January 29/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
John 01/01-18: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,  who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 28-29/18
Hezbollah Has Destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew/Hanin Ghaddar/The Wall Street Journal/January 29/18
IDF Spokesman Warns Lebanon Of War With Israel If Iranian Presence Grows/Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/January 28/18
US, the Rule of Law/Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/January 28/18
Russian Bots Are Right: Releasethememo/Eli Lake/Bloomberg/January 28/18
Belgium: How Low Can a Low Country Get/Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/January 28/18
Living in Pakistan - A Hell for Non-Muslims/Rahat John Austin/ Gatestone Institute/January 28/18
Iran spends billions on weapons programs, terrorism while ignoring Iranians' basic needs, report finds/Ben Evansky/Fox News/January 28/18
Jordan’s foreign policy message from Davos/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/January 28/18
Syria: From revolution to occupation/Riad Nasan Agha/Al Arabiya/January 28/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on January 28-29/18
Hezbollah Has Destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew
Rahi blasts politicians' practices
Machnouk: No legitimacy to Hezbollah's arms in the absence of a national defense strategy in confrontation of Israel
Kataeb Cadres Hold Electoral Workshop Ahead of Official Campaign Launch
Ex-FPM Official Fires Back at Bou Saab's Remarks
Bou Saab Disavows OTV Rhetoric, Says It Does Not Reflect FPM Ethics
Abi Khalil, Bassil inaugurate sewage treatment project in Chekka
Israeli warplanes circle over Marj'Ayoun region
Kidanian inaugurates ski season in Kfardebian: It is our duty to market this region, media must show its positive aspects
Hasbani: Paris funds without reforms will establish grounds for revolution instead of desired stability
Bou Saab Distances FPM from OTV's Attacks on Berri
Bouassi says LF will not ally with Hezbollah in upcoming elections
Berri Still at Odds with Hariri over Disputed Decree
Prosecution Sues ad-Diyar and Its Editor for 'Insulting' Saudi King
Beirut Protest after Spate of Violent Deaths of Women
Nasrallah discusses developments with Raisi
IDF Spokesman Warns Lebanon Of War With Israel If Iranian Presence Grows

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 28-29/18
Syria Kurds Say Won't Join Sochi Peace Talks
Pressing Syria Offensive, Turkey Urges U.S. Pullback
Navalny Arrested as Thousands Rally against Putin and 'Pseudo-Polls'
Yemen's Southern Separatists: Thirsting for Lost Independence
Yemen Govt. Warns of Coup as Separatists Take Over Headquarters
Cyprus Votes for President with Eyes on New Peace Push
Kabul on High Alert after Ambulance Bomb Toll Tops 100
Abbas :'Oslo Accords are Dead'
Saudi Arabia: Corruption-related Settlements File in its Final Stages
Kabul bombing death toll rises to 103, with 235 wounded

Latest Lebanese Related News published on January 28-29/18 
Hezbollah Has Destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew
حنين غدار/حزب الله دمر لبنان الذي كنت اعرفه
By Hanin Ghaddar/The Wall Street Journal/January 29/18
I was sentenced to six months in jail simply for criticizing the Iran-backed terror group’s role.
I recently learned that Lebanon’s Military Tribunal has sentenced me in absentia to six months in prison. After speaking about Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and Syria, I was charged with defaming the Lebanese army. When my lawyer called to notify me of the ruling, I realized the Lebanon I once knew is gone.
In 2014 I spoke at a Washington Institute conference in the U.S. capital. During a panel discussion, I noted that the Lebanese military targets Sunni groups while showing preferences for Shiite groups like Hezbollah. This prompted Hezbollah’s media to launch a campaign of threats against me. Because former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was at the conference, the Hezbollah media claimed it was treason for me, a Lebanese Shiite, to attend.
Lebanese citizenship, in theory, provides a constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. But Lebanon today is no longer about the constitution or citizenship. Hezbollah’s influence matters more. Simply because I am a Lebanese Shiite journalist who is critical of Hezbollah, I have been sentenced to prison.
As the news of my punishment emerged, another journalist was summoned to another court. The list of Lebanese journalists being tried for publishing articles or posting on social media is growing. The message is clear: Lebanese citizens have the right to speak only if they conform to the dictates of the authorities and their rhetoric.
Increasingly authority belongs to Hezbollah, which state institutions, under pressure, recognize as “the resistance, the army and the people.” The group claims power over the state and its citizens, and consecutive governments have acquiesced. Hezbollah persecutes those who criticize this arrangement—especially if they’re Shiite. Being a woman doesn’t help.
Opposition to Israel drives every aspect of Hezbollah’s politics. Protest the organization’s actions in Lebanon or the region, and you’re tagged a servant of Israel, a traitor. Hezbollah uses its “existential war” against the Jewish state as a pretext to clamp down on basic freedoms. In the name of Palestine, Hezbollah is terrorizing everyday Lebanese citizens. It has isolated the Shiite community and waged wars in the region on behalf of Iran. And it does all of this while appropriating Lebanon’s state institutions.
Lebanon was once a unique, free country in a region brimming with dictatorships and autocrats. Today its state institutions are eradicating those freedoms. Refugees are suffering, the economy is collapsing, and Lebanese are flocking to embassies in Beirut seeking to emigrate. Garbage fills the streets and pollution has reached dangerous levels. All this happens in the name of Palestine.
And if people prefer not to perish for “the resistance,” they can go to prison. For Lebanon’s military court, a journalist expressing a critical opinion endangers the country more than the litany of crimes committed by Hezbollah abroad and at home.
Lebanese people used to say that Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. Today, it seems that Lebanon is a small state within Hezbollah’s state. Thankfully, because I enjoy the safety of a fellowship in Washington, I won’t be going to prison. But there’s something that only those living inside Lebanon can feel: The country is now becoming one large prison.
*Ms. Ghaddar, former managing editor of Lebanon’s Now website, is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Rahi blasts politicians' practices
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi criticized on Sunday the practices of Lebanese politicians, considering that "they disrupt the productive work in the Parliament, government and administrations.""Political officials are not entitled to continue in a situation of uncertainty and fear of the other, with sharp differences on the simplest matters, rivalry, mutual accusations and heated debates," Rahi said during Sunday's Mass service in Bkirki. "No one has the right to monopolize the national decision and impose it on others, to encroach on the law and block the judicial decisions, and to block the roads, allowing the hegemony of influential and armed men," the Patriarch added. Rahi went on to say that these actions do not reflect the image of democratic Lebanon that is characterized by pluralism and unity, human rights and the promotion of modern civilization. "Lebanon is a country of Christian-Muslim interaction, from which stems its distinguished identity," he added.The Patriarch explained that "Lebanon does not consist of two opposing lines that do not converge, but rather of two different lines that meet in national unity.""These are the essential elements of the formation of a civil status in Lebanon, a state where the people are the source of power, not religion...A state founded on human rights, regardless of religious affiliation, race or social status...A state that does not go against religion and divine texts, but is inspired by human, moral and social principles...A state whose national pact is inherent to the essence of the Constitution," Rahi concluded.

Machnouk: No legitimacy to Hezbollah's arms in the absence of a national defense strategy in confrontation of Israel
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Interior Minister Nuhad Machnouk said on Sunday that there is no legitimacy to Hezbollah's weapons in the absence of a national defense strategy in the face of Israel. During a ceremony in honor of Mount Lebanon Governor Mohammad Mekkaoui held in Beirut in the presence of Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian, Minister Machnouk deemed that no decision passes in Lebanon without the capital's consent. He added that Beirut is the capital that draws the Lebanese together, in addition to being a meeting place for all Arabs, noting that "through our strength and steadfastness, Beirut can remain a source of stability for all the Lebanese."Touching on the upcoming parliamentary elections, Machnouk noted that "Lebanon is a country based on democracy and elections, which will take place on May 6 and which we hope would not to be a platform for further differences and confrontations that serve only our adversaries...Instead, we seek tranquility and calm, for the new vote law is not easy." Machnouk revealed that the Future Bloc's electoral lists would be complete throughout the Lebanese territories.

Kataeb Cadres Hold Electoral Workshop Ahead of Official Campaign Launch 28/18/Kataeb's officials, politburo members and cadres convened on Sunday for a workshop ahead of the party's official launching of its electoral campaign on February 4.The Kataeb's Second Deputy-President Salim Sayegh outlined the party's role in creating a public opinion that enforces accountability, deeming the upcoming elections as a major turning point. "Everyone has realized the urgent need for change by electing people who have a rescue plan for the country," Sayegh said. "The Kataeb party has managed to make the opposition forces' voice heard by the international community." "Keeping the current situation unchanged will definitely pose a great risk to the country's stability," he warned. Later, the Kataeb's Deputy Secretary-General Patrick Richa, who also serves as the campaign manager, explained how the party's electoral machine will work as he eleborated on the main phases to go through on the path to the elections. The attendees were also provided with an in-depth insight into the stipulations of the new electoral law.

Ex-FPM Official Fires Back at Bou Saab's Remarks 28/18/Former Free Patriotic Movement official, Fouad Chehab, on Sunday fired back at remarks made by the President's adviser, Elias Bou saab, who refused to label the Syrian presence in Lebanon as an occupation. In an interview held earlier on Sunday on New TV, Bou Saab stated that the Syrian presence in Lebanon was never an act of occupation, describing it as "necessary". "What a shame! Go tell the martyrs' parents that this has become your rhetoric," Chehab wrote on his Facebook page.
"Your excellency, neither you nor anyone else can alter our history and struggle," he added.

Bou Saab Disavows OTV Rhetoric, Says It Does Not Reflect FPM Ethics 28/18/Adviser to the President of the Republic, former Minister Elias Bou Saab, on Sunday criticized the rhetoric adopted in the intro of yesterday's news bulletin on OTV, saying that the Free Patriotic Movement is not used to such a fiery language. “Using the same language on the NBN channel does not mean that we have to follow suit. This does not mirror our ethics. This only reflects the viewpoint of the OTV channel, not the Free Patriotic Movement,” Saab said in an interview on New TV. OTV and NBN are stations affiliated to the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement, respectively. Rival parties have engaged in a tug of war amid a political confrontation between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over a decree promoting a number of Army officers. Tensions have increased lately amid reports that Berri has called on his supporters living in Ivory Coast to boycott the Diaspora Energy Conference held by the Foreign Ministry in Abidjan next week.
"It is true that we are at odds with Speaker Nabih Berri regarding the seniority decree, but this doesn’t mean that the issue should be addressed that way by both TV stations," he said. In its evening new bulletin aired on Saturday, OTV launched a scathing attack against Berri, without actually naming him, accusing the latter of being a subordinate to Syria and the U.S. "We are proud that we didn't steal the nation's money," it added, implicitly labeling the Amal Movement supporters as "thugs".  On Sunday, the OTV shifted its scorching lambasting to Bou Saab, hinting at "accounts in suspicious banks" and "business ties with mafias". "We speak in the name of the martyrs and those who have been struggling for over 25 years," read the OTV intro, which also lashed out at "intruders", "double agents" and "refugee funds thieves" who "beg" for a post and a seat, in what appeared to be a message to Bou Saab. "We are bigger than this because our cause, our martyrs, our movement and our leader are more important," it concluded. Saab had also called on the supporters of the Amal movement and the Free Patriotic Movement to cease their war of words on social media websites, stressing that all this bickering will lead to nowhere. “Your Excellency, had you known how many FPM official, leader and activist had shared the OTV intro on their Facebook pages, you would not have said what you said today," Marada Politburo member Chady Saad said. “Your Excellency, these have been the FPM ethics during the past few years, noting that many of the party's members were expelled for disapproving them."

Abi Khalil, Bassil inaugurate sewage treatment project in Chekka
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Water and Energy Minister Ceasar Abi Khalil inaugurated Sunday, in the presence of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a sewage treatment project governed by the municipalities of Chekka and Anfeh in northern Lebanon. Minister Abi Khalil outlined the steps of the project financed by the Embassy of France and the French Development Agency, highlighting the importance of work and achievements versus remaining idle and wasting time and opportunities. According to his remarks, the Free Patriotic Movement will never alter its methods and will pursue its efforts in the realization of projects that serve the Lebanese, noting that the project inaugurated today is part of a series of several other plans for the Batroun Caza. In turn, Minister Bassil indicated that the inaugurated project is proof of the implementation of several promises made to citizens of the region. In this context, Bassil thanked the French State and the Council for Development and Construction, which has provided a model for cooperation between state institutions. He said the villages in the Chekka neighborhood would benefit from the project related to water resources and electricity.

Israeli warplanes circle over Marj'Ayoun region
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Israeli enemy warplanes are circling at this instant over the Southern Lebanese region of Marj'Ayoun and its surrounding neighborhood, NNA correspondent reported.

Kidanian inaugurates ski season in Kfardebian: It is our duty to market this region, media must show its positive aspects
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Tourism Minister Ouadis Kidanian toured Sunday the skiing resort centers in Kfardebian, declaring the start of the ski season for this year and highlighting the need to "market this region" while calling on the media to "expose its positive features.""Lebanon is one of the most important countries that enjoy winter tourism, especially in this region...I have already indicated the need to balance between portraying the negative and positive aspects in the country...I hope media channels would cover positive news at the beginning of news bulletins, for we are supposed to be proud of the blessings we have in our nature...This is Lebanon, a piece of heaven," said Kidanian. "It is our duty as a Tourism Ministry to also market this region, through our contacts with tour operators, conferences and activities in the world, sending out brochures showing the beauty of our nature," the Tourism Minister added.

Hasbani: Paris funds without reforms will establish grounds for revolution instead of desired stability
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Deputy Prime Minister, Public Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani warned Sunday of pinning hopes on a breakthrough in Lebanon's economic crisis with the convening of the Paris 4 Conference (Cedre), deeming that "Paris funds without reforms will establish grounds for a revolution instead of the desired stability." "The launch of any commitments we are unable to implement later will cause great frustration," said Hasbani in an interview to the Arab Economic News Website. "Following the conference and the parliamentary elections, we will enter into the event of waiting for the money. We will neglect the reforms we have to do internally, which are enough to save us from waiting for external funding," he added. Hasbani expressed keen concern for the success of the Cedre Conference in accordance with the framework set by the international community, "otherwise, it will not lead to the desired results, especially if Lebanon fails to implement its promises and commitments."
He considered that the aim of reconstruction conferences is to provide continuity of economic growth, employment opportunities and social stability. However, he indicated that "the experiences of global investment in reconstruction projects could be detrimental to Lebanon if it does not implement the series of political, administrative and financial reforms." "International support should be given in a measured and expeditious manner. Priority should be given in the displacement dossier to sanitation, electricity, public health and education," Hasbani underscored.

Bou Saab Distances FPM from OTV's Attacks on Berri
Naharnet/January 28/18/President Michel Aoun's International Cooperation Adviser ex-minister Elias Bou Saab sought Sunday to distance the Free Patriotic Movement from OTV's recent attacks on Speaker Nabih Berri and the AMAL Movement. "We in the FPM are not used to the rhetoric that was used in OTV's news bulletin intro. This does not mean that NBN television which used a similar language was right," Bou Saab said in an interview on al-Jadeed TV. "It is true that we are in a dispute with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri over the (army officers) seniority decree, but that does not mean that the issue should be addressed in this manner on OTV and NBN," the former minister added. And urging "all supporters of AMAL Movement and the FPM to end the ongoing debate on social networking websites," Bou Saab revealed that "an agreement was reached in the FPM's political council to coordinate with media outlets affiliated with the FPM or close to it in order to serve the FPM's goals."He added: "This media approach towards the seniority decree will not lead to a result... President Michel Aoun has said that he will abide by any decision by the judicial authorities."Bou Saab also reassured that the FPM and its chief Jebran Bassil "have not taken any decision to broadcast TV reports that attack Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri."

Bouassi says LF will not ally with Hezbollah in upcoming elections
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Minister of Social Affairs Pierre Bouassi said Sunday that the Lebanese Forces would not ally with Hezbollah in the upcoming legislative elections. "We will have no alliance with Hezbollah in respect for our positions, political constants and people," Bouassi said during an interview to "Radio Liban" Station. The Minister deemed that the preferential vote in the new legislative law would minimize the voice influence of Hezbollah supporters in the overall outcome of the elections. As for the alliance between the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, Bouassi said "it is up to the LF leadership to decide whether to ally or not." He anticipated that there would be agreements in some constituencies between the Free Patriotic Movement and the LF, if both parties see common grounds.Bouassi concluded by saying that the elections would be a turning point in Lebanese politics, reminding that Lebanon is endowed with democracy and freedom.

Berri Still at Odds with Hariri over Disputed Decree

Naharnet/January 28/18/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is still at odds with Prime Minister Saad Hariri after the latter signed a disputed decree along with President Michel Aoun without referring it to the finance minister.
"The Speaker is still at odds with the Premier, who had promised him not to sign the decree before changing his mind later and agreeing to sign it," sources close to Berri told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in remarks published Sunday.
"Had PM Saad Hariri kept his promise, the crisis between Speaker Nabih Berri and President Michel Aoun would not have reached this extent," the sources noted. "In the absence of a solution to the dispute over the decree, the Berri-Hariri relation will not improve," the sources added. 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.

Prosecution Sues ad-Diyar and Its Editor for 'Insulting' Saudi King
Naharnet/January 28/18/The public prosecution has filed a lawsuit against ad-Diyar newspaper and its owner and editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub on charges of insulting Saudi King Salman, the daily said on Sunday. The prosecution has demanded a one-year's jail term and a fine for Ayoub, ad-Diyar said. According to the newspaper, Ayoub had likened the Saudi monarch to controversial medieval Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and called Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan an "Israeli agent."Ayoub's article was published during the Lebanese-Saudi crisis that followed Prime Minister Saad Hariri's controversial resignation while in the kingdom. The public prosecution had on Friday filed a lawsuit against the comedian Hisham Haddad, the host of 'Lahonwbas', Lebanon's most watched satirical TV show. Haddad is accused of "insulting" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Hariri during one of his show's episodes.

Beirut Protest after Spate of Violent Deaths of Women

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Dozens of people have protested outside the Lebanese parliament against violence against women, denouncing inaction by the authorities after eight women have been killed since early December. The demonstration was organized by civil society groups including the feminist association Kafa, which wants legislative reforms to protect women from domestic violence. Red wooden cut-out silhouettes representing victims including the eight were set up in the square outside parliament. Demonstrators brandished placards bearing slogans including "Anger is no excuse" and "No funeral before justice". Since early December, eight women have died violently in Lebanon, including a wife shot dead by her husband on Monday in Beirut. Also among the dead were a 15-year-old who killed herself over an early marriage and British embassy employee Rebecca Dykes who was strangled by a taxi driver who tried to rape her. "Women are dying one after the other because of inaction by the legislative, executive and judicial powers that don't consider this to be a priority issue," said a statement signed by several NGOs. In 2014, Lebanon passed a law that for the first time set down penalties for domestic violence after an unprecedented campaign sparked by the murders of several women by their husbands. However, the Kafa group is demanding that the law be amended to lay down more rigorous penalties for conjugal violence and to ensure that cases are dealt with faster. "We want justice -- justice for Zahraa and all the girls. We want the criminals to be punished," said 50-year-old Ali al-Qabbout, referring to his daughter who was killed more than a year ago by her ex-husband.

Nasrallah discusses developments with Raisi
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, received on Sunday Iranian cleric and the current custodian and chairman of Astan Quds, Ebrahim Raisi, in presence of Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Fathali and a number of Hezbollah leaders. Talks reportedly touched on the latest political developments in the broader region, as well as the cultural and social issues of mutual concern, as per a statement by Party Media Bureau.

IDF Spokesman Warns Lebanon Of War With Israel If Iranian Presence Grows
Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/January 28/18
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis warned in a rare op-ed on a Lebanese opposition website that a war with Israel could break out if Iran develops precision missiles in the country.
“Lebanon has become - both by its own actions and omissions and by a blind eye from many members of the international community - one large missile factory,” Manelis wrote on the Ahewar website.
"It's no longer a transfer of arms, funds or consultation. Iran has de-facto opened a new branch, the 'Lebanon branch.' Iran is here," he said.
“In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not conceal its attempt to take control of the state,” he continued, adding that “in the shadow of Nasrallah’s bullying behavior” the terror group has built “terror infrastructure and factories to manufacture weapons under the nose of the Lebanese government.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in the south.
“This past year (2017), like the 11 years that preceded it since the end of the Second Lebanon War, was characterized by relative stability on the Lebanese front. This quiet is for the benefit of residents on both sides,” Manelis wrote. “The fact that northern Israel and southern Lebanon have children who have not heard an alarm in their lives is a significant achievement of the Second Lebanon War, and the best proof of the stability of Israeli deterrence and the burning memory among the Lebanese about the magnitude of Nasrallah's previous mistake.”
Nevertheless according to IDF assessments, Hezbollah has since rebuilt its arsenal with at least 100,000 short-range rockets and several thousand more missiles that can reach central Israel. In addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize close to 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity, and rocket launchers.
Hezbollah has also increased its military capabilities due to its fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad, and has spread its troops across the entire Middle East.
“The past year has been further proof that Hezbollah serves as an operational arm of Iran. In every place where there was instability, we discovered the fingerprint of Iran and everywhere we discovered Hezbollah's involvement,” Manelis wrote.
Some 200 villages in south Lebanon have also been turned into “military strongholds” from which Hezbollah militants are able to watch Israeli soldiers at any moment.
“The ordinary citizen will be mistaken to think that this process turns Lebanon into a fortress, it is nothing more than a barrel of gunpowder on which he, his family and his property are sitting,” Manelis said in his op-ed on Sunday.
“One in every three or four houses in southern Lebanon is a headquarters, a post, a weapons depot or a Hezbollah hideout. We know these assets and know how to attack them accurately if required.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and the growing Iranian presence on its borders, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.
Senior officials from Israel’s defense establishment have repeatedly stated that while the chance of escalation on the border is low, the smallest incident or a miscalculation by either side has the possibility to lead to conflict.
“The future of Lebanese citizens is in the hands of a dictator who sits in Tehran,” Manelis wrote, adding that “I think it is right to warn the residents of Lebanon of the Iranian game in their security and in their future.”
In September, Israel carried out its largest military exercise on the northern border in 20 years with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army simulating a war with Hezbollah.
“The past year has been used by the IDF to significantly improve preparations for war on the northern front,” Manelis wrote. “If our enemies understood how much we knew about them, they would be deterred from entering into another conflict for many more years to come.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 28-29/18
Syria Kurds Say Won't Join Sochi Peace Talks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Authorities in Syria's Kurdish autonomous region said on Sunday they would not attend peace talks in Russia's Sochi next week because of Turkey's offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. "We said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin we could not attend Sochi," regional official Fawza al-Yussef said. Rebel backer Turkey is one of the sponsors of the talks in the Black Sea resort on Monday and Tuesday, along with Damascus allies Russia and Iran.Turkey's military offensive in Afrin "contradicts the principle of political dialogue," Yussef said.
Turkey launched operation "Olive Branch" on January 20 against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes. Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. The Sochi talks come after multiple failed rounds of U.N.-brokered talks to end Syria's seven-year war. On Saturday, Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, also said it would not attend the negotiations. More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war began in 2011. The conflict began with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, but has since evolved into a complex war including jihadists and foreign powers.

Pressing Syria Offensive, Turkey Urges U.S. Pullback
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Turkey has urged the United States to withdraw personnel from a Kurdish-held town in northern Syria after Washington told Ankara it would stop arming a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey is fighting. As Turkey's offensive in Syria entered its second week with new air strikes and artillery, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was "necessary for them (U.S.) to immediately withdraw from Manbij", where Washington has a military presence. Turkey launched operation "Olive Branch" on January 20 against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its western enclave of Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expand the offensive against the YPG to Manbij, east of Afrin. Relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington have worsened since Turkey launched an operation, with the United States urging restraint and fearing an impact on the fight against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. One of the issues marring relations was the U.S. supplying the YPG militia -- which has spearheaded the anti-jihadist fight -- with arms since last year in battles against IS.
Like a steamroller'
Manbij itself was retaken from IS by the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in 2016 as part of a push that would later recapture the city of Raqa from the jihadists. The Turkish presidency said U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster "confirmed" to Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin in a phone call late Friday that Washington would no longer "give weapons to the YPG."Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. "God willing we will crush them (terror groups) like a steamroller," Erdogan said Saturday during a speech in Istanbul.Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hit out at critics, explaining the "operation was not an option but a necessity".
Cut ties with YPG'
Earlier this month, the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said it was working to create a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria. "The U.S. must cut its ties with a terror organisation. It must take back the weapons it has given," Cavusoglu said, adding Turkey "now wanted to see concrete steps taken".
During their call, McMaster and Kalin agreed to coordinate closely in order to prevent misunderstandings. The contact came just days after Washington and Ankara bitterly contested each other's accounts of a telephone conversation between Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump. A White House statement said Trump urged Turkey to "limit its military actions", but a Turkish official said this was not an accurate reflection of the leaders' call. There have also been expressions of concern over the offensive from other Western allies including the European Union. German police on Saturday ordered the dispersal of a protest against the offensive attended by over 15,000 in Cologne because of the presence of PKK symbols, banned in Germany.
Syrian rebels 'take village'
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group told AFP the fighting was concentrated in the northwest part of the Afrin region. Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels had taken a village and were making progress, albeit "slowly because of bad weather", Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. An AFP correspondent in the Syrian town of Azaz held by pro-Ankara fighters, east of Afrin, could hear sporadic artillery fire. The Turkish military said "at least 394 terrorist organization members were neutralised" in the operation while two if its own soldiers had been killed on Saturday, bringing the total to five, with 40 more injured. The Observatory said 111 Ankara-backed rebels and Kurdish fighters have been killed since last Saturday. It said 38 civilians have also been killed, mainly as a result of Turkish shelling, but Ankara strongly rejects such claims. Health workers in Afrin told AFP they feared the offensive would lead to a humanitarian "tragedy". "Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out," said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Afrin. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF said at least 11 children have been killed since the operation began. Turkey's AFAD emergencies agency head Mehmet Gulluoglu said they were making plans for a camp to be established in Azaz "in the face of a possible refugee influx from Afrin."Several Kurdish parties in Syria, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political branch of the YPG, on Saturday called on the international community and Syrian forces to "apply pressure by all available means" to stop Turkey's offensive.

Navalny Arrested as Thousands Rally against Putin and 'Pseudo-Polls'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Russian police on Sunday detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow as thousands rallied across the country against a March election expected to extend Vladimir Putin's Kremlin term. Heeding a call by Putin's bete noire, thousands braved freezing temperatures to stage rallies in dozens of cities to protest upcoming "pseudo-elections," as Navalny and his supporters refer to them. In Moscow, Navalny chanted "Swindlers and thieves" at a rally in the city centre before several police officers pounced on the 41-year-old opposition politician, knocking him to the ground and dragging him on to a bus. Authorities said Navalny would be charged with organising an unpermitted protest, adding he had been taken to a police station. The opposition leader urged Muscovites not to give up.
"You are not rallying for me, but for yourselves and your future," he tweeted.
'Down with the czar'
About 4,000 people turned up for the unsanctioned rally in Moscow, with many chanting "Down with the czar" and brandishing placards saying "Voters' strike."Authorities beefed up security, dispatching police vans and passenger buses to the city centre, but police largely refrained from arresting protesters. A crowd of protesters was later allowed to walk down to Red Square. One group of protesters walked several kilometres and reached the government headquarters as police watched on. Authorities estimated the Moscow turnout at around 1,000 people. Ahead of the Moscow rally police broke into Navalny's headquarters using a power saw, interrupting a live broadcast covering protests in the east of the country. Police also detained several members of Navalny's team.
'Not scared'
More than 250 people were detained across the country, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitor. Sunday's turnout paled in comparison to last year's protests when tens of thousands demonstrated against corruption among Russia's elite in March and June, 2017. Police unleashed a severe crackdown afterwards, arresting more than 1,000 people including schoolchildren. Navalny himself served three jail sentences of 15 days, 25 days and 20 days for organising unauthorised protests last year. But many protesters said Sunday authorities would not intimidate them. "These are not elections because we already know the result," Elena Ruzhe, 62, told AFP in Moscow. "I'm not scared to protest," added the former culture ministry worker.
Protester Alexandra Fedorova, who wore a fur coat, said it was wrong not to let Navalny take part in the vote. "I don't see a future. There is nobody to vote for," the 27-year-old said.
'I want change'
Protesters expressed similar sentiments in the second city of Saint Petersburg where around 1,500 people rallied, some chanting "Russia without Putin" and "Putin is a thief." "I want change," Andrei Petrov, 20, told AFP in the former imperial capital. "We are tired of living in this quagmire." Earlier in the day opposition supporters protested in far eastern Russia and Siberia, including in the northern city of Yakutsk where people rallied despite temperatures of around minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit). In the Ural city of Yekaterinburg, around 1,000 people turned up, with the city's mayor joining the crowd.
"What we are being offered now is not an election," the outspoken mayor, Yevgeny Roizman, told the gathering. Navalny -- seen as the only politician with enough stamina to take on Putin -- has built a robust protest movement, tapping into the anger of a younger generation yearning for change. He says the upcoming election will be little more than a coronation of Putin who is expected to win a fourth presidential term, becoming the longest-serving Russian leader since Stalin. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned unsanctioned rallies would lead to "certain consequences" -- a thinly-veiled promise of punishment.
Last year Navalny mounted a forceful bid to run for president but officials ruled him ineligible due to a criminal conviction which he says is politically motivated. Navalny has said he would use the full force of his campaign -- including over 200,000 volunteers -- to organise "voters' strikes" and encourage Russians to stay away from polling stations on election day. After 18 years of leadership, both as president and prime minister, Putin fatigue is spreading across Russia. But the post-Soviet turbulence of the 1990s remains deeply ingrained in Russia's collective psyche, making many reluctant to take to the streets, observers say.

Yemen's Southern Separatists: Thirsting for Lost Independence
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher on Sunday accused southern separatists of attempting a coup in the interim capital of Aden after they took over the government headquarters.The premier called on the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels to intervene after fierce clashes.Here is some background on the latest twist in Yemen's tangled conflict:
Two become one
South Yemen was an independent state -- with former British colony Aden as its capital -- from its formation in 1967 until 1990, when it was unified with North Yemen under northern leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Four years later, it launched a separatist rebellion which culminated in its occupation by northern forces.
The scars of that war are still widely felt, feeding separatist sentiment.
Power vacuum
In the chaos that has followed the ouster of Saleh by protests in 2011, southern separatists have bolstered the forces of internationally recognized President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in the battle against the Huthis and loyalists of the now-dead strongman. In March 2015, the Huthis advanced on second city Aden, where Hadi had taken refuge after escaping house arrest in the capital Sanaa. But the Saudi-led coalition helped pro-Hadi forces push the rebels out of Aden in July that year, as well as from four other provinces.
Hadi loyalists have been boosted by the Popular Resistance alliance of southern separatists and tribesmen who took up arms after the rebels advanced on their regions. The separatists have long called for the secession of the formerly independent South Yemen, and their support for Hadi has been far from unconditional.
South Transition Council
Sunday's violence came after protests called by the South Transition Council, an autonomous body aimed at overseeing self-governance among southern provinces. The 26-member council, which is not recognized by Hadi's government, includes the governors of five southern provinces and two cabinet ministers. Former Aden governor Aidarous al-Zoubeidi formed the council last May after Hadi fired him the previous month.Hadi sacked Zoubeidi along with cabinet minister Hani bin Breik, in a move widely seen as reflecting divisions among his supporters. The two men played key roles in restoring security to Aden and adjacent provinces after the Huthi push.The sidelined southern leaders are supported by the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the Saudi-led coalition that backs Hadi. The UAE has financed, armed and trained southern security forces that fought against jihadists in the region and which have also been accused by rights groups of a raft of abuses. The Saudi-led coalition has called for calm and restraint from "all Yemeni political and social components."

Yemen Govt. Warns of Coup as Separatists Take Over Headquarters
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Yemen's government accused southern separatists of an attempted coup on Sunday after they took over its headquarters amid fierce clashes in the city of Aden. The fighting, which killed at least 15 people, threw war-torn Yemen into further chaos and threatened to undermine President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who ordered his forces to stand down. Security sources and residents said clashes appeared to have spread to most of the city, with reports of running gun battles. The government urged the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been supporting Hadi against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in control of much of the north, to intervene. The southern separatists -- who want the return of an independent state that ended with Yemen's unification in 1990 -- backed Hadi's government against the Huthis but tensions between the two sides had been on the rise."A coup is ongoing here in Aden against legitimacy and the country's unity," Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said in a statement. Shortly afterwards, it was reported loyalist commanders had received orders from the president to put down their weapons. "After talks with the Arab coalition... you must order all military units to cease fire immediately," a government statement said. On Sunday afternoon, coalition planes were seen flying over the city. Security sources told AFP that pro-separatist units trained and backed by the United Arab Emirates had taken over the government headquarters in Aden after clashes. The 15 people killed included three civilians, hospital sources said. Dozens more were wounded. Saudi and Emirati troops present in Aden did not intervene in the clashes, security sources said. The fighting erupted after separatist protestors were prevented from entering the city for a rally to demand the government's ouster in Aden, established as its interim base after the Iran-backed Huthis seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014.
Schools, airport closed
The coalition, which launched its intervention against the rebels in March 2015, had urged restraint ahead of the planned protest. It called on all sides to "adhere to the language of calm dialogue", according to a statement cited late Saturday by Saudi state news agency SPA. Universities, schools and the only international airport in the city had all been closed, according to witnesses. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on Twitter it was "very concerned about the situation in Aden." Dagher said that events in Aden were headed towards "total military confrontation" and urged members of the coalition, in particular the United Arab Emirates, to take action. The premier also warned that separating south Yemen from the rest of the country would benefit Iran and the Huthis. "Iran is trying to consolidate its presence in Yemen through the Huthis and by splitting Yemen, we are giving them one-third of the land and three-quarters of the population," Dagher said. Sunday's rally was called by the Southern Transitional Council, an autonomous body aimed at overseeing self-governance among southern provinces. The 26-member council, which is not recognised by Hadi's government, includes the governors of five southern provinces and two cabinet ministers. Former Aden governor Aidarous al-Zoubeidi formed the council in May after Hadi fired him the previous month. The council had asked Hadi to make changes in the government and gave him one week to do so -- a deadline that expired on Sunday.
Long campaign for secession
It had warned that if Hadi did not accept the demand, its supporters would begin a protest campaign to oust Dagher's government. The separatists have long campaigned for the secession of southern Yemen. South Yemen was an independent state -- with former British colony Aden as its capital -- from its formation in 1967 until 1990, when it was unified with North Yemen under northern leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Four years later, it launched a separatist rebellion that culminated in its occupation by northern forces. The Huthis, a northern Shiite minority, seized Sanaa in September 2014 with the help of Saleh and army units loyal to him. In March 2015, the rebels advanced on Aden, where Hadi took refuge after escaping house arrest in the capital. But the Saudi-led coalition helped pro-Hadi forces push the rebels out of Aden in July that year, as well as from four other provinces. Hadi loyalists have been boosted by the Popular Resistance alliance of southern separatists and tribesmen who took up arms after the rebels advanced on their regions. Years of U.N.-backed peace efforts have failed to resolve Yemen's conflict, which has killed more than 9,200 people and devastated a country already among the poorest in the region. The Huthis have increasingly consolidated their grip on Sanaa and the north, especially since rebel gunmen killed Saleh in December after their alliance collapsed.

Cyprus Votes for President with Eyes on New Peace Push
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Voters in Cyprus headed to the polls Sunday for a presidential election that could determine if the divided island makes another push to reunite after the collapse of talks last year. After a lacklustre campaign, opinion polls put conservative incumbent Nicos Anastasiades, 71, ahead as he pledges to restart negotiations with the Turkish-backed north quickly after the vote. The former lawyer -- under the slogan "Steady Steps Forward" -- has taken credit for an impressive recovery by the European Union's most easterly member since a debilitating financial crisis in 2013. But apathy appears to be growing and Anastasiades seems unlikely to win outright in the first round. He is expected to face a February 4 run-off against either dovish communist-backed Stavros Malas or Nikolas Papadopoulos, a former president's son who takes a tougher line on peace efforts. "The economy is doing reasonably well -- but for me the main criterion is still the Cyprus problem," said university lecturer Andres Karageorghis after casting his ballot at a school in Nicosia. "To carry on and hopefully find a solution." If the first round is not decisive there is set to be intense horse-trading, and analysts say a backroom deal between the opponents of Anastasiades could still deny him a second and final five-year term.
Reunification prospects
As always, the nearly 44-year division of the island between the internationally recognized Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus and a Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north looms large. In July, two years of U.N.-backed talks between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci came closer than ever to reunifying the island but collapsed in acrimony before a deal. Despite the failure to bridge key issues, including the future of tens of thousands of Turkish troops in the north, Anastasiades insists he wants talks with Akinci to restart soon. But there is deep scepticism among the international community over whether there is the political will to make a breakthrough. During the campaign Anastasiades was attacked for being either too pliant or not keen enough to seal a deal. Retired treasury worker George Georgallides said he voted for more hardline Papadopoulos because he felt "Anastasiades gave up everything" at the negotiations. "If we do restart talks then it needs to be from the very beginning again," he said. Signs are that the road to reunification will only get tougher as fatigue mounts after decades of failure. For the first time ultra-nationalist party ELAM -- fiercely opposed to the proposed reunification -- is fielding a candidate.
Economic focus
While the "national problem" is ever present, this time around the economy has been a dominant issue. When Anastasiades took over, the banking sector was in meltdown and he took a 10-billion-euro (more than $12-billion) bailout that entailed biting austerity measures. That included a drastic haircut on accounts of over 100,000 euros held in the country's biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus. Since then the economy has rebounded faster than many expected and growth has been steady since 2015. Tourism reached a record high last year and explorations are going on for oil and gas offshore. But analysts warn there are major challenges left. The economy is still smaller than it was before the crisis, unemployment is around 11 percent and banks are awash with bad loans.
"The recovery is relative," said Fiona Mullen, director of Cyprus-based Sapienta Economics. Polls close at 1600 GMT with final results expected late Sunday.

Kabul on High Alert after Ambulance Bomb Toll Tops 100
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 28/18/Afghanistan Sunday declared a day of national mourning as the toll for those killed by a huge bomb hidden in an ambulance in Kabul topped 100 people, sharply raising tensions after insurgents struck in the city for the second time in a week. At least 103 people were killed and 235 wounded in Saturday's lunchtime attack claimed by the Taliban, which caused panic in the war-torn capital and overwhelmed its hospitals. Kabul remained on high alert as the presidential palace declared a national day of mourning for Sunday, with flags flying at half-mast. The attack was one of the worst to strike the capital in recent years. Central Kabul was unusually quiet on Sunday, a normal workday in Afghanistan, with little traffic and few people on the street. In contrast, security checkpoints have been beefed up, particularly in the streets near the blast scene, as the city braced for the possibility of further violence. A security alert issued on Sunday warned that the Islamic State group -- which claimed a deadly attack on Save the Children's office in Afghanistan's east on Wednesday -- was planning to attack supermarkets and shops in Kabul frequented by foreigners. U.S. President Donald Trump called for "decisive action" against the Taliban over the assault as other international leaders also condemned the attack. Afghan authorities gave an updated toll Sunday for those killed and maimed in the huge blast. "Unfortunately a number of wounded people have died in hospital. The number of martyrs is now 103 and wounded is 235," Interior Minister Wais Barmak told reporters. Health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh told reporters earlier Sunday that most of the injured were men.
'We are so heartbroken'
Ordinary Afghans took to social media to express their anguish and sorrow at rapidly worsening security as the Taliban and IS militants step up attacks on Kabul, turning it into one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians. "We are so heartbroken in Kabul that we don't know how to start our new day," Freshta Karim wrote on Twitter. "Shall we stay home or go to work, shall we meet our friends and cry or shall we force ourselves to create an illusion of hope? How are you starting your day in Kabul?" Naser Danesh tweeted: "In Kabul starting a day without explosion, it would be a surprise. One could only imagine that kind of a day." On Facebook, Naweed Qaderi wrote: "It is a big shame for the government, they repeatedly fail to protect people. The leaders must lose a son or daughter to feel the pain of poor people." The blast happened in a crowded area of the city where several high-profile organizations including the European Union have offices. The force of the explosion shook the windows of buildings hundreds of meters away and caused some low-rise structures in the immediate vicinity to collapse. The scene of the attack was scattered with body parts, blood and debris. Children were among the wounded.
Foreigners leaving
The government has blamed the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, which Afghan and Western officials suspect of involvement in at least some of the recent attacks in the capital. The suicide bomber passed through at least one checkpoint in the ambulance, saying he was taking a patient to Jamhuriat hospital, an interior ministry spokesman said Saturday. "At the second checkpoint he was recognized and blew (up) his explosive-laden car," Nasrat Rahimi said. Rahimi told a news conference later that most of the victims were civilians. Four suspects had been arrested. The attack came exactly a week after Taliban insurgents stormed Kabul's landmark Intercontinental hotel and killed at least 25 people, the majority foreigners. But there is still confusion over the true toll from that attack with conflicting figures given by officials and Afghan media reporting higher numbers. Some foreign organizations are reassessing their presence in Afghanistan following the spate of deadly violence. The Aga Khan Foundation is moving its foreign staff out of the country, several sources told AFP. At least one Western humanitarian group is relocating its foreign staff to other cities in Afghanistan, a source said.

Abbas :'Oslo Accords are Dead'
Ramallah - Kifah Ziboun/Asharq Al Awsat/January 28/18/Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking with Meretz party leader Zehava Galon, said that the Palestinian authority didn’t drop the negotiations options although “the Oslo Accords are dead.” “We are prepared for negotiations, and we never intended to leave the talks, but regrettably no one is offering us talks, especially not the Americans, who now wish to punish us," he added. Abbas said US President Donald Trump had, in several past conversations, “promised a good deal to resolve the conflict, and then came this unfortunate surprise, which we cannot accept.” He reiterated that due to Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem, the US can no longer be a mediator. Galon and Abbas agreed that the US and Israeli right-wing will lead the region to catastrophic and violent outcomes that might strengthen the loss of trust between Palestinians and Israelis. He added that the two-state solution is the only possible solution, but there is no courageous leadership in Israel to achieve that. According to Israeli reports, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to get a pledge from Trump administration to cancel the idea of the Palestinian refugees right to get back. Channel 2 said that this approach coincides with the time when the Palestinian authority is stressing this right, on the side. Palestinians seek to find a new mechanism to sponsor a new political process. Abbas discussed in Brussels last week with the EU foreign ministers an international multilateral framework that includes five to seven states. Other ideas were discussed such as launching a new international conference for peace that would result in this new mechanism. However, no practical steps were taken as the Israeli PM insists on the US as the sole mediator.

Saudi Arabia: Corruption-related Settlements File in its Final Stages
Riyadh - /Asharq Al Awsat/January 28/18/The anti-corruption campaign in Saudi Arabia is coming to an end after a number of those summoned by the Supreme Committee to Combat Corruption returned to their homes, including those who had been accused of corruption, witnesses and those with relevant information. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of the Kingdom Holding, returned home after being summoned by the Public Prosecution, Reuters reported. He arrived to his home Saturday morning, a source from his family members told the agency. News circulated recently stated that the investigation period was over, after several former officials and businessmen had been seen back in their homes through images that went viral on social media. In a 30 minutes Televised interview with Reuters, Prince Al Waleed bin Talal said: “I have nothing to hide at all. I'm so comfortable, I'm like at home, frankly speaking.”The interview included a tour in his suite. The prince said one of the main reasons for granting the interview was to disprove rumors that he was mistreated and that he had been transferred from the hotel to prison. The prince said he was able to communicate with family members and executives at his business during his time of investigation.  He also highlighted all comfort amenities that were available to him, including a private office, dining room and kitchen, which was fully stocked with his preferred vegetarian meals. A television played business news programs, and a mug with an image of his own face on it was perched on the desk. After freedom, the prince said, he plans to continue living in Saudi Arabia and getting back to run his business. "I will not leave Saudi Arabia, for sure. This is my country."

Kabul bombing death toll rises to 103, with 235 wounded
Sun 28 Jan 2018/NNA - The death toll from yesterday's attack in the Afghan capital Kabul in which a bomb was hidden in an ambulance before blowing up near government buildings has reached 103, according to officials. The bombing, which occurred in a crowded area of the city centre, has also left another 235 people injured, officials said. "Unfortunately a number of wounded people have died in hospital. The number of martyrs is now 103," interior minister Wais Barmak said, adding that another 235 were wounded. The Afghan government has accused Pakistan of providing support for the militants who carried out the attack. It said the attack was carried out by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network with Pakistani backing. Islamabad has always denied supporting Afghan militants. Security officials have also warned that more attacks are possible. The attack was claimed by the Taliban, a week after they claimed a deadly attack on the city's Intercontinental Hotel. It was the worst attack seen in the Afghan capital since a truck bomb near the German embassy killed 150 people in May. After a deadly week in which an office of the aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad was also attacked, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's Western-backed government has faced growing pressure to improve security. Despite a major tightening in checks following the 31 May attack, the ambulance which was packed with explosives for this latest attack was able to get through the checkpoints. The attack, described as "an atrocity" by the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, drew universal condemnation from allies and neighbouring countries. US President Donald Trump, who last year sent more American troops to Afghanistan and ordered an increase in airstrikes and other assistance to Afghan forces, said the attack "renews our resolve and that of our Afghan partners".
He called "decisive action" against the Taliban following the attack. US officials have said that the new strategy is putting pressure on the Taliban. Following a recent visit to Kabul, the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the strategy was working and pushing the insurgents closer to peace talks. However, the Taliban have dismissed any suggestion that they have been weakened by the US approach and say they will only agree to talks when international forces leave Afghanistan. The attack, in one of the most heavily protected parts of the city, close to foreign embassies and government buildings, demonstrated that their ability to mount deadly high profile attacks that undermine confidence in the government remains undiminished. --- RTE

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 28-29/18
US, the Rule of Law
Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/January 28/18
Whether prosecutors and FBI agents are allowed to have political views is a question now of interest on both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals are outraged that President Donald Trump asked Andrew McCabe, then acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who he had voted for when they met last May in the Oval Office. Conservatives are angry about anti-Trump text messages sent by an FBI agent who was working for the special counsel’s investigation. The answer turns out to be complicated. Traditionally, the modern American solution has been to allow and expect prosecutors and police to have split personalities. Professionally, they are supposed to be nonpartisan and objective. Privately, they are allowed to believe whatever they want and exercise their First Amendment rights to discuss politics with their friends and neighbors, and to vote.
This compromise comes from distinctly American logic. Although the Constitution places law enforcement squarely under the executive branch, the US has long recognized that the rule of law would be badly eroded if investigative and prosecutorial decisions were made on the basis of partisanship. Rather than changing the Constitution to create truly independent police and prosecutors, the way most other liberal democracies do, the US has made due with strong unwritten norms that demand the depoliticization of criminal justice. At the same time, the American tradition of individual constitutional liberties has served to protect the private political expression of everyone, including civil servants. The judicial doctrine surrounding freedom of speech by government employees embodies this ideal: They enjoy free speech unless they are speaking or acting in their official capacities. Then, they have to act in accordance with their job requirements, which might include refraining from political speech.
Coincidently, from a strictly legal perspective, it shouldn’t matter what opinions FBI agent Peter Strzok expressed about Trump or Hillary Clinton in his private communications. He wasn’t acting in his official capacity, and he’s free to express any view at all in his private one. What’s more, Trump had every legal right to ask McCabe about his vote. The director of the FBI is a presidential appointee, and so the president is entitled to determine whether the director’s views match the president’s. The problem with the split personality model is that whatever its theoretical appeal, it’s not very satisfying. With today’s extreme partisanship and polarization, who really believes that private politics do not effect public duties? We tend to approach public servants -- and maybe everyone -- with what is sometimes called a hermeneutic of suspicion: We automatically suspect that public neutrality may be masking private political preferences.
There’s an answer available, adopted by some other democracies: insisting that civil servants give up their private politics all together. We could create a new norm according to which anyone who investigates or prosecutes should refrain from discussing politics at any time, and with anyone.
The justification would be to assure the successful working of the justice system. When police are privately racists, the justice system cannot function. That was one important lesson of the O.J. Simpson trial, when detective Mark Furman’s racism made the investigation seem suspect to many black Americans. Similarly, we could argue that the manifestation of political opinions by investigators leads to public doubt about the veracity of their investigations. This approach would sacrifice the private speech of police and investigators. To become an official rule, it would require a change in constitutional doctrine. If, however, it were merely an unwritten norm, it would not violate the constitution. It would, rather, become a useful reality -- similar to the unwritten norm that investigators themselves shouldn’t be politicized. In a perfect, or at least less partisan world, none of this would be necessary. It would be nice if the public could genuinely accept that well-trained professionals could separate the personal from the political. But that utopia seems far-fetched. In the world we have, we seem to be moving toward a demand for complete personal neutrality in our civil servants. If that is necessary to sustain trust in the rule of law, then the sacrifice may well be worth it.

Russian Bots Are Right: Releasethememo
Eli Lake/Bloomberg/January 28/18
I agree with the Kremlin. Congress should #releasethememo, as they say on Russian Twitter. Vladimir Putin is dead wrong on Olympic drug testing, Crimean independence and Syrian genocide. But his bots have a point when it comes to the House Intelligence Committee. For the uninitiated, Republican staff members on that committee drafted a summary of material turned over from the FBI and Department of Justice. This document reportedly alleges abuses in how the government wire-tapped Donald Trump's associates. Republican members who have seen the memo have told reporters it's worse than Watergate.
The committee's Democrats tell us not to believe them. They asked Twitter to investigate whether an army of Russian trolls helped promote the popular #releasethememo hash tag. They have drafted their own classified memo to counter the Republican one. All of this, they say, is just an effort to discredit the real investigation into Russian collusion. So how do we find out who's telling the truth? Release both memos. I suspect we won't find evidence an American STASI took over the J. Edgar Hoover building. But Republicans have a point that there has been a lot of selective leaking about this probe for more than a year. Put the facts on the record and let the public decide. While we're at it, the committee should report to the public on the Barack Obama administration's policy on unmasking redacted names of Americans swept up in signal intelligence. Remember when the chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes, made allegations of illicit activities last year? Let's see the evidence. And don't stop there. The White House should release the transcript of the December 2016 communication between Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Did Flynn promise to lift the sanctions on Russia that Obama imposed a month before he left office? That's what the Democrats say. Let's find out.
Likewise, the Justice Department's inspector general should fully explain what agent Peter Sztrok meant in a text message sent before the election mentioning an "insurance policy" that had been discussed in the office of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. And the FBI should let us know who leaked Flynn's monitored conversations in the first place.The republic is in great need of sunshine at the moment, particularly when it comes to Trump and Russia. Most of what we know about all of this is the result of selective disclosures. We get allegations, hearsay and process from current and former national security officials and members of Congress. They hint. They whisper. We're not authorized to see the evidence they've seen. So we end up in a state of suspended speculation. Enough.
Now of course it's true there are some government secrets worth keeping, like the identities of overseas agents or planned troop movements in a war. But the Trump-Russia story is a study in excessive secrecy. Usually the argument against excessive state secrecy is that it allows the government to hide its own abuse of power. And while that's true, another danger is that all these official secrets debase the discourse. Officials with security clearances influence public policy without the burden of proof. After all, it's classified. Both sides do it. In the last year this tactic has become a specialty of Obama alumni who have implied -- without supporting evidence -- that Trump officials were suborned by Russian agents. See former CIA director John Brennan's congressional testimony from last May, saying unknown Trump associates had been witting or unwitting cooperators with these Russian influencers.
Trump does his own version of this shtick. He acts like a passive observer in his own government, tweeting accusations that the FBI has been spying on him, all while having the power to declassify the documents that would prove his allegations. We saw this last week at the House Intelligence Committee. Republican members tell us how shocked they are to learn what they can't really tell us.
You've likely heard this complaint about Nunes. In the last year, the committee's chairman has gotten more bad press than an oil spill. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff, also likes to talk about what he knows but cannot say. Schiff, though, gets a pass from most of the media. Remember last March when he told MSNBC that he had seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. That set off a whirr at the time. It's been nearly a year, where is it? Last month Schiff tried to back up these claims. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece he tied together some of what we do know about Trump and Russia: that Russians approached Donald Trump Jr. promising to distort Hillary Clinton's image; that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak; and that Kremlin-associated figures had also approached a low-level staffer, George Papadopoulos. All of this added together is suggestive, but it remains firmly circumstantial. Schiff would probably say I sound like a Russian hashtag. "The Russians, who are pushing the campaign to declassify this information through its social media bots and trolls, will no doubt be thrilled" if the Republican memo is made public, Schiff warned Wednesday. But he added, if that were to happen, "we would have to insist that our memorandum be likewise made public so that the entire nation is not then misled.”
In other words: #releasebothmemos. Sounds like a good start to me.

Belgium: How Low Can a Low Country Get?

Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/January 28/18

French journalist Éric Zemmour facetiously suggested that France should forget about bombing Raqqa and should instead bomb Molenbeek.
Even the New York Times, of all places, ran an exposé about the ineffectiveness of Belgium's anti-terror efforts, pointing up the chronic laxity, buck-passing, and turf-confusions that characterize every level of its government.
Shut up. Zip it. It is a pathetic and cowardly way of responding to reality, but it is, alas, a widespread behavior pattern in Western Europe today – and, at least in certain milieux in poor little Belgium, it has been all but raised to a sacrament.
In the 15 years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, a messy series of events -- international conferences, great-power land swaps, treaties, riots, military skirmishes, and, finally, a brief revolution -- resulted in a redrawing of borders in the Low Countries and the establishment of a new country called Belgium. Even in the best of times, it was hardly a country, fatally divided into a French-speaking south and a Flemish-speaking north, whose residents had little sense of shared identity. If, when the European Union came along, the Belgians embraced the idea so ardently -- and welcomed the transformation of their own capital into the capital of the EU -- it was largely because they had far less of a sense of nationhood than their Western European neighbors, and felt, or hoped, that the EU would artificially supply something ineffable that their own history and culture had failed to give them.
Even now, when the citizens of many Western European countries have been brought up to be ashamed of their national flags, some of these Europeans, at least, still exhibit intermittent signs of national pride: witness the crowds across the UK who, every year, sing "God Save the Queen", "Jerusalem", and "Land of Hope and Glory" during the broadcast of the Last Night of the Proms, or the spectacle of the French Parliament breaking spontaneously into "La Marseillaise" after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such displays are few and far between in Belgium. It seems appropriate that, while the official proportions of the Belgian flag are 13:15, most of the flags flown over government buildings are 2:3. In other words, they do not even bother getting the proportions of their own flag right.
It has often been pointed out that if Muslims in the West are more passionately devoted to their own religion, culture, and values than Western infidels are to the principles that undergird their own civilization, then that civilization is doomed to fail. In the face of the Islamic threat, of course, there is reason to be worried about pretty much every nation in Western Europe; but given the strange hollowness of Belgian identity, Belgium is a place of special concern. It is not only the location of the headquarters of the EU; it is, to quote the headline of a March 23, 2016, article by Soeren Kern for Gatestone Institute, "Why Belgium is Ground Zero for European Jihadis." As it happens, Kern's article appeared the day after members of ISIS in Brussels committed three suicide bombings, killing 32 people (not counting three terrorists) and injuring more than 300.
Four months before that, 137 lives were lost in terrorist attacks on the Bataclan Theater and other targets in Paris. The perpetrators were soon traced back to Molenbeek, a majority-Muslim neighborhood in Brussels.
"There is almost always a link with Molenbeek," commented Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. Stefan Frank noted that Molenbeek "is considered Europe's 'terrorist factory.'" And French journalist Éric Zemmour facetiously suggested that France should forget about bombing Raqqa and should instead bomb Molenbeek.
Riot police guard a road in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, after raids in which several people, including Salah Abdeslam, one of the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks, were arrested on March 18, 2016.
Even the New York Times, of all places, ran an exposé about the ineffectiveness of Belgium's anti-terror efforts, pointing up the chronic laxity, buck-passing, and turf confusions that characterize every level of its government.
Of course, terrorism is only the most sensational aspect of the Islamic influx into Belgium. In December, Belgian author Drieu Godefridi wrote of Brussels as a city "rapidly descending into chaos and anarchy." November alone saw "three separate outbreaks of rioting and looting on a major scale," exposing the fact that "lawlessness... is the new normal in Brussels." Soldiers patrol the streets, but dare not act: "should a soldier actually hurt a looter, he would probably be publicly chastised, pilloried by the media, put on trial and dishonorably discharged." When, during a TV debate, one of the nation's few straight-talking politicians tried to address the obvious connection between this rampant disorder and immigration, "the moderator literally yelled at him that 'Migration is not the subject.... MIGRATION IS NOT THE SUBJECT, STOP!'" and then handed the floor over to a "slam poet" in an Islamic veil who attributed the city's problems to its failure to welcome people like herself with open arms. "The audience was then instructed to applaud her."
Given all this, it should not be surprising that one of the more prominent voices in Belgium today is that of a foundation, established in 2014, that goes by the name Ceci n'est pas une crise (CNPC, "This is not a crisis" -- a deliberate reference to the famous painting Ceci n'est pas un pipe by Belgium's most famous artist, René Magritte.) Is Belgium in trouble? Is Brussels a hellhole? Is Molenbeek the ninth circle of hell? Au contraire. As CNPC blithely puts it, "We are facing a transition to a new social model rather than a temporary phase of dysfunction." Yes, recent societal changes "have destroyed many of the structures that shaped our daily lives and formed the foundation of our identities, leading to a loss of bearings and a sense of anxiety." But while the "simplistic rhetoric" of "populists" represents this transition as involving "confrontation" between "us" and the "other," thereby turning us into nationalists and xenophobes and them into an "enemy," what we should be doing is letting go of the last vestiges our old society, with traditional "social roles" and "ways of thinking" and "accepted standards," and learning to cultivate "open identities" and to "perceive diversity as an enrichment that contributes to the improvement of our societies."
One CNPC founder, Le Soir cartoonist and TV commentator Pierre Kroll, put it this way:
"We are living in a time when a constant feeling of crisis, upheaval and deep-seated change looms large, giving rise to a widespread tendency to mourn the past and fantasize about a 'comforting' return to rigid values, closed borders and simplistic rhetoric. Those who know that this 'crisis' is not really a crisis, that the world will never revert to what it was before (and thankfully so!), must make these people understand that we need more Europe and not less, that instead of avoiding each other we must learn to live together, that we have to be optimistic and determined."
Well, it is always easy to believe that the crisis is not really a crisis when you are a cultural-elite figure who lives in a safe upscale neighborhood and whose path never crosses those of women forced into burkas, girls subjected to FGM and cousin marriages, or "youths" who beat up Jews, bash gays, and harass their teachers and classmates. How easy it is for privileged folk to preach diversity to those who live with such mayhem every day!
Who is behind CNPC? Its president, Jean-Pascal Labille, is a former government minister and professor. Hilariously, despite all the rhetoric about diversity and even "superdiversity" (a trendy term of which the CNPC is exceedingly fond), Labille and the twenty other members of CNPC's executive committee are all ethnic Europeans. Their backgrounds are in sociology, philosophy, economics, zoology, architecture, business, broadcasting, theater, and politics. A couple of them are members of the European Parliament. One of them is the brains behind Belgium's horrific euthanasia law -- the world's most "liberal."
Last year, CNPC conducted an exhaustive survey on Islam, immigration, and related topics; among the representative findings included in its 141-page report was that 63% of ethnic Belgians consider Islam a menace to their national identity, while only 12% see it as a "cultural enrichment." CNPC's conclusion: Belgians are increasingly fearful, xenophobic, hostile to the "other," and pathologically awash in "anti-Muslim paranoia."
CNPC does not just carry out studies. It also publishes a magazine which goes by the simple name Revue. One early article served up a sanguine message: stopping immigration is not "realistic." Closed borders "undermine...the dream of universal and inalienable human rights." Believing in nationalism is a "dangerous fiction." The nation-state? An "anachronism." Revue registered shock at the Brexit vote. After the election of Donald Trump, whose "eyes look to the past," Revue found comfort only in the notion that his presidency compels Europe to "take its destiny into its own hands." In the latest issue, Fatima Zibouh, a Moroccan-Belgian politician scientist, actually celebrates Molenbeek, arguing that those who focus on its role as a terrorist factory "misunderstand" its "many facets," especially its cultural life, which is "characterized as much by its effervescence as by its diversity." Cultural events, she further notes, are not just cultural events -- they are "subversive... political tools" that can help advance the desired societal transition.
Revue has also featured countless articles about "anti-immigrant" and "anti-Islam" parties in Europe. The one subject it appears never to have seriously addressed is Islam itself. The cover of one 2016 issue of the magazine features a four-panel comic strip that is worth pondering. It features two girls. In the first panel, Girl A says "I'm not racist," then adds "But," whereupon Girl B covers Girl A's mouth and says: "Shh." In the last panel, still covering Girl A's mouth -- quite forcibly, it appears -- Girl B says: "Nothing good comes after that." Apparently, Girl A was about to point out something she had observed about her society, even though she knew that some people, fairly or not, would consider her racist for mentioning it. Whatever that something was, CNPC agrees with Girl B: best to stay silent. Shut up. Zip it. It is a pathetic and cowardly way of responding to reality, but it is, alas, a widespread behavior pattern in Western Europe today -- and, at least in certain milieux in poor little Belgium, it has been all but raised to a sacrament.
**Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
© 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.

Living in Pakistan - A Hell for Non-Muslims
Rahat John Austin/ Gatestone Institute/January 28/18
In Pakistan, Muslims burn the homes of non-Muslims, burn their places of worship, burn their holy books, even burn their women and children alive -- and there is no law or punishment to prevent this criminal behaviour or to make non-Muslims safe.
Non-Muslim women and children are raped and forcibly converted; this is considered a religious obligation to please "Allah," the god of Islam. These taskmasters see themselves as "Soldiers of Allah". Even if a case of "blasphemy" is not proven against Christians, they still can be killed by an angry mob or while in police custody. Non-Muslims can also easily be sentenced to death by a court: even a single claim by Muslim against a non-Muslim is enough to "prove" him guilty.
Christian leaders and organizations, especially the Pope, have failed to give any hope to persecuted Christians. Providing a press release or sending a note is not enough. The Pope truly needs to come to help his flock, to establish policies to safeguard these persecuted people from the Islamic world.
According to the official results of Pakistan's 2017 census, as of August 25, 2017, the population of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is 207.74 million.
The country is divided into an overwhelmingly Muslim majority of 96.28%; and the remaining 3.72% are Christian, Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, Ahmadis, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis and Sikhs, who are identified as non-Muslim minority Pakistanis.
Religious minorities in the territory of present-day Pakistan, at the time of the partition of India in 1947, were almost 23% of Pakistan's population. But instead of their numbers increasing, they have decreased to the current 3.72%. If the Muslim population has grown, why have non-Muslim minorities not grown also?
This 23% represents millions of people; how have they vanished?
According to the same census, from 1998 to 2017, Pakistan's overall population grew by 57%. Presumably, non-Muslim minorities should have increased at the same rate. Instead, their numbers have dangerously fallen.
The Hindu population, for example, which, according to the 1951 census, was 12.9%, is now only 1.6%.
These numbers begin to reveal the situation of minorities in Pakistan.
If you are a non-Muslim there, that means you have to face and accept discrimination, lack of religious freedom, and physical and psychological torture as part of your daily life.
It is routine to hear that some girl from a Christian, Hindu or other minority community is raped and killed, or has been forcibly converted. A person is murdered by a mob for alleged blasphemy; some non-Muslim men, women or children are sentenced to death for a supposed blasphemy they never committed.
Muslims burn their homes, burn places of worship, burn their holy books, even burn their women and children alive -- and there is no law or punishment to prevent this criminal behaviour or to make non-Muslims safe. There is no one who speaks for them. According to Islamic doctrines, the value of a non-Muslim is that of filth that needs to be cleaned from the earth.
The author is not aware of even a single instance, in the 71 years since the creation of Pakistan, of someone being punished for killing, burning or raping a non-Muslim man, woman or child, or for burning their places of worship, their homes or their holy books.
Hate toward non-Muslims is a part of the school curriculum. Hate is taught in educational institutions at every level. Children are instructed at an early age that Christians, Jews and Hindus are the worst creatures and the enemies of Islam -- so you must grow up and fight against them.
This hate is so deep-rooted that a non-Muslim cannot drink a glass of water from a public place, or even eat in a restaurant if the people there know what you are: they think non-Muslims are unclean untouchables and a curse on earth. People can be killed just for touching a glass of water (see here and here).
Non-Muslims, especially Christians and Hindus, are living a hell on earth. Non-Muslim women and girls are raped and forcibly converted; this is considered a religious obligation to please "Allah," the god of Islam.
The situation of minorities in Pakistan is, moreover, getting worse -- a deterioration which indicates that Pakistan is suffering from the severest religious extremism. This situation was recently corroborated by reports from the Pew Research Center and from Open Doors USA.
The reports say that Pakistan is the fourth most dangerous country for Christians after North Korea, Somalia and Afghanistan.
An overarching problem is that the media and the international community appear totally to ignore that non-Muslims in Pakistan are suffering severely under the heavy persecution of society, government and especially blasphemy laws, which are exorbitantly unfair.
Many Muslim hardline clerics, politicians and even Supreme Court judges often say -- publicly on national television -- that Pakistan was made "by Muslims and is only for Muslims," and that there is no place for non-believers.
On August 8, 2017, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, in an address to the Multan Bar Council, lawyers and the judiciary, said that he hated Hindus so much that he did not want even to take the names of non-Muslims on his tongue. His speech was broadcast live on almost all television stations; not a single channel found fault with his words. Only a few posts on Facebook indicated that were inappropriate for a person holding one of the highest offices in the country. So, what kind of justice can you expect?
Nisar has also refused to let Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, who has been on death row for ten years for "blasphemy," have an early hearing for the final appeal of her death sentence, after a trial that has been called "unfair." Rita Panahi, commented on Bibi's case in Australia's Herald Sun:
When Bibi, working in the field on a scorching day, was asked to bring a water from a well, she committed the alleged blasphemy of drinking some of the water from the cup. "Another female farmhand, who already had a feud with Bibi, claimed she had "soiled" the utensil and the water supply with her unclean, Christian hands. Bibi was accused of "defiling the water.'" "For once," Bibi recounted, in her memoir, Blasphemy: Sentenced to Death Over A Cup of Water, " I decided to defend myself and hold my head high. I said, 'I think Jesus would have a different viewpoint to Mohammad.' The woman replied, "How do you dare to question the Prophet, dirty animal?" ... "Soon a mob confronted Bibi and her family before the police arrived...". Many accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are not so fortunate and are killed before they are formally charged."
According to another report:
"The Maulvis (clerics) want her dead. They have announced a prize of Rs 10,000 to Rs 500,000 (£60 to £3,200) for anyone who kills Asia. They have even declared that if the court acquits her they will ensure the death sentence stands."
Blasphemy laws are a major problem for minorities, especially Christians. These laws are abused to settle issues, such as personal grudges, even for extremely minor disputes, such as money, a piece of land or even children quarrelling. The general public does not wait for the legal process; they murder people on the spot. They burn them alive, they destroy their houses and places of worship -- not just the accused person but also, collectively, other members of his community.
The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan clearly indicates that non-Muslims are third-class citizens and forbids them from attaining the highest administrative positions in the government (see Appendix). It is compulsory for every officer to take an oath that he is Muslim before being appointed. Only mean and low-level jobs, such as cleaning the sewers, are reserved for non-Muslims. Newspapers and other outlets advertise that only non-Muslims may apply for those jobs.
According to Islamic law, a non-Muslim man cannot marry a Muslim woman. A non-Muslim also cannot appear in court as a witness against a Muslim, because his testimony or claim is considered unreliable and biased. A non-Muslim cannot take a case against a Muslim to the Federal Shariat Court. If there is a case against a non-Muslim and he wants to hire a non-Muslim lawyer as counsel, it is not permitted. Only a Muslim lawyer can be present in court, and its compulsory that the judge must also be Muslim.
Minorities in Pakistan and other Islamic states have to go through hell every day; how can they even think about blasphemy?
Even if a case of blasphemy is not proven against Christians, they still can be murdered by an angry mob or while in police custody. Non-Muslims can also easily be sentenced to death by a court: even a single claim by Muslim against a non-Muslim is enough to "prove" him guilty.
Pakistani authorities have failed to provide security and safety to religious minorities. That is the one of the reasons religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus, have been fleeing from Pakistan.
Usually a country's authorities are supposed to support and help persecuted people; in Pakistan, instead, the institutions of government provide funds only to fundamentalists and other segments of the population engaged in persecuting non-Muslims: these taskmasters see themselves as soldiers of "Allah."
Madarasa Haqania, for instance, is the birthplace of the Taliban and terrorism in the region. Known also as the "University of Jihad," its students are the leaders of the groups who were involved in bomb attacks on churches.
Non-Muslims have made many sacrifices for Pakistan; in return, they are killed in public, in broad daylight, and there is no one to hear them. Their murderers are praised as heroes, not only by the general public. Politicians and judges in the courts kiss their hands and salute them with honor.
To speak for your own rights or someone else's is taking on a suicidal risk. You could face charges of blasphemy, be murdered in cold blood, or "disappeared". For example, Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province, criticized the abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. For this, he was murdered by his own bodyguard in 2011. Rashid Rehman was a lawyer who agreed to take on a blasphemy case. He was gunned down by two men who walked into his office posing as clients.
Christian organizations, especially the Pope and the Vatican, have failed to give any hope to persecuted Christians.
Providing a press release or sending a note is not enough. The pope truly needs to come to help his flock and to establish policies to safeguard these persecuted people from the Islamic world. We have observed that the pope is so busy making statements to please Islam and advising Europe to open its gates for Muslim radicals.
He is ignoring that these Muslims are persecuting Christians who live in their countries. These Muslims, when non-Muslims try to flee towards Europe, are throwing them out of the boats and drowning them into sea. Meanwhile our Christian brothers are inviting Muslims to come to Europe and invade us, rape our daughters and cut our throats. Is this what the Vatican and the Western world really want?
Rahat John Austin is a Pakistani Lawyer and author, has been working for the rule of law, justice and equal distribution of rights in the Islamic State of Pakistan on behalf of vulnerable and deprived segments of the society, especially women and minorities. His first book, "Human Trafficking in Pakistan," was funded by American High Commission and International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2012. His second book, "The Dracula State," on Pakistan's Constitution and Blasphemy Laws was published in 2017.
APPENDIX: On the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Preamble of the 1973 Constitution:
"Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust; And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order;...
Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah;...
Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social
justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;
Article 1 of the 1973 Constitution: The Islamic State and territories
(1) Pakistan shall be a Federal Republic to be known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, hereinafter referred to as Pakistan.
Article 2 of the 1973 Constitution: Islam to be State religion;
Article 2 of the Constitution states:
'Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan ...', and
Article 2-A stipulates:
'wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed'.
Article 31; Government role to promote Islamic way of life:
Article 31, deals with the particular steps which "shall be taken" to enable the Muslims of Pakistan to conduct themselves in, what the heading of Article 31 describes, "Islamic way of life". it is only through such like provisions of the Constitution the Article 2 can be given an operative shape."
Article 41 of the 1973 Constitution: The President
(2) A person shall not be qualified for election as President unless he is a Muslim of not less than forty-five years of age and is qualified to be elected as member of the National Assembly.
Article 41, while providing the qualifications for election to the office of president of Pakistan, states (in no uncertain terms) that in order to be qualified a candidate has to be a Muslim.
The Third Schedule to the constitution, which contains the text of the oath to be
taken by the president before entering upon the said office, specifically provides, in relevant part, that the candidate shall affirm that he is a Muslim and believes in the Oneness of Allah, the Holy Quran, and that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the prophets of Allah.
Thus, the constitution is, in express terms, discriminatory and excludes any member of the
minority community of Pakistan from holding the office of the president of Pakistan.
Under Article 41, only a Muslim is qualified to be elected as president. Initially, there was no such bar of religion against the election of the prime minister.
Article 91; the Prime Minister must be a Muslim.
The original language of the 1973 Constitution was substituted by P.O. No. 14 of 1985, providing that, "after the election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceeds to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be
the Prime Minister."
Article 91 of the 1973 Constitution: The Cabinet-
(1) There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers, with the Prime Minister at its head, to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions.
(2) (3) After the election of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.
By virtue of Article 91, the National Assembly of Pakistan is restricted to electing only one of its Muslim members as the prime minister of Pakistan. The Third Schedule to the Constitution, which contains the text of the oath to be taken by the prime minister
before entering upon the said office, specifically provides, in relevant part, that the candidate shall affirm that he is a Muslim and believes in the Oneness of Allah, the Holy Quran and that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the prophets of Allah.
Thus the Constitution is, in express terms, discriminatory and excludes any member of the minority community of Pakistan from holding the office of prime minister of Pakistan.
It is clear from a bare reading of Articles 41 and 91 and the relevant oaths of office contained in the Third Schedule to the constitution that members of the minority communities have been denied the right to hold the high constitutional offices of the president and prime minister of Pakistan.
Articles 62 and 63:
Articles 62 and 63 were added to the constitution by Zia and were later protected
through the eighth amendment to the constitution (P.O No.14 of 1985).
Apart from other qualifications to being a member of the parliament a candidate has to be "of good character and not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions."
He or she must have adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and must be a practicing Muslim who "abstains from major sins." He/she should be "sagacious, righteous and non
profligate and honest and amin." Non-Muslims are required to have "good moral reputation."
Article 203C of the 1973 Constitution: The Federal Shariat Court-
All judges of the Federal Shariat Court as provided in Article 203C are to be Muslims.
(1) The Court shall consist of not more than eight Muslim [Judges] including the [Chief Justice] to be appointed by the President.
Article 203E of the 1973 Constitution:
A party to any proceedings before the Court under clause (1) of Article 203D may be represented by a legal practitioner who is a Muslim and has been enrolled as an advocate of a High Court for a period of not less than five years or as an advocate of the Supreme Court or by a jurisconsult selected by the party from out of a panel of jurisconsults maintained by the Court for the purpose.
Article 203E Sub Article (4)
Expressly provides that the legal practitioner representing a petitioner in the Federal Shariat Court must be a Muslim.
Article 227 of the 1973 Constitution: Provisions relating to the Holy Quran and Sunnah-
All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, in this Part referred to as the Injunctions of Islam, and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.
Any legislative or executive authority cannot enact a law or promulgate any Ordinance or Order in view of Article 227 of the Constitution which clearly prohibits the enactment of law which is repugnant to the Injunctions of Islam as
laid down in the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah.
Article 228-the Council of Islamic Ideology
Article 228 established the Council of Islamic Ideology in an institutionalized role to oversee the legislation. The Federal Sharia Court, established by Zia under;
Article 203 (A–J) additional powers of the Sharia Court
Article 203 (A–J) enjoys additional powers similar to those of the Council. Under Article 203–D, the Sharia Court can declare any law defunct if it is assumed to be against Islamic injunctions.
"Under Article 260(3) (a) of the Constitution, a person belonging to the Ahmadi group is not a Muslim
A number of decisions have emphasized that according to the constitutional amendment, Ahmadis cannot claim the rights or follow the law that are specially determined for Muslims.
© 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.

Iran spends billions on weapons programs, terrorism while ignoring Iranians' basic needs, report finds
By Ben Evansky | Fox News/January 28/18
Report details Iran missile activity since the nuclear deal
The report says since 2016, the regime has launched 16 missiles considered to be nuclear capable; Rich Edson has the details for 'Special Report.'
Iran is spending billions of dollars on its weapons programs and supporting terrorism around the globe while it ignores the basic needs of its people, a new report asserts. The report, issued by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), states that this month’s uprising against the regime was due to what it states are the “grueling high prices and economic strains on an array of social sectors.” It claims that this is a result of the regime putting its resources, “toward domestic suppression, warmongering and expansion of terrorism abroad,” which the report points out has led to poverty and deprivation among Iranians.
The report is titled “Primary Causes of Poverty and Popular Uprisings in Iran.” It says the report is based on a “high-level assessment” which revealed that the annual minimum cost to Iranians of keeping the “clerical regime in power” is about $55 billion. The national council says on its website it is a “broad coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups, and personalities” that “was founded in 1981 in Tehran, Iran, on the initiative of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance.”
The report claims that half of those funds came from “money channeled to military and security-related activities and export of terrorism, funded by revenues obtained from institutions controlled by the supreme leader’s office and the IRGC.” The report indicates that the other half of the funds is from the official state budget and is earmarked for military- and security-related affairs and the export of terrorism.
Iran launched more ballistic missiles after countries signed the 2015 nuclear deal.
The report also describes how during the height of this month’s anti-regime protests, shouted comments were made against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The report states that over the years Khamenei has taken over the “bulk of Iran’s economy.” It claims the organizations and institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), show that Khamenei-controlled-companies make up over 50 percent of Iran’s gross domestic product, or GDP. The report compares what it calls funding for “warmongering and suppression” against other state expenditures. It claims Iran’s total health care budget for 2018 is $16.3 billion, which is a third of its total war budget.
The report also reveals that for the last six years the total spent on its Syrian activities is around $15-20 billion a year. It describes how protesters shouted during the January protests, “Leave Syria, think about us,” and “Neither Gaza or Lebanon, I dedicate my life to Iran.”The report compares paltry welfare payments made to those living under absolute poverty with the larger sums of money paid to Afghan mercenaries bankrolled by Iran to fight in Syria.
Activists risk their lives to bring freedom to Iran.
According to statements made by Afghan mercenaries during interviews with state-run media, each mercenary is paid between $600-700 a month. Doing the math, nearly 20,000 Afghan mercenaries cost the regime between $12-$14 million a month. Compare that to the nearly $70 monthly stipend Iranians living under the absolute poverty line receive, according to the report.
“This report has the merit of explaining the hidden dimension of the ongoing Iranian opposition to the regime,” Fox News national security and foreign affairs analyst Walid Phares said. He added that he has long argued since talks unfolded between the Obama administration and parties involved in the Iran nuclear deal that the Iranian regime would not use the billions of dollars it got from the deal for the needs of the people. Phares said, “This policy has been practiced by the regime since its inception: They put the ideological war doctrine ahead of their people's daily life's interest.”He argued that one cause of the 2009 uprising was middle-class anger against the regime's support of Hezbollah and Hamas. Phares said history repeated itself again when “Tehran's ruling elite gave priority to funding external interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, over the well being of Iranian civil society. This led to the protests of this year.”
The report concludes that any future deals with Iran will strengthen the clerical regime and its armed entity, the IRGC. The report ends by recommending that to, “order to eliminate the dictatorship's machinery of war and suppression, all of the regime's officials, the IRGC and the array of economic organizations and institutions in their orbit of influence must be placed under international sanctions.”
**Ben Evansky reports for Fox News on the United Nations and international affairs.

Jordan’s foreign policy message from Davos
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/January 28/18
It is palpable that a nation’s foreign policy mirrors its political leaders’ perspectives and views. These are a product of internal and external factors that influence political orientations in relations with other countries and international organizations. Jordan, like other Mideast countries, has always been inclined to its geopolitical environment, international relations, and causes and effects of its geographical, demographic and economic situations which include among others national wealth, foreign aid and socio-economic changes. Among the major challenges that have been facing Jordan are the Zionist projects and their risk on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as on Jordan. Jordan's foreign policy depends on its geography and geostrategic location. It also depends on the positions of major powers and axes. This confirms Jordan's continued need to balance its foreign relations network with the aim of achieving its political stability in line with its leadership strategy. Since his assumption of constitutional powers, King Abdullah II has been striving to strengthen Jordan’s political and economic relations with other countries. Jordan, too, has a geographical location located between strong Arab forces: Saudi Arabia in the south, Iraq in the east and Syria in the north, and these countries are of great importance. Its adjacency to Palestine is also critical and is one of the challenges to the countries national security.
Determinants of Jordanian foreign policies:
Jordan has a high percentage of educated citizens. Since many of them work overseas and in other countries of the region, this affects the decision making process in the kingdom. Any decision would affect the Jordanian labor force in other countries due to kingdom’s stances vis-à-vis certain issues and causes including the recent developments in the question of Jerusalem when American President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israel. In other words, Jordan balances out its policies to ease tension that would affect its human resources in other countries.
Moreover, the structure of Jordan’s population has a significant impact on Jordan's foreign policy. Since Jordan is scarce with its economic resources, it depends on assistance from foreign countries. That limits and restricts decision-making in the country and poses a major challenge on its leadership. The religious ideology of the Jordanian leadership and its doctrine regarding the Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem have given Jordan an important weight in the region. This justifies why King Abdullah denounced Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem.
Though there is a growing polarization in the Arab arena, Jordan is watching attentively to set its own directions.
Though Jordan cannot do much about the American decision, the kingdom orchestrates to clarify the Jordanian stand regarding the holy sites in Jerusalem.
This is clear when the king said on Thursday at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos: “Jerusalem is a city that ends up dividing us, which I think will be catastrophic for mankind, or is it a city of hope that brings us together.”The king voiced Jordan’s support for resolving the status quo of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some analysts believe that Jordan's foreign policy recently shifted from the role of competition with other regional countries to seeking national interests while moving with a quick dynamic to keep up with world changes. The political equation is that Jordan is fighting in order to preserve its survival and existence. It does not replace its old allies with new ones; it balances out its policies. The kingdom is striving to secure economic and water supplies necessary for the country’s progress and development.
Symbol of moderation
The king’s speeches in the US Congress, in the European Union as well as the United Nations, have always depicted a moderate Jordan, based on understanding of international and regional variables. The king, who leads the Jordanian foreign policy, links the history of Jordan with the modernity of the country that shape its identity when he speaks with other world leaders. This is how he promotes opportunities in the country at the international level. He usually interacts with Western decision-making circles. Many people wonder about the frequent visits of His Majesty to Washington and London. The reason is that further clarification leads to more communication and cooperation. Jordanians believe that the Hashemite family is the true wealth of Jordan. Though there is a growing polarization in the Arab arena, Jordan is watching attentively to set its directions. This justifies why the king said in Davos that there is a need to reserve judgement on the future of the two-state solution until the United States presents its proposed peace deal.
To conclude, Jordan, globally and regionally, is viewed as a symbol of moderation. The kingdom is the most committed state to international obligations and a very good example of inter-cooperation. The Middle East has been, until this moment, a zone of influence for the great powers. In Jordan, when talking about politics, the focus is on the character of the king who formulates this policy and decision making. Furthermore, Jordanian foreign policy is governed by a combination of internal and external factors that interact with each other. Thus, Jordan is governed by a set of objectives. First, maintaining stability for the country is a priority. Second, the balance of policies with other Arab states to be able to respond to every change, movement or transformation. Third, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the world, the inadmissibility of interfering in internal affairs, and also full compliance to all treaties and conventions.

Syria: From revolution to occupation
Riad Nasan Agha/Al Arabiya/January 28/18
The Syrians protested demanding freedom and dignity, however years later after the Syrian crisis, they are facing the loss of their whole country and they are scattered around the world. Syria became an international battlefield, and since the regime lost its legitimate sovereignty, Russia and Iran became in control of Syrian sovereignty. That’s what Nero did, when he burned Rome and sat in his tower singing Homer’s poems, enjoying the sight of his country burning, but he eventually killed himself.
It seems that the Iranian occupation is the most serious one of the current occupations facing Syria, The Persian dream of expansion found the right opportunity to be fulfilled after having a great opportunity in occupying Iraq, controlling Lebanon, and it is waiting for a fourth one in Yemen.
As for Russia, it has no project beyond economic interests and to return to the international presence, after being weakened due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Its entry into Syria signaled the return of the Cold War, which is taking place now and about to turn it into a world war, if fools remained in control of the fate of the peoples.
Iranian interference
Since the beginning of the Iranian revolution, Arabs have been keen to establish good relations with Iran and took practical steps to strengthen relations with Tehran, as they were aware that being neighbors is a matter of history and geography. But the Persian project continued to expand, export the Iranian revolution and impose doctrines, which made the Arab friendliness burn in the flames of the Persian domination tendencies. Iran’s interference in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, and the repeated attacks on Saudi Arabia have increased the explosion risk, if Iran had good intentions for the Arab neighbors or accepted good neighborliness, it would have returned the three UAE islands which were occupied by the Shah regime; to their owners to start a new era of peace and tranquility for the peoples of the region. Now with the successive failure of UN-sponsored negotiations in Syria, Yemen and Libya the gap increased, these negotiations were the only way to stop the bloodshed of Arabs.
In Syria, the negotiations reached a dead-end in its eighth round. I do not expect any breakthrough as long as Russia supports the Assad regime and wants to reproduce it. The Americans and the Europeans launched their latest plan in Paris few days ago, we hope it would take a serious and fair course before the Sochi Conference, it is impossible for the regime to survive by ruling with force and violence after it destroyed Syria. Despite the cruelty the Syrians are suffering from, they adhere to the Geneva Declaration 1, the international resolution 2254 and the basics of the Geneva negotiations, which requires the establishment of a transitional governing body with the participation of those who were not involved in killing the people who support the regime itself and technocrats, this alone is a sufficient proof that the opposition understands the nature of the situation, its concern for the state’s institutions and for the safety and independence of the country.