January 23/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God
John 16/01-16: "“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you,  but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because people do not believe in me;  about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;  and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 22-23/18
Revelations uncover bitter truths about Hezbollah’s dirty money/Mark Dubowitz. & Jonathan Schanzer/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
ICSR Insight – Debating the Hezbollah Problem/ICSR/January 22/18
Events since Trump Decision on Jerusalem/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18
How Qatar has planted mines of extremism/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
Why Pakistan is no longer much use to the US/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
American options in Syria: Time for John Kerry’s ‘Plan B?/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
‘The Mountains are the Kurds’ Only Friends’/Ghassan Charbel/Gatestone Institute/January 22/2018
Palestinians: No Difference Between Fatah and Hamas/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/January 22/18
The Great Incomplete Politically Correct US Terrorism Report!/A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/January 22/18
France Doesn't Need Bank Consolidation/Pascal Emmanuel Gobry/Bloomberg/January 22/18
What Really Scares Iran’s Clerical Dictators/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/January 22/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on January 22-23/18
Revelations uncover bitter truths about Hezbollah’s dirty money
ICSR Insight – Debating the Hezbollah Problem
Lebanon safe for tourists, Aoun says ahead of Kuwait trip
Lebanon bans Daniel Radcliffe movie
Bahrain says Hezbollah backs terrorist cells targeting its security
Aoun Says Lebanon Keen on Promoting Ties ahead of Visit to Kuwait
Aoun Signs Decree Setting Dates of Parliamentary Elections
Sami Gemayel to Take Govt. to 'Int'l Courts' for Polluting Sea with Trash
Lebanese NGO Alarm at Spate of Deadly Domestic Violence
Trial Set for American Charged in Killing of Lebanese Neighbor
Geagea Says 'The Post' Ban Would've Depicted Lebanon as 'Backward Country'
Abu Faour Meets Berri, Warns against Disregarding Taef Accord
Man Kills Wife in Broad Daylight in Beirut Neighborhood
Families of Islamist Prisoners in Lebanon Rally for Amnesty

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 22-23/18
UN Security Council refrains from condemning Turkey
Jerusalem to open by end of 2019
Israeli Arab MPs Ejected while Protesting Pence Speech
Abbas urges EU countries to ‘swiftly’ recognize state of Palestine
Events since Trump Decision on Jerusalem
Pence: US Will Never Allow Iran to Possess Nuclear Weapons
Erdogan Vows 'No Step Back' in Operation against Kurdish Militia in Syria
Turkey to Extradite Lebanese Suspect Linked to Sidon Bombing
Lavrov: Kurds are Invited to Join Syria Peace Congress in Sochi
New image of Osama bin Laden’s spokesman and son-In-law in Iran revealed
Moscow rejects schemes to topple Syrian regime, Yemeni FM slams Houthis
Saudi-led Arab Coalition announces $1.5 bln in aid for Yemen
UN envoy: Parties involved in Yemen to begin peace talks
Yemeni army thwarts Houthi attempt to plant mines on coast of Midi
US Shutdown Extended as Crunch Vote Delayed

Latest Lebanese Related News published on January 22-23/18
Revelations uncover bitter truths about Hezbollah’s dirty money
انكشاف الحقائق المرة حول حقيقة أموال حزب الله القذرة
Mark Dubowitz. & Jonathan Schanzer/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
The Trump Administration and Democrats in the American Congress can’t agree on much these days. We’ve got a government shutdown in Washington to prove it. But there is at least one area where both Democrats and the President have a meeting of the minds: combatting Hezbollah.
In recent years, Congress has passed new sanctions measures that provide the United States government with powerful financial tools to target Hezbollah. And now the Department of Justice has created a new Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (reviving a task force that was marginalized during the Obama Administration) to target Hezbollah. In short, none of Hezbollah’s global assets are safe. Nor are the bankers who enable its global business – not in Lebanon or anywhere else.
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevent Act of 2015, passed overwhelmingly by a bipartisan Congress, targets Hezbollah’s global narcotics empire, its media properties including the al-Manar television station, as well as other illicit activities that fund the terror group worldwide. The law’s most important feature: it empowers the Administration to target foreign banks that do business with entities that facilitate Hezbollah’s activities and to cut them off from the US financial system.
The second law is the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017, which is making its way through Congress with equally strong bipartisan support. It strengthens the 2015 law by imposing mandatory sanctions for Hezbollah-related fundraising and recruitment activities. It also requires sanctions on foreign states, agencies and instrumentalities that knowingly supported Hezbollah. The law also calls for more extensive reporting on financial transactions with the terror group.
And this month, the US launched a new task force to examine Hezbollah’s extensive drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations after an investigative report in Politico revealed that the Obama administration deliberately weakened “Project Cassandra”, a campaign led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to help preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The Politico revelations have drawn the focus in Washington to Hezbollah’s external operations in Latin America and globally. But the US government is equally concerned with Hezbollah’s operations inside Lebanon.
In 2011, it was clear that Lebanese banks could play an outsized role in Hezbollah finance. The Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) in 2013 paid a $102 million settlement when confronted with overwhelming evidence that it used the US banking system to launder Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking profits through West Africa and back to Lebanon.
Falling prey to Hezbollah?
The concerns of Hezbollah contagion have only increased. Hezbollah maintains a tight grip on Lebanon’s political system, and its influence only continues to grow. At the same time, the terror group controls swathes of territory in the Bekaa Valley, Southern Lebanon and the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh. Are the banks there subject to the regulations of the Lebanese Central Bank or to Hezbollah’s growing influence? Indeed, it seems improbable that LCB was the only bank to fall prey to Hezbollah.
Lebanese bankers and regulators are not being proactive. They respond to problems when they are forced to. But they are not scouring their accounts, looking for Hezbollah’s dirty money.
The meetings we have had with Lebanon’s bankers suggest that they are not prepared to tackle the problem in a proactive way. They insist that the banks are fully compliant with international standards and that Hezbollah has not exploited the system. But at the same time, the bankers readily cede that when the US Treasury approaches them with evidence of Hezbollah infiltration, they must take action to expunge the accounts or face cutoff from the US-led global financial system.
But the Lebanese bankers and regulators are not being proactive. They respond to problems when they are forced to. But they are not scouring their accounts, looking for Hezbollah’s dirty money.
The Lebanese banking sector must have a zero-tolerance policy for terror financing, money laundering and other financial crimes. The bankers and regulators have little choice but to actively fight the problem if they want to ensure the country’s place in the global financial system.
In the days and weeks ahead, Lebanon’s bankers and regulators should expect to hear from US officials about taking steps to inoculate the system from Hezbollah infiltration. This includes larger banks like Fransabank, Banque Libano-Française, BSL Bank, and First National Bank. But it may include some of the smaller banks, too.
The American effort to combat Hezbollah’s global financing is ramping up. And it’s not just the revival of “Project Cassandra” to target the group’s activities in the Southern Hemisphere. The terror group’s banking activities, especially in Lebanon, are now a top concern.
*Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, is senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Mark Dubowitz is FDD’s Chief Executive Officer and he lead’s FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance (CSIF).

ICSR Insight – Debating the Hezbollah Problemمناقشة مشكلة حزب الله في بريطانيا
ICSR/January 22/18
This is a guest post by Dr. Matthew Levitt, Director of the counterterrorism programme at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
London has a Hezbollah problem, which will be the subject of a backbench business committee debate in the British Parliament this week. Such debate is long overdue, and the problem runs far deeper than just debate over the periodic display of Hezbollah flags at anti-Israel protests. Hezbollah actively thumbs its nose at the UK model—adopted by the European Union in 2013—of designating just certain parts of the Hezbollah but not the group overall. The evidence? Hezbollah continues to engage in terrorist and criminal activities—within the UK and the EU more broadly—despite the partial ban.
The UK first designated Hezbollah’s terrorist wing as a terrorist entity in 2001, and added the military wing in 2008 after Hezbollah targeted British soldiers in Iraq. The UK pressed the EU to designate Hezbollah’s terrorist and military wings as terrorist entities, but opposed banning the group overall. The EU effectively adopted the UK model, adding only these wings to the EU’s terrorism list under Common Position (CP) 931 in July 2013.
But the problem with the UK model is two-fold: first, it is based on a fiction which Hezbollah itself rejects; and second, this half-measure has not stopped Hezbollah from operating on British soil or undermining British interests abroad.
The UK model is based on the premise that Hezbollah has distinct military, terrorist, and political wings. This, however, is a political distinction of convenience which Hezbollah’s own leaders reject. In 2000, Hezbollah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem explained that “Hezbollah’s secretary-general is the head of the Shura Council and also the head of the Jihad Council, and this means that we have one leadership, with one administration.” Speaking in 2012, Qassem added: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.… Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
It should therefore not surprise that the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Hezbollah is “a multifaceted, disciplined organization that combines political, social, paramilitary, and terrorist elements” and that its decisions “to resort to arms or terrorist tactics [are] carefully calibrated.” Dutch intelligence came to a similar conclusion, determining that “Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one coordinating council.”
Protestors waving Hezbollah flags on the streets of London argue they are only demonstrating support for Hezbollah’s political wing, not its terrorist wing, though the group’s militants and politicians all fly the same flag featuring a machine gun front and center. But Hezbollah engages in far worse behaviors than that in the UK, underscoring the ineffectiveness of banning just part of a group engaged in widespread terrorist and criminal activities.
Some of these activities touch British interests more than others, such as the case of Hussein Bassam Abdallah, who pled guilty to stockpiling precursor chemical explosives in a Hezbollah plot in Cyprus. As part of his operational cover, Hezbollah provided Abdallah a forged British identity card which he used to rent a storage facility. Authorities worry Cyprus was not the only target of that plot, but rather a “point of export” from which to funnel explosives elsewhere for a series of attacks in Europe.
The British government has long acknowledged “a small, overt Hezbollah presence in the UK” with “extensive links” to the Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD), which London has traditionally regarded as distinct from the group’s terrorist wing. Alongside its clandestine foreign operatives, Hezbollah also maintains a more public international presence through the FRD, which has representatives around the world and is currently led by Ali Damush, who was designated a foreign terrorist by the U.S. State Department in January 2017.
The U.S. government has determined that the FRD “engages in covert terrorist operations around the world on behalf of Hezbollah, including recruiting terrorist operatives and gathering intelligence.” Tellingly, despite its operational responsibilities—which have increased dramatically over the past several years—the FRD does not report to Hezbollah’s Jihad Council, as its terrorist wing does, but to Hezbollah’s Political Council, further undermining the myth of distinct terrorist and political wings within the group.
Then there are the expressly criminal activities Hezbollah operatives engage in to raise funds and provide logistical support to the group—some of which occurred within the UK. In October 2015, U.S. and French authorities arrested two Hezbollah associates, one in Atlanta, Georgia and another in Paris. The two were caught laundering drug proceeds and seeking to purchase cocaine and weapons for “Hezbollah and other independent criminal groups in Iran.” According to court documents, they also offered to use “Hezbollah-connected associates” to provide security for narcotics shipments. One of these Hezbollah associates was located in the UK and laundered 30,000 British Pounds for a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undercover agent posing as a narcotics trafficker. The UK-based Hezbollah associate also discussed distribution of cocaine shipments with the undercover agent, and requested to purchase kilogram quantities of cocaine. (Hezbollah denies accusations of drug trafficking, but just this month French authorities referred 15 Hezbollah members to criminal court on drug dealing and money laundering charges).
Clearly, the partial UK ban of Hezbollah has not deterred the group from engaging in criminal conduct on British soil. And it certainly has not deterred the group from engaging in activities contrary to UK interests, from engaging in criminal and terrorist activities in Europe, to dispatching some 7,000 fighters to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, to smuggling missile components into Yemen (some of which it then assembled and fired at Saudi Arabia on behalf of Yemeni Houthi rebels).
Without question, there is more than enough evidence to warrant an overall terrorist designation of Hezbollah, but the debate this week will likely also ask if doing so would make good policy. Would it? There are several argument against taking such action.
For years, British and other European officials maintained that banning Hezbollah in its entirety would undermine domestic stability in Lebanon. But Lebanon is an extremely resilient country and its many moderates deserves international support in their efforts to marginalize extremist militants like Hezbollah. Moreover, Hezbollah’s role in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, its takeoverof downtown Beirut by force of arms in 2008, and its involvement in the Syrian warall suggest that Hezbollah is far from a stabilizing factor within Lebanon.
European officials also worry that designating Hezbollah writ large might prompt Hezbollah to attack European interests, or lead the group to target U.N. peacekeeping troops in Lebanon. In fact, not only is Hezbollah already engaged in plots in Europe, it dispatches dual Lebanese-European citizens (from Sweden, France, etc.) to carry them out. And yet, recent actions against Hezbollah by the United States, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Organization for the Islamic Conference have not led to increased Hezbollah plots against the countries involved. As for U.N. peacekeepers, the US State Department has documented at least two instances where Hezbollah has already targeted European peacekeepers in Lebanon. Those lines have been crossed, the question now is what—if anything—will be done about it?
Perhaps the greatest sticking point has been the concern that banning Hezbollah would preclude contact with Hezbollah politicians and, by extension, the government of Lebanon. But the U.S. has been able to communicate its interests to both the government of Lebanon and even Hezbollah with no problems, despite designating all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In fact, the EU’s Common Position 931designation authority only authorizes asset freezing—it does neither precludes contact with the group’s members nor bans their travel. (European officials sometimes confuse this with the prohibition on meeting with Hamas members, which is due to Quartet restrictions, not the EU’s CP931 ban of Hamas).
Banning only part of Hezbollah has not worked.Hezbollah called the UK and EU’s bluff and has continued engaging in terrorist and criminal activities notwithstanding the ban of parts of the group. The question now is whether or not Her Majesty’s Government intends to allow Hezbollah to continue to operate as easily as it does on UK soil and in direct opposition to UK interests abroad.
**Matthew Levitt directs the counterterrorism program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, teaches at Georgetown University, and is the author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. Follow him on Twitter @Levitt_Matt

Lebanon safe for tourists, Aoun says ahead of Kuwait trip
The Daily Star/ January 22, 2018
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun was set to travel to Kuwait Tuesday, after his original trip, scheduled for last November, was postponed due to Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation one-day prior to the president’s embarkation. “The relationship between Lebanon and Kuwait is strong, steady and historical, and our goal is to always reaffirm the bilateral relationship in all sectors,” Aoun told the Kuwaiti Anbaa News Agency ahead of his trip. “The message I will carry to Kuwait will not differ from the one I carried to [other] countries I have visited since being elected,” he said. Aoun has travelled in his official capacity as president to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. Aoun went on to say that the world had realized that it was desirable to distance Lebanon from the metaphorical fires raging around the small country. "The Lebanese people also realized that the [problems] knocking on their doors were not minor.”In an effort to reassure prospective tourists, Aoun said the prevailing stable situation in Lebanon "is a testimony that stability is a red line that cannot be crossed, with the Lebanese will and the determination of the Lebanese Army and the security forces, which are doing their best.” Turning to the Syrian refugee crisis, Aoun said that this was a heavy responsibility for Lebanon due to its small geographical area, which “doesn’t permit it to host this huge number – which exceeds 1,820,000 refugees since the start of the war in Syria – in addition to the critical economic situation and security challenges.” Official UNHCR numbers put the number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon at just under one million. Aoun will head a delegation comprised of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah, Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Ezzeddine and Minister of State for Human Rights Affairs Ayman Choucair. General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and the head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, Nabil al-Jisr, will also join the delegation. The president will meet with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, as well as delegations from economic bodies and Lebanese expats. Prior to last year’s scheduled visit, ministerial sources didn’t rule out that discussions in the Gulf nation might touch on the allegedly Hezbollah-linked Abdali terror cell – several individuals accused of amassing weapons, at the behest of Iran and Hezbollah, for an attack in Kuwait. In the summer of 2015, Kuwaiti security service officers raided farmhouses in Abdali near the Iraqi border, uncovering the largest illegal weapons cache to have been discovered in Kuwait’s history. The country’s Foreign Ministry sent a letter to its Lebanese counterpart requesting that the government act in accordance with the Kuwaiti judiciary’s rulings regarding the alleged Hezbollah-linked terror cell. The Kuwaiti statement called on the Lebanese state to take responsibility regarding Hezbollah, given that the party is an official actor in the government. Hariri visited Kuwait last August to address this issue. Aoun’s talks may also focus on the countries’ diplomatic missions, and Lebanon’s appointment of an ambassador to Kuwait.

Lebanon bans Daniel Radcliffe movie
Ynetnews/Inna Toker/January 21/18/Starring Jewish British actor Daniel Radcliffe, Jungle, a new movie based on survival tale of an Israeli backpacker, joins long list of Israel-associated movies pulled from Lebanon’s cinema screens, including Wonder Woman and Justice League.After banning the movies Wonder Woman and Justice League starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot, Lebanon has now decided to also ban the film Jungle starring the Jewish actor Daniel Radcliffe, two weeks after its debut in the country. Jungle, based on the book Back from Tuichi, is based on the true experience of Israeli born Yossi Ghinsberg who spent three weeks lost in the Bolivian Jungle. Yossi is played by British actor Daniel Radcliffe and the film was produced by Dana Lustig, an Israeli. The movie depicts the survival saga of Ghinsberg who travelled as a backpacker to South America and got lost for three weeks in the Bolivian jungle near the Tuichi River. The movie was shown in Lebanese cinemas during the last two weeks but was pulled after the Israeli involvement in the movie was protested. The film is expected to arrive in Israeli theatres in March. This is not the first time Lebanon is banning movies because of an association with Israel. In addition to Wonder Woman and Justice League, the recently released Spielberg film The Post was also targeted by censors. Another film starring Gal Gadot, Keeping Up with the Joneses, was shown, however, without incident or protest in Lebanon. Directed by the renowned director Spielberg, Schindler's List included scenes filmed in Jerusalem which seemed to have placed him on the Arab League's blacklist. The Post's movie's distributors reached an agreement with the censors and the movie is set to be screened.

Bahrain says Hezbollah backs terrorist cells targeting its security
Ismaeel Naar Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/January 22/2018
Bahrain’s interior minister has accused Lebanese Hezbollah militias of supporting terror groups and at least 19 plots against public figures in the Gulf island kingdom in the past year. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said on Sunday that as a result, 47 people were charged with links to terrorism, including plots to assassinate public figures. “The cells are run by individuals in Iran who coordinate with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Popular Mobilization Militias in Iraq and the Hezbollah in Lebanon to train terrorists. This fact has been highlighted in the past and continues to be highlighted,” al-Khalifa said at a press conference on Sunday. Bahraini police have also transferred the cases of 290 wanted persons and suspects to the public prosecutor's office.  Most of the 47 people arrested on Sunday were part of the Saraya al-Ashtar, Saraya Al Muqawama Al Sha’biya and Saraya al-Mukhtar militia groups.In the past year, Bahrain’s security apparatus carried out 105 security missions, including search of 42 sites and warehouses. A total of 290 fugitives and suspects were referred to the Public Prosecution and a quantity of weapons, equipment and explosives seized. Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor’s office told Al Arabiya English they will release the details of its investigations at a later date.“Our security mission does not end with the uncovering of a terror group and the arrest of lawbreakers. Ours is a comprehensive mission which aims to achieve security and stability across the country, and to have a comprehensive security viewpoint to understand the main reasons and motives that have a bearing on the general security situation,” al-Khalifa said.

Aoun Says Lebanon Keen on Promoting Ties ahead of Visit to Kuwait
Naharnet/January 22/18/President Michel Aoun is set to kick start an official visit to Kuwait on Tuesday to hold talks with Emir of Kuwait Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and to meet with several senior Kuwaiti officials, media reports said on Monday. In an interview with Kuwait News Agency, Aoun said: “The message I carry with me to Kuwait is no different from the ones I carried to countries I have visited since my election as president.” “The message I carry includes a sincere Lebanese will to open up and cooperate with everyone, but within the accepted standards that safeguard each country's rights, independence and sovereignty,” he told KUNA. The President affirmed that Lebanon is “enjoying stability. The security situation in Lebanon is stable, there is no need to be afraid," he affirmed, pointing out that the nature of Lebanon and the Lebanese style of life are still intact. The President added: “The message is also based on affection and mutual respect and reflects the characteristics of Lebanon, which has never assaulted anyone. I also carry the strong image of Lebanon and the determination of its people who stood in the face of attempts to target and undermine its stability.”Aoun will head a delegation comprised of Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Minister of Telecommunications Jamal al-Jarrah, Minister of State for Administrative Reforms Inaya Ezzedine, State Minister for Human Rights Ayman Choucair, General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, Nabil a-Jisr head of the Council of Development and Reconstruction, said al-Joumhouria daily. The President will hold talks with Emir of Kuwait. He will also meet the Crown Prince and Chairman of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and its Director General and members of the Lebanese community. Aoun's original trip to Kuwait was scheduled in last November but was postponed following the shock, now-reversed, resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh.

Aoun Signs Decree Setting Dates of Parliamentary Elections
Naharnet/January 22/18/President Michel Aoun on Monday signed a decree setting the dates of the parliamentary elections that will be held in the spring, the country's first in nine years. The decree also carries the signatures of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq. It sets the date of elections inside Lebanon for May 6. Poll workers will meanwhile vote on May 3 while expats residing in Arab states will cast their ballots on April 27 and those living in the Americas, Europe and Africa will vote on April 29. Aoun had earlier in the day stressed that “the parliamentary elections will be held on time,” describing the vote as “a red line for the safety of both democracy and the republic.” “In these elections, the Lebanese must express their correct choices that would lead to the election of those who truly reflect their aspirations and hopes, especially that the electoral law achieves fair representation for all Lebanese from all religions, sects and affiliations,” the president said, referring to the new electoral law, which will be based on proportional representation for the first time in Lebanon's history. “This was not present in the winner-takes-all law that had been first endorsed prior to Lebanon's independence,” he added.

Sami Gemayel to Take Govt. to 'Int'l Courts' for Polluting Sea with Trash
Naharnet/January 22/18/Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel on Monday blasted the government anew over the waste management crisis, announcing that he will take it to “international courts” for polluting the sea with garbage. “Words cannot describe this scene. Today we are present at Keserwan's shore but the entire shore of Mount Lebanon is witnessing a similar situation,” Gemayel said at the Zouk Mobseh-Nahr el-Kalb shore, where seawater has invaded a garbage landfill that is present there and pulled piles of trash into the Mediterranean. “The sea has filled with garbage because officials who lack conscience and competency are in charge of the waste file,” Gemayel lamented. “The Council for Development and Reconstruction is in charge of overseeing these works and there is an environment minister and a government. They are all to blame and they must be held responsible for what we are witnessing today,” the young politician added. “They have not carried out any measure... and garbage is flowing into the sea due to the absence of a wave breaker,” he explained. Asking the Lebanese judiciary to hold the CDR responsible, Gemayel called for the resignation of the Council's president and members “because they are responsible for implementing the contract terms.” He also called for the resignation of Environment Minister Tarek al-Khatib. “We will resort to international courts, because the ruling class is working against the people and the people have the right to hold it accountable,” Gemayel added.
“They are worried about a film in movie theaters but what is this that we are seeing today? Doesn't it tarnish Lebanon's image?” he went on to say, referring to the ongoing controversy over Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Post". Reminding that Kataeb had proposed creating landfills in Lebanon's Eastern Mountain Range, Gemayel emphasized that “there is no excuse not to dump the garbage there.”

Lebanese NGO Alarm at Spate of Deadly Domestic Violence
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/A Lebanese man fatally shot his wife in Beirut Monday, the latest in a string of murders a rights group said showed much work remained to eradicate violence against women. A law on domestic violence was passed by Lebanon's parliament in 2014 but watchdogs said many changes were still needed. A man shot his wife in the Ras al-Nabaa neighborhood of Beirut on Monday, the National News Agency reported, adding that the killer was on the run. Also on Monday, another Lebanese man was arrested after stabbing his wife in a village in the South, the same source reported. The woman survived the attack. The latest violence brought to eight the number of deadly cases of violence against women since the start of December, according to Kafa, a watchdog advocating for gender equality in Lebanon. A total of 17 cases were recorded last year in Lebanon, a country of around four million inhabitants, including those of women killed by their husbands but also that of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after a forced marriage. In a high-profile case last month, Briton Rebecca Dykes, who worked for the UK Department for International Development at the embassy in Beirut, was killed by an Uber driver who tried to rape her. Kafa's spokesperson Diala Haidar said recent improvements to the legal framework were failing to challenge "a society dominated by a machismo and that justifies violence against women."
"Working against this mentality and preventing the justification of violence against women is the hardest thing," she said.

Trial Set for American Charged in Killing of Lebanese Neighbor
Associated Press/Naharnet/January 22/18/An Oklahoma man facing first-degree murder and hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of his Lebanese neighbor is set for trial this week. Stanley Vernon Majors is accused in the killing of 37-year-old Khalid Jabara in August 2016. Prosecutors say Majors, who is now 63, killed Jabara after bombarding him with racial insults in a feud with Jabara's family that lasted several years. Majors previously pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and malicious intimidation and harassment, which is Oklahoma's hate-crime law. Majors' attorneys have indicated that they will present a mental health-based defense, though Majors was previously found competent to stand trial.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday, and officials say the trial could extend into next week.

Geagea Says 'The Post' Ban Would've Depicted Lebanon as 'Backward Country'
Naharnet/January 22/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Monday waded into the debate over whether or not Lebanon should ban Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Post". In an interview with al-Markazia news agency, Geagea described calls for banning the movie as “laughable yet lamentable,” calling for “rising above trivial matters and keeping culture and art away from politics.” Accusing boycott campaigners and “those behind them” of “selectivity,” the LF leader said they are selectively choosing to endorse certain Arab League resolutions. “They abide by them when they suit their interests and objectives, and they accuse the League of treason and normalization when its resolutions do not serve their political project,” Geagea added.
“If the alibi of Hizbullah and those who share its opinion is that Spielberg had donated a million dollars to Israel, then let them boycott Washington, seeing as the United States donates three billion dollars to Israel” every year, the LF leader said. “As for Russia, it coordinates with Israel politically... and militarily on a daily basis in Syria's skies, so let them boycott Moscow. Europe's countries, especially France, are Arabs' greatest friends and yet they cooperate and coordinate politically, culturally and economically with Tel Aviv, so boycott them all,” Geagea added. “Accordingly, the alibi that they are hiding behind to protest the showing of the film does not convince anyone, because endorsing it would oblige us to boycott all countries in the world except for Iran, Venezuela and North Korea,” the LF leader went on to say. He also thanked Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq for reversing the ban on the movie.
“He showed an ability to overcome the pressures he faced to ban the film,” Geagea said. “Had the minister bowed to pressure and banned the film, the ban would not have served the Palestinian cause... and it would have depicted Lebanon as a racist and culturally backward country that rejects every opinion that does not match its beliefs,” the LF leader went on to say. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had weighed in Friday on the controversy surrounding the film, saying it was wrong to screen it in Lebanese theaters. Censorship authorities had recommended the ban because the director is blacklisted by the Arab League over his support for Israel, but Minister Mashnouq reversed the decision, allowing it to open Thursday in theaters across the country. Nasrallah said Spielberg's name is on a "black list" of Israeli supporters and noted he was blacklisted by the League for donating $1 million to Israel during its 2006 war with Lebanon. Nasrallah said showing the movie in Lebanon was tantamount to "rewarding" Spielberg under the pretext of art, freedoms and tourism.

Abu Faour Meets Berri, Warns against Disregarding Taef Accord

Naharnet/January 22/18/Dispatched by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat, MP Wael Abu Faour held talks Monday in Ain el-Tineh with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, amid a growing spat between the latter and President Michel Aoun over a disputed decree. “It seems that the debate over this issue has started to raise another debate over the issue of the Taef Accord and the need to respect its stipulations and spirit,” Abu Faour said after the meeting. “We cannot accept the claim that the seniority decree has become behind us and that the debate over this issue should end. The decree has not become behind us and it has not entered into effect,” Abu Faour stressed, emphasizing that “there is still a constitutional dispute over this matter and there is still a national and political problem that should be addressed through talks.”Noting that Prime Minister Saad Hariri is trying to mediate to resolve the Aoun-Berri spat, the lawmaker urged “respect for the Taef Accord,” pointing out that the 1989 agreement “is not only a text but also a spirit.”“This spirit stands for partnership: national partnership in decisions and in state institutions. We hope some parties do not have the intent to disregard the Taef Accord,” Abu Faour went on to say. 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.

Man Kills Wife in Broad Daylight in Beirut Neighborhood
Naharnet/January 22/18/A man opened gunfire shots at his wife on Monday leading to her eventual death in the Beirut neighborhood of Ras al-Nabaa, media reports said. The man was identified as Fadi A.. He opened gunfire at his wife, Nada, in broad daylight in the street. MTV said the man used a pump-action shotgun and had fired at the woman multiple blasts. She was taken to the AUBMC hospital but succumbed to her wounds shortly after, the National News Agency said. The Lebanese Armed Forces were called to the crime scene. They tightened security measures in the area after the killer managed to flee to an unidentified location, reports said. The suspect could not be found anywhere. Efforts to find his whereabouts continue. Violence against women is not uncommon in Lebanon despite a law passed in 2014 making domestic violence a criminal offense.

Families of Islamist Prisoners in Lebanon Rally for Amnesty

Naharnet/January 22/18/Hundreds of protesters have rallied in the Lebanese capital demanding that Islamist prisoners be part of a discussed general amnesty.
The rally in central Beirut Sunday was attended by hundreds of families of Islamist prisoners. They were pressing the government to include their relatives in a general amnesty expected to come ahead of the country's first election in ten years.
The elections are scheduled for May. Lebanon had one general amnesty after the end of the civil war in 1990.Lebanese authorities have rounded up hundreds of Sunni Islamists over the last years, including some who clashed with the military, following clashes between Sunnis and Shiites in northern Lebanon. They also include extremists believed to belong to al-Qaida-linked groups and the Islamic State group.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 22-23/18
UN Security Council refrains from condemning Turkey

AFP | Published — Tuesday 23 January 2018/The UN Security Council discussed Turkey’s intensifying offensive against Kurdish militias and the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria but did not condemn or demand an end to the sensitive Turkish operation. (AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council discussed Turkey’s intensifying offensive against Kurdish militias and the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria on Monday but did not condemn or demand an end to the sensitive Turkish operation. Already scheduled to hear a report from UN aid chief Mark Lowcock on his recent visit to Syria, at France’s request the Security Council also touched on the latest Turkish offensive as well as the Syrian campaign in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed no stepping back to the air and ground offensive seeking to flush out the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from its enclave of Afrin, despite concern from Ankara’s allies and neighbors. “It was of course part of the conversation,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre said of Afrin after the closed-door talks at UN headquarters in New York. “The call for restraint, I believe, was widely shared during the discussion,” he added, saying that France was “attentive to the security of Turkey, its territories and its borders.” US Ambassador Nikki Haley did not attend the meeting in person, a diplomatic source said. Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch” is sensitive as Washington relied on the YPG to oust militants from Daesh from their Syrian strongholds and the Kurdish militia now holds much of Syria’s north.Western capitals fear the campaign against the YPG could shift the focus away from eliminating Daesh after a string of successes in recent months.“It’s vital to keep the unity of the allies in what remains the number one priority, which is the fight against terrorism and against Daesh in particular,” Delattre stressed, using another term for the Daesh militant group. “The number one party responsible for the humanitarian tragedy in Syria is the Syrian regime,” he added. “The number one tragedy happening before our eyes happens in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.”“If things continue this way, Eastern Ghouta might be the new Aleppo in terms of humanitarian disaster,” Delattre added.Turkey considers the YPG a terror group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.Russia and the United States have expressed concern about the operation, which Erdogan said Turkey had discussed in advance with Russia and Moscow was in “agreement.”

Jerusalem to open by end of 2019
AFP, Jerusalem/January 22/18/US Vice President Mike Pence pledged Monday that his country would move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “by the end” of 2019, a step fiercely opposed by Palestinians.
In the same speech from the rostrum of the Israeli Parliament Pence urged the Palestinians to resume long-stalled peace talks with the Jewish state. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and as such President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence said to prolonged applause from Israeli parliamentarians. “In the weeks ahead our administration will advance its plan to open the United States embassy in Jerusalem. And that United States embassy will open before the end of next year.”At the start of his address, Israeli Arab lawmakers, angry at a December 6 decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, tried to stage a protest from the floor of the Knesset. Members of the Joint List coalition of Arab parties, which had pledged to boycott the Pence speech, began shouting and holding up protest signs as he started speaking but were swiftly hustled out by ushers. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. The US move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital broke with decades of international consensus that the city’s status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It prompted the Palestinians to cut ties with the Trump administration, but Pence urged them to return to negotiations. “Today we strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to return to the table,” he said. “Peace can only come through dialogue.”

Israeli Arab MPs Ejected while Protesting Pence Speech
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/Israeli Arab lawmakers were ejected from parliament on Monday as they stood to protest a speech from the rostrum by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Members of the Joint List coalition of Arab parties had pledged to boycott the Pence speech in protest at a December 6 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. A number of parliamentarians began shouting and holding up protest signs at the beginning of Pence's speech, before ushers pushed them out.

Abbas urges EU countries to ‘swiftly’ recognize state of Palestine

AFP, Brussels/January 22/2018/Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Monday urged EU member states to “swiftly” grant official recognition to the state of Palestine as he arrived to meet foreign ministers from the bloc in Brussels.
“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend, and therefore we call its member states to swiftly recognize the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas told reporters. The 82-year-old Abbas met EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini for one-on-one talks before joining the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers for lunch on the sidelines of their monthly meeting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar trip last month. Abbas, who came to Brussels in search of European support amid a bitter row with Washington over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, said the Palestinians were still committed to the stalled peace process. “We are keen on continuing on the way of negotiations because we believe it is the only way forward to reach a negotiated solution and peace between us and Israel,” Abbas said before talks with Mogherini. “Despite the hurdles we can find on our way towards the settlement of this issue we remain committed to fighting terrorism, violence and extremism locally, regionally and internationally.”
Last week Abbas denounced Trump’s peace efforts as the “slap of the century” and accused Israel of ending the Oslo accords that underpin negotiations -- which have been effectively frozen since 2014. But on Monday he said his side were still prepared to stick to past agreements. “We are committed as well to continued compliance with treaties we signed with Israel but at the same time we call upon Israel to play its part and comply with those treaties,” he said. Mogherini said the two sides needed “to show more than ever before their engagement with the international community” to work for peace.

Events since Trump Decision on Jerusalem
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/
Below are the main developments since the controversial decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital:
In a speech from the White House on December 6, 2017, Trump says recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital marks the start of a "new approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," he says, breaking with the policies of his predecessors and outraging Palestinian leaders.
He orders preparations to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Trump's moves "deliberately undermine all peace efforts" and says Washington can no longer play the role of peace broker.
The U.S. initiative prompts a wave of criticism around the world, while Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails Trump's move as "historic."
On December 7, Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces and a general strike is broadly followed in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
On December 8, Palestinians are called to follow a "day of rage" in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In their thousands they face off against Israeli soldiers and police. Two Palestinians are killed and dozens wounded in clashes.
Demonstrations are held in several Arab and Muslim countries.
At the United Nations, envoys from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden say Trump's move is "not in line" with U.N. Security Council resolutions and is "unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region."
U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley says Trump has not taken a position on the region's borders.
On December 9, two members of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas die in Israeli air force raids in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Abbas' Fatah party urges Palestinians to "keep up the confrontation and broaden it to all points where the Israeli army is present" in the West Bank.
Meeting in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers say the United States has in effect "withdrawn itself as a sponsor and broker" of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
East Jerusalem
On December 13, Muslim leaders call on the international community to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, at a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul.
On December 15, four Palestinians are killed in clashes with Israeli forces as tens of thousands demonstrate against Washington's recognition.
A total of 18 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in violence since Trump's declaration.
U.S. veto
On December 18, the United States vetoes a draft U.N. resolution rejecting Trump's recognition of Jerusalem, after all 14 other Security Council members back the measure.
The U.N. General Assembly on December 21 overwhelmingly adopts a resolution against the U.S. declaration.
On December 24, Guatemala announces transfer of its embassy to Jerusalem.
'Slap of the century'
On January 2, Israel's parliament gives final approval to legislation aimed at making it more difficult for the government to hand the Palestinians parts of Jerusalem under any future peace deal.
On January 14, Mahmoud Abbas denounces White House peace efforts as "the slap of the century" and charges that Israel has "ended" the 1993 Oslo peace accords on Palestinian autonomy.
He reiterates the Palestinians no longer accept the United States as a peace mediator.
Palestinian leaders vote on January 15 to call for the suspension of their recognition of Israel, but implementation of such a move remains in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee.
On January 16, Washington holds back $65 million that had been earmarked for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on January 22 receives a warm welcome in Israel but his visit to the region is snubbed by the Palestinians.
In a speech to parliament Pence pledges that the U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem "before the end" of 2019, while also urging the Palestinian leadership to "return to the table" for talks.

Pence: US Will Never Allow Iran to Possess Nuclear Weapons
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 22/18/US Vice President Mike Pence declared before the Israeli Knesset on Monday that his country will never allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons."I have a solemn promise to Israel, to all the Middle East and to the world -- the United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon," Pence said. "The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement," he added. "Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed President Donald Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately."
The 2015 deal that was meant to curb Iran's nuclear capabilities and backed by then US president Barack Obama. His successor Trump has fiercely criticized the agreement, accusing Tehran of not sticking to it and saying it still allows the Iran to support terrorist organizations across the globe. Earlier this month Trump again waived nuclear-related sanctions -- as required every few months to stay in the agreement -- but demanded European partners work with Washington to improve the terms of the deal. Addressing Washington’s move of its embassy in Israel Jerusalem, Pence said that it will take place by the end of 2019. “In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” he continued. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital – and, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Erdogan Vows 'No Step Back' in Operation against Kurdish Militia in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed that Turkey would not take any step back in its operation against Kurdish militia in Syria's Afrin region, saying the campaign had the backing of Moscow. "We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement," Erdogan told a televised meeting in Ankara.

Turkey to Extradite Lebanese Suspect Linked to Sidon Bombing
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/After a bombing attack targeted a Palestinian member of the Hamas group in the southern city of Sidon on January 14, Turkey is expected to extradite a Lebanese suspect involved in the bombing after reportedly fleeing into Istanbul following the assault, pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported on Monday. Prime Minister Saad Hariri has contacted the Turkish authorities for cooperation in extraditing the suspect, and Turkey will expectantly hand him over either on Monday or Tuesday, according to the daily. Turkey announced that one of its intelligence services managed to arrest the suspect last Friday. Al-Hayat added that unnamed ministerial sources have affirmed the arrest, saying the suspect hails from the Chouf area of Iqlim al-Kharroub southeast of the capital, but lives in Beirut. High-level contacts are still underway between Beirut and Amsterdam in the Netherlands to ascertain whether the second assassination mastermind was in the Dutch territory, added the sources. On January 14, a Palestinian member of Hamas, identified as Mohammed Hamdan, survived an attempt on his life after a bomb planted in his car detonated and wounded him. It was not immediately clear who carried out the bombing or why Hamdan was targeted. Hamas in a statement blamed Israel for the "criminal" act that wounded Hamdan in his leg. It is not clear what role Hamdan plays in Hamas, which has offices and members living in Lebanon. There are over 147,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon, most of them in the country's 12 refugee camps. Several armed factions are based in the camps where the state has no jurisdiction. Rivalry between them often leads to clashes. The largest Palestinian refugee camp is located in Sidon. The Lebanese military said the explosion was caused by a 500-gram (18 ounces) bomb that included ball bearings. A Lebanese security official said the bomb was placed under the car seat. 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. Political assassinations were common in Lebanon for years following the end of the country's civil war in 1990. But they have subsided in recent years and the delicate sectarian-based political system has largely been stable.

Lavrov: Kurds are Invited to Join Syria Peace Congress in Sochi
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/Russia said Monday it has invited Kurds to take part in an upcoming Syrian peace congress in Sochi despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria. "Kurdish representatives have been included on the list of Syrians invited to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Together with regime backer Iran and rebel supporter Turkey, Russia -- a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- wants to convene a peace conference with the aim of agreeing a new constitution for post-war Syria. The peace talks have been planned for January 29 and 30. Moscow initially hoped to convene peace talks in Sochi last November but those efforts collapsed following a lack of agreement among co-sponsors.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time to fumed at the prospect of inviting to the conference the Syrian Kurdish group the PYD and its armed wing, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). Without referring to Kurdish militia by name, Erdogan said in November: "We cannot consider a terrorist gang with blood on their hands a legitimate actor." Turkey considers the YPG to be a terror group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state. The Turkish military on Saturday launched a cross-border operation aiming to oust the YPG from its enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. But Lavrov on Monday said that Syrian Kurds should play a role in the "future political process." "This role should certainly be ensured," he told reporters, but added that all of Syria's ethnic groups should respect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. - US 'provocation' -Lavrov meanwhile accused Washington of stoking separatist sentiment among Syria's Kurds. "Washington has actively encouraged and continues to encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds" while ignoring the "delicate" nature of the issue, Lavrov said. "This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation." The US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group has announced it has begun forming a 30,000-strong security force to patrol territory captured from IS. Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov -- asked whether the Turkish offensive would complicate the Sochi congress -- declined to comment, but said that the preparations for the conference were under way.

New image of Osama bin Laden’s spokesman and son-In-law in Iran revealed
Al Arabiya English/January 22/2018/A new photo has been released of Osama bin Laden’s son in law and al-Qaeda spokesman in Iran. The photo has emerged as part of the Abbottabad documents. The image of the 52-year-old Kuwait-born Sulaiman Abu Ghaith taken north of Tehran showed him in a completely different form his normal appearance in al-Qaeda’s media publications. The image taken in 2009 showed Abu Ghaith in a family outing organized by Iranian officials during the period al-Qaeda were establishing their presence in Iran.
The picture was described as taken during “a family trip in the tourist areas north of Tehran organized by the prison administration.”Apart from Abu Ghaith, the trip is likely to have included his wife Fatima bin Laden and their children, along with her brothers Hamza, Othman, Mohammed and Saad, who were all living in the same house. Abu Ghaith who also appeared in images during Hamza bin Laden’s marriage in Iran in 2005 was born in Kuwait in 1956 and worked as a teacher of jurisprudence and sharia in Kuwait before joining al-Qaeda. Abu Ghaith was close to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the coordinator of the September 11 attacks, and who is currently being tried in the United States. The picture was described as taken during “a family trip in the tourist areas north of Tehran organized by the prison administration.” (Supplied)
In 1994, Abu Ghaith traveled to Bosnia Herzegovina to fight where he stayed for two months before returning to Kuwait. His travels to Bosnia and Afghanistan continued, prompting the Kuwaiti Awqaf Ministry to dismiss him. He then settled with his wife and six children in Afghanistan. Following the September 11 attacks in New York, Abu Ghaith appeared in a video as an al-Qaeda spokesman, threatening similar attacks and prompting the Kuwaiti government to withdraw his nationality. The US incursion into Afghanistan and the defeat of the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda there forced Abu Ghaith to escape with his family in 2001.The bin Laden family and several leaders of al-Qaeda relocated to Iran, which hosted them for more than 10 years. In 2013, the Turkish security services arrested Abu Ghaith after they received reports from the CIA about the arrival of his son to a hotel in the capital Ankara. The Turkish security forces released him after 33 days of detention in Ankara as he did not have a criminal or terrorist-related record in Turkey. He was found to have entered Turkey with an Iranian passport. Abu Ghaith was deported by the Turkish authorities to Jordan but was arrested directly by the CIA. In 2014, a US district court in New York sentenced Abu Ghaith to life imprisonment after being convicted on terrorism-related charges.

Moscow rejects schemes to topple Syrian regime, Yemeni FM slams Houthis
Al Arabiya English/January 22/ 2018/Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow rejects any schemes to topple the Syrian regime. Commenting on developments in Syria, he noted that Russia called for restraint and for respecting Syria’s sovereignty after Turkey launched its military operation in Afrin, north of Syria. During a press conference with his Yemeni counterpart Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi in Russia, Lavrov added that Moscow knows that the US is continuing to provide arms to fighting groups in Syria, both secretly and publicly, adding that it also provided advanced weapons to “Kurdish militia” and it continues to nurture the Kurds’ separatist orientations. He slammed these practices as a flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and added that Washington has great influence in preventing the Kurds from engaging in a serious dialogue with the Assad regime. “Moscow rejects schemes to topple the Syrian regime,” he also said, adding that the Kurds are invited to attend the Syrian dialogue conference in Sochi.
How Houthis caused Yemen's war
Commenting on the situation in Yemen, Lavrov said the situation there has become more complicated after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was assassinated, adding that the Houthis’ murder of Saleh was “a hideous crime.”He added that there was no alternative to a unifying Yemeni dialogue. Meanwhile, Mekhlafi slammed the Houthis “who imposed the war on Yemen” via the coup and their occupation of cities. He added that the Houthis pushed this war on Yemen when they began their coup and started taking over the cities and governorates of Yemen. He said that the Houthi militia has not proved that they are a peaceful side which is evident with their daily activity in Yemen, more importantly, the murder of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and firing ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia. Mekhlafi added that Yemen accepts the UN as a mediator to resolve the Yemeni crisis noting that Russia also has a very efficient role as it’s a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has good relations with Yemen.

Saudi-led Arab Coalition announces $1.5 bln in aid for Yemen
Al Arabiya English/January 22/ 2018 /The Saudi-backed Arab Coalition in Yemen announced the provision of $1.5 billion in aid to the country on Monday. The coalition added that they will make sure to keep all ports open including the Hodeidah port in order to continue receiving humanitarian aid for the Yemeni people, in light of the Houthis still blocking any aid to come into the country through the ports. The announcement came following a Saudi Arabia’s $2 billion monetary aid to Yemen’s central bank to help the country’s currency. “The coalition will coordinate $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid funding for distribution across UN agencies and international relief organizations,” the coalition announced in a statement. The coalition added that they aim to increase monthly imports to 1.4 million metric tons, from 1.1 million last year. The program seeks to open land, sea and air ways to Yemen in order for this increase to happen, they said in the statement. The coalition pledged up to $40 million for the expansion of ports to accommodate additional humanitarian shipments, adding that it would set up an air corridor between Riyadh and the central Yemeni province of Marib to run multiple aid flights of C130 cargo planes.
The coalition said it would set up 17 additional “safe-passage corridors” to facilitate overland transport for humanitarian organisations operating in the remote interiors of Yemen. “The coalition is placing its military resources at the disposal of these broad-ranging humanitarian operations,” said coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki.“We are backing a professionally planned and detailed humanitarian mission with military power and precision to guarantee that the humanitarian aid reaches the people who need it to lift their suffering.”- With AFP

UN envoy: Parties involved in Yemen to begin peace talks

Al Arabiya English/January 22/ 2018 /The Arab Coalition supporting legitimacy in Yemen will hold a meeting in Riyadh on Monday to discuss new political negotiations and call on all parties to take proactive steps to ensure the success of this critical stage in Yemen. Yemen’s UN envoy, Ismail Weld al-Sheikh, said that the Arab Coalition was willing to be involved in the discussions. Weld al-Shiekh welcomed the opening of the Hodeidah and Saleef ports, calling on all sides to cooperate to keep them open and operating in order to secure the provision of aid and goods to the Yemeni people. “I stand with the Yemeni people who are fighting for peace. All parties involved must abide by international humanitarian laws and give the Yemeni people the right to receive life-saving aid in a continuous and safe manner,” Weld al-Sheikh said. He also expressed his gratitude for the Saudi Arabia for providing two billion dollars in monetary aid to Yemen to help their currency. Weld al-Sheikh called on all sides to take the necessary steps to ensure the appropriate conditions for full engagement in the political process.

Yemeni army thwarts Houthi attempt to plant mines on coast of Midi

Al Arabiya English/January 22/ 2018 /The Yemeni army killed five Houthi gunmen and arrested another while they were trying to plant naval mines on the coast of Midi, adjacent to the Red Sea, in the Hajjah Governorate, West of Yemen. A military source said Yemeni soldiers on four boats clashed on Sunday with Houthis on three other boats while they were trying to plant the landmines. They burnt one of the latter’s boats, seized the other while the third fled, he added. Work is underway to remove the mines as soon as possible, the source added.

US Shutdown Extended as Crunch Vote Delayed
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/18/US lawmakers failed to reach an agreement Sunday on ending a government shutdown before the start of the working week as they postponed a crunch vote in the Senate despite marathon negotiations. Although leaders of President Donald Trump's Republican party and the opposition Democrats said progress had been made in a weekend of talks, they pushed back a vote scheduled for 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday for another 11 hours. The delay means the shutdown -- which cast a huge shadow over the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration as president on Saturday -- will force hundreds of thousands of federal government workers to stay at home without pay when they would normally report for duty on Monday morning.
After a special weekend session of Congress which had seen bitter recriminations traded by both parties, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to address Democrat concerns over key issues such as immigration reform in a speech to the chamber late Sunday. The top Democratic Senator, Chuck Schumer responded by saying he was "happy to continue my discussion with the majority leader about reopening the government" but added that the parties were "yet to reach an agreement on a path forward." McConnell then called for Congress to reconvene for another vote on a stop-gap funding measure at noon, a proposal which was nodded through. Hopes that the shutdown, which began at midnight on Friday, could be limited to the weekend had been raised in the afternoon when a bipartisan group huddled for hours on trying to end the standoff but they ultimately failed to resolve all their differences.
Trump early Sunday encouraged the Senate's Republican leaders to invoke the "nuclear option" -- a procedural maneuver to change the chamber's rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.
But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump had spoken during the day with McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. She did not mention Trump's speaking with any Democrats but said White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short had been in touch with members of both parties and updated the president. "We are continuing to work hard towards reopening the government," she said. - Essential services continue -At the heart of the dispute is the issue of undocumented immigration.
Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump's populist base by refusing to back a program that protects an estimated 700,000 "Dreamers" -- undocumented immigrants who arrived as children -- from deportation. Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active-duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government. There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one, in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave. "We're just in a holding pattern. We just have to wait and see. It's scary," Noelle Joll, 50, a furloughed US government employee, told AFP in Washington. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that state funding would pay for the reopening Monday of the Statue of Liberty, which was among facilities affected by the shutdown.
- Anti-Trump protests -Republicans have just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and therefore have to lure some Democrats to their side to get a 60-vote supermajority to bring the stop-gap funding motion forward.
Highlighting the deep political polarization, crowds estimated in the hundreds of thousands marched through major US cities on Saturday against the president and his policies and express support for women's rights. They gathered again on Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada, chanting: "Power to the polls."

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 22-23/18
How Qatar has planted mines of extremism
Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
The largest mine planted in the Arab culture is the mine of extremism which should have been removed from the beginning by solidifying the spirit of tolerance and societal co-existence and strengthening critical approaches within the education system. This mine remained latent and it finally exploded in 1967 following the defeat at the Six-Day War.
Historians believe that the date of defeat marks the beginning of reviving the spirit of extremism which was latent during the liberal phase in the first half of the past century. Extremism made its comeback with a new spirit that’s adopted few political theories and modern technologies which tools were more destructive. During that phase, terrorist organizations and political Islam and extremist groups prospered. When the nationalist project was defeated, these groups presented themselves as an appropriate alternative that provides a solution by going back to the past and going back to the Middle Ages and inquisition courts even if via suicide bombings and beheadings. The defeat was pictured as a godly punishment, and these groups presented themselves as the ones with the solutions to all problems of the world and the hereafter.
These terrorist organizations could not find a place in society as governments pursued them and imprisoned their commanders. They were thus fragmented so they had to gather in failed countries in areas where weak governments have no control, such as in Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan. Extremist groups failed at defeating countries; however, they ideologically succeeded in spreading their teachings and extremist ideas among millions. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood controls educational systems in several Arab countries that are socially and ideologically distant from the groups’ culture and secret branches.
This mistake, which was intentional sometimes, happened. However, the entire culture was poisoned and there is plenty of evidence to that. The value of real education that’s based on experiments and proof declined. Liars were marketed as experts in “scientific miracles.” People thus became naïve while intellectuals stayed back. They made everyone suspicious about creative men such as authors, poets, artists and thinkers and replaced them with extremists and blood-lust figures and preachers who rather resembled clowns. The market of intolerance thus became open. Satellite television channels helped spread extremist ideas, especially in the absence of moderate and enlightening voices. Moderate figures were accused of infidelity and heresy and some of them were killed like Farag Fouda who was shot dead in front of his office.
Fertile soil
An intolerant culture thus dominated people’s minds. Meanwhile, governments faced several crises that obstructed their work as they had to fight back every time an essential modernizing project was announced. Civilized measures were thus rejected by extremists who are willing to incite people whose minds they influenced. Some governments had to back down on several projects due to extremists’ pressures and in the end their work and development were obstructed. Therefore, they focused on modernizing machine and equipment and not on developing minds. The culture of extremism was thus left alone without being looked into or criticized or replaced. For the first time in decades, we have a chance to remove these mines and alter their path for good. Since extremism was not addressed, terrorism found a fertile soil to grow among everyone, even among teenagers. Terrorists easily recruited people from different communities from Kandahar until Mosul. All they had to do was just enter these areas and recruit people. These groups could also easily and quickly recruit people via Twitter and WhatsApp. Extremism resulted in emotional isolation and ideological decline. Meanwhile, western countries and the US advanced. It’s like we live in two separate worlds now! As a result, it was not possible to integrate in western culture due to the radical difference in values and ideas. Youths born in the West would not feel like they belong to this world so they’d return to it to avenge and blow up its markets and airports. Jihadi John is only one example of men who cautiously dealt with the West because they are ideologically isolated from it due to extremist and violent ideas.
This is a quick and short analysis of the path of extremism during the past decades. Imagine if we can go back in time and change few things, like remove the mines of extremism instead of leaving them until they spread like cancer. If this happened, we would have been living in a different world. We would have produced tolerant societies that look towards the future and not back to the past and that suffocate extremists instead of turning them into stars who send their own children to their death. We are now paying for this mistake. However, this is not the end as today, and for the first time in decades, we have a chance to remove these mines and alter their path for good.
A real war
Saudi Arabia is launching a real war against extremism in the kingdom. Extremists’ voices have been greatly weakened. It’s also pursuing terrorist groups outside the kingdom, crushing them and eliminating their cells. When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the historic statement about combating extremist thoughts once and for all, analysts were following up on the brave measures which the Saudi state took to strengthen the culture of tolerance and moderation and eliminate voices that incite people and call for chaos. We quickly saw results. Extremists who were celebrities followed by millions became insignificant. Their role and influence diminished after circumstances which helped them nurture declined. The UAE is fighting extremism as well. It never received preachers of extremism and violence. The same applies to Egypt.
For the first time ever, a strong front that seeks to end extremism and terrorism, both on the domestic and foreign levels, has been established to enter a new era that we long stood at its gates. It’s illogical for these countries to remove these mines while Qatar is planting them on a larger scale by supporting extremist and armed groups and inciters. Doha is the major party behind planting extremism and terrorism. The boycott decision is a historical decision because it will eliminate the root of the problem and help us enter a new civilized phase. Without eliminating this problem, we’d be committing the same mistake again and history will repeat itself.

Why Pakistan is no longer much use to the US
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
Throughout the Cold War, Pakistan has been an instrumental US ally in south and central Asia. And the close relationship has continued in the years after. Pakistan has been key to the US efforts in Afghanistan since 2001, as the only reliable staging post in a region squeezed between Iran and China.
In the service of this alliance, the US has supported Pakistan through thick and thin, through military dictatorships, through developing their own nuclear arsenal and through successive scandals involving Pakistan’s notorious ISI intelligence agency, and their dubious activities.
But in recent months, the ISI’s indiscretions and the tacit support they seem to have received from the military and political leadership of the country appear to have led the US to threaten to more or less cut ties with Pakistan. The transgressions which are motivating this move are Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups, and its duplicitous game of friend or foe it alternatively plays with the US and the Taliban.
A recent point of contention has been the release from prison in Pakistan of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan insists there is not enough evidence against him to try him in court, despite the fact that India has produced and handed over to the Pakistani authorities what they call “considerable evidence”. Saeed’s lawyers claim that no such evidence has been presented in court.
This is very much in keeping with Pakistan’s history of supporting and protecting all manner of radical Islamist extremists. This historical policy has backfired spectacularly, as ordinary Pakistanis have suffered from radical Islamist terrorism more than any other intended target, but there is no denying that the ISI in particular has been keen to cultivate and protect Islamist terrorist agents to direct against India and Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan has also traditionally yielded when the US applied pressure on them for such activities. In normal circumstances, when the US would have called for an individual such as Saeed to be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”, they would have followed suit. Not so today. There are a number of reasons for why this is so. The relationship between the US and Pakistan has never truly recovered after the bin Laden episode. It remains as inconceivable today as it was in 2011 that the leader of al-Qaida had lived safely, for so many years in hiding in Pakistan. And not just anywhere, but in a large compound in the large city of Abbottabad, less than a mile away from the Pakistan Military Academy. An alliance requires trust. And that trust has never been re-established.
A buffer for Iranian influence
Then, there is the fact that the US has largely withdrawn from Afghanistan. It retains no particular strategic interests in the region beyond, perhaps, containing Iran. But even so, Pakistan and Iran are natural opponents on national and sectarian grounds, so Pakistan would be expected to continue to serve as a buffer for Iranian influence with or without US support. So the US is keen to extricate itself from the complicated and damaging relation it has with Pakistan, and is currently repositioning itself as more favourable to India: a bigger economic partner, and a more reliable counter-weight to Chinese expansion in Asia.
Pakistan no longer feels itself beholden to American desires. And the US does not care enough to flex its muscle and get its way.
But the crucial part of this is Pakistan’s own relationship with China. Whereas for most of its post-independence history, Pakistan has relied on US support against India and Iran, currently, the country is drifting ever more clearly into the Chinese sphere of influence. China is investing massively into infrastructure in the country as part of their New Silk Road initiative so that their access to the Western markets avoids the contentious Straights of Malacca. This investment is responsible for driving most of the current economic growth in Pakistan, as well as the increasing conditions ordinary Pakistanis are seeing along the Chinese-built economic corridor. The entire political and military establishment are also behind these new developments. In other words, the US is happy to retreat from Pakistan, and Pakistan is happy to move on to a closer relationship with China. The case of Hafiz Saeed may become emblematic of this shift. The rational thing to do about this case would be to hand him over to a court in a respected independent country agreeable to all parties, or maybe something like the ICC. If he were found not-guilty, that would vindicate Pakistan’s long standing claim that India is accusing it of terrorism without any basis. If he were found guilty, Pakistan would be confirmed as a state-sponsor of terror. But of course, no such thing will happen. Pakistan no longer feels itself beholden to American desires. And the US does not care enough to flex its muscle and get its way. It seems the two countries are having an amicable enough parting of ways. And the victims of Mumbai will be denied justice in the process.

American options in Syria: Time for John Kerry’s ‘Plan B?’

Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/January 22/18
It is apparent that Washington has various stances on Syria during the coming period. The first is that its foreign policy is still vague, it has targeted the Syrian army many times. The second trend is the role-play that Russia and Iran master when it comes to the Syrian crisis. This would put US strategy in a severe regional impasse if it does not take effective measures to maintain the momentum pertaining to its intervention. The third trend is that Washington will tend to activate cooperation with Moscow in the Syrian issue with the aim of establishing a mechanism to manage the crisis between the two parties in order to ensure a certain distribution of quotas and influence between them. The fourth trend refers to Washington's formulation of a strategy based on three stages: First, the elimination of ISIS or "neutralization" of its threat. Second, stabilizing Syria’s border security and undermining Iranian influence through sharing power with Russia. Third, a quiet transition of government.
Non-stop involvement?
Last week, Syrian government issued a statement condemning US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech at Stanford and the Hoover Institution on January 18 that Washington aims to keep its troops in Syria long after their fight against ISIS to ensure that neither Iran nor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad take over areas that have been newly liberated with American military support. Tillerson’s speech reflects US interest in non-stop involvement in Syria even if the terrorist organisations are crushed. This has driven the Syrian government to issue a statement denouncing the American interest and their will to keep their troops for unlimited time. “The US military presence on the Syrian territory is illegal and violates international law and national sovereignty of Syria and aims to protect ISIS,” read a Syrian Foreign Ministry statement.
Tillerson said: “We have five key goals in Syria. They are: ensuring that ISIS and al-Qaeda never re-emerge; supporting the UN-led political process; diminishing Iran’s influence; making sure the country is free of weapons of mass destruction and helping refugees to return after years of civil war.”
Are these interests in line with the signals aired by John Brennan, former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, when he said in 2016 that he had been not optimistic about the future of Syria remaining one country, noting that such rare public acknowledgement by a senior US official that Syria may not survive a several years of civil war in its current state.
Brennan’s speech was at that time at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado when he elucidated that he does not know whether or not Syria would be put back together again as there has been so much blood spilled, pointing out that he was not sure that he would see a unified Syria in his lifetime.
Furthermore, former US Secretary of State John Kerry had previously expressed similar fears, saying he would move towards "Plan B" that could involve a partition of Syria if a ceasefire did not materialize in advance of peace talks.
The de-escalation agreements reached last summer have allowed Iran to be outside the borders of the buffer zone. They have also give the Iranians access to al-Suwayda and increased their presence in the vicinity of the capital Damascus to secure the alternative land line.
Russia has also gained from the deal by getting what it sought for which helped decrease the tension and risk that its forces would face at certain fronts, mainly in country sides of Homs and Ghouta. This has helped to strengthen the line of defense of its forces Tartous to protect its military bases in Syria.
Turkey, through its new operation in Afrin, has aimed to impose a fait accompli on the Americans by coordinating with the Russians who withdrew their troops from the area targeted by Turkish army and by allowing them to use the airspace of Syria. The Turkish-Russian-Iranian coordination has benefited them and served them better through the de-escalation zones while the US has lost and this has been realized later on, prompting the American government to keep up with the status quo in Syria to turn the military balance.
Syria is a complex problem and the American plan to have their eternal base in this country would not suit Washington in the long run. Since the US has begun its military action in Syria to counter ISIS, which controlled a large area in Syria and Iraq in 2014, Washington has not reached a decisive decision what would the status of Syria be after the end of war.
David Satterfield, a senior State Department official, told the Senate a few days ago that despite this remarkable and outstanding progress to counter terrorism, ISIS and al-Qaeda are still a serious threat. The American administration said it wanted to avoid what previous President Barack Obama committed of grave mistakes when he took a decision to pull out the US troops from Iraq, leaving a vacuum that was filled by terrorists and Iran. It looks like the Americans do not want to give Iranians access to the Mediterranean from Tehran and prevent Turkey from having connections with Iraq and Syria.

‘The Mountains are the Kurds’ Only Friends’
Ghassan Charbel/Gatestone Institute/January 22/2018
The emergence of ISIS was a calamity that befell the region, but its gradual defeat reminded people once again that the problems of the region did not start with the terror group. We would not be exaggerating in saying that ISIS, through its bloody barbaric acts, acted as a smokescreen behind which several major powers were able to conceal the real reasons for their keenness on getting embroiled in the Syrian conflict.
ISIS’ absence from the scene has raised the questions of why these forces are intervening, with or without permission, in Syria: What are you doing there? How long do you plan on staying? What is your real agenda and what are your real demands? It is no secret that Iran did not intervene in Syria to combat ISIS. Russia also did not go there to eliminate the group. The same can be said of the Americans and all foreign banners in Syria.
It pains the Syrians and Arabs to see Syria turn into an arena for settling scores in all sorts of open and secret wars. It pains them to see parts of Syrian territory and the Syrian people turn into pawns that can be manipulated by regional or international powers. The Syrian tragedy exposed the fragility of this country, which before the war projected the image of a fortified castle that could not be breached by foreign players. It also exposed the fragility of neighboring countries and their efforts to ease their fears through intervening in Syria and launching proxy wars there.
It became clear in the past few months that the Syrian developments dashed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dreams, including the one of a Syria without Bashar Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeded in turning Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet into an opportunity to tame Ankara’s policies in Syria. This is how Turkey became Russia and Iran’s partner in sponsoring the Sochi path, which is primarily aimed at undermining the Geneva talks.
The one dream that Erdogan was able to keep was destroying the gains achieved by Syria’s Kurds on his country’s borders. In recent months, diplomats have not hesitated in declaring that Erdogan could coexist with an Iranian-Russian Syria ruled by Assad, but he could not live with a Kurdish region in Syria bordering his country.
The truth is that the developments of the past three years have led the Kurds on with dreams and delusions. They believed that the prominent role they played in resisting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which cost them thousands of lives and wounded, would grant them legitimacy that previous battles could not. They perhaps went too far in believing that their role against ISIS gave them a sort of immunity in the disciplinary campaigns that the region’s armies had grown accustomed to waging against them whenever they demanded that they no longer be treated as second-rate citizens. They may have been deluded in believing that their armament with lethal weapons to fight ISIS had given them clout that would spare them the wrath of armies that saw ISIS as a passing danger and the Kurds as a permanent one.
The Turkish army and its local allies’ offensive against Afrin yesterday reminded me of a saying that has been often used to describe the Kurds in Iraq and Syria: “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” The disappointment of Syria’s Kurds in Russia reminded me of Iraq’s Kurds in the United States.
In June 2017, Asharq Al-Awsat published an interview conducted by Ibrahim Hamidi with the last US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who said: “I believe that what we are doing with the Kurds is not political idiocy, but it is political immorality. The Americans used the Kurds for long years under Saddam Hussein. Do you believe that the Americans will treat the Democratic Union Party and People’s Protection Units any different than how former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger treated Iraq’s Kurds (when he abandoned them)? Syria’s Kurds are committing the biggest mistake by putting their trust in the Americans.” He also stressed that Washington would in no way consider allowing the American military to defend a Kurdish region in Syria.
The Kurds always end up on the losing end of their bargains. Many factors change but their position in the losers’ circle does not. There are some strict geographic factors that cannot be altered with the toppling of a regime or the ouster of a ruler. After the Iranian revolution, the Kurds rejoiced with the ouster of the Shah. Late former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat encouraged them to contact the revolution leadership and even arranged a meeting for them. Khomeini welcomed the high-ranking Kurdish delegation that visited Iran to offer its congratulations. After pleasantries, the Kurdish delegation began discussing the difficult conditions of Kurds living in Iran. Khomeini replied that the problem will not be up for discussion because the “Islamic Revolution belongs to all and not to the sons of a certain ethnicity or race.” It is needless to say that the conditions of Kurds in Iran did not change.
Moreover, some regimes occasionally sought to support the Kurds beyond their borders, while keeping Kurds within their territory in a firm grip. The Syrian regime, for example, supported Abdullah Ocalan against Turkish authorities, but that did not lead Damascus to change its policy towards its own Kurds. A few years ago, Erdogan issued an extraordinary statement from Iraq, saying that “the time of ignoring the rights of Kurds is over.” Today however, Turkish forces are advancing to create a security belt inside Syrian territory to keep Kurds away from their borders. Ankara is ignoring that this form of victory over the Kurds will only pave the way for new conflicts that can only be resolved through a change in their circumstances.
In the past, late former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani sought to persuade Saddam’s Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz that the Kurds have old rights in Kirkuk and they should be respected. The reply was swift: “The only right you have in Kirkuk is to cry over it like the Arabs did over Andalusia a thousand years ago.”
The region is witnessing a new chapter in the Syrian war through the operation in Afrin, which is part of the Kurd Mountains area. Wars do not eliminate the reasons for the conflict and the tearing up of maps is not a solution. ISIS has been weakened and the region has found itself before deeper and more dangerous conflicts. Months after disciplining the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey is now disciplining the Kurds in Syria in developments that recall that “the mountains are the Kurds’ only friends.”

Palestinians: No Difference Between Fatah and Hamas
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/January 22/2018
Sometimes it seems as if Fatah and Hamas are competing to show which party hates Israel and the US more.
This call is a clear message to Palestinians to launch more terror attacks. This, in fact, is the real "license to kill" that Fatah has been talking about. It is not Trump who gave Israel a "license to kill." The real license is being issued here by Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah.
The glorification of terrorists and the denial of Jewish rights and history have always been a main pillar of the ideology of Abbas and Fatah. They have worked hard over the past two decades to create the false impression that they differ from Hamas. It now appears that the jig is up: their true colors are showing for all to see.
Is there any difference between the "moderate" Fatah faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas?
In recent weeks, Fatah, which is often described by Westerners as the "moderate" and "pragmatic" Palestinian faction, has escalated its rhetorical attacks against Israel and the US to a point where one can no longer distinguish between its rhetoric and that of Hamas.
Like Hamas, Abbas's Fatah regularly glorifies terrorists and encourages Palestinians to take them as role models. This is the very Fatah that is supposed to be Israel's peace partner and whose leader, Abbas, claims that he is still committed to the "two-state solution."
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Fatah faction. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The latest example of Fatah's glorification of terrorists came last week, when the Israel Defense Forces killed Ahmed Ismail Jarrar, of Jenin, in the northern West Bank. Jarrar belonged to a terror cell whose members murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach two weeks ago.
Although Jarrar is believed to be a member of Hamas, Fatah was quick to publish posters depicting him as one of its "martyrs." In one of the posters, Fatah described the slain terrorist as a "hero" and "martyr of Jerusalem."
Fatah's student faction at Al-Quds University also confirmed that Jarrar was one of its members. In a statement published hours after the terrorist was killed, the Fatah Shabiba [Youth] Movement at Al-Quds University boasted that he was "one of our prominent leaders and a member of our administrative body."
Palestinian activists in Jenin claimed that Jarrar had served as an officer with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank. However, a Palestinian security official denied the claim. The denial is seen as an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to distance itself from the involvement of one of its members in terrorism. The Palestinian Authority has good reason to be worried: its security forces are funded and trained by American and European experts.
By heaping praise on the terrorist and endorsing him as one of its "heroes" and "martyrs," Abbas's Fatah is sending a message to Palestinians that murdering a rabbi and father of six is a noble act. By describing the terrorist as a "martyr of Jerusalem," Fatah is also implying that Rabbi Shevach was murdered in response to President Donald Trump's announcement from last December in which he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Since Trump's announcement, Fatah has been spearheading a new Palestinian campaign of incitement against Israel and the US. Fatah leaders, who often appear in Western media outlets as "moderate" and "pragmatic" figures, have since been urging Palestinians to take to the streets to protest against Israel and the US. The Fatah leaders employ the same rhetoric used by their colleagues in Hamas to such an extent, that sometimes it seems as if Fatah and Hamas are competing to show which party hates Israel and the US more.
Consider, for example, the following remarks by Fatah official Samer Abu Khalil, who accused Trump of giving Israel a "license" to kill Palestinians:
"President Trump's announcement on Jerusalem gave Israel a license to kill Palestinians. Trump has committed a crime against the Palestinians, who will never give up their lands and holy sites."
Referring to Trump's purported plan for peace in the Middle East, the senior Fatah official added: "The Palestinians won't allow this conspiracy to pass. The era of peace is over. Now, the era of resistance has begun". "Resistance" is a Palestinian euphemism for terrorism against Israel.
Similarly, here is what senior Hamas official Salah Arouri had to say about Trump's announcement on Jerusalem: "This is a criminal and bad announcement. Trump is in collusion with the Zionist entity."
In addition to glorifying terrorism, Fatah and Hamas appear to agree on the need to "escalate" the violence against Israel in response to Trump's announcement.
Hardly a day passes without a call by both Fatah and Hamas for another "day of rage" against Israel.
Abdel Jaber Fukaha, a senior Hamas official, recently called for escalating Palestinian and Arab protests against Trump's announcement by staging violent demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Fukaha also repeated calls by some Fatah leaders to the Arab countries to cut off their ties with the US and any country that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Fatah issued a similar call on January 19. In a statement published in Ramallah, Fatah called on Palestinians to "escalate the popular and comprehensive resistance" against Israel. Fatah also called on Palestinians to "turn the lives of Jewish settlers into hell." This call is a clear message to Palestinians to launch more terror attacks like the one that resulted in the murder of Rabbi Shevach. This, in fact, is the real "license to kill" that Fatah has been talking about. It's not Trump who gave Israel a "license to kill." The real license is being issued here by Abbas's Fatah.
Moreover, there are growing signs that Fatah and Hamas were coordinating their policies regarding Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the Middle East. Hours before Pence's arrival in Israel, Fatah and Hamas issued separate statements calling on Palestinians to boycott the vice president. Again, the language used by the two Palestinian groups is strikingly identical.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that Pence was "unwelcome in Palestine," adding that there was no "justification for any Palestinian official to meet with Pence and called on Palestinians to "thwart Israeli-American schemes directed against the Palestinians and their rights."
In Ramallah, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh echoed the Hamas position verbatim (although he also used harsher language): "Pence is unwelcome. Fatah and the Palestinian people reject Pence's visit and we call on our Arab brothers to boycott him." The Fatah official, who is closely associated with Abbas, went on to accuse Pence of being a "racist" and "extremist."
Such examples, which showcase how hard it has become to distinguish between Fatah and Hamas, can easily be multiplied. Abbas himself is also beginning to sound like a Hamas leader. His recent speech, in which he described Israel as a "colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews," sounds as if it were taken directly from the mouth of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.
Make no mistake about it, however; neither Fatah nor Abbas woke up one morning and decided to change its position towards Israel and the US.
For those who have been following the rhetoric and actions of Abbas and his Fatah faction, the extremist anti-Israel and anti-US views and remarks do not come as a surprise. The glorification of terrorists and the denial of Jewish rights and history have always been a main pillar of the ideology of Abbas and Fatah. Abbas and Fatah have worked hard over the past two decades to create the false impression that they differ from Hamas. It now appears that the jig is up: their true colors are showing for all to see.
Indeed, Trump's announcement helped to expose the true sentiments of Abbas and Fatah. It is all out in the open -- Fatah and Hamas belong to the same school of thought: both advocate violence; both propagate the same hostility towards Israel and the US, and both seek the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews -- as many as possible.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.
© 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.

The Great Incomplete Politically Correct US Terrorism Report!
A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/January 22/2018
While the report reveals that approximately 46% of those convicted of international terrorism-related offenses from 9/11 through the end of 2016 (254 out of 549 individuals) were not U.S. citizens, it does not identify the number and nature of offenses they committed, their manner of entry, countries of origin, religion, or other related information.
The report presents illustrative examples of foreign nationals convicted of international terrorism-related offenses. All are Muslims -- based on their being connected to Islamist groups recognized as terrorist organizations. Yet the report does not mention this. Moreover, a search of the report for the words "Muslim" or "Islam" produces only two matches: one in relation to ISIS's goal of establishing an "Islamic caliphate," and the other in reference to the "Islamic State in Iraq."
The report also fails to include -- or flatly ignores -- significant findings to raise awareness of the threat to Americans' safety. Among these are, not surprisingly, evaluating how effective or ineffective the US government's policies and procedures are in screening and vetting people hoping to come to the United States.
The recently released report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) on the threat of international terrorism -- a requirement of President Donald Trump's Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States -- falls sadly short.
The Executive Order requires information regarding:
the number of foreign nationals in the U.S. who have been charged, convicted, or removed from the U.S. based on terrorism-related activity;
the number of foreign nationals in the U.S. who have been radicalized in the U.S. and engaged in terrorism-related acts; and
the gender-based violence against women in the U.S. by foreign nationals.
Yet the current report does not provide any numbers for those or a lot else.
While the report reveals that approximately 46% of those convicted of international terrorism-related offenses from 9/11 through the end of 2016 (254 out of 549 individuals) were not U.S. citizens, it does not identify the number and nature of offenses they committed, their manner of entry, countries of origin, religion, or other related information. Included in the report is an explanation for this lack of detail, saying that the DHS and DOJ did not have "complete, final information about these individuals" by the time of the report's publication.
The nature and wording of the report, however, raise the question of whether political correctness surrounding the regional and religious origins of the foreign nationals described does not play some role in the absence of concrete data.
The report presents illustrative examples of foreign nationals convicted of international terrorism-related offenses. All are Muslims -- based on their being connected to Islamist groups recognized as terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab; based on their obviously Islamic names; and based on the fact they all are from Muslim-majority countries. Yet the report does not mention this. Moreover, a search of the report for the words "Muslim" or "Islam" produces only two matches: one in relation to ISIS's goal of establishing an "Islamic caliphate," and the other in reference to the "Islamic State in Iraq."
Also, according to the report, as of its publication, the "DHS and DOJ lack[ed] unclassified, aggregated statistical information pertaining to foreign nationals' radicalization in the U.S.," and that it is "unclear how many non-fatal domestic and gender-based violence incidents were perpetrated by foreign nationals."
With regard to required additional relevant information, the report mentions that "in fiscal year 2017, DHS had 2,554 encounters with individuals on the terrorist watchlist attempting to enter the U.S.," and "from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2017, 355,345 non-US citizen offenders were arrested and 372,098 were removed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)." Here again, no information is provided about those persons' countries of origin, religion or why they are on the watchlist for terrorists.
The DHS/DOJ report presents little new, useful information on the international terrorist threat to Americans and non-Americans on U.S. soil. The report, for instance, fails to include -- or flatly ignores -- significant findings to raise awareness of the threat to Americans' safety. Among these are, not surprisingly, evaluating how effective or ineffective the US government's policies and procedures are in screening and vetting people hoping to come to the United States. Future reports really should provide such information, particularly that which is not publicly known. If they do not -- either as a result of political correctness or incompetence -- the Executive Order will be rendered meaningless.
**A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.
© 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.

France Doesn't Need Bank Consolidation
Pascal Emmanuel Gobry/Bloomberg/January 22/2018
As the world watches to see if Emmanuel Macron succeeds in shaking France out of its statist torpor, it should bear in mind that he would first need to somehow bypass the country’s entrenched mandarins, the elite-educated cadre that run France's most important bureaucracies and whose cohorts tend to have leadership roles throughout French industry; they often have the biggest stake in the status quo. A case in point is banking. François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, argued in a little-noticed end-of-year speech that "Europe still suffers from excess banking capacity, and cross-border consolidation is necessary." In the United States, the top five banks have about 40 percent market share; in Europe it's barely 20 percent, he noted.
He's certainly not the first to make the claim. The case for consolidation is generally weak, but it's particularly weak in the case of France -- and the way de Galhau (one of the candidates tipped to be the next European Central Bank president) made it recently is revealing of the frustrating shortcomings of France's bureaucratic class, which threatens to frustrate the reforms begun by President Macron. We are reaching a level where [banking consolidation] would improve financial stability. Banks would diversify their risks better, generate economies of scale and increase efficiency. Since we increased oversight and resolution authority for large banks, we should not fear a 'too big to fail' problem. Cross-border consolidation would ensure savings are more efficiently allocated to productive investments in Europe and would improve European banks' position in terms of international competitiveness.
The problem is that bank concentration in general increases the risk of the dreaded "too big to fail" scenario. In a throwaway line, de Galhau brushes off that argument by asserting that the ECB's new regulations have solved the problem. Regulatory reforms have gone a long way toward mitigating risks, it's true. Higher capital ratios and stress tests and "living wills" help, of course, but they are no ironclad guarantee against systemic threats.
The case for consolidation is particularly weak when it comes to de Galhau's own country. France's banks are an oligopoly. The biggest French banks benefit from "too big to fail" guarantees which work as an implicit subsidy.
Major banks' fees for the average consumer are 14.5 percent higher in France than the European average, according to a 2016 report, "Getting rid of corporate welfare for French banks," by Generation Libre, a French free-market think tank. If the biggest actors in a market have sufficient pricing power to charge 15 percent more for the exact same service as their competition, the problem isn't exactly under-concentration; more likely, it is the opposite.
Economists have long complained that the French banking oligopoly, which squeezes French mid-size companies out of the funding market, is a major drag on economic growth. Because the banking market is uncompetitive, French banks will not lend money to small businesses, which are presumed to be too risky. They do well enough charging above-market fees to consumers and extending credit to only those businesses with a big enough balance sheet that they don't need credit.
A highly regarded 2009 report by the French Economic Analysis Council reviewed the academic literature on credit rationing to small businesses. The review, which remains relevant today, is useful for international comparisons: it found that, over the same period of time, the number of small and medium-sized enterprises suffering from credit rationing is 8 percent to 10 percent in the US, 9 percent in the United Kingdom, and a whopping 40 percent in France. The last thing France needs is for its biggest banks to get bigger, or for its smaller banks to get snapped up by large banks in neighboring countries, who, if nothing else changes, would simply join the cartel. De Galhau, like virtually all of the French elite, is a graduate of ENA, France's top civil service school. He spent the decade before being named to the Bank of France in very senior positions within BNP Paribas, France's biggest bank, which would surely be among the biggest beneficiaries of a euro-zone-wide consolidation wave. This isn't to cast doubt on de Galhau's motives; the overwhelming majority of France's enarques are honest. They also, as a group, have the unspoken but sincere belief that whatever happens to be in their caste's interest is also in the interest of the country and the world at large. It is this lack of self-awareness that has been killing France, rather than corruption and self-dealing as such.
A banking concentration might be bad for the economy, but it would be good for the elites as a class, since they happen to occupy the top rungs of the major French banks. Macron should resist de Galhau's cries for consolidation. He has better things to do this year. But let it serve as a warning that France's de facto ruling aristocracy, to which Macron is deeply beholden, might not always be the best source of advice.

What Really Scares Iran’s Clerical Dictators
ما الذي حقيقة يخيف ملالي إيران الدكتاتوريين

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/January 22/18
At a little-reported but highly significant meeting in a northern suburb of Paris last week, former high-level US officials expressed their support for the Iranian people’s uprising to unseat the clerical regime, and specifically for the organized opposition under the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
“The resistance is making a difference,” the former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich told the meeting. “The MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq) is making a difference. I have no doubt that, in the long run, you are on the right side of history. The resistance is knitting together both in the country and in the world a tremendous force that is sustaining the right to believe that you can be free.”Such support empowers the ordinary Iranian people and opposition forces who desire regime change.
Gingrich, the former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli and NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi addressed the meeting of representatives of Iranian expatriate communities in Europe, held at the NCRI’s headquarters. Its theme was “Regime change in Iran.”The event was significant because it followed a series of urban uprisings that began in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, on Dec. 28, and rapidly spread across Iran. The MEK network, the NCRI’s main constituent group, reported protests in 142 cities, during which about 50 protesters were killed and at least 8,000 arrested. It has since become evident that a number of those detained were tortured to death.
Ayatollah Khamenei and senior cadres of the Revolutionary Guards fear that the soft power of Iran’s ordinary people is much more potent than the military capacities of foreign powers.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was blunt in his acknowledgement of the resistance’s role. “The incidents were organized” and carried out by the MEK, he said. “The MEK had prepared for this months ago” and “the MEK’s media outlets had called for it.”Rajavi told the meeting: “The uprising showed that Iranian society is in an explosive state, simmering with discontent. It showed that the regime is much weaker than perceived. It showed that the billions of windfall dollars from the nuclear deal did nothing to cure the regime’s instability. And finally, the uprising showed that the people of Iran detest both regime factions and want it overthrown in its entirety.”
History has shown us that any attempt to promote moderation within the Iranian regime has led to failure. The US and the international community must continue to reach out to the Iranian people and the resistance, who reject the regime and call for a representative government.
More than ever before, the Iranian people have shown their readiness for democratic change. The time has come for those governments that are pursuing appeasement policies with the Iranian regime to take a new approach.
The Iranian opposition calls for a democratic system of governance in Iran, freedom of religion, social justice, the rule of law and respect for human rights. In addition, from the perspective of the opposition, the political establishment of the current ruling clerics is based on authoritarianism and a religious dictatorship.One of the reasons that Khamenei fears the NCRI is that it is currently the largest Iranian opposition group in exile, and has connections with Iranians on the ground in Iran.
Many believe that this gives the opposition the crucial resources to play a significant role in counterbalancing the power of the ruling ayatollahs, pushing for a democratic system of governance in Iran, and preserving the United States’s national and economic interests. It is also worth noting that the NCRI has previously revealed Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment sites.
Khamenei also fears that foreign governments may cooperate closely with the opposition, magnifying its power in inspiring disaffected youths in Iran to protest against the regime. This fear is evident in Khamenei’s repeated remarks about such infiltrations.When it comes to confronting the regime, the view of Khamenei and senior cadres of the Revolutionary Guard Corps is that the soft power of Iran’s ordinary people and opposition is much more potent than the military capacities of foreign powers. • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh