up is aimed at cleaning up and reinvigorating the structure as Saudi Arabia tries to create a viable, sustainable and eventually an export-oriented military industry," Mohammed Alyahya, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told AFP. "Projecting military strength is a key part of the strategy."While the revamp announced might be aimed at transforming the armed forces in the long-haul, experts say it could well have far-reaching implications on the conflict in Yemen. "While the military transformation plan was not driven by the Yemen war, the war has dragged on for nearly three years," said Wasser. "All of these (changes) could have knock-on effects for the Saudi military performance in Yemen."

Israel Prosecutors Seek to Extradite Woman to Australia for Abuse Trial
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/Israeli prosecutors asked a Jerusalem court Tuesday to extradite a woman to Australia over accusations of sexually abusing pupils, after a new psychiatric evaluation determined her fit to stand trial. Malka Leifer is facing accusations of child sex abuse from when she was a teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, where she had relocated from her native Israel, according to Israeli police. According to Australian media, Leifer is facing 74 counts of child sex abuse. After allegations surfaced against her in 2008, Leifer and her family left for Israel and have been living in the West Bank settlement Emmanuel. A previous extradition attempt between 2014-2016 failed after Leifer was hospitalised in mental institutions and expert opinions determined she was not fit to stand trial. But undercover private investigators filmed Leifer depositing a cheque at the bank and shopping, prompting Israeli authorities to launch an investigation to see if she was pretending to suffer from mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her February 12 arrest. At Tuesday's hearing at the Jerusalem district court, Leifer sat silently, her head bowed and her eyes hid from sight. An Australian diplomat attended part of the session alongside a few ultra-Orthodox members of Leifer's community. Prosecutors presented a new psychiatric evaluation determining Leifer could face justice. "I'm asking the court to accept this evaluation and determine the defendant is fit to stand trial and set a discussion" toward Leifer's extradition, prosecutor Matan Akiva said. But judge Chana Miriam Lomp accepted the defense's argument that the new evaluation was not acceptable as it lacked the district psychiatrist's signature. In addition, Leifer's attorney Yehuda Fried said he had not received all the evidence claiming to show his client was faking her mental condition. Lomp ordered Akiva to hand the defense the evidence used by police to determine their suspicions and said a further hearing would take place in two months. He ordered her to be detained in a psychiatric institution in the meantime.
Speaking with journalists after the hearing, Fried was confident the debate over whether Leifer could be extradited would take "years," saying the new psychiatric evaluation "has no legal value." "We'll demand to receive all the investigation materials. After getting all the materials, we will ask for another evaluation," he said. "If the court decides to halt the extradition process -- excellent," Fried said. "If not, we'll ask to investigate all the experts since 2014 who presented evaluations, and during those investigations we will determine whether or not she is fit to stand trial or not." Leifer's case has drawn attention from Australian media since her re-arrest earlier this month, with Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews saying he has lobbied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly on the issue.

N. Korea General Wraps Up Controversial Visit to South
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/18/A powerful North Korean general Tuesday wrapped up his visit to the South as part of an Olympics charm offensive by Pyongyang that has drawn angry protests calling for his arrest. General Kim Yong Chol, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs for the ruling Workers' Party, made a rare trip to the South to attend Sunday's closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Seoul has sought to use the Pyeongchang Games to open dialogue between the North and the US in the hopes of easing a nuclear standoff that has sparked global security fears. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent his sister to the opening ceremony before sending Kim Yong Chol, although both had no known interaction with US delegates including Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka. The general, wrapping up his three-day visit, had a meeting with Seoul's intelligence chief Suh Hoon and unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Tuesday morning, Cho's ministry said. "The two Koreas ... agreed to continue joint efforts to improve bilateral relations and establish peace on the Korean peninsula (during the meeting)," it said in a statement. TV footage showed the general leaving a Seoul hotel where he and seven other delegates had been staying and getting into a sedan on their way to the border. President Moon Jae-in, in a meeting with Kim Yong Chol on Sunday, urged Pyongyang to open dialogue with the US as soon as possible -- to which Kim responded by saying the North was "very willing" to hold talks. But Washington ruled out any possibility of talks before Pyongyang - which last year staged multiple missile and nuclear tets -- takes steps towards denuclearisation. The US also announced last Friday what Trump hailed as "heaviest ever" sanctions on the isolated regime. Moon, who advocates dialogue with the North to defuse tension, said on Monday that Washington needs to "lower the threshold for talks" with the North.  Analysts say the North's overtures are intended to loosen sanctions imposed over its weapons programmes, and to weaken the alliance between Seoul and its security guarantor, the US. Kim is accused of masterminding several attacks on the South including a 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors, for which the North has denied responsibility. His visit drew angry protests by conservative lawmakers and activists in Seoul, with some ripping up portraits of the general and burning North Korean flags outside the hotel where he was staying.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 27-28/18
Everything Is Booming Except for Wages
Noah Smith/Bloomberg/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/
It’s now safe to say that the US economy is in a boom.
Small business leaders are saying it. Measures of business optimism, tracked by the National Federation of Independent Business, are at all-time highs.Heady survey measures haven’t yet been matched by hard data, but the hard numbers are looking good too. Business investment as a percent of gross domestic product is almost as high as it’s been since the recession. Meanwhile, broad measures of unemployment are as low as at the peak of the mid-2000s boom. And job creation continues at a healthy clip. In other words, it’s time to stop calling this a recovery, and start calling it a boom. This is very good news for President Donald Trump, whose 2020 re-election bid will be strengthened by good economic times, even though the degree to which presidential policies really affect the economy is dubious. But one important economic indicator remains disturbingly subdued -- wages.
In dollar terms, wage growth has been superficially healthy -- in January, average hourly earnings rose 2.9 percent from a year earlier. But consumer prices increased 2.1 percent during the same period. In other words, real hourly earnings grew by only 0.8 percent -- less than half the real growth rate of the overall economy. Meanwhile, the NFIB survey reports that 31 percent of employers are paying their workers more. But this is also presumably unadjusted for inflation. Because inflation is positive in most years, wages tend to go up on average every year. But that doesn’t mean workers are actually getting more purchasing power. In terms of real wage growth, 2017 wasn't a great year, and for nonsupervisory workers it was especially slow.
The biggest wage gains since the recession came in 2015, thanks to a fall in oil prices that held inflation down while dollar wages rose. Now, inflation is back to a more normal level, but dollar wages aren’t rising much faster, meaning that workers are pocketing fewer gains. Median real weekly earnings for American workers actually fell in late 2017 after hitting a plateau earlier in the year. What’s going on? Why are low unemployment, robust business investment and soaring confidence measures not causing faster real wage growth? Basic economics -- the theory of supply and demand that every undergraduate learns in their introductory courses -- suggests that as labor markets get tighter, real wages should rise. So why is the theory not working?
One possible reason is that employers are growing increasingly powerful. Recent research by economists José Azar, Ioana Marinescu and Marshall Steinbaum has found that rising concentration in labor markets -- a decrease in the number of employers competing for workers -- has led to suppression of wages. Another new paper by Efraim Benmelech, Nittai Bergman and Hyunseob Kim reached the same conclusion. Economic theory says that when there are only a few employers, the supply-and-demand model breaks down, and powerful companies start holding wages below what a competitive market would provide. This theory also predicts that minimum wage laws wouldn’t throw people out of work -- exactly what many researchers are now finding. A second possibility is that low unemployment is making workers less productive. When layoffs loom, employees tend to work harder in order to keep their jobs, but when the economy reaches full employment, the pressure comes off. Labor productivity isn’t perfectly correlated with wages, but it does have some effect. A third possible reason is simply caution after the long, deep recession. Nominal wage cuts are very rare -- in econ jargon, wages are sticky downwards. So employers know that if they hand their workers raises, they won’t be able to take those raises back if the boom proves short-lived. Hence, burned by the experience of a lost decade, companies may be holding off on raising pay until they’re sure the good times are really back.
So there are both benign and malign explanations for why wages aren’t taking off. Economists are no doubt working even now to figure out what’s actually going on. But one thing is certain -- unless economic growth starts translating into bigger raises for the average American worker, the boom will feel hollow to many people.

Confused about the Trump-Russia Probe? Read this Memo
Timothy L. O'Brien/Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/18/
If you feel lost amid the various smokescreens and conspiracy theories surrounding Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump, his presidential campaign, his advisers and his family, then the memo the House Intelligence Committee minority released late Saturday afternoon may help clarify your thinking. A refresher on the history of the memo: It’s a rebuttal by the committee’s Democrats, led by California Representative Adam Schiff, to a memo that the Republican staff of the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes, drafted and released to the public earlier this month.
The Schiff memo has some jarring facts in it, including revelations that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had reason to believe that a Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, was acting as an agent of the Russian government, and that Russian agents told Page and another Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, that the Kremlin wanted to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
At play in this battle of the memos is the provenance of federal investigators’ interest in Russian involvement with the Trump campaign, and the question of whether Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel, was eventually launched on his probe in bad, partisan faith. In keeping with the president’s oft-repeated claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt,” the memo from Team Nunes tried to discredit the investigation by asserting that the FBI and the Justice Department misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when it sought approval to monitor Page as part of its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. The way the FBI and DOJ went about their work amounted to a “troubling breakdown of legal processes,” the Nunes memo said (even though the scanty four-page memo itself offered enough facts to refute that very claim). The Nunes memo also asserted that federal investigators were partisan hacks because their application to surveil Page relied on the infamous Steele dossier, a report by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele about Trump and his team’s intersections with Russians. Democrats had funded the Steele dossier as opposition research during the campaign. Yet the Nunes memo also made plain that federal investigators originally relied on information quite apart from the Steele dossier when they decided to make their surveillance requests, and that the FBI launched its probe in July 2016. That was nearly two months before it even was aware of the dossier’s existence.
Enter the Schiff memo, which is six pages longer than the Nunes memo and, even with black blocks of redacted material, a much more thorough recounting of how investigators got onto the Russians, the Trump crew, Page and Papadopoulos. A fair reading of the memo leaves little doubt that federal investigators had every reason to suspect and monitor Page (and given Page’s loopy unreliability in recent interviews, every reason to wonder why the Russians placed much faith in him).
Page traveled to Moscow, had “past relationships with Russian spies,” spent time during the 2016 campaign involved in “interaction with Russian officials,” was “knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the US” and was “someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government,” the Schiff memo notes.
The FBI’s animating force for requesting surveillance of Page was not the Steele dossier, but boatloads of its own observations that the Steele report simply corroborated. And the judges who approved the warrant, as well as subsequent renewals, to surveil Page? There were four of them, the Schiff memo notes, all appointed by Republican presidents. (Mueller himself is a Republican, by the way.)
A glaring hole in the Schiff memo is its failure to address a core claim in the Nunes memo concerning the then-deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. The Nunes memo said that McCabe “testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.” Unless information about McCabe is contained in the redacted material in the Schiff memo, which it doesn’t appear to be, then McCabe’s personal view of Steele and his importance still need to be clarified.
Still, the Schiff memo notes that the Justice Department “cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page” and “made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources.” It also points out that ongoing federal investigations continued to corroborate elements of the Steele report and that the FBI found him to be “credible.” The Justice Department made it clear to the court that Steele’s work was funded by Democrats, and made the court aware of Steele’s “background, credibility and potential bias.” It later told the court that it decided to end its relationship with Steele because he had shared his findings with the media. The Nunes memo suggested that all of these issues surrounding Steele were somehow hidden from the court. As the Schiff memo makes clear, they weren’t.
The Schiff memo also states that by the time the FBI had the Steele dossier -- in mid-September 2016 -- the bureau was already conducting “sub-inquiries” into other unidentified “individuals linked to the Trump campaign.” Page wasn’t law enforcement’s only target in all of this, and he had formally departed from the Trump campaign before the DOJ even applied for the warrant to surveil him.
“FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” the Schiff memo says.
The Schiff memo goes on to describe multiple ways in which the Nunes memo drew selectively on classified information and characterizes it as relying upon “distortions and misrepresentations.” Distortions and misrepresentations have been Nunes’s stock in trade, of course, ever since the Mueller probe began, and he continued apace on Saturday. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he described the Schiff memo as “clear evidence that the Democrats are not only trying to cover this up, but they’re also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up.”
President Trump offered a similar perspective in a tweet on Saturday evening: “The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!” During an interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he said that the Schiff memo “was a nothing.”But the Schiff memo is most certainly not a “nothing.” And the reality is that while the Nunes and Schiff memos are wildly different documents, they concur on a crucial fact -- that the FBI’s investigation began long before the Steele dossier found its way to the bureau.
As I noted in a column last October, “The provenance and funding of the Steele dossier, while interesting to those of us caught up in Trumplandia minutiae, doesn't really matter much beyond its role in the never-ending brawl between Trump's critics and his fans.”
What does matter is that partisan flame-throwing in Washington about the bona fides of the Mueller investigation finally ends, so that the special counsel, Congress and the country can focus instead on fully understanding all the forces that were at work when the Kremlin decided to meddle in the US electoral process in 2016.

How the Left Became its Own Worst Enemy – Part I
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 27/18
Although genuine feminists have made strides for women's rights in Western countries, they have helped set back the rights of young Muslim women to break free from the oppressive codes of an Islam defined and controlled by Muslim men.
It is one of the ironies of modern politics that the same word can be susceptible to more than one meaning, creating confusion for everyone.
One of the reasons for the confusion is that liberal values are generally shared by moderates on both the left and right of politics. Not by the far left -- Marxists, Leninists, Trotskyites, and Stalinists or Britain's Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – or by the far right – Germany's Alternativ für Deutschland, Hungary's Jobbik, Austria's Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or Greece's Golden Dawn.
Leftist values underpinned both the American and French revolutions, helping to create the liberal democracies that remain our chief defence against Communism at one end of the political spectrum and Fascism on the other. Most of those values are taken for granted by mainstream populations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and much of Europe. Writing in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, Ralph Raico describes classical liberalism as
"the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade. Up until around 1900, this ideology was generally known simply as liberalism."
One might also include civil rights; democratic institutions; equal justice under the law; separation of religion, state, judiciary and education, and international co-operation. Although there is, of course, more to liberal values than these, they are all enshrined in articles of the US Constitution and implied or stated in the constitutions and laws of other democracies.
The role of liberalism in the reformation of Europe following World War II is made clear by Oxford historian Professor Martin Conway:
Liberalism, liberal values and liberal institutions formed an integral part of that process of European consolidation. Fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, the liberal and democratic identity of Western Europe had been reinforced on almost all sides by the definition of the West as a place of freedom. Set against the oppression in the Communist East, by the slow development of a greater understanding of the moral horror of Nazism, and by the engagement of intellectuals and others with the new states (and social and political systems) emerging in the non-European world to the south.
So far, so good. As Conway goes on to explain, however, a new liberalism inspired by Marxist-inspired left-wing ideology, began to replace the more classical forms across Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Marxist glamorization has inspired many liberals to abandon their original principles and betray what were its own best values, values that are still proclaimed but have become overridden by quite opposite ideas.
One subtle shift has been the emergence of political correctness, a form of Cultural Marxism (the theory that culture more than politics drives inequality between races and classes in Western societies). Political correctness started as a reasonable exercise to protect vulnerable members of society -- blacks, women, Jews, gays, the disabled -- from offensive speech and action but ended as a modern totalitarianism that blocks free speech and open debate on just about everything.
Today's youth, particularly on university campuses, have adopted ways of thinking and behaving that contradict all the ideas that were the fundamentals of classic liberalism. There are many examples, but the one that stands out above the rest is support for radical Islam and hard-line Muslims.
The most famous instance in the UK was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's embrace of members of the terror outfits Hamas and Hezbollah, which he described as his "friends". It took him until the summer of 2016 to say that he regretted his engagement with the terrorists.
In several European countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Italy, governments have banned fully or in part the wearing of the Islamic veil; above all, the niqab and burqa, the full-face forms. One might have thought that Western feminists would be in the vanguard of such movements, as it could not be clearer that Islamic law oppresses women far more than ever happened in the West. A British Muslim physician, Qanta Ahmed, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown have openly and repeatedly called for the abolition of all forms of veiling. Muslim women reformers across entire the Islamic world have called for an end to veils of all kinds.[1] In Iran this year, young women have been demonstrating on the streets without their compulsory hijabs, and at least 29 have been arrested as the regime clamps down again.
If some Muslim women call for the removal of the veil, however, they are often criticized by Western Muslims. The Franco-British academic, Dr. Myriam François-Cerrah, a hijab-wearing Muslim convert, published a vitriolic attack on Alibhai-Brown. Cerrah's piece, which appeared in the left-of-centre New Statesman, was entitled "The Feminist Case for the Veil". Alibhai-Brown, who describes herself as "leftie liberal, anti-racist, feminist, Shia Muslim, part-Pakistani", had just published a book entitled Refusing the Veil, in which she argues that Muslim women must abandon veiling because it conceals abuse, propagates eating disorders, and restricts access to sunlight and exercise; that it is imposed on babies and young girls, allows women to be shamed for not covering up, and has become associated with extremist factions; that it demonizes men, oppresses feminism, and presents obstacles to performance and success; and that it even encourages racism, distorts Muslim values, and strips women of autonomy and individuality. François-Cerrah bizarrely describes the book as "a socially conservative book that is dressed up as a liberal feminist manifesto" -- that from someone with an Oxford PhD.
That a clearly successful and independent woman such as Cerrah, who happens to be a Muslim convert, should attack this book so viciously is a clear testimony to just how the veil debate has created a serious rift within Western societies and has become a cause for concern, not just for non-Muslims, but for many Muslims, as well.
Other politically correct feminists also support universal wearing of the veil. In July 2015, a leading French feminist, Christine Delphy, published an opinion piece in the London Guardian in which she proclaimed that the French ban on veils and the tradition of French laïcité (secularism) were racist and that true feminists respect even the patriarchal customs of other races and religions.
Writing in New York's Jewish Tablet magazine in 2015, Heather Rogers relates how she at first dismissed criticism of misogyny within Muslim communities because "Westerners have no right to tell Muslims how to live" and downplayed arguments about the rate of Islamic honour killings. It was only on later reflection, she said, that she began to pose questions such as, "Why aren't more non-Muslim feminists speaking up about violence against women in Muslim-majority countries?" She then gives an example of how liberal feminists distort matters:
"In searching the Internet, I begin to find the vestiges of a discussion of the subject among Leftists, which suggests some reasons why many non-Muslim feminists choose to stay silent. One controversy is to do with an essay Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote in 2012 for The Feminist Wire, an online women's studies journal. Her piece says the hijab is a symbol of male oppression. A storm ensued. One response, signed by 77 academics, writers, and activists, said the essay was an assertion of Wilde-Blavatsky's 'white feminist privilege and power.' Instead of facilitating a discussion, however, The Feminist Wire editorial collective took down the comments, pulling the essay off along with them."
Referring to Muslim women in Iran and Turkey who struggle to break free of the restrictions imposed on them, Khadija Khan exposes the hypocrisy of Western women – those who support outright extremist Muslims who advocate for Islamic law, Sharia, which discriminates against women, such as Linda Sarsour:
These women -- who are trapped in despotic Middle Eastern dictatorships, and who face possible prosecution and having their lives ruined -- were given no attention by the... women marchers in the U.S. Evidently, feminists in the West were too busy wearing hijabs in solidarity with Sarsour and other promoters of Islamic law (sharia), which advises husbands to beat their wives and that in court, a woman's testimony is worth half a man's testimony; that daughters can receive only half the inheritance of a son, and that if a woman is raped, she will need four male Muslim witnesses, supposedly at the scene, to prove that she was not committing adultery.
Sometimes defence of the veil by Muslims who regard themselves as feminists can be self-contradictory. In 2014, the Daily Telegraph reported on a series of comments on social media, in which a number of Muslim women explained why they choose to cover their heads or faces. One user writes:
"I like to use it to promote feminism, however it is very hard to express it because of how people view it. There ARE a lot of women who are forced to wear it, and I think that's really wrong, no matter how religious or what country. The hijab is forced in some places in the world, or by certain people – especially men in many cases. I will not deny this. This is not feminism. I want to take this hijab and make it my own. First choose if I even want to cover or not. Define WHY and HOW. I will choose what colors I will wear. What materials. Not just black and white. I control if I want to use hijab pins, rhinestones, lace, or brooches. When I will wear it, how I will tie it. When I choose to take it off. It is my right. Also I will choose WHY I wear it. NOT wear it because someone told me to. These points combined promote feminism within women."
What sort of feminism admits is it that women are forced by men to wear the veil, but believe that wearing it is an expression of women's liberty just because she controls the colour and materials of her hijab? It sounds like a prisoner who thinks he is free because he is allowed to choose the design of his chains.
Another woman, who says she is a lawyer, writes:
"The biggest benefit that I enjoy by wearing [the hijab] is that people deal with me as an individual and not just according to my looks."
Why, though, would wearing a hijab make anyone more of an individual? If she has an attractive face, men will still take her looks into account, hijab or not. Worse, photographs of groups of Muslim women wearing full burqas and niqabs show them looking virtually identical, with their individuality totally erased.
There are, thankfully, some genuinely liberal feminists who see through this imposture. Award-winning journalist Abigail Esman recently published an article entitled, "The West Embraces the Hijab as Muslim Women Risk Their Lives for the Right to Choose":
[T]he West's concern seems to be far more about perceived "Islamophobia" than misogyny...
In fact, the new celebration of the hijab seems to be about celebrating all those things that we in the West generally condemn: pushing a new "must" trend for women in fashion and behavior... and above all, increasing the very real risks to those Muslim women who choose not to wear a head-covering by making models and icons of those who do.
Last year, an Irish journalist and government media advisor, Carol Hunt, condemned the double standards in an article for the Irish Times, "Why is feminism so quiet about Muslim women who refuse to wear the hijab":
So why then, do liberal, feminist calls for equality stop at borders? I am at a loss to understand why equality is purely for one particular group of people and not for others. If I believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then surely that shouldn't change no matter who I am or where I live....
She continues, arguing that some feminists and gay rights activists choose to support fundamentalist Muslims (who are anti-woman and anti-gay) instead of Muslim reformers:
In December 2015, the feminist and LGBTQ societies in Goldsmith University in London allied with the college's fundamentalist Islamic society, against the ex-Muslim human rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie. Namazie is a trenchant opponent of the sort of discrimination that is now unacceptable in Christianity but somehow admirable in Islam. Similarly, Maajid Nawaz, who works tirelessly defending Muslim communities in Europe, Pakistan and elsewhere from the "diktats of Islamist theocrats", found himself on a liberal list as an "Anti-Muslim" extremist.
Again, referring to the ex-Muslim feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Hunt continues:
She [Ali] asks why do we loudly defend a woman's right to wear the hijab but when it comes to supporting Muslim girls who refuse to wear it, feminism is strangely quiet? Women who wish to wear a veil should be able to, without criticism or social pressure to do so. But elevating the wearing of the hijab to a symbol of feminism struggle is twisted in the extreme.
Yet this is what happened earlier this year when women all over the US marched against the Trump ideology – at their head in New York was religious fundamentalist, "home-girl in a hijab", Linda Sarsour, a pro-Sharia advocate and an apologist for the atrocious Saudi regime.
What sort of benevolent bigotry is this? Meanwhile, liberal Muslims suffer, not just alienation and punishment from within their own culture, but a very loud silence from those of us who are terrified that by speaking out we may be dubbed Islamophobic or on the same side as the likes of Trump, Farage, et al.
Somali-born ex-Muslim author Ayaan Hirsi Ali "asks why do we loudly defend a woman's right to wear the hijab but when it comes to supporting Muslim girls who refuse to wear it, feminism is strangely quiet?" (Image source: Gage Skidmore)
In a recent piece for the Gatestone Institute, American author Bruce Bawer spotted the root of the problem. Giving examples of feminist support for Islamic practices that harm women, he focuses on Sweden:
Sweden's preferred type [of feminism] is not about universal sisterhood and the spreading of sexual equality around the globe. No, it is "intersectional" feminism. What is "intersectional" feminism? It is a species of feminism that, in accordance with the relatively new academic concept of "intersectionality," accepts a hierarchy whereby other "victim groups" -- such as "people of color" and Muslims -- are higher up on the grievance ladder than women, and whereby women who belong to those other groups enjoy an even more exalted status as victims than white female Christians or Jews.
What this means is that, although genuine feminists have made strides for women's rights in Western countries, they have helped set back the rights of young Muslim women to break free from the oppressive codes of an Islam defined and controlled by Muslim men. And that is only one level of leftist self-harm, as I shall explain in the second part of this article.
**Dr. Denis MacEoin is a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British university and the author of books, articles and entries for encyclopedias such as The Encyclopedia of Islam.
[1] For a long list, see Ida Lichter, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression, Amherst, 2009.
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No One Will Intervene to Save Ghouta
السفير الأميركي السابق في سوريا روبرت فورد/لن يتدخل أحد لإنقاذ الغطوطة في سوريا

Robert Ford/Former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle
East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington
Asharq Al Awsat/February 27/18
Unless you have been sleeping for the last seven years, you could not be surprised that the Syrian regime forces violated the Eastern Ghouta ceasefire declared in United Nations Security Resolution 2401. If you were sleeping for the past seven years, resolution 2401 has a beautiful list of 17 other United Nations resolutions that concern Syria, without any Russian veto, that call for ceasefires, political solutions, rapid delivery of humanitarian aid and respect for hospitals and humanitarian aid workers.
I was surprised to see the list of 17 resolutions. I didn’t know there were so many that passed without Russian and Chinese vetoes. Maybe the Russian diplomats got tired of raising their arms vetoing all the other Syria draft resolutions? What was the result of the Russian diplomats resting their arms and allowing 17 resolutions about Syria to receive approval of the Security Council?
The Syrian regime violated them all. It ignored demands for ceasefires, it continues to use chemical weapons, as the United Nations expert team reported, it besieges opposition-controlled areas and towns like the Eastern Ghouta and Rastan, and it targets aid workers, as its vicious denunciations of the White Helmets shows.
To be frank, sometimes armed opposition elements also violated some of the resolutions, such as blocking delivering of humanitarian aid to Fua and Kefraya and shelling civilian neighborhoods in cities like Damascus and West Aleppo. There is no possible justification for these actions, and they have hugely hurt the honor and credibility of the opposition. However, to be frank again, the scale of Syrian regime violations has always been much worse than the scale of the violations committed by the armed opposition.
After these 17 resolutions you might wonder why there is no punishment for the violations. There is a legal answer and a political answer. The legal answer is simple. The Russian diplomats might have been resting their arms and allowing the 17 resolutions to pass, but they didn’t allow any mention in any of the 17 resolutions about imposing penalties from Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter for violations. A strict interpretation of international law means that, for example, other countries legally can’t use force against the Syrian regime for blocking humanitarian aid or even using chemical weapons. Legal experts in the United States, for example, said that the Trump administration violated international law when it struck a Syrian airbase in 2017 after the Syrian regime used sarin gas again in violation of resolutions 2118 and 2209 that forbid use of chemical weapons. There was no permission in 2118 and 2209 to use force as Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter allows. If you insist on total adherence to international law, you can become angry about Syrian regime violations, but legally you cannot retaliate with force or a blockade or even international sanctions.
Of course, more than just international law, there is politics in the Syrian conflict. And it is time to be frank again. The United Nations cannot fix the politics because it reflects the world’s politics. You can’t blame a mirror for showing that you are fat. The political fact is that Russia and China want the Bashar Assad and his regime to survive. They do not want a change in the Syrian regime because they think that whatever comes after Assad would be worse than the current Syrian regime. They do not want to weaken the Syrian regime – their goal is to strengthen it. Therefore, they will never allow the United Nations to put real pressure on the Assad regime. Never.
And Russia and Iran may not agree on everything in Syria, but they agree that Assad and his regime must survive, that foreign states should never intervene to support popular protest movements trying to overthrow dictatorships. Russia will not put pressure on Iran or Syria when Damascus and Tehran takes actions that they think are vital to the survival of the Syrian state. And in addition to that, the United States and the West will not fight a war with Russia about the fate of the Syrian regime.
So, I have a message for the Jaysh al-Islam and the Faylaq Rahman in Eastern Ghouta. I will receive a lot of criticism, but I accept that. No one is without blame in the Syrian tragedy. My message is: the world, the United Nations, the West and the Arab World will not rescue Eastern Ghouta. They didn’t save Homs and they didn’t save East Aleppo. The 18th and 19th and 20th resolutions from the United Nations will not rescue you. In Homs and East Aleppo after many thousands of civilians died, finally, the Syrian regime recaptured the two cities, and the fighters and their families left. Sooner or later that will happen in Eastern Ghouta. If your strategy is to follow the strategy of Homs and Eastern Aleppo, as you wait and hope for a miracle from outside, then for the sake of the thousands of civilians in the area you control, please reconsider and think about alternative steps. Don’t do it for yourselves – I know you are brave. Do it for sake of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians surrounded and trapped with you. Do it to honor the revolution whose goal was respect for the rights of all Syrian citizens to life and dignity and hope in the future.

On the question of naturalizing the children of Saudi women married to foreigners
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
Statistics show that about 700,000 Saudi women are married to non-Saudi men. Most of these couples have children. However, the system of Saudi nationality only grants Saudi citizenship to the children of Saudi men, even if they are married to non-Saudi women.
However, the Saudi citizenship system does not treat the children of Saudi women the same as they are not granted nationality, even if they have been born, schooled, raised and living in the Saudi Kingdom with their mothers.
An antiquated law
The Saudi nationality system is antiquated. It came into existence almost six decades ago. Over this period, Saudi society has witnessed many changes and in various walks of life. Most notably, Saudi women are now enjoying their human rights.
Despite this, the children of Saudi women with foreign husbands are still denied their right to Saudi nationality. I really don't understand why, despite the fact that this falls within their human rights, along with the fact that this category of people accounts for a large proportion of the population.
With an outstanding educational background; being born and raised in the Kingdom and speaking in different accents, they should grant them Saudi nationality as their legitimate right, that ought to have been taken into account by the Saudi nationality system. But nothing has changed to this day.
Saudi women are now enjoying their human rights. Despite this, children of Saudi women with foreign husbands are still denied their right to Saudi nationality
I am a firm believer in societal diversity; having new blood and new cultures can only enrich the society, open it up to new ideas, break its scale and eradicate this racist tendency which is the plague of societies. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental of all human rights, which are adopted by contemporary civilized societies.
Furthermore, the New World countries, such as The United States of America and Canada, are melting pot societies, consisting of citizens coming from all around the globe.
This diversity reflected in their societies which enabled them to lead the modern world both civilly and culturally. We thus need to take lessons from these cultures so we can enrich our own society and distance it from the unjustified racism in the world of human rights.
Plea to the beloved King
I am going to go even further than that and say that we need to reject racism in all its forms, especially since we are living in a new era in which we need to look back at our past mistakes.
One of our most important assessments is that we need to normalize with the rest of the world, so we can become a coexistent nation that can live with different cultures.
That distortion, called privacy, became ancient history, that we threw behind our backs and began building a new modern, contemporary and lawful state, with all the meanings of the word. In this Salman’s era that will mark history.
I take my case to our beloved King, especially since it is a pressing issue that has affected many in the past and does to this day. I am certain that he, may Allah bless him, will take it into consideration.

The fate of extremists: The lovers
Mansour Alnogaidan/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
Eid Al Fitr, 1997 occurred during a rainy winter. It was a sad Eid for the prisoners in cell number five, warehouse two of Al Ruwaish Prison in Jeddah. Our small cell included youth, adults, and seniors; a mix of jihadists, common criminals, Muslim Brotherhood members who followed the Turabi current, a senior Libyan in his 60s, and two teenagers. One ay Abu Sa’id, a young man among us, remained in bed, his body covered in his sheets, his face covered in tears. It took us an hour to calm him down.
Minutes later, he began reciting almost 70 verses of poetry he had written on napkins with a pen he found by chance. It was a long poem of love and yearning for his wife of only two years.
The elderly Libyan, by contrast, was illiterate. He knew only how to perform prayers, and often made sarcastic comments about the young man’s divergent way of thinking and questionable religiosity. Some of us would get irritated with the Libyan, but Abu S’id used to reassure us that at the core of faith lies positive thinking and the virtue of ignoring what upsets us. He admired the seminal Egyptian diva Um Kulthum, and often recited her lyrics in moments of serenity.
Abu S'id was released one year after that sad Eid. A few months later, he died in a car accident.
Many extremists are very polite people who nonetheless feel at ease slaughtering anyone they view as an enemy of their faith. They may pray all night and fast all day, reject financial dividends and interest as unIslamic, yet find no wrong in the theft of public assets or destruction of personal property if the victims are deemed heretical.
For years I wondered if he had been on the path toward moderation. Was he spending time in a cocoon, soon to be reborn? Perhaps. Would he have relapsed to the state that led him to prison in the first place, under the toxic influences that dominated, at the time, sector of inculcation in the country — from mosques to schools to universities? Would he have been exposed to the tide that swept away so many of his generation, after September 11th, who would go on to repeat the same mistakes? The would have been a distinct possibility — one among several.
Like others who knew him, I have found myself picturing various possible scenarios of the future he never had. How would his life have turned out if he were granted one day free of the the ideologies that stole two and a half years of his life? He might have become one of the writers or intellectuals who today are standing up to the monstrosity of political Islam. Or he might have been vacillating, as so many do, between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. He might have been like one of the many hypocrites who deceived us — infatuated with the likes of Sayed Qutub, Al-Baghdadi, and Bin Laden on the one hand, while drinking heavily, having sex promiscuously, and cheating people out of their wealth and property in the name of religion on the other; all the while teaching impressionable teenagers to lust after blood and death.
Many extremists are very polite people who nonetheless feel at ease slaughtering anyone they view as an enemy of their faith. They may pray all night and fast all day, reject financial dividends and interest as unIslamic, yet find no wrong in the theft of public assets or destruction of personal property if the victims are deemed heretical.
On that same Eid morning, there was another lover among us who almost rivaled Abu Sa’id in his kindness — but since 1998 he has spent over tens years more in prison for collecting funds for violent attacks. He hurt and disappointed his father, lost his family, and betrayed his country.
To be continued …

How Qatar covers up its dark side with the likes of Neymar

Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
After the four countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut ties with Doha, two parties that have nothing to do with each other rushed to defend Qatar. The first one is a group of the most famous terrorists, some of whom are in battlefields, and the other is a group of the most famous football players. Abdullah al-Muhaysini, a terrorist in Al-Nusra Front which branched from al-Qaeda organization condemned boycotting Qatar and called for ending the boycott via a video recording from Syria. Similarly, Xavi, who previously played for Barcelona, made the same demand.
It’s a strange paradox. So what does a terrorist have in common with a famous footballer?
The answer is the deception which Doha has practiced for years while showing a civilized and cultured face to the West and a dark and an extremist face to the East. Commenting on Qatar’s intentional double standards at the European Parliament few days ago, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir addressed the West and told them they do not know Qatar’s dark side and only see it as a country with museums and the Paris Saint Germain football club.
Two faces and double standards
Due to this huge contradiction, many westerners find it difficult to believe that this small state which promotes itself as a center for arts, education and sports is hosting terrorists (Muhaysini, who is wanted by Saudi Arabia, lived in Doha for years) and extremists whose fatwas (religious edicts) and ideas poisoned people’s minds. An example of these extremists is Yusuf al-Qaradawi who issued a fatwa permitting suicide operations. Photos of Qatari officials with football teams’ and associations’ officials making headlines across the world make people forget that the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lived in Doha until 1995 and disappeared after the US authorities demanded his arrest.
This information was not disclosed by the four boycotting countries but by Richard Alan Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism during the terms of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Clarke narrated details on the matter in a report published by the Daily News. Few westerners read the Abbottabad Documents, which were recovered from Bin Laden’s hideout. The documents included letters in which Bin Laden talked about al-Qaeda member’s links and ties with Tehran and Doha which he advised his son Hamza to move to. Colleague Huda al-Saleh published extensive reports on these documents in Al (We must not forget that Al-Jazeera television channel broadcast videos from Osama bin Laden that called for killing infidels and then hosted commentators who were introduced as clerics.)
Without forcing Doha to implement the conditions of the boycotting countries and completely preventing it from supporting terrorism and extremist groups, we will witness more horrific terror attacks because the heart of intellectual and financial terrorism continues to beat.
Due to these double standards, some journalists are incapable of believing the aforementioned details or they deny it and thus make false and inaccurate comparisons. Accusations that Qatar funds terrorism are not new but they were made a long time ago – even before the anti-terror quartet boycotted Doha – by western officials. In 2015, the US Treasury said Qatar was involved and lenient in terms of funding terrorist groups. There’s a long list of accusations made by official sources who have documents supported with evidence and that are not under the influence of Doha’s fake civilized face.
The list is actually long. The most prominent example is how Qatar paid $1 billion to Sunni and Shiite terrorists and Iranian officials to release a number of Qatar’s royal family members.
Commenting on these documents, some writers responded by making false arguments and stating that Qatar supports terrorism and so does Saudi Arabia. A New York Times piece claimed that without providing any tangible evidence.
Truth be told, the rhetoric of extremism reigned in Saudi Arabia for a long time and controlled social and educational institutions. The Saudi government has been frank in the past few years when it announced this was a huge problem. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman thus made his famous statement: “We will destroy extremists today and immediately.” He cited the kingdom’s actions in this regard as there have been major changes there in a short period of time.
There have been real changes in Saudi Arabia and not fake ones like Qatar has done. Saudi Arabia granted women more rights and the rhetoric of extremism was restrained and it thus became difficult for extremists, who once controlled the public space, to write sectarian Twitter posts that incite hatred as they now fear being held accountable.
Boycotting Qatar played a decisive role because it cut oxygen off extremists whom it supported to incite people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries. It’s interesting how some extremist preachers who previously incited the public opinion over the simplest modernization measures kept silent and even turned their social media accounts into pages to advertise cooking pots and grills!
Doha, which pretends before westerners that it embraces enlightening ideas, did not like this positive social and intellectual Saudi transformation towards moderation. Its media outlets launched a violent attack against the Saudi government just because women were allowed to attend football games and described the Saudi move as a manifestation of dissolution.
Why does Doha have these two contradictory images? The answer is easy. Doha wants to use terrorist and extremist groups and to rise on their shoulders to reach power. This is why it supported and still supports the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood across the world. At the same time, Doha uses universities and football stars to add a cultural touch, civil glamor and a good international reputation to its image and thus picture itself as the small prosperous country that’s capable of turning the dark East into an advanced arena.
This fake image is deceptive. It is as dangerous on the West as it is on the four boycotting countries which realized that Qatar’s continuous support to terror and extremist groups will not bring stability to the region and will prolong the duration of war on terrorism which Doha keeps nurturing by embracing its intellectual preachers and armed men. The biggest threat is against the US and Europe because terrorism knows no borders and is not exclusive to one nationality. We all remember the horrific terror attacks that happened in Paris, New York and London.
The message is clear as without forcing Doha to implement the conditions of the boycotting countries and completely preventing it from supporting terrorism and extremist groups which promote hate speech around the clock, we will witness more horrific terror attacks because the heart of intellectual and financial terrorism continues to beat. We must not be fooled by the two-faced Qatar and its double standards. There is only one ugly face. Neymar is a mere mask on Qaradawi’s face.

Yemeni crisis gradually moving towards a definitive resolution

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/February 27/2018
I find the English proverb “slow and steady” the best way to describe the course of the Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope operations in Yemen as everyone now sees the natural outcome of this war and crisis
A continuous collapse of the Iran-backed Houthi militia is obvious from the outcome of battles, with the advance of the national armies supported by the coalition forces that uphold legitimacy.
One of the most recent important trends is the growing dissent within Houthi ranks over the decision to assassinate former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the assassination of important people in the General People's Congress after the death of Saleh.
Many Congress leaders and members have also decided to side with legitimacy and keep away from the Houthi militia, resulting in the latter’s collapse on almost all fronts. This points to the direction of the war and its final outcome against the Houthis.
Petty parochialism
The major problem facing Yemen is that many leaders and movements in the country want to settle their scores and secure their petty interests before the war lays down its burden. Each party has set its agenda in accordance with its current needs and priorities on the basis of their own parochial interests, not according to the interests of Yemen. Only Yemenis are capable of resolving their issues.
To achieve very narrow objectives, Houthis took control of Yemen. Their petty calculations could not resolve the issues, but it seems cleansing Yemen of this militia might take time. Does this mean that the Yemen issue is the result of an internal problem?
Of course not! Yemeni crisis has led to several wars between various militia and the Yemeni state, but over the years it has evolved regionally with Iran making long term investment in the Houthi militia. This happened in the wake of the Obama administration’s retreat and withdrawal from action, causing the eventual coup in Yemen that supported the Iranian agenda with Qatar’s unstinted support.
Continued pressure on Iranian means pressure on its terrorist proxies, from Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (including the Houthi militia in Yemen) to al-Qaeda, Taliban, the remnants of ISIS and Hamas
Reconstructing Yemen
There is one condition for ending the conflict in Yemen — restoration of the full legitimacy of the state and the reconstruction of Yemen. There is the need to eliminate the militias that have taken control of the state, its political factions and its citizenry.
As Houthi leaders face increasing threat because of the millions of dollars worth of bounty placed on their heads, their rank and file are left with the choice to be either loyal, retreat or die. This was expressed by the Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samaad in his statements last Thursday in his attempt to reconcile with the Congress leaders, whom Houthis have placed under house arrest.
The Houthis only think from the mindset of a militia that is supported by foreigners, not the mentality of popular political movements backed by the people. They deal with all the parties and national forces with the rationale of brute power. Like Khomeini’s Iran, they like to intimidate, threaten and enforce control with excessive power; which is the way a brutal adversary thinks. This is not the way patriots think, even if they are rebellious or overzealous.
Iran’ support for terror
There have been several international obstacles that have prevented the end of the war earlier, but change appears afoot with the Yemeni crisis clearly indicating that the end of war is nigh. What happened to ISIS in Iraq and Syria will also happen to the Houthi militia in Yemen.
The policy to overlook terrorism has now been rejected. It had became scandalous for the most powerful force in US, after Obama's departure and the advent of Trump. Once a unified international policy emerged to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria the militia vaporized.
It had earlier grown enormously not because of its inherent strength, but because of the international weakness in confronting it. When the time came for serious confrontation, ISIS vanished like any pack of small-time criminals. Houthi militia will have to be ready to face a similar fate.
The Iranian regime is the biggest supporter of terrorism, chaos, drug trafficking and radicalization in the region and the world. It faces major challenges, important and troubling international pressure led by US and regionally led by Saudi Arabia and its allies, topped by the UAE and Bahrain.
Iranian decision-makers are under pressure, no matter how hard they may try to take refuge in the alliance with Turkey and Qatar. They are experiencing internal crises, protests and uprisings, which will continue to rise and ebb. The strength of the regime and of its institutions are being obviously destroyed because of their disputes.
Iranian regime
The continued pressure on the Iranian regime means pressure on all its terrorist proxies in the region, from the Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (including the Houthi militia in Yemen) to al-Qaeda, Taliban and the remnants of ISIS and Hamas. When its supporter Iran becomes weaker, Houthis shall weaken as well, especially as Qatar faces the boycott of four countries.
As its financial activities in supporting and financing terrorism are scrutinized, it makes it difficult for it to support the Houthi militia in an unprecedented manner. Finally, only Yemenis can rescue Yemen. With all the great support of the Arab coalition to help Yemen regain its state, security and stability, along with the complete elimination of the Houthi militia and its destruction in a slow but steady process.