January 27/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Jesus said to Canaanite Woman: :you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment

Matthew 15/21-28: " Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 26-27/18
UK Parliament Debates Complete Ban on Hezbollah/The National and Press Association/Friday 26th January 2018
World Leaderships Look Weaker Than Global Challenges/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/
Turkey: No Longer a Friend but Not a Foe/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/
Palestinians: Silencing and Intimidating Journalists/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/January 26/2018
To whom it may concern: Stop Iran/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/January 26/2018
A Historic Holocaust Awareness Awakening in Saudi Arabia, of All Places/
Robert Satloff/New York Daily News/The Washington InstituteJanuary 26, 2018

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on January 26-27/18
Postpone expat conference: Lebanese in Ivory Coast
UK Parliament Debates Complete Ban on Hezbollah
Rival political parties turn page, elections to take place on time
Bassil Suffers '3rd Defeat' as Electoral Panel Says No Time for Amending Law
Kurds in Lebanon march against Turkey
Lebanese comedian indicted over Saudi crown prince remarks
Jreissati Says 'Didn't Move Lawsuit' against Comedian Hisham Haddad
Bassil Calls for Elimination of Sectarianism, Formation of Civil State
Lebanon to sign oil agreements
Qassem Says Hizbullah 'Not Seeking Parliamentary Majority, One-Third Veto Power'
Khalil Hits Back at Bassil, Warns against Sectarian Incitement
Report: Arab, Intl Concerns over Lebanon's Plunge into 'Syria-Iran Axis'
Mashnouq Says Israel behind Car Bomb Targeting Hamas Official
AMAL Says Seniority Row 'Doesn't Eliminate' Alliance with FPM
New Hunting Law Falls Prey to Old Habits in Lebanon
France-Sanctioned Lebanon Firms Deny Ties to Syria Chemical Program
Beit Chabeb Mayor Refutes Minister's Allegations as 'Politically Motivated'

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 26-27/18
Turkish forces prepare for long haul on Syria frontline
Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand offensive to other northern Syrian cities
One week on, Operation Olive Branch helps Turkey seize many initiatives
Trump: US will continue to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon
Vienna talks: Ceasefire agreement reached in eastern Ghouta
Pentagon: US, Turkey discuss Syria safe zone
‘America first’ does not mean America alone: Trump
Davos: Trump Calls on Partners to Confront 'Iran’s Support for Terrorists'
Iraq Receives ex-Minister Wanted for Corruption from Lebanon
Russia: We Do Not Recognize One-Sided US Sanctions
Russia Infrastructure Spying Could Cause 'Total Chaos', Says UK Defense Minister
Looted Cash, Gold Help ISIS Recruit in Philippines
Saudi: Any Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital is Void

Latest Lebanese Related News published on January 26-27/18
Postpone expat conference: Lebanese in Ivory Coast
The Daily Star/Jan. 26, 2018 /BEIRUT: The head of the Lebanese community in the Ivory Coast called Friday for next week’s Lebanese Diaspora Energy conference, hosted by the Foreign Ministry, to be postponed as tensions look set to increase between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri. Reports emerged in recent weeks that Berri called on his many supporters living in Ivory Coast to boycott the upcoming Lebanese Diaspora Energy conference scheduled for the first week of February. The conference is hosted by the Foreign Ministry, which is headed by Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil – also a rival of Berri’s. On Friday, President of the Lebanese Diaspora in Ivory Coast Najib Zahr called for the postponement of the scheduled conference until a later date due to the ongoing political spat between Aoun and Berri. “Because of the negative consequences and to maintain coexistence and the unified image of Lebanese diaspora in Africa ... I call on President Aoun, Speaker Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil ... to reconsider the dates of the conference,” a statement released by the diaspora read. Zahr said once the political climate has cooled, and “to ensure the success of the conference with participation from the entire [expat] community,” the conference should be held.

UK Parliament Debates Complete Ban on Hezbollah
مجلس العموم البريطاني يناقش احتمال وضع حزب الله "بشقيه" على قائمة الإرهاب
The National and Press Association/Friday 26th January 2018
The British parliament has debated widening its ban on the Islamist Lebanese faction Hezbollah amid claims of flaws in the official assessment behind the group’s current designation. The group’s military wing is currently prohibited in the UK, though its political wing remains free to operate – a differentiation that has caused controversy.In 2001, the group’s external security organisation was proscribed, and the ruling was extended to Hezbollah’s entire military apparatus in March 2008. But almost 10 years later, many prominent politicians argue that the current proscription does not go far enough.
The current ban relies on a differentiation between Hezbollah’s political and military wings – in Lebanon the group have ministers in the government, as well as a standing militia of several thousand men. But proponents of the new ban claim this is a false distinction.
Introducing the motion, member of parliament Joan Ryan said “it is an artificial distinction”, and that it was "time to end this dangerous game of semantics”.
UK government policy currently stands against raising the designation on the grounds that any such intervention could destabilise Lebanon, where the group has several MPs and ministers in the government. Prior to Thursday’s debate, Labour MPs were advised to vote against a renewed designation of Hezbollah on the grounds it could damage efforts for peace in the Middle East. Indeed, the party’s leader and UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously drawn criticism for a 2009 parliamentary meeting in which he referred to the group and Hamas as “friends”.Security minister Ben Wallace and his shadow counterpart Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was the right thing on balance to only proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah.  Proscription makes it a criminal offence for people to belong to a named organisation, encourage people to support it, arrange meetings in support of it or wear clothing or carry articles that arouse suspicion an individual is in favour of it.
Speaking in a debate on a backbench motion that Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety, Wallace said proscription was not the only tool available to tackle terrorism, the spreading of hatred or inciting violence. He also said that Hezbollah was part of the government and parliament in Lebanon, which presented different challenges compared with other terrorist organisations. “While the proscription of Hezbollah in its entirety is kept under review, our current position maintains a balance,” Wallace told MPs. “I’ve heard from many of the members today about their view that they are indivisible, that the Hezbollah military and political wing cannot be divided, that they are joined at the hip, that they are centrally led. A Labour party briefing note claimed: “There is a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence of using violence to achieve political ends and at the same time encouraging organisations down an effective democratic path. “Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.” It added: “Proscription could prevent the UK or other governments from engaging with the Lebanese government and could lead to a breakdown of diplomatic relations.” But speaking in favour of the ban, Labour MP Ian Austin blasted his own party’s position. “The organisation has carried out terrorist attacks and racist murders in the Middle East, in Europe and across the world," he said. “[Hezbollah] is not interested in the compromises that all sides will need to make to bring about a two-state solution. Its sole interest is the destruction of Israel. “The idea Hezbollah is a partner for peace is misguided”. A poll carried out by ComRes indicated that 81 per cent of Britons were in favour of an increased terror designation of the group.

Rival political parties turn page, elections to take place on time
Georgi Azar/Annahar/January 26/2018 /This seemingly puts an end to the political infighting that has jeopardized the election of taking place on time, after Free Patriotic Movement President and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil pushed to extend the registration deadline for Lebanese abroad until February 15.
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s rival political parties turned the page Friday, putting an end to recent disagreements over proposed amendments to the newly ratified electoral law. Lebanon is set to hold its first Parliamentary elections since 2009 on Sunday, May 6, 2018, with Lebanese abroad casting their votes from Friday 27 till Sunday 29 of February. Candidates wishing to run in the upcoming elections must submit to the Interior Ministry on February 5 a signed statement certified by the notary. The candidate must also designate the district he is running in while presenting a clear judicial record, after having deposited the LBP 8 million in a newly designated bank account necessary to initiate the campaign. According to article 54 of the law, candidates must form an electoral list and submit a copy to the Interior Ministry 40 days prior to the elections.  Candidates wishing to withdraw from the elections must do so before March 21.
This seemingly puts an end to the political infighting that could have derailed the election of taking place on time, after Free Patriotic Movement President and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil pushed to extend the registration deadline for Lebanese expats until February 15. The ministerial committee tasked with looking into the extension of the registration deadline rejected the proposal following a session Friday. While exiting the meeting, Bassil said "he failed to implement the changes sought by Lebanese." The original deadline for citizens abroad to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections passed on November 21, 2017, with Berri vehemently opposing the introduction of even the slightest amendment, arguing that it would thrust the country into open-ended deliberations over other potential amendments.

Bassil Suffers '3rd Defeat' as Electoral Panel Says No Time for Amending Law
Naharnet/January 26/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil announced Friday that he “has been defeated for the third time,” as a ministerial panel tasked with studying the implementation of the new electoral law said there is no time left to introduce any amendments.
“I have been defeated for the third time, and the Lebanese have lost the reforms with me,” said Bassil after the meeting. “I lost in the face of a political decision to halt the reforms and the Lebanese have lost with me. This is a loss for the freedom of voters,” Bassil added. Sport and Youth Minister Mohammed Fneish of Hizbullah meanwhile said that the meeting was “the committee's last meeting.”“We are headed for elections,” Fneish added. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq meanwhile said he is “proud of the reforms that had been approved, especially the issue of electoral megacenters and voting in the place of residency.” “These two points represent a major progress. As for the issue of expats, which is essential and important and unprecedented in Lebanon, it has recorded a notable success in terms of registration. The credit goes to Minister Bassil and the Foreign Ministry in this regard,” Mashnouq added.
“Practically, this is where we are, and political disputes and the deadlines have prevented the Interior Ministry from making any serious effort regarding megacenters and biometric voting cards,” the minister explained. “And when we faced a demand to extend the deadline for expat registration, we failed to do so because the issue needed introducing amendments to the law,” he added. Asked whether the results of the elections could face appeals before the Constitutional Council seeing as the law will not be fully implemented, Mashnouq said: “Constitutional and legal debate is revolving around a sole article, which is Article 84 that has to do with the use of magnetic cards. This issue needs a legal solution.” He however reassured that “the elections will certainly be held on time.”

Kurds in Lebanon march against Turkey
Associated Press/January 26/2018/BEIRUt: Hundreds of Kurds living in Lebanon have gathered outside the Turkish embassy in Lebanon to protest Turkey's ongoing military operation in northern Syria's Kurdish-controlled Afrin region. Protesters carrying Kurdish flags chanted slogans on Friday denouncing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including: "Down with Erdogan!"Lebanese policemen deployed around the embassy and erected barbed-wire barriers to prevent protesters from approaching. "All the Kurds here in Lebanon are supporting Afrin and saying long live the resistance of Afrin," said protester Hanan Osman. Turkey launched the offensive against Afrin on January 10 and is vowing to expand the operation eastward, toward the border with Iraq.

Lebanese comedian indicted over Saudi crown prince remarks
Annahar/January 26/2018/BEIRUT: Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun indicted on Thursday Lebanese comedian Hicham Haddad after he mocked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on his "Lahon W Bass" TV show. Aoun, which indicted Haddad upon the request of General Prosecutor Samir Hammoud, referred the case to Lebanon's Court of Publications. During New Year's episode of his satire show, which airs every Tuesday, Haddad advised bin Salman to "eat less fast food." The comedian commented on Hammoud's decision by tweeting: "This footage was intended as a joke about Michel Hayek's predictions." Michel Hayek is a Lebanese "clairvoyant," mostly known for his annual predictions. He appears on TV every New Year’s eve to make predictions. Haddad's indictment drew criticism from former Minister Wiam Wahhab. "I advise the general prosecutor not to indict Hicham Haddad if he isn't going to indict those who insult Syria and other countries," Wahhab tweeted. Haddad's indictment also sparked an outcry on social media, as this comes in the wake of a similar chain of events with political TV host Marcel Ghanem. Ghanem was summoned for questioning on January 4, 2018, following his Kalam El Nass episode that aired on November 16. The episode had featured a Saudi journalist, who launched a verbal attack against President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and Lebanese Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, accusing them of aiding and abetting terrorism due to their ties to Hezbollah. Hicham Haddad was expelled from the Free Patriotic Movement in August 2016, after "mocking" FPM President and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on his Facebook page.

Jreissati Says 'Didn't Move Lawsuit' against Comedian Hisham Haddad
Annahar/January 26/2018/Justice Minister Salim Jreissati stressed Friday that he did not move the public prosecution against the comedian Hisham Haddad, the host of 'Lahonwbas', the National News Agency reported. Jreissati clarified that the lawsuit was filed by a decision from the public prosecution, added NNA. On Thursday, the public prosecution filed a lawsuit against Haddad, the host of Lebanon's most watched satirical TV show aired on LBCI television, over mentioning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and satirical remarks about Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“At the request of State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud, Mount Lebanon attorney general Judge Ghada Aoun has referred a lawsuit against the journalist Hisham Haddad to the Publications Court on charges pertaining to Article 23 of Law 104/77,” the National News Agency had said.
“The referral is linked to Haddad's mentioning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Lahonwbas show,” NNA added. LBCI said the lawsuit is also linked to remarks about Hariri. In the episode that caused him trouble with authorities, Haddad comments on a “prediction” by Lebanon's famous fortune teller Michel Hayek that MBS will be told by doctors to reduce his consumption of fast food. “Amidst everything that is happening in the region, you are advising him to stop eating hamburgers! I advise him to stop 'fast arrests', 'fast policies', 'fast campaigns' and 'fast military strikes',” Haddad says sarcastically. “I don't care if he gets fat or not! I have nothing to do with the crown prince's cholesterol! What do I have to do with the prince's triglyceride?” Haddad adds.

Bassil Calls for Elimination of Sectarianism, Formation of Civil State
Annahar/January 26/2018/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil called for “abolishing sectarianism” and stressed that Lebanon can only be governed with “partnership” among its political parties.“Lebanon can not survive with multiple (political) bi-polarities. Lebanon can only survive with Christian-Muslim partnership,” stressed Bassil in a televised press interview on Friday. The Minister and head of the Free Patriotic Movement suggested “abolishing political sectarianism without amending the Constitution in order to preserve equilibrium between Muslims and Christians.”He said attempts aiming to create enmity and divisions among the Lebanese “will be thwarted,” and stressed that Lebanon is a country based on equilibrium among its political parties. Calling for the formation of a civil State, the Minister said: “We support (political) equilibrium. We have no sectarian backgrounds. We can develop into a civil State. A civil State is a salvation for Lebanon.”Slamming accusations of overthrowing the Constitution, he said: “Accusation of overthrowing the Constitution originate from those who create new norms. The Constitution rules our daily lives and we have no intention of overthrowing it.”On the FPM's ties with Hizbullah, Bassil noted: “ We will not allow anyone to create a problem between us and Hizbullah or isolate any sect in Lebanon. Agreement with Hizbullah remains a strategic necessity to protect the country.”Bassil also stressed adherence to the FPM's ties with al-Mustaqbal Movement.

Lebanon to sign oil agreements
Georgi Azar/ Annahar/January 26/2018/BEIRUT: Energy Minister Cezar Abi Khalil announced Friday that Lebanon will sign on February 9 two agreements with an international consortium of energy companies, a month after the Cabinet approved two bids by France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek, for offshore oil and gas exploration. The consortium is expected to start drilling in blocks 4 and 9 of Lebanon's Exclusive Economic Zone in 2019, Abi Khalil had said. On December 17, 2017, the consortium came forward with bids for two of the 5 blocks that were open for bidding. Lebanon's exclusive economic zone is divided into 10 blocks in total.

Qassem Says Hizbullah 'Not Seeking Parliamentary Majority, One-Third Veto Power'
Naharnet/January 26/18/Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem announced Friday that his party and its allies are not seeking to win a parliamentary majority or a one-third veto power in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “We in Hizbullah are relieved in advance regarding any parliamentary elections results and we're not worried at all,” Qassem said at a press conference to launch Hizbullah's electoral campaign in the South. “Our calculations are not based on the number of MPs affiliated with us but rather on broad representation. That's why we can say from now that we are not seeking a parliamentary majority or a one-third veto power... These are not our goals,” Hizbullah number two added. “The nature of the forces that will win and the nature of the phase we are going through will dictate alliances, relations and interests through which we can achieve a lot of things,” Qassem went on to say.
He noted that “the elections are important and very sensitive during this period, because the vote will produce a new ruling class after a long travail that took place in our region over the past nine years which involved changes, achievements and new situations.”Qassem also noted that “black rooms” operated by “foreign” forces do not want the elections to take place. “Some are contacting some figures and parties, asking them to form an alliance to confront Hizbullah in the elections,” the Hizbullah leader added.

Khalil Hits Back at Bassil, Warns against Sectarian Incitement
Naharnet/January 26/18/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil snapped back Friday at Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, accusing him of resorting to sectarian incitement for political gains. “Someone is trying to use big slogans to cover up for the nature of his real practices in governance, administrations, the state, the political system and everything that has to do with the affairs of this state,” Khalil said at a press conference he held a few hours after a press conference by Bassil. “Partnership in this country does not mean that someone should be in a certain post or else the post ceases to exist. Partnership does not mean that one's candidate should be the only candidate under the threat of blocking the rise of state institutions. Partnership does not mean that someone's relative should be in a certain post or else the Lebanese should wait one, two or three years simply and patiently,” the minister added. Commenting on Bassil's call for establishing a “civil state,” Khalil said: “We welcome the civil state and we were the first ones to propose it.” He added: “Inciting sects against each other is a dangerous and sensitive thing.”“Let us directly go to a phase in which we can improve our political system in a manner that truly allows the Lebanese to have a real state. This requires His Excellency, the president, to immediately, clearly and frankly send a direct letter to the parliament speaker on the implementation of Article 95 of the Constitution. This is how we can be serious about the issue,” Khalil went on to say.
Answering a reporter's question, the minister said: “We are not in a battle against anyone or against Minister Bassil. We do not consider ourselves to be in a battle against his political movement, but rather in a battle to achieve real reform in the country.”“This country cannot be ruled unilaterally or through two- or three-party agreements,” Khalil warned. In his press conference, Bassil accused Khalil's AMAL Movement of making false allegations about “a Christian-Sunni agreement against Shiites” and of seeking to sow discord between Bassil's Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbullah and also between the FPM and “the Sunni and Druze components.”

Report: Arab, Intl Concerns over Lebanon's Plunge into 'Syria-Iran Axis'
Naharnet/January 26/18/Preparations for Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections are underway despite the fact that the “map of alliances” is still vague and highly controversial except for the “Shiite duo” of Hizbullah and the AMAL Movement, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday.
Composition of alliances between political parties “appears to be very difficult.” Parties hardly declare their alliances finding it sufficing to only declare the candidates, added al-Joumhouria. In parallel, political sources spoke of “Arab and international concerns that the elections' outcome leads to Lebanon's eventual fall in the Syrian-Iranian axis.” They voiced concerns of attempts to “take advantage” of the country's democracy to grasp “control” of its legislative system. “The subject was a focal point of discussion during meetings held by ambassadors of key countries concerned with Lebanon,” the sources revealed on condition of anonymity. The dates have not been yet set for visits of international officials to Lebanon, including French President Emanuel Macron, as they are largely linked to the developments to take place at the Cedar Conference and the Rome II Conference, on the results of the parliamentary elections and on the situation in Syria, they concluded.

Mashnouq Says Israel behind Car Bomb Targeting Hamas Official
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 26/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq on Friday said Israel was involved in a car bomb blast that targeted an official of the Palestinian movement Hamas in southern Lebanon earlier this month. Mohammad Hamdan was wounded when a bomb placed in his car detonated in the southern port city of Sidon on January 14. Hamdan did not appear to have a public or political role in Hamas, but according to a Palestinian security source, he was a member of the organization's security structure. On Friday, the press office of Mashnouq said one of the perpetrators had been coordinating with Israel. In a statement distributed to reporters, it said investigators were able to arrest "one of the main perpetrators of the crime, who confessed to being tasked by Israeli intelligence." The statement did not specify the suspect's nationality, but said investigators seized "very advanced communications mechanisms from his home, and correspondence between him and his handlers."Hamas also accused Israel of involvement in the attack against Hamdan. The Palestinian Islamist group has fought three wars with Israel in the past decade and is based in Gaza, but it operates branches elsewhere in the Middle East including Lebanon.

AMAL Says Seniority Row 'Doesn't Eliminate' Alliance with FPM

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 26/18/Differences between the AMAL Movement, of Speaker Nabih Berri, and the Free Patriotic Movement, of President Michel Aoun, over the signing of a seniority decree promoting a number of officers “do not annul the possibility of striking an alliance with the FPM,” al-Akhbar daily reported on Friday. The daily quoted AMAL sources who said: “The battle over seniority decree between the President and Speaker is one thing, while the electoral alliance is another. The possibility of striking a coalition with the FPM is not rejected in principle, but it is however subject to calculations of profit and loss.” AMAL Movement has declared an “inseparable alliance” with Hizbullah in the country's upcoming parliamentary election set for May 6. It said they should be looked at as “one entity,” for “preserving the interests of both parties, for the future.”During an AMAL meeting Berri announced that anyone wishing to join AMAL-Hizbulah alliance should consult with both parties, he said: “Anyone wishing to speak with me about an alliance should first talk to Hizbullah. And, anyone wishing to speak with Hizbullah, must first come to me,” Berri had announced. 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.

New Hunting Law Falls Prey to Old Habits in Lebanon
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 26/18/To bird lovers, the scenes are upsetting. Dozens of dead buzzards lie on a carpet of feathers on a rocky hill in northern Lebanon. Hunters pose with their catch — scores of calandra larks, known for their melodious birdsong, arranged neatly on the hoods of their Land Rovers. Great white pelicans, protected both in Europe and Lebanon, soar overhead, then with a crack of rifle fire, tumble down into the shrubs below. Posted on Lebanese social media in recent months, the images point to the enormity of the task facing authorities as they try to clamp down on hunting practices more at home in the "Wild West" than a country run by law. Lebanon lies along key migratory routes for millions of European birds, including protected and endangered species, that winter in the Persian Gulf and Africa. But even with a new law in place banning the hunting of protected species, conservationists say overhunting in Lebanon is undermining their efforts. "Everybody hunts and they're not going to be able to put limits on it," said Wissam Arif, a hunter from Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. "Sure, there should be licenses, but no one does anything about it."
A 2015 study by the conservation society Birdlife International estimated that 2.6 million birds are shot down in Lebanon each year. Per capita, that's second most in the eastern Mediterranean region, after Cyprus. "European birders have invested a lot of time, tax money, and other resources to protect the last remaining breeding pairs, and this is all for nothing if the birds don't fly back," said Axel Hirschfeld, of the Germany-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter. Conservationists credit Lebanese Environment Minister Tarek Khatib for bringing into force a 2004 hunting law that, they say, is as strict as any in Europe.
Last September, Khatib opened the country's first official hunting season in at least two decades, with the requirement that hunters take tests to get their licenses. The ministry awarded more than 18,000 hunting licenses. But a month later, hunters from the town of Brital in the Bekaa Valley set up electronic bird callers and spinning lures to coax the birds down - a technique prohibited under the law. None of the hunters in the valley could show a license to an Associated Press crew visiting the area, and nearly all declined to be identified by name because of the new hunting regulations.
A 53-year-old local said he would shoot down between 100 and 150 skylarks and chaffinches on a good day, but high winds and an intermittent drizzle meant he would catch just a fraction that morning. The legal limit is 50 per hunt.
In Lebanon, these small birds are typically prepared in a frying pan with a marinade of pomegranate molasses, wrapped in warm pita bread and eaten whole — the tiny bones giving the delicacy a pleasant crunch. "That's a hawk," said a police deputy, pointing over the crop-less fields. The bird swayed as a rifle shot rang out, but stayed in the sky. "They shouldn't be shooting that."
The deputy, who was also hunting that day, said he was assigned to prison duty and that it wasn't his job to enforce hunting regulations. Nearly every man hunting that morning had some sort of connection to the security forces - including a police investigator who said he would not report his friends.
But as this hunting season draws to an end next week, Khatib said he was positive about the law's impact. "They are beginning to follow the law ... we've created a cultural change among the Lebanese," he told the AP. For many Lebanese, hunting is a tradition passed down from father to son and an autumn ritual for men to pass weekend nights with friends before hunting at dawn. Smaller birds are usually cooked and eaten but the larger ones, including migratory birds, are shot just for sport.
"They bring in all types of birds," said Rabih Danaf, a taxidermist in the town of Bhamdoun, 23 kilometers (14 miles) east of Beirut. "The hunters make a mockery of the law."Danaf's Facebook page displays stuffed harriers, pelicans, storks, falcons and colorful hoopoes — including at least two ringed in Europe for scientific study, according to Hirschfeld, the German conservationist, who said he checked the tags in an international database.There is no law against taxidermy, said Roger Saad, an activist with the Lebanese Bird Conservation Coalition. Saad, who manages a hardware store in an industrial district in eastern Beirut, keeps a handwritten list of the hunting violations he has seen on social media and those that have been reported to him through the Coalition's network.
An amateur sleuth, he has reported more than 70 cases to the Environment Ministry, including data on alleged violators. He said he was pleased to hear some have been fined, while others have gotten away with just a warning. The Environment Ministry says it has forwarded some 40 cases to prosecutors for legal action, and it encourages the public to report violations directly to the police. Khatib said he is waiting for Parliament to allocate funds for a ranger force that would enforce hunting laws. In a country plagued by rolling power cuts and a trash-strewn coastline, many Lebanese shrug off concerns about overhunting. "People think: 'It's not connected to me, so it's not my problem,'" said Saad. But birds hunt pests, which in turn helps farming — the fifth largest employing sector in this tiny country. "It's a cycle," he said. With elections slated for May, a new government could mean changes at the Environment Ministry, disrupting conservation efforts."We have birds passing through here that do not pass through anywhere else in the world, and instead of looking at them, we shoot them," said Saad.
"Someone needs to speak for them."

France-Sanctioned Lebanon Firms Deny Ties to Syria Chemical Program

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 26/18/Companies and nationals blacklisted by France for alleged links to Syria's chemical weapons program denied any wrongdoing on Thursday, telling the AFP news agency they were gearing up for a legal challenge. France said Tuesday the 25 entities were suspected of belonging to two "supply networks" for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which has been repeatedly sanctioned over Syria's chemical program. It said the six-month asset freeze could be challenged within two months of the decision. Many of the firms based in Syria, Lebanon, China, and France are linked to the Katranjis, a large family originally from Syria's central Hama province. Amir Katranji, one of the named Syrian nationals, said he and his blacklisted company Electronics Katranji Trading (EKT) had "nothing to do with chemical" goods. "We aren't doing anything wrong; we reject this announcement," Katranji told AFP in Beirut, and said his firm was appointing a lawyer. "The announcement says 'suspected of' -- there is no clear evidence. Every industry has electronics in it, and we never worked with the military," he said. Katranji said his family hailed from Hama but had emigrated to Lebanon in 1969. He and brothers Houssam and Maher were all listed in the French announcement, as were EKT's affiliated departments, NKTronics and SmartPegasus. SmartPegasus is named as a France-based firm and was traced to a Paris address registered in 2014 as an import-export company. EKT deals in a wide array of electronic equipment, from mobile phones to alarms and bomb detectors. Also blacklisted were Lebanese national Mireille Chahine, who told AFP she worked in EKT's accounting department, and China-based EKT Smart Technology.
'Based on nothing'
France also sanctioned Beirut-based ABC Shipping, whose owner Sami Ballout fiercely denied his company was involved in chemical arms development. "We reject and deny this decision... Not only do I not have anything to do with this -- I'm taking legal steps," he told AFP. He suspected the decision may have been linked to a 2016 incident in which ABC Shipping facilitated cargo from China to Beirut that was rumored to be heading to Syria. Ballout, 48, said the matter had already been cleared up and no charges were pressed. "This decision was taken based on nothing," he said. An office address listed for SmartLogistics appeared to be closed, and two Lebanese numbers were out of service. But one number was active on messaging service WhatsApp and was answered by someone identifying himself as Alaa. "We're in Dubai working on the issue. We're hiring an international legal firm. There's been a mistake or a misunderstanding," he said. Damascus-based companies that were named include Golden Star, the MKH Import-Export firm, and metal-trading company MHD Nazir Houranieh & Sons. Five members of the Syrian Houranieh family were also listed. The SSRC has been hit by sanctions in 2005, 2007 and 2017 for its alleged role in developing weapons of mass destruction. Last year, the U.S. blacklisted 271 Syrian chemists and other officials for ties to the SSRC. It accused the center of developing the sarin gas deployed on a rebel-held town in northwest Syria in April, which the United Nations and others have blamed on the Damascus regime. Syria has staunchly denied using toxic arms and condemned the French announcement as "lies." France announced its sanctions Tuesday, as 24 nations pledged to create a "partnership against immunity" on chemical weapons. After hundreds of people were killed in chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, a landmark deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stash, staving off U.S. air strikes. Despite the agreement, chemical attacks have continued in Syria.

Beit Chabeb Mayor Refutes Minister's Allegations as 'Politically Motivated' Friday 26th January 2018, 10:11 (EET) Beit Chabeb Mayor Refutes Minister's Allegations as 'Politically Motivated'
The Mayor of Beit Chabeb, Elias Al-Achkar, refuted claims that the Metn town is responsible for the trash that covered the Zouk Mosbeh beach a few days ago, deeming the environment minister’s allegations that waste is being dumped randomly and illegally at said town as “purely politically motivated.”
Al-Achkar told The Daily Star newspaper that Minister Tarek Khatib was directly critical of Kataeb chief Samy Gemayel during his visit to Beit Chabeb two days ago, as he held the latter responsible for what happened. “He must have said it’s Sheikh Samy’s fault at least 20 times while he was here,” the local official said. "The few trash bags Khatib saw were from waste that hadn’t been picked up by the company contracted for waste management in the Metn area," he stressed. Gemayel downplayed claims that he is using the waste crisis as a means to garner popular support ahead of the parliamentary polls, reiterating that it is his duty as a lawmaker to shed the light on any problem facing the country. “Great, let them campaign for elections too,” Gemayel told The Daily Star on Wednesday. "I’m an MP and saw a crisis like this. If I sat at home, what would the people say about me?" he asked. “Someone put himself in my shoes and ask what they would do."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 26-27/18
Turkish forces prepare for long haul on Syria frontline
AFP //Arab News/Saturday 27 January 2018/AZAZ: Only a few olive groves separate Turkish special forces and allied Syrian rebels from Kurdish militia fighters as the crash of mortar fire echoes on the frontline of Ankara’s offensive inside Syria. “We are on alert 24 hours a day,” one Turkish special forces officer, who asked not to be named, told AFP in the Syrian town of Azaz, which is controlled by Turkish-backed opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Turkey on Saturday sent troops and tanks into northern Syria for its “Olive Branch” campaign against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia, which Ankara considers to be a terror group. Some went directly toward the YPG enclave of Afrin from the north, but others made their way from the east via Azaz. Turkey’s operation comes on the heels of the Euphrates Shield offensive, begun in August 2016, which targeted the extremist Daesh group and the YPG in an area east of Afrin. It finished in March 2017, with Ankara declaring the mission completed. Azaz, estimated to have a population of 300,000, was liberated from IS early in the Euphrates Shield offensive. “I believe it will not be as easy as Euphrates Shield,” the special forces officer said. “The opponents have been preparing for months and are more aggressive than Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.“I guess it will take more time.”The Turkish special forces are backed by Syrian rebels, who express optimism about the operation despite the danger.
“We are on the frontline, the PKK is only one kilometer away,” said Syrian rebel Hamzeh Al-Dikk said, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody war against the Turkish state since 1984. Turkey says the YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK. “We live in a state of war here. I hope that we will get stability back, so that we can return to our villages,” said the 18-year-old, who was armed and wearing a military uniform and green cap. Another armed Syrian fighter, Ali Yassin, who has been in the rebel force known by Turkey as the Free Syrian Army for seven years, said they were coordinating well with the Turkish army.“Our goal is to cleanse this region of terrorists. We do not want terrorists in our country,” he stressed. Syrian rebels control the roads in Azaz’s city center. Children on the streets shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) after the sound of the Turkish artillery fire.
Some wear only slippers in the freezing winter as they play in the mud. One open barber is cutting the hair of a small child. Ahmad, a 25-year-old carpenter, predicted the operation would not end soon. “It will take some time,” he said. “(Afrin) cannot be taken swiftly because innocent civilians also live there.”
But Ahmad is not afraid of the sound of mortar fire. “Nobody here is scared of the shelling because people have become used to it.” Hassan Lahmouni, who is in his 60s, expressed relief at the Turkish operation. “Without Turkey’s intervention we would have died.”
While there has been no dramatic breakthrough on the ground, a second Turkish special forces officer said it was a calculated operation.“It is very well thought through. We are aiming for minimum casualties,” he said.

Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand offensive to other northern Syrian cities
AFP/Arab News/Saturday 27 January 2018/ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey’s offensive against the Afrin region in Syria to other cities in the country’s north to remove the presence of the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara views as terrorists.
“We will continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, vowing to “clean up” the city of Manbij, east of Afrin, also held by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. Turkey launched its military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” against the YPG on Saturday, supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops, air strikes and artillery fire. While the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Daesh extremist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror group allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey. The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror outfit. The seven-day offensive has seen Washington’s NATO ally Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between two alliance powers since the US has a military presence in Manbij.
Erdogan promised the operation would continue until “we reach our goals,” adding: “After we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists.”Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the operation added further strain to the allies’ relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump late on Wednesday. The US said Trump had urged Turkey to “limit its military actions” but a Turkish official said the US statement did “not accurately reflect the content” of the call. Erdogan criticized Turkey’s allies, including the US, who have called, he said, for the operation to be “short” and “limited” in scope, referring to previous interventions. “How long has Afghanistan lasted? Nearly 20 years. How long has it lasted in Iraq? Nearly 18 years!” he thundered. Erdogan added that “343 terrorists were neutralized” during the operation thus far. It was not possible to independently verify the toll. Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 58 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 53 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG fighters had been killed.

One week on, Operation Olive Branch helps Turkey seize many initiatives
Menekse Tokyay/Arab News/Saturday 27 January 2018/ANKARA: As Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch entered its second week on Saturday, Ankara said military action against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria’s Afrin would continue until the threat is “neutralized.” But despite Ankara’s claims that it has no wish to take territory from another country, and that control of Afrin will be handed over to the Syrian regime at the end of the operation, the offensive has inevitably complicated the already chaotic regional dynamics still further.
The official aim of Olive Branch is to establish stability along Turkey’s border with Syria and to remove not only the YPG/PYD ­— regarded by Ankara as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades — but also Daesh from the area. Turkey’s military reported that 343 terrorists have so far surrendered, or been killed or captured, and that 333 targets have been destroyed. The operation’s scope now extends around 7.5 kilometers into Syria, with 11 villages captured. Turkey has lost three soldiers so far, while one Syrian refugee was killed and 13 others wounded as two rockets launched from Afrin hit the Turkish border city of Kilis on Wednesday. No casualties were reported after another rocket struck a marketplace in the border town of Reyhanli on Friday. Overall, the operation has garnered the approval of the Turkish public and the support of the international community, with NATO recognizing Turkey’s “right to self-defense like all other countries.”Washington, too, has released sympathetic statements recognizing “Turkey’s security concerns about the PKK, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.”
Russia has supported the operation by allowing Turkey access to Afrin’s airspace, although it is not yet clear whether Russia’s will allow unlimited access or whether it will impose similar restrictions to those applied during Turkey’s cross-border Euphrates Shield Operation, which ran from August 2016 to March 2017. Washington’s offer to Ankara this week to establish a 30 km safe zone in Syria, along with an increased number of meetings between US and Turkish officials, have been seen by many experts as a move by Western powers to re-establish ties with their longtime NATO ally. But the Turkish regime remains skeptical of US offers — a sign of the current distrust between the two countries. However, the Syrian regime considers Turkey’s operation to be an invasion and an attack to Syrian sovereignty. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Syria will “act accordingly” to defend itself, explaining that could involve the use of its aerial defense systems.
Also on Thursday, the PYD/YPG-led administration of Afrin canton released a statement calling on Bashar Assad and his regime to protect the city. Erol Bural, a former military officer and a terrorism expert at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, said the Turkish military, with the assistance of Free Syrian Army fighters, had encircled Afrin by opening multiple front lines. “Barseya mountain, in the north of Azaz, is a primary target for Turkey because of its critical location overlooking Afrin’s urban center. The PKK/PYD used it as a major hideout for years, with fortifications against aerial and ground attacks,” Bural told Arab News. Bural expects an effective siege on Afrin’s urban center once this mountain has been cleared of any terrorist threat, which will also prevent the YPG from targeting Turkey’s border towns with rockets and mortars. “I don’t expect the Syrian regime to react positively to the YPG’s call, considering that Assad previously called the US-backed Kurdish fighters traitors, and considering the regime also wants the PYD presence cleaned out from this region,” he said. At the end of the operation’s first week, the expansion of Olive Branch to Manbij, a city captured from Daesh in 2016 by the Kurdish militias, is still on the table. But the presence of American forces there complicates the situation. “I think the main focus for now should be to wind up the military operation and hand complete control to local forces, while conducting diplomacy with regional actors,” Bural said. According to Bural, the US is holding Manbij as its “trump card” against Turkey, in an attempt to weaken Russia’s influence on Ankara and to protect the “PKK statelet” America has established on the western flank of the River Euphrates. “Now Turkey has two options: Either launch an operation on Manbij regardless of the US military presence, or conduct diplomatic maneuvers to convince the US to withdraw their soldiers,” he said. According to Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, “Operationally, the Afrin operation is progressing slowly but smoothly.”
Dalay thinks Operation Olive Branch is unlikely to progress at the same speed as Euphrates Shield, “at least in its early phases.” “Nevertheless, Turkey hasn’t incurred many casualties,” he told Arab News. On the diplomatic front, despite US concerns, the international community has so far been supportive of the operation, he said, adding that the objections it has faced thus far are “manageable.”On the political front, though, Dalay said the goal of the operation “is still opaque.”He explained: “It isn’t clear yet what will be acceptable to Turkey in Syria. If Turkey keeps the pressure on the YPG for too long, the YPG will invite the Assad regime to Afrin. “Despite Turkey’s public discourse, Turkey doesn’t have much objection to such an outcome,” he continued. “Nevertheless, that would bode ill for Turkey, as well as the Syrian opposition’s image, as their actions will appear to play into the hands of the regime. This is one of the major dilemmas of this operation.”

Trump: US will continue to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon
Agencies Saturday/27 January 2018/US President Donald Trump said, on Friday, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the US will “block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.”“We continue to call on partners to confront Iran's support for terrorists and block Iran's path to a nuclear weapon. We're also working with allies and partners to destroy jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and very successfully so,” said Trump. The United States is leading a very broad coalition to deny terrorists control of their territory and populations to cut off their funding and to discredit their wicked ideology. On the war against ISIS, he said: “I am pleased to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has retaken almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.”There is still more fighting and work to be done and to consolidate our gains. We are committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who want to commit mass murder to our civilian populations.I want to thank those nations represented here today that have joined in these crucial efforts. You are not just securing your own citizens but saving lives and restoring hope for millions and millions of people."The Trump administration has for months been lobbying for Iran to be held accountable at the United Nations, while at the same time threatening to quit a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran's nuclear program if "disastrous flaws" are not fixed. The UN ambassadors will visit a military hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling near Washington, where Haley, the US envoy to the United Nations, last month presented remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh, as well as other weapons.A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and US ally Saudi Arabia. Experts reported to the Security Council this month that Iran had violated UN sanctions on Yemen because "it failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer" of short-range ballistic missiles and other equipment to the Iran-allied Houthi group. The independent experts said they had "identified missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin and were introduced into Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo."(with AP & Reuters)

Vienna talks: Ceasefire agreement reached in eastern Ghouta
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Friday, 26 January 2018/Syrian negotiations in Vienna, between the opposition and the Syrian regime reached an agreement on Friday to ceasefire in Al-Ghouta Al-Sharqiya (eastern Ghouta) by 12 pm Damascus time. The regime and the opposition agreed to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged areas and to conduct an exchange of detainees. Earlier, the delegation of the Syrian regime had refused to enter into negotiations with the opposition on Thursday, and accused international envoy Staffan de Mistura of not being neutral. While it was reported that De Mistura was not satisfied with the Russian move, especially as he considered that the Russian side did not put enough pressure on the Syrian regime to take part in the negotiations. The meeting between De Mistura and the Russian Foreign Ministry representative with regard to Sochi was not positive at all. Sources pointed out that the Syrian regime reduced its representation at Sochi talks, in a move that may be interpreted as "overthrowing" the conference from the ground up. Earlier, before the new agreement was announced on Friday night, Bashar al-Zu'bi, representative of the military factions in the talks, said no progress had been made on the second day of the talks, which began on Thursday, and the Russians failed to bring order to the negotiating table. When asked about the outcome of the meetings between the opposition and a number of international officials, al-Zu'bi said that all these meetings came to reveal to the parties concerned to resolve the Syrian crisis, was the reality of the Syrian regime and its inflexible stance.

Pentagon: US, Turkey discuss Syria safe zone
AFP, Washington/Friday, 26 January 2018/US and Turkish military commanders have discussed the possibility of creating a "secure zone" along the border with Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday, amid rising tensions over Turkish intervention in the region. "Clearly we continue to talk to the Turks about the possibility of a secure zone, whatever you want to call it," Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters. "We've looked at that for a couple of years in various different iterations and no final decision on it yet. Our military commanders are still talking so I would say it's a concept that's out there ... it's simply an idea that's floating around right now." McKenzie did not go into details about what a safe zone might entail, but Turkish media have said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that he supports creating a secure area that reaches 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) into Syria. The brutal Syrian war, which has claimed more than 340,000 lives since 2011, has grown even more complex over the past week with Turkey launching a ground operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Afrin, close to the Turkish border. That has heightened tensions with NATO member Turkey's Western allies -- particularly the United States, which has backed the Kurdish YPG in their fight against ISIS. "Particularly in Afrin, Turkish operations ... that have the effect of inducing friction into the equation, of making it harder to focus on why we are in Syria ... are a negative thing," McKenzie said, adding that he understood Turkey's "legitimate" security concerns. The three-star general added that the Turkish operations in Afrin were "not helpful" in the fight against ISIS. He would not comment on what the US military would do if the Turks move to the east and continue their push against the Kurds to the Kurdish-held city of Manbij. If that happens, America would find itself at an extraordinary crossroads. It would need to determine whether it would support its NATO ally Turkey, the Kurdish fighters it has backed to defeat IS, or somehow forge some sort of compromise between the two sides.

‘America first’ does not mean America alone: Trump
FRANK KANE/Arab News/Saturday 27 January 2018
DAVOS: Donald Trump became the first US president in 18 years to address the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos with a speech that pledged to reform the international trade system, “de-nuke” the Korean peninsula and frustrate Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His address, delivered to a packed and expectant audience at the WEF on Friday, met with polite applause from a crowd that some had suggested could be hostile to the president’s “America First” message. But Trump defused potential hostility with a low-key, diplomatic speech that focused on his economic achievements and the attraction of the US for investors. On foreign and trade matters, he said: “I will always put America first, but America first does not mean America alone.” He restated his strong stance on foreign and military affairs. Trump said he had invested money in the US military, and was asking America’s friends to “meet their financial obligations” on defense. With regard to the world’s trouble spots, Trump pledged to “de-nuke” the Korean peninsula, and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. “We continue to call on partners to confront Iran’s support for terrorists and block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon,” he said.
On international terrorism, he delivered a strong message that a US-led coalition would “deny terrorists control of their territory and populations, to cut off their funding and to discredit their wicked ideology.”He said he was pleased to report that the coalition to defeat Daesh “has retaken almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.” “There is still more fighting and work to be done and to consolidate our gains. We are committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who want to commit mass murder of our civilian populations,” he said. “We are also securing our immigration system as a matter of both national and economic security. America is a cutting-edge economy. But our immigration system is stuck in the past. We must replace our current system of extended family chain migration with a merit-based system of admissions.”Trump said US prosperity created jobs and economic growth around the world, but he warned that he would take a tough line on trade when he believed other countries were not playing fair. In a veiled reference to China, he said: “You cannot have free and open trade if some countries are not fair and reciprocal.” The US would not tolerate threats to intellectual property, subsidies, or “state-led economic planning.”He said the US would enter mutually beneficial trade treaties, and would consider bilateral treaties with members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the global trade group from which he withdrew in one of his first acts as president.

Davos: Trump Calls on Partners to Confront 'Iran’s Support for Terrorists'
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/Speaking Friday at the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland US President Donald Trump called on world powers to confront threats posed by Iran. The US leader called on allies to block Iran's path to nuclear weapon. “We continue to call on partners to confront Iran’s support for terrorists and block Iran’s path to nuclear weapon,” Trump told the forum.  The president also raised the issues of North Korea and Afghanistan saying that countries need to apply "maximum pressure to de-nuke" the Korean peninsula.  "We are committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists wanting to commit mass-murder, " he added. He also highlighted the war against terrorist group ISIS. "The coalition to defeat ISIS has taken almost 100 per cent of the territory once held by these killers," he said.  Trump stated that the fight against militants is not over and stressed the need to work "together to defeat terrorists". He said US was making “historic investments” in the military because “we cannot have prosperity without security”.

Trump Apologizes for Retweeting Anti-Muslim Videos
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/US President Donald Trump said he had not intended to cause offense in the UK by sharing anti-Muslim videos originally posted by a British far-right fringe group and that he would apologize if such people were horrible racists. "If you're telling me they're horrible racist people, I would certainly apologize if you'd like me to do that," Trump told ITV's Good Morning Britain, referring to the group Britain First. Trump sparked outrage in the UK in November with the retweet and drew a public rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May, to which he replied angrily, souring trans-Atlantic ties. Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of anti-immigration Britain First, had posted the videos.But Trump said Friday: “I don’t want to be involved with people, but you're telling me about these people because I know nothing about these people."

Iraq Receives ex-Minister Wanted for Corruption from Lebanon
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/Interpol handed over to Iraq former trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani who was arrested at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport over a conviction for corruption in September last year.
A source from Iraq’s Integrity Commission said on Thursday that the Iraqi authorities received Sudani who is facing corruption charges. The source added that Sudani is now in the commission’s custody, and will face nine corruption cases. During a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the Swiss resort of Davos, Interpol's secretary general Juergen Stock revealed that he would visit Iraq soon. Abadi’s office announced in a statement that the two sides discussed cooperation with Iraq to follow up on organized crime, terrorism and those involved in corruption. Stock affirmed the Interpol’s cooperation with Iraq in this field, saying he will visit Baghdad soon. Majida al-Tamimi, member of the parliamentary financial committee, highlighted to Asharq Al-Awsat the importance of enforcing the law on everyone so that a message is sent to Iraqis that every corrupt individual will be held accountable. “Today, there is a rule of law in Iraq, and the country has benefited from previous mistakes that led to draining the treasury, increasing debts not to mention the negative repercussions on the economic activities," added Tamimi. In the same context, member of Parliamentary Financial Committee Rahim al-Darraji stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that capturing Sudani and extraditing him to Baghdad brings justice to the oppressed people and to public funds. Commenting on Stock's willingness to visit Iraq, Darraji said that “there is an Iraqi agreement with international parties, including Interpol, to fight corruption and money-laundering. Therefore, I expect that the coming days will witness a clear accountability of corrupt” individuals. Furthermore, leader of the Sadrist Movement Muqtada al-Sadr said that reconstruction projects would not be accomplished without the eradication of corruption.

Russia: We Do Not Recognize One-Sided US Sanctions
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/Russian deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov announced on Friday that Moscow only recognizes sanctions adopted by the United Nations Security Council and therefore is no obligated to carry out sanctions set by Washington. “We don’t recognize one-sided American sanctions, we have no international obligations to comply with them,” the RIA news agency quoted Morgulov as saying. Such sanctions include those on North Korea. Morgulov also said Russia would not expel North Korean citizens who are subject to US sanctions, and the US special representative for North Korea had been invited to visit Moscow, RIA reported. On Thursday, South Korea said there was mounting evidence that sanctions against North Korea are having an effect, with trade across the Chinese border with the north now virtually "frozen up." The claim comes from South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-Wha, who has been speaking to reporters on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kang welcomed a new wave of diplomacy with North Korea, which includes the two Koreas jointly competing in certain events at next month's Winter Olympics, which the south is hosting. But the foreign minister emphasized that for sustained diplomatic progress to be made beyond the Olympics, North Korea needs to recognize its stance on nuclear weapons is "unacceptable " and has "to move away from that course .... find a different course and engage."She said the south wants to see "some kind of a momentum" created as a result of the Olympic rapprochement, but warned "south-north relations cannot improve without some traction and advance on the nuclear front."

Russia Infrastructure Spying Could Cause 'Total Chaos', Says UK Defense Minister
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 26/18/Britain's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has accused Russia of spying on its critical infrastructure as part of possible plans to create "total chaos" in the country that could "cause thousands and thousands of deaths". In unusually alarmist words from a senior minister Williamson told the Daily Telegraph that, in its research on UK power supply connections with Europe, Moscow appeared intent on sowing "panic" and hurting Britain. "What they are looking at doing is they are going to be thinking 'how can we just cause so much pain to Britain?'" he said in comments published Thursday night. "Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country."Williamson, who only became defence chief in November after predecessor Michael Fallon resigned over allegations of misconduct, gave the interview at the outset of a new five-month defence review. He is reportedly pressuring finance minister Philip Hammond to allocate more money to defence and scrap further cuts to Britain's strained armed forces. In the interview the minister said Russia acts in a way "that any other nation would see as completely unacceptable". "Why would they keep photographing and looking at power stations, why are they looking at the interconnectors that bring so much electricity and so much energy into our country," he questioned in the paper.
"They are looking at these things because they are saying these are the ways that we can hurt Britain."Earlier this week Fallon joined calls from the head of the army for more British military spending, amid warnings the country may struggle to match Russian battlefield capabilities. Meanwhile the head of the National Cyber Security Centre said the country will likely face a major cyber-attack within two years. Ciaran Martin told the Guardian it was inevitable a hostile actor would launch an online attack aimed at crippling Britain's critical infrastructure, such as energy supplies, and it was lucky not to have fallen victim to such a strike already. Williamson, who is tipped as a possible future ruling Conservative party leader, described his scenario planning as "the real threat that I believe the country is facing at the moment."A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it had nothing further to add to his remarks. The Russian Embassy in London could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Looted Cash, Gold Help ISIS Recruit in Philippines
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/Insurgents looted cash, gold and jewelery worth tens of millions of dollars when they occupied a southern Philippines town last year, treasure one of their leaders has used to recruit around 250 fighters for fresh attacks, Reuters reported. The military said Humam Abdul Najib escaped from Marawi City, which the militants had hoped to establish as a stronghold for ISIS in Southeast Asia, before it was recaptured by the military in October after five months of ferocious battles and aerial bombardment. Since then, Najib, also known as Abu Dar, has used the booty looted from bank vaults, shops and homes in Marawi to win over boys and young men in the impoverished southern province of Lanao del Sur, military officers in the area said. Hardened mercenaries are also joining, lured by the promise of money. As a result, ISIS followers remain a potent threat in Southeast Asia even though hundreds of militants were killed in the battle for Marawi, the officers said. "Definitely they haven't abandoned their intent to create a ‘caliphate’ in Southeast Asia," Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, told Reuters. "That's the overall objective, but in the meantime while they are still trying to recover and build up again – fighters and weapons - our estimate is they are going to launch terrorist attacks."On Saturday, militants wounded eight soldiers in two attacks in Lanao del Sur, Brawner said, the first such violence since the recapture of Marawi. In the early days of the occupation of Marawi last May, as black-clad fighters burned churches, released prisoners and cut the power supply, other militants targeted banks and the homes of wealthy citizens, commandeering hostages to help with the plunder. "It was in the first week. They divided us into three groups with seven people each," said J.R. Montesa, a Christian construction worker who was captured by the militants. Using explosives, the militants blew open the vaults of the city's three main banks, Landbank, the Philippine National Bank and the Al Amanah Islamic Bank, Montesa told Reuters in a town near Marawi. They trucked away the booty, easily slipping out of Marawi because a security cordon was not fully in place. They also raided jewelry stores, pawnshops and businesses. Landbank and Al Amanah did not respond to requests for comment. Philippine National said recovering losses because of the Marawi fighting was a concern, but did not give details. At the time the militants struck, banks, businesses and homes had more money than usual, said Marawi City police chief Ebra Mor. The Maranaos, the ethnic group that dominates the area around Marawi, are mostly Muslims. "There was a lot of money inside the battle area," he told Reuters. "Maranaos keep millions of pesos in safety vaults in their homes. Gold, also. It is a tradition of the Maranao to give gifts of money."Montesa said vans they loaded with the spoils of the raids were "overflowing", with money, gold and other valuables stuffed into every crevice of the vehicles. "They were saying it was a gift from Allah. The military and police have also been accused by rights groups and by Marawi residents of looting during the conflict.

Saudi: Any Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital is Void
Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/Saudi Arabia has stressed that any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is void and would inflame the entire Middle East, weakening the chances for a permanent peace. “Jerusalem is and will always be Palestine’s historic and eternal capital,” Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah al-Mouallimi told a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would like to remind that any measure taken by the Israeli occupation ... towards the Holy City of Jerusalem is null and void,” the diplomat said on Thursday. “Any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or the transfer of the embassy of any country into it is also void,” he added. Such a measure inflames the entire region and weakens chances for a comprehensive and permanent peace based on a two-state solution, the diplomat warned. Mouallimi stressed that the Arab Peace Initiative made by Saudi Arabia in 2002 had confirmed the willingness of Arabs and Muslims to achieve peace based on international resolutions by ending Israeli occupation of all Arab lands, including Jerusalem. The Saudi Ambassador also urged the UN Security Council to take a decisive stance towards Iran and stress that the international community won’t stand idle towards Tehran’s terrorist and aggressive acts, which lead to regional and international instability. He said it was also time to seriously deal with Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” and unveil its terrorist operations in Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the world.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 26-27/18
World Leaderships Look Weaker Than Global Challenges
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/
It would be absurd if we admit how poor the Arab world’s reading of local, regional and global political developments is. Yes, there is a problem in reading, as well as understanding sometimes. However, It would not be fair if a self-proclaimed objective analyst puts all the blame on Arab individuals, politicians or the ‘Arab political order’, if using such a term is still possible.
Our Arab countries suffer from educational systems weakened and burdened by rapid population growth, dwindling natural resources especially in densely population countries, and continuous failures in developing political institutions capable of representing the aspirations of youth anxious for results, while realistically and responsibly interacting with their respective environments.
All these serious problems prohibit the development of proper political strategies. Furthermore, there are both urgent and long-term dangers surrounding the Arab world from all sides, in addition to the Israeli threat in its heart, where it separate its Asian and African land masses.
With regard to Israel and those behind it, the conflict is now in its seventh decade; and yet I believe that the Arabs – as well as the Israelis – are no closer to any realistic vision for any form of co-existence.
Throughout the many experiences, from the days of the first PLO chief Ahmad Al-Shuqeiri to the current chief Mahmoud Abbas, through the ‘historic’ era of Yasser Arafat, it is noticeable that there is deep distrust on both sides.
This makes any talk of peace useless, since the Israelis talk peace while continuing their settlement and militaristic plans, thus pushing the Palestinians to oppose it; and even when Palestinians show willingness to discuss peace, some Arabs and non-Arabs hijack their cause, outbid them and accuse them of selling out. On the other hand, when the Palestinians make a peace and co-existence offer, there comes from the Israeli side those who not only murder the ‘peacemakers’ – as did Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s killer –, but also looks for every trick in the book to blackmail and ruin the credibility of moderate Palestinians and Arabs, as we have seen on time and time again.
Thus, today when one looks at the map of what is left of Arab Palestine, Israel’s jailing Palestinian children, and ‘demonizing’ a whole people, one examines the political ideas that deal with this tragic situation; one that the more there one hears about ‘The Two-State Solution’ the clearer it becomes that it is a non-starter. This is the case not only because successive ‘Likud’ governments have incessantly strived to undemand to possibility of a viable Palestinian state, but also because no Israeli political party has any chance of winning elections if it commits itself to genuine peace and agrees to ‘discuss’ the issue of Jerusalem as a part of the promised ‘final agreement’.
Apart from the challenge posed by Israel and the Arab – including Palestinian – failures in dealing with it, there is another ‘occupation’ in southern Syria and southern Lebanon to the north of Israeli borders. It is the Iranian ‘de facto’ occupation, which some prefer to ‘diplomatically’ describe it as “Iranian armed presence”. The latter is now wider and stronger, and may prove to be of longer duration than the Israeli occupation, more so since it enjoys the acceptance from supportive sectarian environments, which are benefitting from it even in other parts of the Arab world.
Talking specifically of four Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, it is obvious that Iran already wields huge influence, and this may soon be legitimised through the imminent elections expected in Iraq and Lebanon. Unfortunately, this weird situation does not seem to bother major world powers, but rather enjoys their approval.
The contradictory messages received by the Tehran regime, since uncovering its negotiations with Washington, which led to the JCPOA (i.e. the Nuclear Agreement), have made it more hawkish, expansionist and dismissive of its neighbours. Even today, despite the apparent change of Washington’s approach, European powers - plus Russia, obviously - seem to be firmly on Iran’s side. Such positions barely encourage moderation, neither in the Arab countries, nor in the Muslim world.
Then there is Turkey. Here ‘Neo-Ottoman’ Ankara leadership is quite different from either Ataturk’s or NATO’s.
Like Iran, Turkey is receiving ambiguous messages from world powers, especially from the USA, its major NATO ally. As a result, as we see, the Turkish leadership has been getting its priorities and alternatives mixed up, mainly due to the following reasons:
1- Europe’s refusal of accepting Turkey as part of its ‘union’.
2- America’s continuous apparent disregard of Ankara’s Kurdish fears.
3- Russia’s opposition of Ankara’s playing an effective role in its former ‘Ottoman’ and ‘Turkic’ domains extending from the Arab Middle East, to the Caucasus and Central Asia.
It is to be expected that European powers would never welcome a populous Muslim country linked to ‘Islamic/Islamist’ tentacles deep inside the continent. Washington, in turn, looks as if it is unperturbed by Ankara’s worries that an independent – or at least an autonomous – ‘Kurdish entity’ that may be in the offing, could soon become a time bomb that could ruin the Turkish state.
On the other hand, Washington’s continuous betting on a ‘role’ played by the Kurds in northern Syria – despite their lost gamble in northern Iraq – has provided an interesting common cause for Ankara and Tehran; simply because any American support for the notion of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ would surely irritate the two capitals, since Tehran too has its own old Kurdish fears.
The new Turkish – Iranian ‘common denominators’ are currently being opportunistically sponsored by Russia, at the expense of the Arab populations of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. However, what is new, is the political Irano –Turkish expansion in the southern part of the Red Sea and Yemen.
The Houthi takeover in northern Yemen has created a dangerous situation that should have alerted the world powers to the true dimensions of Iran’s expansionist project, and now some other countries are worried that Turkey may be flexing its own muscles in former African parts of the ‘Ottoman Empire’.
To conclude, one may regard Arab confusions, Kurdish aspirations, as well as Turkish and Iranian ambitions, as natural results of the present ‘vacuum’ in ‘Global leadership’. This is to say that the ‘quality’ of leaders in the world’s major capitals is far below what is required to cope with the serious challenges threatening the Middle East, indeed, the whole world.
Do not far. Ask us the peoples of the Middle East!

Turkey: No Longer a Friend but Not a Foe
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/January 26/18/
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987
In May 1994 during a trip to Istanbul to address a conference of Turkish women, I asked colleagues whether there were any rising stars in the then obscure firmament of Turkish politics. Their almost unanimous answer was: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a 40-year-old politician who had won the mayoralty of Istanbul, the nation’s most populous city, against all odds.
However, their recommendation came with a caveat: Erdogan had a history of activism within several Islamist associations and political parties, a fact that, Turkish friends believed at the time, limited his prospects in a system founded on a peculiar understanding of secularism.
But, a few days later when we met Erdogan in his office, we found ourselves in the presence of an energetic reformer more interested in pragmatic concepts than ideological shibboleths.
Erdogan’s clean shaven face, apart from the almost mandatory Turkish moustache he sported, his well-cut suit and Cerruti necktie depicted him more like a European-style politician than an aspirant to sultandom in the ancient oriental tradition.
His diagnosis of what ailed Turkey had nothing to do with ideology.
He insisted that Turkey had to put its economy in order by taming inflation, and restore public faith in the government by uprooting the corruption that afflicted all parts of the system. More interestingly, Erdogan wanted to kick-start negotiations to join the European Union, ending the lethargic approach of Prime Ministers such as Tansu Ciller and Mesut Yilmaz.
Even more intriguing was Erdogan’s admission that Turkey would have to tackle its “Kurdish problem” with courage and realism rather than denial and repression.
At the time the cynic that lodges in every journalist’s brain murmured that Erdogan was sounding reasonable only to achieve enough power that would allow him to be unreasonable.
For the next decade or so as Erdogan went on to win two general elections and serve as prime minister, however, the naughty little cynic proved wrong.
Much to our surprise he did what he had said he would if he had the power.
His reforms, though at times brutal, did rescue the Turkish economy form the inflationary spiral, putting it back on the path of sustained growth for the first time since the 1950s. At the end of Erdogan’s first decade Turkey was the world’s 14th largest economy, 30 per cent bigger than neighboring Iran with the same population and plenty of oil and gas.
On the issue of joining the European Union, too, Erdogan achieved significant progress in 20 of the 22 main topics on the so-called mise-a-jour agenda.
On fighting corruption, Erdogan’s performance was impressive, propelling Turkey away from the top of the list of the global index of corruption established by Transparency International.
By all standards, Erdogan was also a model of success in foreign policy; by the early years of the new century, Turkey was the only Middle Eastern nation without active enemies.
Erdogan’s realism in dealing with the thorny issue of Cyprus made it hard even for the most fanatical pan-Hellenists to nurse the ancient “hate the Turk” flames.
Even more astonishing was the patience and moderation with which Erdogan tackled the complex issue of Kurdish aspirations, a task made easier by the fact that his Justice and Development Party (AKP), owed part of its electoral success to support from constituencies where ethnic Kurds formed a majority.
Sadly, history is full of "and then-what" which put the narrative on a new, even opposite, trajectory.
It is difficult to know for sure when and how Erdogan's "and then-what" came about. However, by around 2010 the moderate, pragmatic and reformist politician, about to be elevated to the status of statesman, had morphed into an intolerant, ideology-stricken, conservative politico devoid of vision and anxious about consolidation of his power.
What we see today is a rewinding of the film “The Decade of Success” under Erdogan. The Turkish economy is back in the doldrums with inflation and unemployment again in double digits and direct foreign investment at its lowest since the early 2000s. The gangrene of corruption is also back, gnawing at the bones of the state and, if a torrent of accusations is to be believed, affecting even the inner circles of power. The historic reconciliation with the Kurdish minority is also at an end as even elected members of parliament are punished for being Kurds. The prospect of Turkey joining the European Union is all but abandoned by both sides as Erdogan adopts an anti-West posture while the EU flatters its resurrected populist demons.
Erdogan has achieved something else that is unique: leading Turkey into a war in which it finds itself fighting the side that is supported by its NATO allies, especially the United States and France.
That, in turn, has led to a bizarre situation in which Turkey is seen as part of a triangle with Russia and Iran, in a scheme to carve out what is left of war-torn Syria. In just a decade Erdogan acquired the wherewithal to transform Turkey into a prosperous democracy. But when it came to assemble the parts into a coherent whole he lacked the vade mecum and/ or the skill to do so.
In what seems to be a prolonged fit of anger with himself, with erstwhile Islamist allies, and even elements within his own party, Erdogan decided to break one by one the parts so patiently acquired, insisting that he alone must have the final word. There is no doubt that under Erdogan, Turkey at first took the right turn but now is taking the wrong turn. The little cynic in a journalist’s head shakes its index finger with an “I-told-you-so” sneer. But the optimist who lodges in a journalist’s heart claims that Erdogan’s pyrotechnical rush to disaster will stop once he is anointed president next year with a massive election victory.
In the meantime, counting on Turkey as ally would be imprudent while treating it as foe would be foolish.

Palestinians: Silencing and Intimidating Journalists
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/January 26/2018
The five journalists were arrested shortly after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas signed the controversial cyber-crime law in June 2017. Critics say the new law is aimed at silencing and intimidating journalists and political opponents of the PA and its president.
Ammar Dweik, head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, said the new law is "one of the worst" since the PA was established in 1994.
The Palestinian Authority claims it does not tolerate "incitement." The "incitement" it is referring to, however, is criticism of Abbas and his cronies. In fact, the PA tolerates incitement quite well, and has spent decades driving such incitement -- when it is directed against Israel and the US. Indeed, Palestinians are free to incite against Israel and the US day and night.
Palestinian journalists have decided to renew their campaign against the Palestinian Authority's assault on freedom of expression.
The decision came after the Palestinian Authority (PA) filed charges against journalist Tareq Abu Zeid, for "incitement" and "jeopardizing the security of the State of Palestine."
Abu Zeid is the latest victim of a new Palestinian law targeting journalists and social media activists.
Earlier this week, a Palestinian magistrate's court in Nablus, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, decided to refer the case of Abu Zeid to the PA's Grand Criminal Court. Abu Zeid, who was arrested in August 2017 for 15 days, is facing charges over Facebook posts criticizing the Palestinian Authority. If convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of one year in prison and a fine.
Four other Palestinian journalists who were arrested by the Palestinian Authority around the same time are facing similar charges. However, it is still not clear when they will be brought to trial. The four are: Mamdouh Hamamreh, Kutaiba Qassem, Amer Abu Arafeh and Ahmed Halaikah. Many other journalists and Facebook users have also been summoned for interrogation over the past few months on suspicion of "incitement."
The five journalists were arrested shortly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the controversial Palestinian cyber-crime law in June 2017. Critics say the new law is aimed at silencing and intimidating journalists and political opponents of the PA and its president.
Article 4 of the law states:
Any person who has intentionally and unlawfully accessed any electronic system or network, has abused any information technology or part thereof, or has exceeded the authorized entry shall be liable to either imprisonment, a fine between two hundred and one thousand Jordanian dinars, or a combination of the two.
If the act specified in paragraph (1) of this article is committed against any official statement by the government, the culprit shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of at least six months, or by a fine of no less than two hundred Jordanian dinars...
The same article states that if the "abuse" affects government data, the sentence shall be "a minimum of five years of temporary hard labor and will have to pay a fine of no less than five thousand Jordanian dinars..."
Article 20 of the law states:
Anyone who creates or manages a website or an information technology platform that aims to publish news that would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state, the public order or the internal or external security of the State, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of at least one year or by a fine of no less than one thousand Jordanian dinars and no more than five thousand Jordanian dinars or by a combination of both punishments.
Any person who propagates the kinds of news mentioned above by any means, including broadcasting or publishing them, shall be sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison or be required to pay a fine of no less than two hundred Jordanian dinars and no more than one thousand Jordanian dinars or be subjected to both penalties.
The new law has drawn sharp criticism from Palestinian journalists and human rights organizations.
However, the Palestinian Authority has thus far chosen to ignore the criticism.
A few weeks after Abbas approved the law, the Palestinian security forces summoned the chairman of the Palestinian Postal Service Workers' Union, Emad Temeiza, and interrogated him about posts he had published on Facebook. Temeiza was forced to sign a document in which he pledged to delete the posts. He was also told that he will remain under surveillance and that he may be summoned again, and charges may be brought against him at any time.
"The law represents a serious curtailment on privacy and freedom of expression," according to ADDAMEER, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
"The most troubling aspects of this document are its vague definitions of what constitutes a punishable offence, its extension of punishment to any individual who assists or agrees with what the decree considers a felony, and the clear attacks on dissenters, journalists and leakers. The combination of the three means that an ever-increasingly authoritarian regime has the legal backing necessary to effectively crackdown on any form of digital dissent."
The group pointed out that the Palestinian Authority has already used the new law to block 30 websites, most of which are associated with Abbas's political rivals, including Hamas and exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. ADDAMEER further cautioned:
"The fact that these websites are run by political rivals to the current ruling faction of the Palestinian Authority indicates that these laws are being used, and will continue to be used, to stifle free speech, legitimate dissent, and discussions regarding the state of politics in Palestine.
Such affronts to the freedom of the press were escalated with the arrest of five journalists, who were accused of 'leaking information to hostile entities'..."
Ammar Dweik, head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, said the new law is "one of the worst" since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994. He said that the law is a "big setback to freedoms" because it paves the way for cracking down on activists and journalists.
Palestinian journalists and human rights groups expressed concern that the decision to prosecute Tareq Abu Zeid before the Grand Criminal Court was aimed at imposing a heavy sentence and fine against him. Abu Zeid's lawyer, Ibrahim Amer, said that Palestinian lawyers have decided to boycott the court, which specializes in serious offenses committed against the security of the "State of Palestine." The lawyer noted that Abu Zeid's only "crime" was posting a critical comment (against the Palestinian Authority) on Facebook.
Even the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, whose leaders are associated with the Palestinian Authority, has expressed outrage over the decision to bring Abu Zeid to trial. The syndicate said that the decision was aimed at "intimidating journalists and poses a real threat to freedom of expression and the media." The syndicate also warned that the decision to press charges against Abu Zeid is an indication that "Palestine is headed toward becoming a repressive regime, where citizens live in fear." The group also renewed its appeal to the PA to revoke or revise the electronic crimes law.
Palestinian journalists protest in Nablus to demand that the Palestinian Authority release their colleague, Tareq Abu Zeid, on June 24, 2016. (Image source: Al Resalah)
Another Palestinian journalist group denounced the "ongoing and systematic campaign waged by the PA in the West Bank against freedom of the media and expression." The group called on the PA to halt its "arbitrary and repressive" measures against Palestinian journalists.
The Palestinian Authority's crackdown on freedom of expression does not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the inner workings of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. Since its establishment in 1994, the PA, first under Yasser Arafat and later under Mahmoud Abbas, has proven that it is no different from other Arab dictatorships that target journalists and political opponents.
The Palestinian Authority claims it does not tolerate "incitement." The "incitement" it is referring to, however, is criticism of Abbas and his cronies. In fact, the PA tolerates incitement quite well, and has spent decades driving such incitement -- when it is directed against Israel and the US. Indeed, Palestinians are free to incite against Israel and the United States day and night. Anyone, however, who dares to discuss the corruption that defines Abbas and his Palestinian government will find, as did Tareq Abu Zeid, that such "incitement" is rewarded with repression.
**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.

To whom it may concern: Stop Iran!
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/January 26/2018
“We will strengthen our old alliances and create new ones.” These were the words of US President Donald Trump on 20 January of last year at his inauguration ceremony.
This main principle of Trump’s foreign policy is key to his current policy in the Middle East, as reflected in his tough stance against the rise of Iranian influence in the region along withhis pressure on European countries to review the nuclear deal, whose adverse consequences Trump never fails to adumbrate.
Last Monday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the United States plans to send a diplomatic team to Europe for discussing, “how we can cooperate more on countering Iranian activities that have nothing to do with the nuclear program,” such as “Iran’s arms exports to Yemen and elsewhere.”
Those who hobnobbed with Iran under the leadership of Obama should clearly define their position today, be they in Europe or Arab countries. In this context, US researcher Jay Solomon wrote an article for the MBN network, in which he highlighted extensive US pressure on Iran-affiliated countries in the region.
He also talks about the increasing logistical and intelligence support provided by the United States to Saudi Arabia and the Arab alliance in Yemen, in comparison to the negative, cold, sluggish or conspiratorial attitude of the ‘great genius’ Barack Obama!
On the other hand, every day we become aware of more information about the extent of Iranian influence. Reuters said that ‘The Washington Free Beacon’ website revealed another “secret” agreement reached by the Obama administration with Iran, hindering the imposition of sanctions on the “Iranian radio and television” accused of human rights violations. Then of course we have the scandalous Cassandra deal. The Obama administration allegedly stopped the investigation into the largest drug trafficking network and money laundering for Hezbollah in the United States and Latin America for the sake of its sacred agreement with Iran.Those who hobnobbed with Iran under the leadership of Obama should clearly define their position today, be they in Europe or Arab countries.
The new US message as Trump enunciated it must be understood, “We will strengthen our old alliances and create new ones.”

A Historic Holocaust Awareness Awakening in Saudi Arabia, of All Places
تقرير عن مقاربة سعودية ايجابية وتاريخية للمحرقة اليهودية التي اقترفها هتلر

Robert Satloff/New York Daily News/The Washington InstituteJanuary 26, 2018
A Remembrance Day letter from a top Saudi religious figure is a laudable example of outreach from the heart of Islam.
Saturday, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The UN resolution that established the commemoration urges all countries "to develop educational programs to instill the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again." To its credit, Saudi Arabia has taken an important first step toward fulfilling that charge.
Saudi Arabia? Land of religious purity, whose king (Faisal) once celebrated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact, whose UN representative (Jamil Baroody, 1976) once denounced Anne Frank's diary as a forgery and claimed the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis was fiction? The country that not only counted among its countrymen 15 of 19 perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks but whose religious hierarchy exported bigotry and intolerance to mosques and madrasas around the world for decades, fueling the hate on which Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas and all Islamist extremist movements thrived?
Yes, that Saudi Arabia. Here's the background.
In early December, I led a delegation of lay leaders of the foreign policy think tank I direct on a visit to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Among the high-ranking officials we met during our three-day visit was Dr. Mohammed Al Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League.
This is the organization that has long been cited as the key facilitator of Saudi Arabia's global effort to export a radical, hate-filled, anti-West, anti-Semitic version of Islam. Just last year, a prominent British research institute labeled Saudi Arabia the main source of Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom and cited the MWL as a critical linchpin in that project.
In practice, the change inside MWL appears to have begun with the August 2016 appointment of Al Issa, a former Saudi justice minister. Taking his lead from Muhammad bin Salman, the current crown prince who has vowed to cleanse his country of extremism and return it to "moderate Islam," Al Issa seems to have a specific mandate to transform the MWL from an organization synonymous with extremism to one that preaches tolerance.
And, no less important, he has promised to remake the MWL into an organization focused solely on religion, taking it completely out of politics—except for the politics of countering extremism, that is.
I was skeptical. In Saudi Arabia, where the royal family counts protection of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina as main sources of legitimacy and public expression of non-Muslim prayer is prohibited, religion and politics are inherently connected.
But in our December meeting, Al Issa struck an impressive note. Not only did he underscore a decidedly un-Saudi commitment to religious outreach, speaking fondly of his recent visit to a Paris synagogue, he also refused to take the bait when asked about President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. If I expected any Saudi official to bang the table, sermonize about the Muslim connection to Al Quds and decry the President's decision to recognize the sovereignty of the Jewish state anywhere in the city, it would have been the secretary-general of the Muslim World League. Instead, he politely declined comment, saying only that the League is committed to peace and is not a political body.
When I returned home, I wrote Al Issa, thanked him for our meeting and invited him to Washington to address my institute's annual conference in May. But I added one more request: Should he come to our nation's capital, I wrote, I urged him to tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and meet with its director, Sara Bloomfield.
For more than 15 years, one of my personal passions has been to engage Arabs and Muslims in a discussion of the Holocaust. This is based on my belief that tearing down the walls of Holocaust denial so widespread in Arab and Muslim culture is a critical element in the broader fight against the hatred at the heart of Islamist extremism. I have been privileged to work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in an ambitious effort to legitimize discussion of the Holocaust in Arab and Muslim countries and to help prevent future genocide by spreading the lessons of the Holocaust.
We have had some impressive success, especially in Morocco (where the king's brother recently endorsed Holocaust education as an important tool in the battle against extremism) and in Tunisia (where civil society is holding a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony this week).
Never in my wildest dreams did I think Saudi Arabia would merit inclusion on that list of "progressive" countries. But Al Issa surprised me. I soon received a reply welcoming my invitation and agreeing to visit the Museum. While he wouldn't be the first Muslim notable to visit the Museum, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League would be the highest-ranking Muslim religious official—an important step in the process of legitimizing Muslim discussion of the Holocaust.
A few days later, I had another "why not?" idea. With January 27 approaching, I wrote Al Issa asking whether he would send a letter to Bloomfield on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day that she could make public. The letter, I suggested, might reflect his and the MWL's approach toward the Holocaust and the broader battle for tolerance and moderation.
At most, I expected a brief, sterile note. After all, Saudi officials don't have much of a guidebook for how to write letters commemorating the Holocaust. But again, Al Issa surprised me. He wrote a lengthy missive, all 623 words of which have been posted, with the Holocaust Museum's permission, on the Washington Institute's website here. In it, he labeled the Holocaust "an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person."
I will quote at length: "This Human tragedy perpetrated by evil Nazism won't be forgotten by history, or meet the approval of anyone, except criminal Nazis or their genre. True Islam is against these crimes. It classifies them in the highest degree of penal sanctions and among the worst human atrocities ever.
"One would ask, who is in his right mind would accept, sympathize or even diminish the extent of this brutal crime. However, our solace is that the memory of history is fair and vivid; and a justice, free of any other inclinations, would mourn this crime on behalf of all humanity. The victims have sacrificed their innocent lives to pen a memorable reminder of freedom and determination, an example of the extent of Nazi hate which has sunk the world into wars and disasters."
On Holocaust denial, Al Issa had particularly harsh words:
"History is indeed impartial no matter how hard forgers tried to tamper with or manipulate it. Hence, we consider any denial of the Holocaust or minimizing its effect, a crime to distort history, and an insult to the dignity of those innocent souls who have perished. It is also an affront to us all, since we share the same human soul and spiritual bonds."
And unlike many Muslim interlocutors with whom I have discussed these issues over the years, Al Issa did not try to deflect potential criticism of engaging on the Holocaust by wrapping himself in the false equivalence of Israel's "genocide" of Palestinians. To the contrary, he stayed away from the issue altogether and instead affirmed the apolitical policy enunciated in our Riyadh meeting: "The Muslim World League is entirely independent of any political aims, tendencies or otherwise. It does, however, express its opinion with utter neutrality; an impartiality that doesn't carry any political tone at all."
All in all, it is a remarkable document—remarkable for its authorship, content, breadth and message. I assume there are many reasons—some sacred, some less so—why the head of the Muslim World League took pen to paper to denounce Holocaust denial. As my teenage son likes to say, this is not my first rodeo. But action matters so much more than motive. And having been written, Al Issa's words cannot easily be undone. Thanks to him, this International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be recalled as the one in which Saudi Arabia—defender of Islam's two holiest sites—took a giant step toward joining the world in its recognition of the enormity of the Holocaust. Is more to be done? Absolutely. But let's give credit where credit is due.
*Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute and author of Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.