January 15/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful & Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone
Colossians 04/"Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.  Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 14-15/18
Steven Spielberg's 'The Post' Gets Banned in Lebanon/Tatiana Siegel/The Hollywood Reporter/January 14/18
Why Aoun, Berri are in no rush to mend ties/Elias Sakr/Annahar/January 14/2018
Back to Fighting in Syria/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/January 14/18
Africa Is Sending Us Its Best and Brightest/Tyler Cowen/Bloomberg//January 14/18
"Oh You Cross-Worshippers, We'll Kill You All"/Muslim Persecution of Christians, August 2017/Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018
Turkey, the Arab World Is Just Not That into You/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018
Germans Tackling Exploding Anti-Semitism/Khadija Khan/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018
The obstacle to peace in Syria is Iran/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/January 14/ 2018
The bankrupt politics of not teaching English in Iran’s schools/Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/January 14/18
How the Other Half Lives in Iran/Shahram Khosravijan/New York Times/January 14/18
Palestinian president blasts Trump in defiant speech/John Bowden/The Hill/January 14/18
In Iran, Protester ‘Suicides’ Stir Anger and Calls for Accountability/Thomas Erdbrinkjan/New York Times/January 14/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on January 14-15/18
Steven Spielberg's 'The Post' Gets Banned in Lebanon
Ex-US official: Obama squandered ‘golden opportunity’ to crush Hezbollah
Hamas Official Targeted in Lebanon Car Bombing
Lebanon: General Amnesty Law Approved with Few Exceptions
Al-Rahi Urges 'Honest Dialogue' among Bickering Politicians
Report: Berri's Proposal is Only Solution to Decree Row
Bassil Criticizes 'Those Dismayed by Return of Partnership, Electoral Reform'
Car Bomb Wounds Hamas Official in Sidon
Khoury: Parliamentary elections will take place on time
Why Aoun, Berri are in no rush to mend ties

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 14-15/18
Tehran Rejects Any Change in Nuclear Deal
Progress in First High-Level Talks between Baghdad, Erbil
Burning Iranian Oil Tanker Sinks, 'No Hope' of Finding Survivors
25 Dead in Recent Iran Unrest, 465 Still under Arrest
Erdogan Threatens Attack on Kurd-Held Afrin 'in Days ahead'
Venezuela Government, Opposition to Hold New Round of Talks
Palestinians Exhume Body of Disabled Gazan Killed during Clashes
Qatari Sheikh Says Being 'Detained' in UAE
Anti-Jihadist Coalition Looks to Future Role after IS Defeat
Netanyahu in India for First Visit by Israeli PM in 15 Years
Trump Says Immigration Deal 'Probably Dead'
International coalition to build new Syrian force, angering Turkey
Sadr: Iraq PM’s alliance with mobilization militias abhorrent
Iranian tanker sinks engulfed in flames, official says no hope of survivors
Egypt approves cabinet reshuffle ahead of elections
Trump tweets: ‘Fire and Fury’ author ‘mentally deranged’
Warning of ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii a ‘false alarm’

Latest Lebanese Related News published on January 14-15/18'
Steven Spielberg's 'The Post' Gets Banned in Lebanon
Tatiana Siegel/The Hollywood Reporter/January 14/18
A source involved with the film's international rollout says the Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks drama was presented to the Lebanese censorship board, which nixed it, citing a "boycott Israel" list. Lebanon has banned Steven Spielberg's newspaper drama The Post just days before the film is set to premiere in Beirut. A source involved with The Post's international rollout says the movie, which stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, was presented to the Lebanese censorship board, which nixed it, citing a "boycott Israel" list that includes Spielberg due to his Oscar-winning Holocaust film Schindler's List (the 1993 film shot some scenes in Jerusalem). The matter has been transferred to Lebanon's Minister of Interior and Municipalities, who could overturn the decision. Unlike Gal Gadot, whose film Wonder Woman was banned in Lebanon in May, Spielberg is not an Israeli citizen, nor has he ever fought with the Israeli Army. Lebanon is officially at war with Israel. Italia Film was poised to release The Post in Lebanon on Jan. 18. A spokesperson for Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment says he cannot comment because the company has not been told officially by the Lebanese distributor that the pic will not be released there because of censorship. The source says the move came as a shock, given that over the past three years, at least five films either directed or produced by Spielberg were accepted and approved by the censorship board and it is only now that it is invoking Spielberg's inclusion on the "boycott Israel" list. Both The BFG and Bridge of Spies — which mark Spielberg's two most recent helming efforts before The Post — were released in Lebanon. The 1970s-set film, which chronicles Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) quest to publish the Pentagon Papers, is critical of the U.S. government. In the case of Wonder Woman, the Lebanese government took issue with the fact that the film’s star, Gadot, served in the military (as is required of all Israeli citizens). The Post has been doing brisk business in the U.S. in limited release. Since Fox released it on Dec. 22, the $50 million film from Amblin and Participant Media has earned $4.2 million. This weekend, The Post expanded nationwide into 2,819 theaters, where it grossed an estimated $18.6 million for the three days as it looks to a four-day gross of $22.2 million.

Ex-US official: Obama squandered ‘golden opportunity’ to crush Hezbollah
Al Arabiya English/January 14, 2018/The retired head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's special-operations division said on Wednesday the Obama administration squandered a chance to dismantle Hezbollah due in part to political motivations to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran, according to a report. Derek Maltz, who was in charge of a major law enforcement operation targeting Hezbollah's trafficking of cocaine, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said "In my personal opinion, having been the guy in charge of the special operations for 10 years, we lost a golden opportunity to crush Hezbollah." Previously, a Politico investigation has revealed how the administration of former US President Barack Obama attempted to suppress a Drugs Enforcement Agency operation to expose a money-laundering scheme in which “proceeds from Latin American drug-running were being funneled to Hezbollah.”According to the examination released, DEA agents working on an operation codenamed “Project Cassandra” were hoping to prosecute operatives from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering. But in order to preserve the Iranian nuclear deal, a feature of the Obama legacy that the former administration prides itself on, the operation was “tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran,” the investigation has found.

Hamas Official Targeted in Lebanon Car Bombing
Reuters and The Associated Press/January 14, 2018/The group denies Mohammed Hamdan, who was wounded in the bombing, is the brother of the top Hamas official Osama Hamdan, as was initially reported. A bomb blast wounded an official of the Palestinian group Hamas in the Lebanese city of Sidon on Sunday, destroying his car, security sources and the Hezbollah movement's al-Manar television station reported. Local media said the person wounded by the bomb was Mohammed Hamdan, initially reporting that he was the brother of Osama Hamdan, the head of the Hamas' international relations and a member of the political bureau. However, Hamas has denied that he is Osama Hamdan's brother. The blast destroyed Hamdan's silver BMW and sent a column of smoke into the sky over Sidon, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Beirut, television footage from the scene broadcast by Lebanese television stations showed. A Lebanese security official said the bomb was placed under the car seat. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.  The official Lebanon News Agency said the explosion went off as Hamdan was getting into the car. Lebanese media reported that a drone was flying over Sidon at the time of the explosion. Witnesses said the man targeted in the attack appeared to have been wounded in the leg. He was transported to hospital where he was treated for his wounds. "Israel is the only one that could benefit from harming Lebanon's security," Hamas said in a statement following the bombing, but added that it will "leave it to the Lebanese security forces to investigate and reveal who was behind the assassination attempt."Sidon is home to two of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps. The attack took place in a residential area in northern Sidon.

Lebanon: General Amnesty Law Approved with Few Exceptions
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/January 14/18/Thousands of detainees and convicts in Lebanese prisons, along with their families, have been waiting for a draft general amnesty law that is being discussed in the political scenes, to find out what it is and whom it will include and exclude.The Families of the Islamist Detainees were feeling optimist after their recent meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who promised them the soon issuance of the amnesty, which will include everyone. However it will exclude the crimes referred to the Justice Council, namely the crimes against state security, bombings and political assassinations as well as the elements involved in the kidnapping and slaughter of Lebanese soldiers in Arsal. Stories differ regarding the adopted mechanism in the draft law as well as warnings and fears of the emergence of obstacles that could overthrow this law. Lawyer of a large number of Islamist detainees Mohammed Sablouh told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hariri has promised the families to issue the amnesty law before the end of January and informed them that President Michel Aoun has promised him to approve the law, which would include most of the Islamist detainees. It seems that the interest of most political forces intersects with this amnesty law, the second to be issued after the one issued in 1991, following the civil war, which excluded the crimes referred to the Justice Council and affected political leaders, clerics and ambassadors. "Participants in the Bristol Hotel Seminar last week received a message from President Aoun, stating that there is no longer a veto on Islamist detainees, and that he does not mind justice and amnesty," said Sablouh. He also pointed out that “MP Bahia Hariri met Friday with the families of the detainees and those sentenced following Abra events, and she informed them that the draft law is ready and is under discussion in the relevant departments.”

Al-Rahi Urges 'Honest Dialogue' among Bickering Politicians
Naharnet/January 14/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday urged “honest dialogue” among bickering politicians in Lebanon, amid an ongoing spat between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri. “Political officials do not dare to sit together face to face to engage in honest and confident dialogue. They blow trivial issues out of proportion,” al-Rahi lamented in his Sunday Mass sermon.“Inflexibility in no-confidence stances and remote discourse through communication technologies are poisoning the atmosphere,” the patriarch decried. He warned that such a performance “obstructs resolutions, aggravates economic paralysis and slashes job opportunities and production, as people reel under their needs, poverty and demands.” “Only honest dialogue, even if its content does not suit our partisan interests, can push political and national life forward,” al-Rahi urged. The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and the premier signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Report: Berri's Proposal is Only Solution to Decree Row
Naharnet/January 14/18/Speaker Nabih Berri’s latest proposal is the “only solution” for the ongoing spat over the controversial officers seniority decree, a ministerial source told al-Hayat daily in remarks published Sunday. Berri has asked MP Wael Abu Faour of the Progressive Socialist Party to pass on the suggestion to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Baabda sources told al-Hayat that Aoun has not yet received the proposal. According to media reports, Berri’s suggestion calls for merging the disputed seniority decree with the officer promotions decree and for Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil’s signature on the unified decree. Al-Hayat quoted parliamentary sources as saying that the proposal will be discussed in a meeting between Aoun and Hariri upon the premier’s return from abroad. The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and the premier signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Finance Minister Khalil have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Bassil Criticizes 'Those Dismayed by Return of Partnership, Electoral Reform'
Naharnet/January 14/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Sunday criticized parties “dismayed by the return of partnership” between Christians and Muslims in the country. “Those dismayed by the return of partnership and electoral reform are expressing their dismay in several ways,” Bassil said during a tour of the northern Akkar region. “Facing attempts to usurp your rights, you must respond through voting and a heavy and effective turnout,” the FPM leader added, addressing FPM supporters in Akkar. “Our insistence on the full implementation of the electoral law as it was passed in parliament is aimed at enabling every voter in Lebanon to effectively participate in the electoral process,” Bassil went

Car Bomb Wounds Hamas Official in Sidon
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/Naharnet/January 14/18/An official in the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was wounded in a car bomb blast in the southern city of Sidon on Sunday, military and medical sources told French news agency AFP. A military source said a BMW in the southern port city of Sidon "detonated, wounding Hamas official Mohammed Hamdan."An AFP journalist in Sidon saw the burnt-out vehicle, a silver BMW, in a parking lot of an apartment building where Hamdan lived. Firefighters arrived to put out the flames and Lebanese security forces quickly cordoned off the area. The Red Cross confirmed that there was only one person wounded in the blast and said he had been transported to hospital in a civilian vehicle. According to a medical source at the scene, Hamdan suffered serious wounds to his legs while opening the door to his car and was undergoing surgery.
The Lebanese National News Agency reported that the silver BMW belonged to Hamdan, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Hamzah. Hamas in a statement blamed Israel for the "criminal" act that wounded Hamdan in his leg.Hamdan did not appear to have a public or political role in Hamas, but a Palestinian security source told AFP that he was a member of the organization's security apparatus. "Hamdan is an official in Hamas' security service. His work is linked to internal Palestinian affairs," the source said. "Because of the nature of his work, the fingers are pointed to the Israeli enemy."NNA said the bomb weighed 500 grams. Sidon Mayor Mohammed Saudi said Hamdan was undergoing surgery at a local hospital. In 2006, two members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group were killed in the same neighborhood in Sidon when a bomb planted in a vehicle detonated as they passed near it. Israel was blamed for the attack. Lebanon is officially at war with Israel. The last war in 2006 ended in a stalemate. Last year, another Palestinian official survived when he came under fire as he entered a residence in Sidon. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, many of them in 12 camps across the country. The most densely-populated of these camps is Ain el-Hilweh, which lies near Sidon and is home to some 61,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 who have fled the war in neighbouring Syria.

Khoury: Parliamentary elections will take place on time
Sun 14 Jan 2018/NNA - Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury said Sunday that the upcoming parliamentary elections would take place at their scheduled date, asserting that "no one enjoyed the power to stop them from happening.""All the political counterparts have the will to hold the legislative elections, and it is in no political party's interest to adjourn said elections," Khoury stressed during an interview to "Lebanon Radio" Station. Commenting on the adoption of the biometric card during the elections, Khoury deemed that political counterparts would make a compromise regarding this issue in order to hold the elections right on time. As for the controversy over the seniority officers' decree, Khoury considered that this matter would be resolved soon.

Why Aoun, Berri are in no rush to mend ties
Elias Sakr/Annahar/January 14/2018
BEIRUT: Unease, if not outright disharmony, has long characterized President Michel Aoun’s relationship with Speaker Nabih Berri. Berri was among the country’s few political leaders who continued to oppose Aoun’s bid for the presidency even after it became evident that the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder would ascend to the country’s top post with the backing of Hezbollah, the speaker’s main ally.  In an article published only days before Aoun’s election, I argued that while Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s re-alignment could land Aoun the presidency, it will be Berri who shapes the dynamic of Aoun’s presidential tenure.A dynamic, which has recently reared its ugly head with the outbreak of a quarrel between the president and Berri over a recent decree granting seniority to army officers who served under Aoun when he was army commander in the late 1980’s.
Berri insists that the decree is unconstitutional because it lacks the signature of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a close aide to the speaker.
Berri wants Aoun, the state’s top Maronite official, and Hariri, the Sunni community’s highest-ranking representative, to acknowledge that the post of finance minister, which sources close to Berri claim the Taif Accord has reserved to Shiites, enjoys veto power in the executive branch under the current sectarian power-sharing arrangement. In other words, Berri is sending a clear message to both Aoun and Hariri, who co-signed the decree, that the finance ministry portfolio in the post-legislative election Cabinet must be reserved to a Shiite loyal to the speaker. This scenario explains why Hezbollah has refrained up to this point from mediating a compromise between Berri, with whom the party monopolizes Shiite representation, and Aoun, a trusted Christian ally who provides political cover to the militant group.
This power play becomes further evident when taking into account reports that Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hariri’s Future Movement have struck an agreement to join efforts in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and discussed a potential line-up of the post-election Cabinet. The speaker’s concerns over such a potential agreement could also explain why Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, a member of Berri’s Amal Movement clashed with Hariri over the government's agenda before storming out of the last Cabinet session. Zeaiter argued that priority issues pertaining to farmers across Lebanon were being left out of the agenda, prompting Hariri to respond that setting the Cabinet’s agenda was within his prerogative as Lebanon’s Premier. Berri’s concerns over a dominant Maronite-Sunni partnership in power date back to the days that preceded Aoun’s election. Back then, the speaker tied his support for Aoun’s election to a comprehensive political settlement that involves an agreement over the nomination of a new prime minister, the makeup of the cabinet that follows the presidential election, and the ratification of a new electoral law. These concerns have resurfaced once again. This time, however, Aoun is unlikely to emerge victorious because Berri’s defeat will reflect collectively on where the Shiites--today represented by Hezbollah and Amal Movement--stand within post-Taif Lebanon. The significant repercussions of the Aoun-Berri feud on the country’s power-sharing arrangement mean the conflict is likely to drag beyond the parliamentary elections. But why assume that either leader is in a rush to solve the crisis? As one FPM supporter recently told me, “I won’t be voting for the FPM if Aoun concedes to Berri.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 14-15/18
Tehran Rejects Any Change in Nuclear Deal

London, Moscow - Adel al-Salmi & Taha AbdulwahedAsharq Al-Awsat/January 14/18/In the first official response to Washington's move to extend the sanctions "for the last time,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced Saturday its rejection for any modification in the nuclear deal with world powers now or in the future, stressing that it will not allow any other issues to be linked to the JCPOA. It issued an official statement including nine remarks on Trump's position on waiving the sanctions "for the last time."
Moscow and Beijing, for their part, criticized the US move, and China pledged to play a constructive role in supporting and implementing Iran's nuclear deal. Earlier, US President Donald Trump gave his European allies 120 days to start negotiations over Iran's ballistic missile program, reversing his earlier threat to quit the nuclear deal. Trump said four "critical components" must now be worked into the agreement in order for the United States not to withdraw permanently from it: immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors, measures to ensure Iran "never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon", no policy "expiration date", and no distinction between the Republic's long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs regarding the imposition of sanctions. The president wants the Congress to modify a law that reviews US participation in the nuclear deal to include “trigger points” that, if violated, would lead to the United States reimposing its sanctions, a senior official was quoted as saying by Reuters. This would not entail negotiations with Iran, the official said, but rather would be the result of talks between the United States and its European allies. While Trump approved the sanctions waiver, the Treasury Department announced new targeted sanctions against 14 entities and people, including Head of Iran’s judiciary Sadegh Larijani, who is a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, because of his role in human rights violations. Saturday's statement from Iran's foreign ministry further criticized the new sanctions over human rights issues and Iran's missile program. In particular, placing judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on the sanctions list "crossed all red lines of conduct in the international community ... and the government of the United States will bear responsibility for all the consequences of this hostile move.” One day before Trump’s announcement, the three European countries (Germany, Britain and France) announced in Brussels that they adhere to the nuclear deal and confirmed its readiness to negotiate with Iran on its regional role and its ballistic missiles program. For its part, Russia criticized Trump’s remarks on the nuclear deal. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow considers comments by US President on the nuclear deal with Iran as “extremely negative.”In remarks carried by RIA state news agency, Ryabkov said “We are gradually coming to the conclusion that an internal decision by the US to leave the JCPOA has already been made or is close to being made”.

Progress in First High-Level Talks between Baghdad, Erbil
Baghdad, Erbil - Asharq Al-Awsat/January 14/18/A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government, who visited Baghdad on Saturday, said that talks with the federal government were positive, noting that representatives from Baghdad would visit Erbil on Monday to discuss the resumption of international flights at Kurdistan airports and controversial issues between the two sides. Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji reiterated the need to discuss solving problems of the international entry points, customs, airports, and dams “on the basis of the constitution and federal laws,” a statement published by the Kurdish delegation said, as reported by Rudaw news agency. According to the statement, the Iraqi minister told the Kurdish delegation that the Iraqi prime minister has emphasized the need to solve problems between Erbil and Baghdad in a way that allows institutions such as the airports to “resume their activities.”The two sides have agreed to hold a bilateral meeting in Erbil on Monday to prepare a joint statement that will include “solutions to be reached,” Rudaw said. Iraqi Interior Minister Spokesman, Saad Maan, described the meeting as productive, adding that the Kurdish delegation showed a “clear understanding” in solving the problems “based on the constitution.”“The meeting was fruitful and an atmosphere of harmony and understanding prevailed,” he stated.He added that the two delegations would hold a second meeting on Monday to discuss “details” of pending issues. On September 28, Baghdad imposed a ban on international flights at the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, following the referendum on independence that was held during the same month.

Burning Iranian Oil Tanker Sinks, 'No Hope' of Finding Survivors
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 14/18/An Iranian oil tanker has sunk after burning for more than a week following a collision on Jan. 6 in the East China Sea, Chinese state media said on Sunday. “There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, a spokesman for the Iranian rescue team stated. “Despite our efforts, it has not been possible to extinguish the fire and recover the bodies due to repeated explosions and gas leaks,” he said. An Iranian report said another explosion occurred Sunday morning in the oil tanker, while a team of Iranian special forces arrived at the scene in a Chinese fireboat. Rastad added that information suggested all personnel on the Sanchi had been killed in the first hour of the accident “due to the explosion and the release of gas”. The stricken tanker, called the Sanchi had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis on board. The tanker, owned by National Iranian Tanker Co, was sailing from Iran to South Korea, carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra-light and highly volatile crude. That is equivalent to just under 1 million barrels, worth about $60 million, based on global crude oil prices. Chinese officials said they had not yet been able to determine the cause behind the accident.

25 Dead in Recent Iran Unrest, 465 Still under Arrest
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/A total of 25 people were killed in the recent unrest that hit several towns and cities across Iran, the judiciary said Sunday, with 465 still under arrest. "Twenty-five people, ordinary citizens and our own forces, were killed during the recent troubles," said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, according to the Mizanonline news agency. "None were killed by shots from the security forces because they were ordered not to use their weapons," he added. He provided no details on how the members of the security forces or civilians were killed, including six protesters who died while trying to storm a police station in the central province of Isfahan. The figure was four more than the death toll announced during the unrest that spread across the country between December 28 and January 1. "At most, there were 465 people under arrest across the country as of yesterday, while a certain number have probably been released since then," Ejeie said, adding that the number included 55 in Tehran.  Reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi had said on Tuesday that 3,700 people were arrested during the protests, without saying how many were later released. The unrest began over economic issues, but quickly grew into protests against the Islamic regime as a whole, with attacks on government and police buildings. The government has said a total of 42,000 people participated in the unrest -- a figure that is hard to verify due to limited information from the provinces where most of the unrest took place.

Erdogan Threatens Attack on Kurd-Held Afrin 'in Days ahead'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday threatened to attack the Kurdish militia-held town of Afrin in northern Syria "in the days ahead" to clear it of "terrorists.""We will continue our operations begun with Operation Euphrates Shield to clean our southern borders of terror in Afrin (northern Syria) in the days ahead god willing," Erdogan said in a televised speech. "The slightest disturbance on the border would be the signal for us to take a step."The president referred to Turkey's previous eight-month military operation launched in August 2016 against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and the Syrian Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) militia. It ended in March last year. Late last year, Turkish troops were then deployed to rebel-held northern Idlib province, south of Afrin, as part of an agreement with Iran and Russia to implement four so-called de-escalation zones in flashpoint areas around Syria. Erdogan has repeatedly said that Afrin should be cleared of "terrorists" and in November 2016, he said Turkish troops needed to be deployed there. Afrin is controlled by YPG militia considered by Ankara to be a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. The U.S. sees the YPG as the most effective fighting force against IS and last year provided it with arms ahead of major battles in Syria. The issue is among many causing tense relations between Ankara and Washington, though Turkish officials said in November that U.S. President Donald Trump apparently told them Washington would no longer supply weapons to the YPG. "I hope that during an Afrin operation, these powers will not make the mistake of appearing to be on the same side as a terror organization," Erdogan said in an apparent reference to the U.S. during the rally in the northern Turkish city of Tokat. He added he hoped Turkey "would take action together" with its allies. Since December, Ankara has reinforced its southern border in Hatay and sent armoured vehicles, tanks and howitzers, sources told Hurriyet daily. Turkey has been working closely with Russia and Iran to end the nearly seven-year Syrian conflict despite Moscow and Tehran supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara supporting the anti-Assad opposition.

Venezuela Government, Opposition to Hold New Round of Talks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/Venezuelan government and opposition delegates meeting in the Dominican Republic will hold a new round of talks on Thursday on resolving the crisis facing the country, the Dominican president said. Venezuela is in the throes of a deepening crisis caused by falling oil prices, spiraling inflation and corruption that has ravaged the oil-rich country's economy. President Nicolas Maduro has increasingly consolidated power, aided by disarray in the opposition. "Although we have very important advances, we are still left with pending issues," President Danilo Medina said Saturday. The two sides will hold further talks in Santo Domingo on January 18, said Medina, one of those working to encourage the dialogue.After 10 hours of meetings aimed at finding solutions to the protracted political and economic crises, Jorge Rodriguez, the main Venezuelan government delegate, said there was consensus on the "majority of the points.""We remain at the negotiating table... we have some points that I am sure will be resolved" in the talks on January 18, Rodriguez said. Julio Borges, the main delegate for the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), also highlighted agreement.But the MUD's main requirement in the negotiations is that this year's presidential election be "free and fair" -- something that will be difficult to achieve. The latest round of meetings, which began on Thursday, came after Maduro's government threatened to ban key opposition parties from the election, while the opposition threatened to resume street protests which cost the lives of 125 people last year. Venezuela's all-powerful Constituent Assembly, loyal to Maduro, has ordered the three main opposition parties to re-register with the National Electoral Council (CNE) in order to take part in the presidential election. The rule was imposed after the parties boycotted mayoral elections in December, saying they lacked transparency. The opposition wants the government to recognize its call for a more neutral CNE, international observers at the polls, the release of political prisoners and a later timeline for the election. But analysts believe it is likely the election will be held in the first half of the year, as Maduro seeks to take advantage of opposition disarray.

Palestinians Exhume Body of Disabled Gazan Killed during Clashes
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/Palestinian officials exhumed the body of a disabled Gazan man Sunday as part of efforts to prove Israeli forces shot him in the head during recent protests and clashes. "Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh's body was exhumed this morning for another autopsy to refute Israeli claims that come as an attempt to evade their responsibility for this crime," Mohammad Al-Najjal, the deputy justice minister in the Gaza Strip, told AFP. Najjal said the Palestinian authorities in Gaza decided that "in order to refute the occupation's claims, the bullet in his head must be presented to international parties," he added. He said "the results of this autopsy will be presented to international parties including the ICC (International Criminal Court)."It was unclear whether a full autopsy had been performed on Abu Thurayeh after his death on December 15 in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas.
Israel's military said earlier this month it was opening an investigation into the death of the 29-year-old who, according to his family, had lost his legs in a 2008 Israeli strike. Palestinian officials say the wheelchair-bound man was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper during protests and clashes along the Gaza border on December 15. The United Nations' human rights chief said he was "truly shocked" by Abu Thurayeh's death and demanded an "independent and impartial investigation."Israel's announcement that it was opening a probe into his death came after the military previously said it was not able to determine whether he had been killed by its soldiers' fire. AFP photographers have seen Abu Thurayeh at multiple demonstrations in recent years. In video footage recorded the day he was killed, Abu Thurayeh could be seen carrying the Palestinian flag and waving the victory sign at Israeli soldiers across the border. The protest on December 15 was part of unrest that has occurred in the Palestinian territories since U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Sixteen Palestinians have been killed since Trump's December 6 announcement, most of them in clashes with Israeli forces.

Qatari Sheikh Says Being 'Detained' in UAE
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/A controversial member of Qatar's royal family says he is being detained in the UAE, media reported Sunday, eight months into a crisis between Gulf states. Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani, a little-known royal, emerged as an unlikely mediator in August, weeks after Riyadh and Abu Dhabi cut ties with Doha. A video circulating online, also broadcast by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, shows the sheikh seated in an armchair warning that he was "afraid something could happen to me that will be blamed on Qatar."
"I am now in Abu Dhabi, where I was a guest of (UAE crown prince) Sheikh Mohammed" bin Zayed al-Nahyan, he said. "That is no longer the case. I am now detained," Sheikh Abdullah said. "I want to make clear that the people of Qatar are innocent," the sheikh said. "Sheikh Mohammed bears full responsibility for anything that happens to me." The video could not be immediately authenticated, while Emirati officials were not immediately available for comment. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June over allegations Doha supported Islamist extremists and had close ties to regional rival Iran. Doha denies the accusations. In August, Sheikh Abdullah met powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to mediate on reopening a land border to allow Qatari pilgrims to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca. It was the first public high-level encounter between the two nations since the diplomatic crisis erupted. Doha was quick to point out that he was in Saudi Arabia on a personal mission and did not represent the government. Sheikh Abdullah belongs to a branch of the Al-Thani royal family that has seen its power eroded but is still well-connected in the Gulf.

Anti-Jihadist Coalition Looks to Future Role after IS Defeat
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/With the Islamic State group all but vanquished from its self-proclaimed "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, the U.S.-led coalition that has been fighting the jihadists for more than three years is transforming its mission. Eager to avoid a repeat of 2011, when America completed its troop withdrawal from Iraq only to watch in horror as IS later overran swathes of the country, the coalition is focusing on what it must do to stop a jihadi re-emergence. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently told reporters the mission now is shifting towards stabilization and making sure an "ISIS 2.0" can't pop up, using an alternate acronym to refer to the jihadist group. Already, the Pentagon has said it will stay in Syria "as long as we need to." "The longer term recovery is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of years after what (IS) did, because they forcibly kept innocent people in the midst of the combat zone, and that meant the residential areas took damage, the public areas -- everything took damage," he said, adding that a most pressing need is to clear cities and terrain of innumerable bombs, mines and booby traps. America hastily convened a coalition in 2014 after IS swept across vast tracts of Iraqi and Syrian territory, terrorizing residents and leaving a trail of murder and atrocity in their wake. The U.S. military began bombing them that summer with the immediate goal of stopping IS from reaching Baghdad after they'd seized a string of major cities including Mosul and Tikrit. Today, the coalition boasts 70 nations as well as international organizations like NATO and Interpol. Though some alliance members are there in name only, bigger countries like Britain, France, Canada and Australia are helping in the skies and on the ground. A State Department official said some coalition members can play an increased role now that the main campaign is over, including by countering IS propaganda, sending in police trainers and providing funding. Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that ideally, "you are going to have different partners taking on many different aspects of the stabilizing mission, the part that they do well." With IS now cleared from 98 percent of the terrain they once held, nations like France and Australia have begun pulling some military assets -- including planes and artillery -- from Iraq and Syria, and the Pentagon has said the tapering off of bombing missions means it has more resources to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the coalition is keeping an indefinite presence to help Iraqis get the support and training they need, and to protect a Kurdish-Arab alliance who fought against IS in Syria. "If we were to repeat the mistakes that we made when the Iraq War came to a close then we are very much likely to see a repeat of the tragedies that followed," warned Steve Warren, a retired Army colonel who was top spokesman for the coalition between 2015 and 2016.
"They need to morph into a stabilization force, there's no question."
'Skin in the game'
America has about 2,000 troops in Syria and more than 5,000 in Iraq, augmented in both countries by coalition members who have provided commandos and military trainers. But where Iraq now has a cohesive military and some degree of political stability, Syria is mired in civil war and President Bashar al-Assad is working with Russia and Iranian militias to maintain control of areas once in the hands of rebels or IS. That means the U.S. must keep boots on the ground in Syria to protect fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces who it backed to fight IS. "Unless we want to cede eastern Syria to the Iranians, (the coalition) needs to be there," Warren told AFP. "Not necessarily the U.S. -- it's other partners who have skin in this game, which includes every country in Europe," he added, referring to the refugee crisis that has gripped the continent in part because of Syria. Additionally, extremist groups the world over are rebranding themselves under the IS banner, meaning the anti-IS coalition will have a role beyond the Middle East, including in African nations. Last year, four new African nations signed up to the coalition: Djibouti, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. "Pre-existing terrorist organizations like in the Philippines, like in Bangladesh, like in the Sinai and Afghanistan, they have basically rebranded themselves and started flying the ISIS flag in order to gain attraction and resources," the State Department official told AFP. U.S. military officials stress the fight against IS is not over, and warn of the jihadists in Iraq and Syria returning to a more traditional insurgency. "Their repressive ideology continues. The conditions remain present for Daesh to return, and only through coalition and international efforts can the defeat become permanent," coalition commander Lieutenant General Paul Funk said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

Netanyahu in India for First Visit by Israeli PM in 15 Years
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in New Delhi on Sunday for the first visit by an Israeli leader to India in 15 years, promising closer ties with the regional power. Netanyahu and his wife Sara were welcomed at the international airport in New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who made history in July when he became the first Indian leader to visit Israel. "This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power," Netanyahu said in a statement ahead of his visit. "Indian Prime Minister Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine."Modi -- who will accompany Netanyahu for large parts of his five-day tour -- embraced the Israeli prime minister on the tarmac before the pair set off to pay homage at a war memorial in the Indian capital. "Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations," Modi said on Twitter. Netanyahu will be only the second Israeli PM to visit India and the first since Ariel Sharon in 2003. He is accompanied by the largest-ever business delegation to travel with an Israeli leader. Executives in technology, agriculture and defence are among those making the journey as Tel Aviv pursues deals with Asia's third-largest economy. The build up to Netanyahu's visit was soured this month when India called off a deal to buy 8,000 anti-tank guided missiles from Israel's state-owned defence contractor Rafael. The Indian army and the government are discussing ways to revive the $500 million order, which was scrapped when the country's own state-run defence contractor offered to build similar missiles locally. Israel is a major weapons supplier to India, exporting an average of $1 billion of military equipment each year, but Modi wants to end India's status as the world's top defence importer. Netanyahu and Modi kicked off the visit with a stop at a memorial to Indian soldiers who fought in World War I to help liberate the Israeli city of Haifa. The Israeli leader will later meet with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj before a private dinner with Modi. Netanyahu expects to sign new agreements in fields of energy, aviation and cinema production, with stops at the Taj Mahal, a visit to Modi's home state of Gujarat and meetings with Bollywood luminaries in Mumbai. But he will also make an emotional visit to a Jewish centre targeted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks during his tour, a symbolic gesture to India's tiny and shrinking Jewish community. Netanyahu will accompany 11-year-old Moshe Holtzberg as the boy returns for the first time to the house where his parents were killed in the attacks that left 166 people dead.

Trump Says Immigration Deal 'Probably Dead'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 14/18/U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday a deal to resolve the status of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children is "probably dead," blaming it on Democrats. Trump came back on the issue in a pair of early morning tweets three days after igniting outrage by referring to African and Haitian immigrants as coming from "shithole countries."Global condemnation of the remark as racist has put the president on the defensive amid bipartisan attempts to negotiate a budget deal that would avert a looming government shutdown and remove the threat of deportation of the so-called "dreamers.""DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military," Trump said, referring to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program. "I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries! #AMERICA FIRST," he said. DACA, established in 2012 by Trump predecessor Barack Obama, protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally as children. Trump said in September he was scrapping the program but delayed enforcement to give Congress six months -- until March -- to craft a lasting solution. But a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the government to keep DACA going pending resolution of court challenges to the president's decision.

International coalition to build new Syrian force, angering Turkey
Reuters, Istanbul/January 14/18/The international US-led coalition is working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel, the coalition said on Sunday, a move that has added to Turkish anger over US support for Kurdish-dominated forces in Syria. A senior Turkish official told Reuters the US training of the new “Border Security Force” is the reason that the US charge d’affaires was summoned in Ankara on Wednesday. The official did not elaborate. The force, whose inaugural class is currently being trained, will be deployed at the borders of the area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG.In an email to Reuters, the coalition’s Public Affairs Office confirmed details of the new force reported by The Defense Post. About half the force will be SDF veterans, and recruiting for the other half is underway, the coalition’s Public Affairs Office said.The force will deploy along the border with Turkey to the north, the Iraqi border to the southeast, and along the Euphrates River Valley, which broadly acts as the dividing line separating the US-backed SDF and Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia. US support for the SDF has put enormous strain on ties with NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) - a group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey. Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged as one of the few winners of the Syrian war, and are working to entrench their autonomy over swathes of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans, even as it has backed the SDF, the main partner for the US-led coalition against ISIS in Syria. The coalition said the BSF would operate under SDF command and around 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class. “Efforts are taken to ensure individuals serve in areas close to their homes. Therefore, the ethnic composition of the force will be relative to the areas in which they serve. “More Kurds will serve in the areas in northern Syria. More Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq to the south,” the coalition’s Public Affairs Office said.
“A new mission”
“The base of the new force is essentially a realignment of approximately 15,000 members of the SDF to a new mission in the Border Security Force as their actions against ISIS draw to a close,” it said. “They will be providing border security through professionally securing checkpoints and conducting counter-IED operations,” it said, adding that coalition and SDF forces were still engaging ISIS pockets in Deir al-Zor province. IED stands for improvised explosive device. The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria fighting ISIS, and has said it is prepared to stay in the country until it is certain ISIS is defeated, that stabilization efforts can be sustained, and there is meaningful progress in U.N.-led peace talks on ending the conflict. The Syrian government in Damascus has declared the United States an illegal occupation force, and its SDF allies as “traitors”. A top Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters last week the United States appeared in no hurry to leave Syria.

Sadr: Iraq PM’s alliance with mobilization militias abhorrent
Al Arabiya English/January 14/18/The leader of the Sadrist movement political party, Muqtada al-Sadr, criticized the new electoral alliance of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with the Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) militias. Sadr, one of the most influential religious and popular figures in Iraq, issued a statement issued on Sunday describing the alliance as “an abhorrent political agreement.”He also expressed his deep surprise at the inclusion of the PMU militias calling them an “abhorrent sectarian dichotomy,” that is aimed at reproducing a “corrupt political class”. Sadr clarified that his support will be for campaigners who are rejecting the principles of sectarian quota divisions that are being pushed by technocrats in the campaign. Prime Minister al-Abadi signed an agreement on Sunday with Hadi al-Amiri to establish the Iraq Victory Coalition. He said in a statement that the “victory coalition will preserve the sacrifices of martyrs and wounded heroes who battled for Iraq and fight corruption in all forms through relying on the national talent”. “The coalition will work for all Iraqis and strengthen the unity of the country and national sovereignty and achieve justice and equality among Iraqis in rights and duties,” he added.

Iranian tanker sinks engulfed in flames, official says no hope of survivors
AFP, Beijing/January 14/18/An Iranian oil tanker burst into flames from end to end and sank Sunday, eight days after a collision with a cargo ship off China, state media said. A Tehran official said even before news of the sinking that there was no hope of saving some 30 missing crewmen. But Chinese officials played down fears of a major environmental disaster. The Sanchi, carrying 136,000 tons of light crude oil from Iran, had been in flames since colliding with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, on January 6. Around midday Sunday the ship “suddenly ignited”, with the entire vessel burning fiercely and a pall of smoke around 800 to 1,000 meters high, China’s transport ministry said, releasing dramatic pictures showing the entire vessel obscured by thick black smoke. The ship later sank, the official news agency Xinhua cited the State Oceanic Administration as saying. “There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, spokesman for the Iranian rescue team dispatched to Shanghai, told Iran’s state broadcaster in Tehran before the tanker went down. Rastad said information from members of the Crystal crew suggested all the personnel on the Sanchi were killed in the first hour of the accident “due to the explosion and the release of gas”. “Despite our efforts, it has not been possible to extinguish the fire and recover the bodies due to repeated explosions and gas leaks,” he said. The Sanchi, which was headed to South Korea to deliver its cargo, had a crew of 32 to 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. Only three bodies have so far been recovered. Chinese rescuers Saturday also recovered the tanker’s “black box”, the transport ministry said without specifying exactly what had been retrieved. A reporter with China’s state television CCTV aboard a plane from the State Oceanic Administration reported seeing wreckage from the Sanchi and oil on fire, and spilt fuel covering a 10 square kilometer area. “The oil spill situation is very serious,” CCTV quoted the reporter as saying on social media. But the television earlier also cited Zhang Yong, a senior engineer with the State Oceanic Administration, as playing down fears of a spill. “Because this is light crude oil spill, relatively speaking it has a much smaller impact than other oil spills, because this kind of oil is especially volatile -- most of it has entered the atmosphere, so it’s had less impact on the ocean...,” Zhang was quoted as saying. “This area should be considered the open sea, very far from places where people live, so the human impact should be minimal.”Rescue efforts had been particularly difficult because at 89 degrees Celsius, the vessel’s compartments were too hot for workers to withstand for long, CCTV quoted He Wang, an expert from Chinese oil company Huade Petrochemical, as saying.

Egypt approves cabinet reshuffle ahead of elections
Reuters, Cairo/January 14/18/Egypt’s parliament approved on Sunday a cabinet reshuffle including four new ministers, government sources said, two months ahead of a scheduled presidential election. The reshuffle included the appointment of Abu Bakr al-Gendi as minister for local development, Rania al-Mashat as tourism minister, Enas Abdeldayem as culture minister and Khaled Badawy as public enterprise minister. Two new ministry deputies were also appointed in the reshuffle. Housing Minister Mustafa Madbuly will continue to serve as interim prime minister while Prime Minister Sherif Ismail recovers from surgery, government sources said. Egypt is set to hold a presidential vote on March 26-28, with a run-off on April 24-26. Candidates must register between January 20 and 29. Egypt’s last cabinet reshuffle was in February last year and included new investment and agriculture ministers.

Trump tweets: ‘Fire and Fury’ author ‘mentally deranged’
Al Arabiya English/January 14/18/US President Donald Trump called the author of the widely controversial bestseller ‘Fire and Fury’, which details information about the president’s unflattering behavior in office, mentally deranged in a tweet on Sunday. Michael Wolffe’s bestseller highlights information about the chaotic interactions and happenings in the White House. So much Fake News is being reported. They don’t even try to get it right, or correct it when they are wrong. They promote the Fake Book of a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information. The Mainstream Media is crazed that WE won the election! In his tweet, Trump called the book ‘fake’, adding that it is a reflection of the mainstream media being ‘crazed’ that he won the election. The book is said to be flying off the racks, topping the New York Times bestseller list.

Warning of ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii a ‘false alarm’
AFP, Honolulu/January 14/18/Social media ignited Saturday after apparent screenshots of cell phone emergency alerts warning of a “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii” began circulating, which officials from the US island state quickly dismissed as “false.” “Hawaii - this is a false alarm,” wrote Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard on Twitter. “I have confirmed with officials there is no incoming missile.” The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency confirmed there is “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”The emergency alert -- which arrived amid tense geopolitical tensions in the region over a possible nuclear threat from North Korea -- that some cell phone users mistakenly received had read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 14-15/18
Back to Fighting in Syria
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/January 14/18
The war in Syria did not stop but the fighting decreased as arrangements are underway to end it. Promises to achieve a “peaceful” settlement have spread optimism to the point that several governments sent back their ambassadors to Damascus and the opposition was declared dead.
Assad’s regime, Iran and Russia began to act arrogantly as “victorious” parties by ignoring the Geneva conference as they think the Sochi negotiations are the only means to finalize Syria’s fate as per their wishes. Iran increased its military presence and its armament of “Hezbollah”. It seems this is all an attempt to finalize the last days in its favor and to impose its presence after the war.
Indulging in this behavior made warring parties return to war. The fighting is raging in Idlib, the South Aleppo Front, Damascus’ suburbs and East of the Euphrates in Deir al-Zour. There are also the mysterious attacks which destructively targeted Russian troops in the Khmeimim base in Latakia.
David Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary at the American Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the American government is against Iran’s presence in Syria, adding that this was a strategic matter.
This frank statement is significant and dangerous, and it explains a lot about recent developments, including the Sochi conference’s inability to achieve any progress, the resumption of the fighting, the UN delegate’s retreat on backing the political solution and the Israeli attack on Iranian military posts near Damascus.
If Washington really rejects Iran’s and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria and believes this principle is a pillar of its policy towards Syria, then it’s capable of overturning the formula and thwarting everything which the Syrian regime achieved with the help of its allies.
Since Turkey is no longer in harmony with Washington, some may think that the Americans lost the most important front surrounding Syria and which is no longer part of the war. This is partially true. However, the Americans have enough allies to impose their conditions to get the Iranians out of Syria or to destroy their project of militarily settling in the country.
There are also Israel and the Syrian Democratic Forces which some Free Syrian Army battalions joined in East Euphrates. There is also the opposition in the South, near the Jordanian borders. As long as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its foreign militias are stationing in Syria, we will witness a new round of the Syrian war. It will be like quicksand that’s centered against Iranian forces.
As for the Russians, Satterfield think they will reconsider their presence when they realize that the war does not serve their interests on the long run and that the alliance between them and the Iranians will not last for long.
The relapse in negotiations to end the Syrian war is no surprise as they’ve actually failed to recognize the most important factor resulting in tensions and which is the presence of Iranian forces and their militias. For the Syrian people, their presence there is a recognition of occupation that’s being legitimized at the expense of Damascus’ weak regime. For the region’s countries, it marks a dangerous change in the balance of regional powers.
The Iranian-Syrian-Russian tripartite wanted to quickly plan a peace deal in Sochi while benefiting from regional and American leniency and military progress. They could have done so but it’s difficult to ignore and overlook the Iranian factor which Washington thinks confronting it is part of its strategy that did not exist few months ago.

Africa Is Sending Us Its Best and Brightest

Tyler Cowen/Bloomberg//January 14/18
President Donald Trump decried Thursday that the US was not taking in enough immigrants from Norway, and accepting too many arrivals from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, combined with some flowery language I would prefer not to reproduce. There has been a vociferous emotional reaction to his charges, but I would like to take a more sober tack and consider what the data actually tell us, focusing for now on Africa and Norway.
One of the most striking facts about immigration to the US, unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. If we consider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in the US, 41.7 of them have a bachelor’s degree or more, according to 2009 data. For contrast, the native-born population has a bachelor’s degree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 percent in these estimates, and foreign-born adults as a whole have a college degree at the rate of 26.8 percent, both well below the African rate.
How about high school degrees? About one-third of immigrants overall lack this credential, but only 11.7 percent of African-born migrants don’t have a high school degree. That’s remarkably close to the rate for native-born Americans, estimated at 11.4 percent.
Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the US, above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master’s degree.
In addition, about three-quarters of African migrants speak English, and they have higher than average rates of labor force participation. They are also much less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals born in the US.
That’s all good news of course, and it implies we could accept more African immigrants with mutual benefit. Subjectively, I would also note sub-Saharan Africa is the region where I encounter the least anti-American sentiment. That’s broadly consistent with these poll results.
As a resident of the Washington, D.C., area, I live alongside an especially high number and proportion of African immigrants. It is well known in this region that African immigration outcomes in terms of education, starting new businesses, safety, and assimilation are quite positive.
“They’re not sending us their best people” is a claim I hear from Trump in his speeches and news conferences. Yet that’s the opposite of the truth when it comes to Africa.
OK, so how about Norwegians? During America’s earlier age of mass migration, starting in the late 19th century, this country received many Norwegians. They were especially likely to come from low-skilled backgrounds, they had problems assimilating, and about 70 percent of them ended up returning to their home country. If we compare the sixteen immigrant groups from that time for which we have data, it is the Norwegians and Portuguese who did the worst in terms of wage gaps.
To be clear, I think this experiment with Norwegian migration has more than worked out all right, as Norwegian-Americans now have above average levels of income and have assimilated extremely well. But this is a cautionary tale, indicating that the groups you might think would succeed right away often face big struggles. Ole Edvart Rølvaag’s “Giants in the Earth,” the famous 1920s novel of Norwegian migration to the Dakotas in the 1870s, shows the enterprise was highly fraught and assimilation was a major issue. It is noteworthy that the novel was originally published in Norwegian, whereas the major Nigerian and Nigerian-American novels of today are typically written and first published in English.
It would be a mistake to look at these comparisons and conclude that somehow Africans are intrinsically superior to Norwegians. In fact, there is some pretty simple economic theory at work. The harder it is to get from one country to another, the more the immigration process selects for individuals who are especially ambitious and resourceful.
Economist Edward Lazear suggests a simple experiment. Consider immigrants to the US from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. Although that’s counterintuitive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants.
In other words, Trump is not only being offensive, he is also quite wrong.

"Oh You Cross-Worshippers, We'll Kill You All"/Muslim Persecution of Christians, August 2017
Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018
A popular Arabic-language newspaper attacked Morocco's Christian activists for their faith and ended with the message: the "Koran requires the killing of apostates." — Morocco.
Muhammad and the imam tracked down the boy and attacked him again. When a passerby saw the violence and contacted police, "instead of protecting the teenager from his attackers, [police] arrested and booked him into prison on blasphemy charges." Hours later, the imam and "a mob of more than 300 Muslim fundamentalists surrounded the prison, and called for a public lynching of Stephen." — Pakistan.
Sweden decided to deport a female Iranian convert to Christianity. When the convert, Aideen Strandsson, pleaded that in Iran she could face the death penalty as an apostate, Swedish officials told her, "it's not our problem if you decided to become a Christian, and it's your problem." Meanwhile, Sweden continues accepting Muslim refugees.
In the name of "fighting terrorism," Bangladesh made changes to a law that forced approximately 200 Christian organizations to shut down.
A document drafted by members of the global Christian community convening at the 3rd International Christian Forum, held in Moscow, detailed how over the past ten years the Middle East's Christian population has shrunk by 80% and warned that unless current trends are reversed, Christianity "will vanish" from its ancient homelands in a few years' time. Around the year 2000, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq; today there are only 100,000 -- roughly a 93% percent drop, the document notes. In Syria, the largest cities "have lost almost all of their Christian population."
Other experts offered similarly dismal statistics. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts, had predicted that by 2025, the percentage of Christians in the Middle East — which in 1910 was 13.6% — could go down to around 3%.
Christians seeking to return to areas in Iraq and Syria liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS) continue to face discrimination from local Muslim and Kurdish communities. Andrew White, also known as the "vicar of Baghdad," had said that, "the time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some say Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited."
Others, such as Former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), are more optimistic: "Now is the time. We have an administration that's open to doing something," he said, indicating the US Trump administration.
Meanwhile, ISIS continued to harbor high hopes. In a video released by the terrorist organization in August, an extremist tore up a photo of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, while saying, "Remember this, you kuffar [infidels] — we will be in Rome, we will be in Rome, inshallah [Allah willing]." The narrator of the video also vowed that, "After all their efforts, it would be the religion of the cross that would be broken. The crusaders' enmity toward the Muslims only served to embolden a generation of youth." When asked about this, the pope's top aide said, "Pope Francis hasn't changed a thing in his agenda, nor is he going to. Furthermore, he'll continue to foment dialogue, creating bridges, defending peace. With Muslims and Christians."
August's roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following:
Muslim Slaughter of Christians
Kenya: Islamic terrorists hacked four Christian men to death for refusing to renounce Christ and embrace Islam. On Friday, August 28, jihadis from the Somali-based group, Al Shabaab, rounded up three men (two in their forties, the other 17) and held them at one of the Christians' homes. They ordered them to recite the shahada — that "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger" — and thereby renounce the Trinity and become Muslim. When the men refused, the Muslims hacked them to pieces with machetes. They then went and slaughtered the mentally handicapped older brother of one of the slain. According to the "severely traumatized" wife of one of the men, "Al-Shabaab knew these men as Christians, and Joseph [her slain husband] as a church elder."
Nigeria: Gunmen massacred as many as 50 Christian worshippers inside ‎St. Philip's Catholic Church in Amambra State during a Sunday morning service. Initial reports claimed that "the gunmen were hunting for a drug baron, traced him to his house but were told he had gone to church." When they found he was not in the church, "out of anger, probably, they rained bullets on worshippers in the church." However, not only does the attack closely follow the pattern of other jihadi terror attacks on churches in Nigeria, but at least one group, Act for Biafra, a Biafran independence organization, issued a statement referring to the attack as a "jihadist slaughter" of Christian churchgoers.
Separately, during an attack on a Christian community in a Muslim majority region that enforces Sharia (Islamic law), Muslim terrorists slaughtered a Christian father and his son, and abducted three women and a baby. Aside from habitual attacks on Christians "in northern Nigeria, [which is Muslim majority] Christians who have already been displaced by Boko Haram extremists are being forced out of their refugee camps and denied access to vital aid," according to human rights activists.
Pakistan: Javid Masih, a Christian man who sold himself into slavery to a Muslim family for two years to buy his family a home, was regularly abused, kept from going to church, and finally murdered in August. When the two-year contract was nearly up and Javid told one of the family that he looked forward to getting married, he was told, "There is no way you will ever be free from us and leave this place." When his term was up and he asked for his freedom, he was severely chided by the family's sons: "You filthy Chura ["worthless thing"], how dare you ask for your freedom. Your life is ours. You will clean our excrement every day of your life from now on or you and your family will die." Afterwards, "he was grabbed by the brothers, tied up, beaten and spat upon for a whole day. He had never told his family about this because he was both embarrassed and fearful of the repercussions on his family if they got involved. Other employees were made to see the brutal torture of Javed to instill a sense of fear amongst them." He continued as a slave but his productivity dropped, and the Muslim family decided to do away with him. They poisoned him and then dumped him in front of his family's home. When his widowed mother begged them to drive him to a hospital, they spat on her. He died; the police reported the death a "suicide." Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
"Despite anti-slavery laws in Pakistan bonded labour proliferates and is destroying the lives of many Christians. The Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 1992 is not worth the paper it is written on and the Government's clear apathy to enforce the law illustrates the low value placed on Christians and other minorities... There is a very small suicide rate in Pakistan of around 300 victims over two years—Pakistanis are hardy. It is inconceivable that Javed committed suicide when he expressed no such desire to anyone he knew and remained stoic for two years despite the pain inflicted on him."
Another Christian man, a prisoner who was offered but rejected Islam, was found dead "under mysterious circumstances in police custody," according to a report. Indaryas Ghulam, 38, was among 42 Christians arrested for the lynching of two Muslims associated with a 2015 church attack that killed nearly 20 Christians and wounded 70. Indaryas had denied involvement in the lynching and was one of the prisoners promised "release in exchange of reneging Christ."
"He could have saved his life, but decided to bear witness to his faith onto death.... The prison administration attributed his death to poor health; he had tuberculosis. But his wife Shabana and daughter Shumir, who saw the body, said that he had burns and cuts everywhere, clear signs of torture and of the brutality to which he had been subjected. What is more, they add that although he was severely ill, he never received adequate medical care behind the bars."
Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom
Iran: Approximately five hundred Muslim converts to Christianity have faced persecution in Iran, and fled to Turkey in search of asylum, notes an August report. One young convert who said he could not be who he wanted to be if he remained Muslim, added that he is now feeling "comfortable" as a Christian. Another said:
"I changed my religion because I did not see anything in Islam. Whatever I saw was wrong. It is a fact that the government of Iran is an Islamic one, yet our youth are getting executed. In Iraq the same.... There is ISIS and [they] are killing people in the name of Islam, and there are vulnerable people who are being beheaded there. They have fled to Turkey, and we came to Turkey. That is why I did not see any good from Islam."
Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution around the world, confirms that "Converts to Christianity from Islam make up the largest group of Christians and experience the most persecution."
Morocco: An August report reveals that earlier in 2017, a popular Arabic language newspaper attacked Morocco's Christian activists for their faith and, considering that virtually all Christians in Morocco are converts from Islam, ended with the message: the "Koran requires the killing of apostates." "Morocco is home to several thousand Christians who live across the nation, many of whom are new converts and forced to worship in secret churches," the report adds. "Christians are regularly harassed by authorities, and societal pressure to renounce their faith is commonplace throughout the country."
Pakistan: Another Christian minor was beaten and charged with "blaspheming" against Islam. After a Muslim man, Muhammed Nawaz, accused Asif Stephen, 16, of stealing at a local bazaar, he beat the boy, then told the local imam, who, according to the report, "has a history of preaching hatred towards minority Christians," that the youth had also burned a Koran. Muhammad and the imam tracked down the boy and attacked him again. When a passerby saw the violence and contacted police, "instead of protecting the teenager from his attackers, [police] arrested and booked him into prison on blasphemy charges." Hours later, the imam and "a mob of more than 300 Muslim fundamentalists surrounded the prison and called for a public lynching of Stephen."
"As the mob overwhelmed local police, Stephen was removed from his cell and handed over to the mob, who consequently beat him until reinforcement officers stepped in to calm the situation. Police then moved Stephen to a higher security district jail where he plead guilty to blasphemy in what his family believed was a coerced confession."
Uganda: On August 7, Sophia Nakisaala, 35, a Muslim woman, embraced Christianity after her daughter was healed by a street preacher:
"My child got healed instantly from high fever, which had caused several convulsions. The evangelist shared with me about Issa [Jesus], whom he said to be the healer and Savior. I then decided to accept Him as my Lord and Savior and then returned back home."
When she returned home and began telling Muhammad Lubaale, her husband, what had happened, "He got angry and slapped me. I kept quiet and did not respond to his interrogation about my new faith in Jesus." Three days later, word of his daughter's healing and confirmation that his wife had indeed embraced Christ reached Muhammad. "My husband arrived home on Aug. 10 and started beating me and injuring me with bruises on my head and right hand, using a stick," Sophia explained. "Neighbors came to my rescue and housed me that very night." The following morning, while her husband was away, she gathered her four children—aged 3, 5, 8 and 11—and went to an area pastor, who helped her find refuge.
Sweden: The Western nation most renowned for taking in — and suffering from — Muslim migrants, Sweden, decided to deport a female Iranian convert to Christianity. When the convert, Aideen Strandsson, pleaded that she could face the death penalty as an apostate, Swedish officials told her, "it's not our problem if you decided to become a Christian, and it's your problem." Meanwhile, Sweden, which is reputed as "the world's humanitarian conscience and a safe haven for refugees," continues accepting Muslim refugees, some of whom have helped make it known as the "rape capital of Europe."
Sweden recently decided to deport Aideen Strandsson, a female Iranian convert to Christianity. When Strandsson pleaded that in Iran she could face the death penalty as an apostate, Swedish officials told her, "it's not our problem if you decided to become a Christian, and it's your problem." (Image source: Facebook/Aideen Strandsson)
Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches
Egypt: Authorities closed down the 1,300-member Virgin Mary and St. Paula Church in the Minya governorate. The closure came in response to local Muslim opposition groups who protested the existence of the church, which had served Christians from three separate villages. The Coptic Bishop of Minya, Anba Makarios, issued a public statement chiding officials for siding with the aggressors against the victims:
"The security apparatus has prevented Copts from practicing their rites in Kedwan, Minya, claiming that it was because of objections of some opposing factions in the village, and that it was necessary to be considerate of their feelings. However, this means that there is no consideration for the feelings of the Copts and those who do not ask for anything but to pray, as if the decision belonged to the opposing factions and not to a great state such as Egypt, which should have authority and law."
The Virgin Mary and St. Paula Church in Kedwan is just one of at least 15 Christian churches that have been closed in Minya province alone. "We have more than 15 places [of worship] closed on the order of the security apparatus, despite the existence of formal requests that are imprisoned in [desk] drawers," Makarios added in his statement. "Also, there are 70 villages, farmsteads and hamlets without places for prayers."
Separately in August, security officials prevented Christians from meeting and worshiping in a private home in the village of Forn, in Minya. They said the home lacked a permit for worship. In a letter entitled, "We were prevented from prayer like criminals," frustrated Christians wrote to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi:
"We were surprised to find police forces surrounding and entering the village to prevent the Egyptian Copts from prayer and were prevented from going out of our homes. We were attacked with inappropriate words ... As if we are criminals or outlaws and wanted for justice, accused of performing religious rituals. And is performing religious rituals a crime?"
Iraq: Christians returning to the Nineveh Plain continued to encounter the remains of the Islamic State's handiwork, including graffiti all around and inside their desecrated churches, such as "There is no place for the Cross in Islamic lands" and "The Cross is under our foot." The following German writing was found in one church:
"Oh you Cross worshippers, we'll kill you all. Germany is an Islamic land. You are weak and don't belong here.... Oh you Cross worshippers, you have no place in Islamic lands. Either you leave or we'll kill you."
"They'd [ISIS] used the statutes of Jesus and Mary for target practice," said one man of another church. "The altar was also destroyed. Daesh [ISIS] knew that the West would be reluctant to bomb a church, so [it] stored food and ammunition here." Much of the graffiti has since been removed and altars are being restored. "To see our Christian symbols again is almost as important as food for us," commented one Christian man.
Somaliland: After agreeing to the reopening of a Catholic Church, which had been closed for nearly 30 years, the government of the Muslim nation reversed its decision. Spokesmen cited public anger, fomented by Islamic religious leaders who claimed the church reopening was part of the government's conspiratorial plan to Christianize Somaliland. Explaining their decision during a press conference, Religious Affairs Minister, Sheikh Khalil Abdullahi Ahmed, said, "The Government of the Republic of Somaliland has decided to respect the wishes of its people and religious leaders and keep the church closed, as it has been for the past 30 years." The Catholic church was one of many churches built 70 years ago when Somaliland was a British Protectorate.
Sudan: The day after the Khartoum Parliament rejected the Ministry of Education's call for Church Schools to operate on Sundays and follow only the Muslim week—a decision "viewed by Christians in Sudan and around the world as another means of harassment and discrimination against the minority group" — on August 2, the Sudanese government demolished yet another church in Omdurman, just west of Khartoum, from their list of 27 churches to be demolished.
Muslim Contempt for and Abuse of Christians
Iraq: More reports indicating that Christian suffering is hardly limited to ISIS appeared in August. According to one, Chaldean Archbishop Habib Jajou said "that the remaining Christian families in Iraq fear that a new ISIS could come to power. He accused Baghdad of failing to foster religious tolerance amid the years of sectarian war and said a lot of people have been brainwashed by the terror group." He also pointed out that the education ministry should begin to acknowledge Iraq's Christian heritage and roots instead of falsely claiming that it was always Islamic and that Christians are essentially foreigners and agents of the West.
Pakistan: The Islamic nation's senate unanimously approved a bill requiring the compulsory teaching of the Koran to all primary and secondary school students, including non-Muslim ones. In part, the bill is meant to help the state discharge article 31(2) of the Pakistani constitution, which states that the "State shall endeavour to make the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and Islamiyat [all things Islamic] compulsory." However, according to Nasir Saeed, the director of a Christian human rights organization, the bill "will have a negative impact on the non-Muslim students... It will promote bigotry and hatred against non-Muslims in Pakistani society, something which is already on the rise."
Bangladesh: In the name of "fighting terrorism," the Muslim nation made changes to a law that forced approximately 200 Christian organizations to shut down. The Foreign Donations Regulation Bill, which is meant to be a check on terrorist cells receiving funds outside of Bangladesh, has especially created economic problems for Christian NGOs "geared specifically for the Christian community" explained one missionary. Because a majority of Christian organizations in overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh are economically supported from outside sources, 200 were no longer able to secure external funding and to close permanently.
Sudan: The Islamist government arrested seven church leaders for refusing to comply with a court order to turn over leadership of their congregation to a government appointment committee in an effort to dissolve the church. They were interrogated for several hours and then released on bail. "Police said that in arresting them they were implementing orders from the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments to impose its committee as new SCOC leadership, presumably to sell off the church property in Sudan's bid to rid the country of Christianity," notes the report, adding that "the arrests were seen as part of a recent upsurge in harassment of Christians."
Separately, in order to help a wealthy Muslim businessman take over church property, police evicted two more pastors and their families from their homes and onto the streets. The pastors "were terrorized when police pounded on the doors shouting threats," "They came and knocked on the door strongly, they said, 'Should you not open, we will have to break it by force to get in," Pastor Nalu, 47-year-old father of a one-year-old boy, said. "The situation is very difficult, and we are living on the street."
Nigeria: Fulani terrorists, some allied with the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, have been known to invade Christian farms and settlements and slaughter Christians. In August, when few such attacks were recorded, and (mostly Muslim) politicians portrayed the problem as settled, a Christian leader explained that, when not directly slaughtering Christians, Muslim Fulani herdsmen resort to "economic terrorism": "As we gleefully wallow in the false sense of peace on the Plateau," he said, "know it today that a deliberate economic terrorism and land-grabbing strategy is being launched on Christians of Riyom and Barkin Ladi on a daily basis with the sole aim of making them poor, weak and destitute in their own land."
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by Muslims is growing. The report posits that such Muslim persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.
**Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (published by Regnery with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Turkey, the Arab World Is Just Not That into You
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018

Sunni Arabs do not wish to revisit their Ottoman colonial past. Still, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists.
A poll by Zogby found that 67% of Egyptians, 65% of Saudis, 59% of UAE citizens, and 70% of Iraqis had an unfavorable opinion of Turkey.
For the Sunni Saudis, the Turks were allies only if they could be of use in fighting Shiite Iran or its proxies, such as the Iraqi government or the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, as Turkey, together with Qatar, kept on championing and giving logistical support to Hamas, an Iranian satellite, Saudi Arabia and Egypt distanced themselves from the Palestinian cause and consequently from Turkey.
He runs around in a fake fire extinguisher's outfit, holding a silly hose in his hands and knocking on neighbors' doors to put out the fire in their homes. "Go away," his neighbors keep telling him. "There is no fire here!" I am the person to put out that fire, he insists, as doors keep shutting on his face. That was more or less how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's neo-Ottoman, pro-ummah (Islamic community), "Big Brother" game has looked in the Middle East.
After years of trial and failure Erdogan does not understand that his services are not wanted in the Muslim neighborhood: The Iranians are too Shiite to trust his Sunni Islamism; the (mostly Sunni) Kurds' decades-long dispute with the Turks is more ethnic than religious; and Sunni Arabs do not wish to revisit their Ottoman colonial past. Still, Erdogan insists.
Turkish textbooks have taught children how treacherous Arab tribes stabbed their Ottoman ancestors in the back during the First World War, and even how Arabs collaborated with non-Muslim Western powers against Muslim Ottoman Turks. A pro-Western, secular rule in the modern Turkish state in the 20th century coupled with various flavors of Islamism in the Arab world added to an already ingrained anti-Arabism in the Turkish psyche.
Erdogan's indoctrination, on the other hand, had to break that anti-Arabism if he wanted to revive the Ottoman Turkish rule over a future united ummah. The Turks had to rediscover their "Arab brothers" if Erdogan's pan-Islamism had to advance into the former Ottoman realms in the Middle East.
It was not a coincidence that the number of imam [religious] school students, under Erdogan's rule, has risen sharply to 1.3 million from a mere 60,000 when he first came to power in 2002, an increase of more than twenty-fold. Erdogan is happy. "We are grateful to God for that," he said late in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Education Ministry added Arabic courses to its curriculum and the state broadcaster, TRT, launched an Arabic television channel.
Not enough. In addition, Erdogan would pursue a systematic policy to bash Israel at every opportunity and play the champion Muslim leader of the "Palestinian cause." He has done that, too, and in an exaggerated way, by countless times declaring himself the champion of the Palestinian cause -- and he still does it.
Erdogan's Turkey championed an international campaign to recognize eastern Jerusalem as the capital city of the Palestinian state, with several Arab pats on the shoulder.
His spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, happily said that the dispute over Jerusalem after President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital "had in fact united the Muslim world".
A united Muslim front around the "Palestinian capital Jerusalem" is a myth. Iran, for instance, renounced Turkey's Jerusalem efforts because, according to the regime, the entire city of Jerusalem, not just eastern Jerusalem, should have been recognized as the Palestinian capital. Before that, Turkey accused some Arab countries of showing a weak reaction to Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
The Turkish-Arab fraternity along Muslims lines is an even bigger myth. For instance, the Saudi-led Gulf blockade of Qatar imposed in June came as a complete shock. One of his Sunni brothers had taken out the sword against another?! Turkey's Sunni brothers had once been sympathetic to his ideas but no longer are.
Only two years ago, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were mulling the idea of a joint military strike in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Antalya, Turkey, during a time of better Turkish-Saudi relations, on November 15, 2015. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
For the Sunni Saudis, the Turks were allies only if they could be of use in any fight against Shiite Iran or its proxies, such as the Baghdad government or the Syrian regime. For the Saudis, Turkey was only useful if it could serve a sectarian purpose. Meanwhile, as Turkey, together with Qatar, kept on championing Hamas, Saudi Arabia and Egypt distanced themselves from the Palestinian cause and consequently from Turkey. Both the Saudi kingdom and Egypt's al-Sisi regime have viewed Hamas, an Iranian satellite, with hostility, whereas Turkey gave it logistical and ideological support. Another reason for the change in Saudi Arabia's position toward Turkey -- from "friendly" to "semi-medium-hostile" -- is Saudi Arabia's newfound alliance with Egypt's President el-Sisi. El-Sisi replaced the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in Egypt, while Turkey and Qatar, have effectively been the embodiments of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.
Erdogan offered to build a Turkish military base in the Kingdom, for example, but in June, Saudi officials turned him down.
Erdogan might benefit by being reminded of a few facts and shaken out of his make-believe world. For instance, he might recall, that his worst regional nemesis is an Arab leader, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not an "infidel king." He must realize that he is no longer the "rock star" he was in the streets of Amman or Beirut that he once was – when the only currency he could sell on the Arab Street was his anti-Semitic rants. Turkey does not even have full diplomatic relations with the most populous Sunni Arab nation, Egypt.
More recently, a tiny sheikdom had to remind Erdogan that his expansionist, "ummah-ist" design for the Middle East was no more than a fairy tale he persistently wanted to believe. In December, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan shared a tweet that accused Turkish troops of looting the holy city of Medina a century ago. In response, Erdogan himself lashed out:
"Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery ... What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has".
But that was not the end of what looks like a minor historical debate. The row symbolized the impossibility of what Erdogan has been trying to build: An eternal Arab-Turkish fraternity.
Anwar Gargash, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said there was a need for Arab countries to rally around the "Arab axis" of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Did Erdogan hear that? If not, he should have heard this one: Gargash also said that "the Arab world would not be led by Turkey". In what better plain diplomatic language could the idea have been expressed?
Meanwhile Erdogan keeps living in his make-believe world. Last summer, as part of his futile "euphemizing Arab-Ottoman history" campaign, he claimed that "Arabs stabbed us in the back was a lie". Not even the Arabs claim they did not revolt against the Ottomans in alliance with Western powers.
If none of that is enough to convince Erdogan he should read some credible polling results. Taha Akyol, a prominent Turkish columnist, recently noted some research conducted by the pollster Zogby in 2016. The poll found that 67% of Egyptians, 65% of Saudis, 59% of UAE citizens, and 70% of Iraqis had an unfavorable opinion of Turkey.
Do not tell Erdogan, but if "polling" had existed a century ago, the numbers might have been even worse.
**Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Germans Tackling Exploding Anti-Semitism?
Khadija Khan/Gatestone Institute/January 14/2018
The teachers always hear from some of the Muslim students that the Jews must have been responsible for the way they were treated in the Holocaust because they had opposed the Nazi regime.
The situation demands an immediate review of policies and laws evidently too feeble to protect all residents equally, not to mention the even greater feebleness of political will to implement those laws.
If not stopped and countered in a timely way, possibly by these new proposals, this nest of hate-mongers carries with it the potential to trigger for Germany another really ugly time.
Finally, it seems, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is proposing legislation that might even include deporting migrants who are anti-Semites, according to Die Welt.
The alarming scale of anti-Semitism in Germany has been escalating with newly arrived refugees, mainly from Muslim lands, and causing the government previously to launch a desperate integration program with a warning that this kind of hatred would not be tolerated in the country.
The German government also decided to introduce extensive discussions about Germany's Nazi past in the course designed to make newcomers integrate into democratic societies.
The situation seemed to be getting out of control with escalating anti-Semitism among more than a million asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Teachers familiar with the curriculum, however, predict a bleak future for the efforts to convince the Muslim refugees about European history of Nazi Germany: most of them are already drunk with the anti-Semitic propaganda spread across the Muslim world by Nazi-sympathizing Islamists.
The course book introduced by Federal Bureau for Immigration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF), carries a full chapter and other small sections about the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by Nazi regime against Jewish citizens of Europe.
A senior teacher for the integration course, requesting anonymity, told this author that she finds most of the Muslim participants struggling to understand the Nazi crimes, with many of them soft towards Nazis or assuming that the Jews were to be blamed for Holocaust instead of being the victims of it.
One chapter, titled, Eine Zeitzeugin Berichtet ("An Eyewitness Reports"), narrates the ordeal of a Holocaust survivor, Magda Hollander-Lafon.
Ms Lafon, an Auschwitz survivor, narrates how her mother and sister were gassed to death while she endured unspeakable torture, hunger and thirst to survive the horrors.
The teachers, however, always hear from some of the Muslim students that the Jews must have been responsible for being treated that way because they had opposed the Nazi regime.
Many of them believe, she said, that each and every Jew is responsible for the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Many participants in these Muslim integration courses, in fact, seem to justify the acts of Nazis by associating their own Muslim hatred against Jews concerning the Palestine issue.
The situation also becomes even more surreal when the majority of the Muslim students in class are faced with face counter-arguments from other participants, who are now in minority in these integration classes.
A Syrian-Jewish young man, for instance, came forward to counter the claim of Middle Eastern students that the Muslim regimes in their lands provided equal safety and respect to non-Muslim citizens.
The young man from Damascus, also seeking anonymity, explained that life is hell for Jews, Christians and citizens of other religious minorities in most Muslim countries, including Syria.
He added that the local tiny Jewish community in Damascus lived under constant threat of robberies, extortion and abductions; that he himself had twice been a victim of abduction for ransom, and that each time his family had to pay a heavy ransom to Islamists to buy his freedom after his abductors had threatened to kill him if the money were not paid.
He said that Jewish immigrants who reached Germany and Europe do not feel safe inside the migrant camps where majority of the immigrants have hostile views towards Jews.
He added that this fear was why the majority of Middle Eastern Jews abstain from revealing their identities to the people around them, and try to look for some relatives or volunteers who are willing to give them shelter for a while.
In the meantime, the recent marches organized by Islamists in Berlin as a response to US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel revealed the real face of Islamists. They burned images of the Star of David and chanted anti-Israel slogans while burning Israeli flags -- exposing the deep-rooted hatred and racism of many Muslims, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government seemed baffled by the extreme demonstration of anti-Semitism by those protesting President Trump's decision.
Such an incontrovertible display of anti-Semitism made Chancellor Merkel and then Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière warn everyone that Germany will not tolerate any kind of anti-Semitism.
The incident, however, was just tip of the iceberg: Jewish citizens in Germany face horrific harassment during their day-to-day life in public places and schools.
In Berlin, a 14-year- old Jewish boy was forced to change schools after increasing bullying and intimidation by pupils of Turkish and Arab descent. After his fellow students discovered that he is a Jew, he was threatened with a fake pistol and subjected to intense verbal abuse.
In addition, Mekan Kolasinac, a local politician in the city of Saarlouis of the Left Party, which is known for its anti-Israel views, branded the party's federal head, Bernd Riexinger, a "sneaky Jew" in a Facebook post. Although Kolasinac later decided to apologize for his comment, it had already exposed hateful mindset that exists even among the relatively influential section of society.
A study conducted by German government revealed that 33 million Germans, around 40% of country's population, appear to share a modern form of anti-Semitism
Recently, a member of Green party of the Bundestag, Volker Beck, told Deutsche Welle, "Forty percent agree with Israeli-centered anti-Semitism, That's almost half of the society. It says a lot about the intellectual environment in which Jews have to live."
This dangerous mix of local anti-Semites and newly arrived Muslims provide the newcomers with a compelling opportunity to flourish, and to further whatever violent designs many may have against the Jewish people.
This new generation of anti-Semites knows the laws and seem well-trained to juggle around the legal loopholes to express their thoughts. That is why those in Berlin brought a homemade Israeli flag to burn, but may well avoid jail because in court it may be proven that it was not an exact flag of Israel.
This is how the extremist attendees of integration courses are able to present their anti-Semitic thoughts. They just stop just short of denying the Holocaust and avoid directly praising their idol (Hitler), yet they comfortably discuss that Jews earned the ferocity of Nazis for opposing them.
It is ironic that all this harassment against the Jewish citizens takes place under the nose of law, which theoretically does not allow hate speech. The authorities, however, appear to feel helpless about curbing the extremism against Jewish members of their society. The situation demands an immediate review of policies and laws evidently too feeble to protect all residents equally, not to mention the even greater feebleness of political will to implement those laws.
The situation demands an immediate review of policies and laws evidently too feeble to protect all residents equally, not to mention the even greater feebleness of political will to implement those laws.
If not stopped and countered in a timely way, possibly by these new proposals, this nest of hate-mongers carries with it the potential to push Germany into another really ugly time.
Demonstrators display a Hezbollah flag during an anti-Israel rally on July 25, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
**Khadija Khan is a Pakistani journalist and commentator, currently based in Germany.
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The obstacle to peace in Syria is Iran
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/January 14/ 2018
The Syrian war has not yet ended, but the fighting has eased because of cease-fire arrangements. Signs of the promised “peace” have made everyone optimistic to the point where some governments sent their ambassadors back to Damascus, and the opposition was disregarded. Victorious parties — the Assad government, Iran, and Russia — have acted arrogantly by snubbing the Geneva peace talks in the belief that only the Sochi negotiations will decide the fate of Syria, according to their interests. Iran has increased its military presence, and by arming Hezbollah it appears Tehran is attempting to make sure the last few days of the conflict go in its favor, and impose its post-war influence. This stubbornness has obviously stirred up the fight. There are battles today in Idlib, southern Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, and east of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor.
There was also the mysterious attack that destroyed Russian aircraft at the Hmeymim air base in Latakia.
The acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, recently told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US government was opposed to Iran’s presence in Syria, and that this was a strategic issue. This frank testimony is both important and dangerous. It also helps us to understand many recent events, including the Sochi conference’s inability to achieve any progress, the return of fighting, the UN representative retracting his support for a political solution, and the Israeli missile attack on an Iranian military position near Damascus. If Washington really considers the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria unacceptable and at the heart of its policy toward Syria, it is capable of changing the course of events and destroying all that the Syrian regime has achieved with the support of its allies.
Tehran is attempting to make sure the last few days of the conflict go in its favor, and impose its post-war influence.
Since Turkey’s relationship with the United States is currently frayed, some may think the US has lost its most important access to influence in Syria. This is partly true, but the US has enough allies to impose its conditions and diminish Iran’s influence there, or get in the way of its military settlement plan. The US still has Israel, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include several of the Free Army factions east of the Euphrates, and the opposition in the south near the Syrian-Jordanian border. Besides, as long as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are entrenched in Syria with their foreign militias, we are faced with a new round of the Syrian war, which will act like quicksand for the Iranian forces. Speaking of Russia’s presence in Syria, Satterfield said the Russians would reconsider it once they realize that their involvement in this war does not serve their interests in the long run, and that their alliance with Iran won’t last.
The setback that has struck the negotiations to end the Syrian war is not surprising, because they ignored the most important aspects of tension — Iran’s military presence and its militias. For Syrians, the presence of Iran’s forces and militias means recognizing the occupation and legitimizing it in the presence of a weak regime in Damascus. For the region’s countries, this means a serious change in the regional balance of power. The Syrian, Iranian and Russian trio wanted to hastily cook up a peace deal in Sochi, taking advantage of their military progress and regional and American negligence. They could have achieved peace if the Iranian presence had not been so hard to ignore. Washington now believes tackling Iran’s presence in Syria is part of its strategy — a strategy that did not exist until a few months ago.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

The bankrupt politics of not teaching English in Iran’s schools
Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/January 14/18
Decades ago, there was a story that spread in Lebanon and Syria about a ‘heroic’ student, who got zero in the French language during the French mandate, which made him a hero, as he hated and boycotted the language of the colonist. The irony, which was made as a cliché by some, is that it expressed a certain temperament in patriotism: a primitive and extremely crude one. Nasserism and the Left introduced later richer meanings for ‘patriotism’: development, dependency and independence from the capital market. The main issue is the economy, not the language. But the policies of nationalizing of education and foreign trade, and rejecting foreign mediation, have revived that joke or cliché. Countries like Egypt, Iraq and Syria, which were the most developed countries in the Arab world, became incapable to speak the foreign languages and in the competencies associated with it. Globalization, which made English the world’s first language, and gave knowledge, free imagination and innovation an unprecedented role in the economy, revealed the flaws of nationalization systems. Their weak presence in production, productivity and competition was revealed. Meanwhile, in his novel ‘Learning English’ the Lebanese novelist Rashid Al-Daif learned English as a necessity so as not to fall into revenge and murder. This, of course, did not negate the theories left to us by the American universities, saying in their own way that he who gets ‘zero’ in foreign languages is a ‘hero’.
Ali Khamenei’s order
Days ago, these headlines were all brought back to life, when Ali Khamenei said no to teaching English Language for primary school students in Iran. That’s how he believes he repulses the “cultural invasion” and strengthens the Persian language.
The regime, which had previously launched a miserable ‘cultural revolution’, is raising the Iranians badly and preparing them to be losers in this world. Thus, it declares the corruption of its supreme paternity over the Iranians. It establishes other rituals for growing up, painful and punitive, and by this decision the regime declares that staying in power means that children must stay children, but rather stupid ones. At the same time, Khamenei was disrupting the social media. Thus the secondary school and university students (many of whom were recently arrested) should not know much as well. What we have is more than enough.There are some delusions that does not hide the void of nationalism: If the recent protests were of an economic nature, the response was of a cultural nature, or rather an educational one. Bets on the gains of lifting sanctions did not work. The requirements for extensive bribery were not collected. Economic and financial gains from the West were not achieved. The Iranians protested angrily in the streets. Their government prevented teaching English Language for primary stage students and disrupted social media for the older ones. It is a rough and clear interpretation of the theory which combines the desire to have a real benefit from the economic ‘dependence’, and the ‘cultural’ outcry against it and its ‘prevalence’. The regime, which had previously launched a miserable ‘cultural revolution’, is raising the Iranians badly and preparing them to be losers in this world. Thus, it declares the corruption of its supreme paternity over the Iranians. It establishes other rituals for growing up, painful and punitive, and by this decision the regime declares that staying in power means that children must stay children, but rather stupid ones. Most probably, the anger of a child who knows that he is doomed to remain a child, creates miracles.

How the Other Half Lives in Iran
Shahram Khosravijan/New York Times/January 14/18
Demonstrators after Iranian police fired tear gas to disperse protests over Iran’s weak economy, in Tehran last month. Credit Associated Press
The village of Zaras lies in a valley circled by the Zagros Mountains in southwestern Bakhtiari Province of Iran. An hour’s ride from Izeh, the nearest town, Zaras is home to about 60 families, who make a living from farming, pastoral nomadism and working as migrant laborers in Iranian cities.
On a September afternoon in 2014, I sat by the mud wall of a hazelnut garden with Darab, a 50-year-old farmer in Zaras. Darab, a man with a charming face and rough, calloused hands, cultivated potatoes, beans and onions on a plot of land slightly larger than an acre. Yet the harvest wasn’t enough to feed his family — his wife, his six children and his elderly parents. Iran imported grains and potatoes on an enormous scale, and the prices fell each year.
Darab supplemented his meager earnings by digging wells and working for a few months at construction sites in nearby cities. He would make less than the equivalent of about 20 American dollars for 10 hours at a construction site — work that did not offer the safety net of insurance against accidents or ill health.
The village of Zaras has, like the rest of Iran, suffered from drought in the past decade. The land and the harvest have depleted. Darab spoke wistfully about a time when there was enough water for the gardens and the fields in the village. “It gets worse every year,” he said. “Nowadays they pour some water around the trees. It does not reach the roots.” Many hazelnut trees around us were already dead.
On Dec. 31, Izeh, the town near Darab’s village, witnessed one of the more violent protests triggered by economic hardships across Iran. Young men in Izeh took over the city for several hours. Several young men were killed; many were injured. They had confronted the Iranian policemen with bare hands.
But the first targets of the protesters’ rage were the buildings housing the banks. Drought has forced an increasingly large number of people in the region to seek loans. Unable to pay off their loans, their debt grows, and the bank confiscates what they have left — land, a house or a tractor.
“People’s lives are worthless!” I repeatedly heard Iranians in the villages and the cities make this despairing declaration. Sociologists use the term “precarity” to describe this abandonment, this depriving people of a livable life. “The world has boycotted us,” Darab said. Before the sanctions were imposed on Iran, Darab and other workers would travel to Iran’s Persian Gulf area to work for oil and gas companies. Foreign companies moved out after the sanctions and the jobs dried up.
Almost all young men in Darab’s village moved to cities to join the growing urban precariat, who are exploited as cheap and docile workers in the informal labor market. The absence of opportunity has intensified the migration from the villages to the urban areas, which have been growing five times faster. According to the Iranian Parliament data, the number of Iranians living in slums has increased 17 times since the revolution in 1979 to almost 10 million.
Every year more Iranians are classified as poor. Official sources reported in 2015 that 40 percent of Iranians lived below the poverty line. The unemployment rate among young people — between 20 and 24 years old — rose to 30 percent in 2016. This explains why more than 90 percent of the people arrested during the recent protests were under age 25.
About 11 million Iranians, around 50 percent of the work force, work in irregular employment, according to Iran’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Almost all young workers I met during my extended fieldwork in the past 15 years have been in irregular employment, rarely paid on time, with little protection from exploitative employers. Between 10 million and 13 million Iranians are entirely excluded from health, work or unemployment insurance.
The Iranian poor do see the vast riches of the Iranian elite. Since the early 2010s Iran has witnessed the growth of a consumerist culture and rising inequality. An increasing number of imported luxury cars have appeared on the roads; buildings whose price per square meter equals three years of a worker’s wage have come up across the cities. Ice cream covered in edible gold — worth a worker’s monthly salary — is on the menus of luxury restaurants.
After the day’s work, I would walk with workers from Darab’s village from the construction sites in wealthy neighborhoods in North Tehran to their modest rented rooms in the poorer South Tehran. As we walked past Porsches and Maseratis parked outside luxury boutiques and restaurants, they would address God satirically and say, “If these people are your creatures, what am I then?”
Alongside financial insecurity and drought, Iranians are reeling from intense pollution in the cities. A decade of sanctions has significantly increased the prices of groceries, medicines and fuel. The sanctions also excluded Iranians from the formal international banking system and forced them toward informal cash-based transactions, making them vulnerable to fraud and black market prices. The value of the Iranian toman has fallen by more than half against the dollar since 2012, which affected all other costs inside the country.
President Trump’s anti-Iranian tirades leave no hope for lifting or easing sanctions on Iran. The fear of military attack by Israel or the United States has added to the popular anxieties.
Yet hope for democracy and social justice in modern Iran has been replicated time and again through political struggles, from the constitutional revolution in 1911, the oil nationalization movement in 1950, the revolution in 1979, the green movement in 2009 and the most recent protests led by the poor.
As the images of the protests in Iran appeared on screens worldwide, I thought of my conversation with Darab in his village. We had stared at the distant mountains rising toward a clear, blue sky in silence. “See all these lands that we cannot get one single toman from. We do not have water. Write it,” he had commanded. “And write that those in Tehran have been taking all money for themselves and have forgotten that we also are people.”
*Shahram Khosravi, a professor of Anthropology at Stockholm University, is the author of “Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran” and “Young and Defiant in Tehran.”
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Palestinian president blasts Trump in defiant speech
John Bowden/The Hill/January 14/18
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sharply condemned President Trump in a speech Sunday over the White House's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The Associated Press reports that Abbas blasted the president over Trump's insinuation that Palestinians had "rejected" negotiations for a two-state solution with Israel.
“[Trump] said in a tweet: ‘We won’t give money to the Palestinians because they rejected the negotiations,’ ” Abbas said. “Shame on you. When did we reject the talks? Where is the negotiation that we rejected?”
Abbas went on to say that the administration's recognition of Jerusalem was "the slap of the century," but warned "we will slap back."
“We can say no to anyone if things are related to our fate and our people, and now we have said no to Trump,” he said. “We told him the deal of the century was the slap of the century. But we will slap back.”
Abbas's statements came just over a week after Trump threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian government over their response to Trump's announcement on Jerusalem, attacking the Palestinian Authority in a series of tweets.
"We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?" Trump said in early January.
"[W]e pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel," Trump added.
The decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was met with widespread criticism from America's allies around the world, and in late December the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly voted to condemn the Trump administration's move.
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said ahead of the vote. “We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world’s largest contribution to the U.N., and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

In Iran, Protester ‘Suicides’ Stir Anger and Calls for Accountability
Thomas Erdbrinkjan/New York Times/January 14/18
TEHRAN — Two of the detained young men killed themselves, and another was a terrorist who died in a clash with security forces, Iran’s government officials have declared with finality. But in an extraordinary display of audacity, many Iranians, including a number of lawmakers and a top entertainment star, have assailed such conclusions.
The three young men were among more than two dozen Iranians who died in the wave of antigovernment protests that swept the country a few weeks ago, the most serious unrest to confront the Islamic republic’s political-religious hierarchy in nearly a decade.
The personal stories that have since emerged of the three have struck a nerve among many Iranians, who see glaring contradictions to the official accounts of the facts. Their push for further investigation, including a parliamentary demand for an inquiry into the prison deaths, suggests that while the protests have largely subsided, the fallout in Iran may be just beginning.
“This news of so-called suicides is making people angry; they demand answers,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.
It is unclear whether the anger signals a potent new complication for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Iran’s supreme leader was a target of some of the protests, which began over economic grievances and quickly broadened.
But the willingness by members of mainstream Iranian society to publicly repudiate the narrative of the top judicial authorities is unusual in this country of 80 million, where such behavior can be risky and invite retribution.
Iran’s judicial authorities, in an update on Sunday about the aftermath of the protests and government response, said a total of 25 people had died and nearly 4,000 had been arrested. They also said that hundreds had been released, including 500 in Tehran.
The national prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, told a news conference in Tehran that “none of the bullets” found in those killed had matched types used by Iran’s law enforcement officers and military. Those who died in detention, he said, had “committed suicide.”
President Rouhani, who has defended the right of peaceful protest, on Sunday appeared to lend support to the doubters of such claims.
He extended his rebukes of hard-liners over the protests after an influential Friday Prayer leader called the protesters “garbage.” The prayer leader, Kazem Sadighi, later retracted his words.
Mr. Rouhani called upon the establishment to listen to the protesters, not demean them.
“We cannot call everybody who takes to the streets dirt and dust, cow, sheep or trash,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television. “What manner of talking is this? Why do we insult? Why do we treat our society impolitely?”
While acknowledging that some people exploited protester anger to stoke mayhem, Mr. Rouhani said, “it happens everywhere.”
On Saturday the authorities lifted a ban on the popular phone messaging app Telegram, which is used by more than 40 million Iranians. Its use had been suppressed by Iran’s National Security Council to stop the spreading of news about the protests. Mr. Rouhani, who as president officially heads the council, said on Sunday that “blocking is not a solution.”
Telegram users quickly began to share skepticism about the judiciary accounts of the prison deaths.
One of the dead, Vahid Heidari, a street peddler, had been trying to make a living in the central city of Arak. He was arrested on New Year’s Eve during the protests. The judicial authorities insist that he was seized for possession of drugs. A lawyer for his family, Mohammad Najafi, denies this.
Riot police officers in Tehran prevented university students from joining other protesters last month. Credit Associated Press
The local prosecutor for the city, Abbas Qassemi, told the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with the judiciary, that video footage showed Mr. Heidari stabbing himself with a knife. But the video was never released and Mr. Qassemi did not explain how Mr. Heidari had possessed a knife in his cell.
In Tehran’s Evin Prison, Sina Ghanbari, 23, a student, hanged himself in a bathroom on Jan. 6, the judicial authorities say. He had been held with other protesters, but it has not been made clear whether he had also protested.
A group of lawmakers on Sunday called for an investigation into the deaths of both men, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported. The members of Parliament say an inquiry is needed because “relatives and eyewitnesses” have questioned the official claims that the two killed themselves.
“Why is a young student, who goes for the first time to the streets to raise his voice, placed in an overcrowded prison cell?” Isa Saharkhiz, a political activist who has spent several stints in Evin Prison, said in reference to Mr. Ghanbari.
He said that panic and threats could make any inmate scared, but he was suspicious over the suicide claim. “There is so much traffic in those latrines, it almost seems impossible for any detainee to go inside the latrines and hang himself,” Mr. Saharkhiz said. “This must be investigated.”
During the last major nationwide protests, in 2009, the deaths of three men in a makeshift detention camp led to an official investigation, ordered by Ayatollah Khamenei. Twelve officers and guards were convicted of having played a role, but it has never been clear whether they all served prison time.
Skepticism about the official version of fatalities in the more recent protests was fueled further on Sunday when an Iranian celebrity actress, Bahare Rahnama, who stars in films and shows on state television, posted a series of messages on Twitter.
A former restaurant delivery boy she knew well, who had turned up dead in the city of Sanandaj, was described by the judicial authorities as a terrorist.
“He was neither an outlaw, nor dangerous, nor rebellious, he didn’t deserve this, I have no doubt,” Ms. Rahnama wrote in Persian.
The man, Saru Ghahremani, 24, an Iranian-Kurd, was arrested on Jan. 1 after he had gone out to protest, activists said.
A group of activists known as the Committee Investigating the ’96 Protests (in Iran’s calendar, the year is 1396), said in a Twitter message by a member that Mr. Ghahremani’s body had been delivered to his parents 11 days later. “The parents of this martyr were taken by the ambulance containing his corpse to the Mahmoudieh graveyard, where he was buried with no other family members present,” the message read.
The ’96 Protests Committee also said via Twitter that Mr. Ghahremani had once been arrested at age 18, over unspecified “political and security accusations,” and had spent 18 months in prison.