March 09/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion
Jonah 04/01-11: "But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.  He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.  Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.  But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 08-09/18
UNIFIL: Lebanon, Israel hold daily talks about border disputeظYnetnews/Reuters/March 08/18
Report: Hezbollah in Lebanon fears Israeli attack, declares state of emergency/Jerusalem Post/March 08/18
Former Syrian General, Zuhair al-Saqit : Hezbollah Is In Possession Of Chemical Weapons/Jerusalem Post/March 08/18
On Lebanon’s parliamentary elections: A statelet is not destined/Ali Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
Britain's Massive Charity Scam/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 08/18
Iranian woman who removed headscarf jailed for two years/Staff and agencies in Tehran/The Guardian/March 08/18
Italy Takes a Step Back From Europe/Ferdinando Giugliano/Asharq Al Awsat/March 08/18
Why entering stadiums is a matter of joy for Saudi families/Dr. Razan Baker/Al Arabiya/March 08/18Is eastern Ghouta another East Aleppo/Christian Chesnot/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
Saudi-UK cooperation is a two-way street/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
Arab states must unite to stop Iran’s weapons smuggling/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 08/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 08-09/18

UNIFIL: Lebanon, Israel hold daily talks about border dispute
Report: Hezbollah in Lebanon fears Israeli attack, declares state of emergency
Former Syrian General, Zuhair al-Saqit : Hezbollah Is In Possession Of Chemical Weapons
Lebanon: Partnership between Public, Private Sectors to Develop Infrastructure
Aoun Calls for Gradual Return of Syrian Refugees
Aoun highlights importance of nurturing national culture among youth
Hariri Says Gulf States May Lift Lebanon Travel Ban
Hariri Chairs 'Final' Budget Panel Meeting before Finalizing Discussions
Grandi Urges More Aid for Lebanon's Refugee Hosting Effort
UK Home Secretary's Message to Lebanese Women Candidates on IWD
Families Block Roads as Islamist Prisoners Begin Hunger Strike
Report: Security Forces Assure 'Situation under Control' Despite Fighting in Refugee Camps
Army Arrests Man behind Shatila Camp Clashes
Jumblatt, German Vice Speaker tackle latest developments
Hariri receives Italian, Greek ambassadors
Samy Gemayel, Shorter tackle latest developments
Abra detainees' families stage sit in outside Sidon's Dar Fatwa
Rahi sponsors Beirut Chamber’s brand opening in Jounieh: We look forward to new parliamentary figures
Machnouq attends Arab Interior Ministers' Conference in Algeria
Army: Two explosive devices seized in Ras Baalbek
Siniora, Egyptian Ambassador talk bilateral ties
Berri, Riachy tackle current situation
Ogassapian on Women's Day: We continue to march towards equality
On Lebanon’s parliamentary elections: A statelet is not destined

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 08-09/18

May, Mohammed bin Salman agree to counter Iran’s destabilizing acts in region
Saudi Crown Prince holds talks with UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury
Jubeir: Agreed with UK on need to deter Iran, stop its support for terrorism
Prince Charles Holds Dinner in Honor of Saudi Crown Prince
New UK-Saudi partnership to boost livelihoods in world’s poorest countries
Syria Regime Pummels Besieged Eastern Ghouta
Dozens Treated for Breathing Problems after Raids on Syria's Ghouta
U.S. 'a Long Way' from Negotiations with N. Korea, Says Tillerson
Japan punishes crypto exchanges after hack
Saudi, UK companies sign 18 economic deals worth $2.1 bln
Headed for very large loss in current fiscal year, confirms Qatar Airways CEO
Iran’s Supreme Leader: We Won’t Negotiate With West Over Regional Presence
Iran's presence in region has nothing to do with US or Europe: Khamenei
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 08-09/18
قوات اليونيفل في جنوب لبنان: اسرائيل ولبنان يجريان محادثات يومية حول النزاع الحدودي بينهما
UNIFIL: Lebanon, Israel hold daily talks about border dispute

Ynetnews/Reuters/March 08/18
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon says there is 'open dialogue' and 'full engagement' from all sides over recent land and naval border disputes; 'there is no appetite for instability or for war,' says UNIFIL spokesman.
Lebanon and Israel have been holding talks nearly every day over a border dispute that has raised tensions between the two enemy states, according to the UN peacekeeping force on the frontier that is mediating their discussions.
"There is a full engagement from all the sides and there have been meetings almost on a daily basis. The dialogue is open. No one has ever walked out from these meetings," said Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Tensions have spiked recently over an Israeli border wall, Lebanese offshore energy exploration, and the growing arsenal of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which Israel sees as the biggest threat on its frontier. Lebanon, Israel and UNIFIL were already holding three-way talks every few weeks in a building on the border near the peacekeepers' base at Naqoura in southern Lebanon. They are now being held more often, Tenenti said, along with indirect talks conducted through UNIFIL.Israel is building a border wall near the Blue Line, as the frontier demarcation between the two countries in lieu of a formal border agreement is known.
Lebanon has described the wall as an "aggression," saying it intrudes into Lebanese territory. Israel says the wall will be entirely on its side of the Blue Line and in Israeli territory. At the same time, Lebanon has begun oil and gas exploration in a block that includes a small area of sea along the maritime frontier that is claimed by Israel. "There is a will to keep this dialogue open ... I think now, beside the heightened rhetoric, the reality on the ground is different and there is no appetite for instability or for war," Tenenti said.
Blue Line
Reuters footage from a recent trip to the border area showed construction work in areas along the Blue Line, including cranes erecting concrete blocks and bulldozers working at a fence. Israel occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 and in 2006 it waged a month-long war against Hezbollah there. Israel says the Shi'ite Muslim group has grown stronger due to its role in the Syrian civil war, and has attacked it there.
"The last 12 years have seen the quietest period the south of Lebanon has witnessed in over 30 years," Tenenti said. "But it is important to keep in mind that things along the Blue Line are in general very sensitive. Anything could, if it is not addressed immediately, potentially spark into something bigger and increase tension."
Report: Hezbollah in Lebanon fears Israeli attack, declares state of emergency
حزب الله يتخوف من هجوم اسرائيلي ويعلن حالة الطوارئ
Jerusalem Post/March 08/18
Hezbollah in Lebanon has declared a state of emergency for fear of an Israeli attack approved by the United States. "Hezbollah declared its ranks in readiness for the past two days, for fear of Israeli aggression on Lebanon," the Rai Al-Youm newspaper published in London reported Thursday. "High alert was declared in light of information received that the Israeli army is conducting secret military maneuvers jointly with the United States, which are currently taking place in the country and in the Mediterranean," journalist Kamal Halaf, who is close with Hezbollah, said. Citing sources in Hezbollah, Halaf added that US military leaders gave the IDF a green light to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon. The only thing preventing Israel from launching a surprise attack is fear of retalition from the Iranian-backed group, the sources said. Also according to the Hezbollah sources, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persuaded the Americans to make a "quick surprise attack" on Lebanese soil, but there is concern that such an attack could lead to all-out war in the region, since Hezbollah's response would be "tough and very strong," Halaf wrote.

Former Syrian General, Zuhair al-Saqit : Hezbollah Is In Possession Of Chemical Weapons
جنرال سوري سابق يدعي أن لدى حزب الله أسلحة كيماوية
Jerusalem Post/March 08/18
Iran is building and testing short- to medium-range missiles armed with chemical warheads in Syria, former Syrian general Zuhair al-Saqit told [The Jerusalem Post's sister publication] Maariv. Al-Saqit, who heads the Center for the Detection and Monitoring of the Use of Chemical Weapons in Belgium, also said that Iran's Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah is in possession of chemical weapons, mostly handed to it by the Assad regime in order to hide their existence from international monitors.
In an interview in Paris, al-Saqit said that a large part of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, which were hidden from international inspection bodies, were transferred to Hezbollah. Iran continues to be a major supplier of chemical weapons to the regime of President Bashar Assad and continues to develop chemical weapons in Syrian territory, he said. Iranian scientists, technicians and military personnel are developing missiles with chemical warheads ranging from five to 35 kilometers that can be carried in vehicles or by small army units within Syria — or across the border, he said. General al-Saqit came to Paris to warn European governments that, contrary to popular opinion, the problem of chemical weapons is not yet off the table. "The Syrian army and the militias supporting it carry out daily attacks on the population, which uses chlorine gas. Only yesterday there was such an attack," he said. Al-Saqit deserted the Syrian army in 2013 and left the country after being responsible for the scientific development of chemical warfare weapons during the civil war. He refused to use chemical weapons against civilians and replaced chemical munitions with harmless materials. The center he heads today receives and records testimonies from the field and examines them. According to him, contrary to the regime's official stance, the videos from Syria showing victims of chemical attacks are not fabricated.On the issue of Syrian cooperation with North Korea, al-Saqit confirmed that North Korea had indeed supplied Syria with chemical weapons and assisted in their installation and operation against civilians. He also said that in his capacity as senior officer in the Syrian army, he accompanied North Korean officers who came to advise on chemical weapons for the various units. Translated by Eric Sumner.

Lebanon: Partnership between Public, Private Sectors to Develop Infrastructure
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 08/18/International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Lebanon Director Saad Sabra said that the corporation invested approximately half billion American dollar during the past years, lauding the government’s approach towards reinforcing the private sector role. Sabra made his statement during events of the second day of Investment in Infrastructure Conference, which was concluded on Wednesday, knowing that it is a preparatory conference of Cedre Conference set for April 6. Attendees underpinned importance of partnership between the public and private sectors to accomplish government projects and develop infrastructure. The first session tackled infrastructure projects that are nominated for partnership. Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos underscored importance of developing Rafic Hariri International Airport and expanding the external and internal building to increase the capacity from six million passengers to eight million. Fenianos said that the ministry relies on the partnership law between the two sectors in the aviation field to insure the required funding. Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said that the government approved in 2010 a policy related to the electricity sector, representing a national strategy for the sector. Its main points are: increasing electricity production, diversifying sources, restructuring and organizing tariffs gradually, developing energy production sites and adopting IPP to support the private sector partnership in building new power production sites.
Nabil al-Jisr, president of Lebanon's Council for Development and Reconstruction, showcased the investment project in infrastructure and services, which was prepared by the council in cooperation with relevant ministries and institutions. He described it as “ambitious investment project”. He added that the project includes air, navy and land transportation sector in addition to sanitation, electricity, telecommunication, solid waste and some projects related to industrial zones.

Aoun Calls for Gradual Return of Syrian Refugees
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 08/18/Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for the gradual return of Syrian refugees to their home country regardless of a political solution in Syria. Lebanon is “no longer able to handle the burden” of refugees, Aoun said during a meeting Wednesday at Baabda Palace with Filippo Grandi, the head of the United Nations’ refugee agency. The international community “must help ease the gradual return of these displaced people to safe areas of Syria that are no longer seeing any fighting,” Aoun said. But he stressed that the return of the refugees should not be linked to a political solution in their country. There are nearly 1 million UN-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Aoun stressed that international support for Lebanon to be a global center for the dialogue of religions and civilizations is growing. There is ongoing cooperation with the UN to achieve that objective, said the president. Grandi briefed Aoun on the role of the UNHCR in Lebanon, praising Lebanon’s care for the refugees and stressing the importance of the Brussels conference on the support for states and communities that are hosting displaced Syrians.
Aoun highlights importance of nurturing national culture among youth
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - State Minister for Anti-Corruption Affairs, Nicolas Tueni, visited President Michel Aoun and informed him of the recent meetings and contacts he held with the Iraqi officials, in order to resolve the case of Lebanese businessmen and investors' owing money to Iraq, a statement by Tueni's office said on Thursday. Talks also touched on the Lebanese funds seized at Erbils' central bank. The coordinator of Frere Schools, brother Emile Akiki, also visited Baabda Palace on Thursday with an accompanying delegation. President Aoun delivered a word in which he expressed satisfaction at the fact that many Frere school graduates were currently serving Lebanon in various positions. Aoun also highlighted the importance of having teachers maintain balance between their profession and their mission. He stressed as well the paramount importance of nurturing a national culture among Lebanese youth, and to avoid the scene the had been witnessed in previous elections. Separately, Aoun welcomed Greek Ambassador to Lebanon Theodore Basas who paid him a farewell visit marking the end of his diplomatic career in Beirut and his appointment as Director of the Greek Foreign Minister's Office. President Aoun granted Basas a Cedar Medal of a senior officer's rank in recognition of his role in promoting Lebanese-Greek relations.

Hariri Says Gulf States May Lift Lebanon Travel Ban
Naharnet/March 08/18/Gulf states may soon lift the travel bans they had imposed on Lebanon in recent years, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has announced. “Gulf states are mulling re-allowing their citizens to visit Lebanon,” Hariri revealed. “This would reflect positively on the tourism sector and on the economy in general,” the prime minister added. Hariri was in Saudi Arabia last week.Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait had in November warned their citizens against travel to Lebanon, amid a Lebanese-Saudi crisis sparked by Hariri's controversial resignation from Riyadh which he has since rescinded. Saudi Arabia said at the time that it considers Hizbullah's participation in the Lebanese government an "act of war" against the kingdom. Several Lebanon travel warnings have been issued by the Gulf states in recent years amid political tensions and security fears.

Hariri Chairs 'Final' Budget Panel Meeting before Finalizing Discussions
Naharnet/March 08/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri chaired the meeting of the nine-member ministerial committee tasked with discussing the 2018 draft budget at the Grand Serail. The session is expected to be the last one before the budget is referred to the Parliament. It was held in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil, Telecommunications Jamal Jarrah, Minister of Economy Raed Khoury, Planning Affairs Minister Michel Pharaon, Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammed Fnesih, Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, and Fouad Fleifel, the Cabinet's secretary-general. The panel is expected to make its final assessment of the amendments made to the draft budget before it is referred to the Parliament for approval.

Grandi Urges More Aid for Lebanon's Refugee Hosting Effort
Naharnet/March 08/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri has met at the Center House with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi where talks highlighted the issue of Syrian refugees, Hariri's media office said. “I was pleased to meet with PM Hariri, together with the state minister for affairs of the displaced (Moein Merhebi) to discuss the situation of refugees in Lebanon and the region,” said Grandi. Highlighting Lebanon's “hospitality” in hosting large numbers of refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria, he said: “We fully understand that the cost of this hospitality is very high for Lebanon. I assured the PM that I would do whatever I can to convey to the International community that more support has to be provided to Lebanon in shouldering this enormous responsibility.” “Unfortunately, the situation in Syria is growing more difficult. We know that the overwhelming majority of refugees in Lebanon and the region want eventually to go back home but they feel uncomfortable making that decision now, so we have to continue to be patient. I said this patience is not free of charge, we need to support Lebanon,” he added.
Referring to the upcoming aid conferences for Lebanon, Grandi said: “They will open opportunities to call on the International community to urge donor countries in particular, to support Lebanon, the country that has the highest number per capita of refugees in the world.”Stability in Syria is key to help refugees return, he assured saying: “We need to make progress on stability in particular, this is what people are apprehensive about.”

UK Home Secretary's Message to Lebanese Women Candidates on IWD

Naharnet/March 08/18/UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has used the occasion of International Women's Day, and centenary of women's suffrage, to wish Lebanese women candidates good luck, saying they have the “strength, grit and determination to succeed,” the British Embassy said in a press release on Thursday. The Home Secretary, one of the most senior ministers in the UK cabinet headed by PM Theresa May, pre-recorded the clip during her visit to Lebanon on 19 February. During the visit she met her counterpart Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq and discussed the upcoming elections, including hopes that they would lead to a greater number of women MPs. The clip comes as part of the British Embassy’s #SeatsforWomen campaign and appears on the Embassy's twitter account @UKinLebanon and UK in Lebanon on Facebook.

Families Block Roads as Islamist Prisoners Begin Hunger Strike

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 08/18/Families of Islamist prisoners on Thursday blocked roads in Tripoli and the Bekaa as detained Islamist cleric Khaled Hoblos called for an open hunger strike in Lebanese prisons “until the approval of a general amnesty.”The families blocked the Saadnayel-Chtaura road in the Bekaa and the Abu Ali roundabout in the northern city of Tripoli in solidarity with their sons. The National News Agency meanwhile reported that more than 300 prisoners had started a hunger strike at the al-Qobbeh prison in Tripoli to press for the approval of a general amnesty. “No protests or riots have been recorded,” NNA said. Hoblos had earlier in the day called for a hunger strike in Lebanese prisons in an audio recording from the Roumieh prison. Addressing President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Hoblos called for “finding a solution for thousands of detainees from all sects,” asking them to “seek the help of religious leaders to find a solution that suits everyone in a short time.” “We, the detainees in Lebanese prisons, are resuming our hunger strike under the slogan Freedom or Death,” Hoblos says in the audio recording. Several protests have been held across Lebanon in recent months demanding that Islamist prisoners be part of a discussed general amnesty. Lebanese authorities have rounded up hundreds of Sunni Islamists over the last years, including some involved in bombings against civilians and deadly clashes with the Lebanese Army. They also include extremists believed to belong to al-Qaida-linked groups and the Islamic State group. A lot of Islamist prisoners and their families have decried delay in judicial procedures and trials. Some prisoners are held for several years without trial or conviction.

Report: Security Forces Assure 'Situation under Control' Despite Fighting in Refugee Camps
Naharnet/March 08/18/After the sudden clashes that erupted recently in two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the country's security forces have affirmed on Thursday that the “situation is fully under control, and efforts are underway to stop any attempts aiming to trigger chaos,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. “The clashes were the result of personal disputes,” assured the sources to the daily, “but investigations are under way to find out the circumstances and whether there were any attempts seeking to trigger tension,” they said. “The general the situation is under control. The military and security forces are completely ready to prevent any breach aiming to destabilize the situation,” assured the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. On Wednesday, clashes with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades erupted between the Fatah al-Intifada and al-Saeqa groups at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp on Beirut's southern edges killing and wounding several. Similar clashes erupted two days ago in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp. By long-standing convention, the Lebanese Army does not enter the twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian factions themselves to handle security. That has created lawless areas in many camps, some of which contain extremists and fugitives. More than 450,000 Palestinians are registered in Lebanon with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA. Most live in squalid conditions in 12 official refugee camps and face a variety of legal restrictions, including on their employment.

Army Arrests Man behind Shatila Camp Clashes

Naharnet/March 08/18/The Lebanese Army on Thursday managed to arrest a suspect described as the main culprit in the deadly clashes that erupted Wednesday in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. “The Intelligence Directorate has arrested Mohammed Abu Zahra, aka Abu Iyad Zahra, the main instigator and culprit in the clash that erupted yesterday in the Shatila camp,” the army said in a statement. “The detainee was referred to the relevant judicial authorities and a probe got underway amid efforts to arrest the rest of the culprits,” the statement added. One person was killed and two others were wounded in Wednesday's clashes between members of the Fatah al-Intifada and al-Saeqa groups. Media reports said the fighting had no political motives. By long-standing convention, the Lebanese Army does not enter the twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian factions themselves to handle security. That has created lawless areas in many camps, some of which contain extremists and fugitives. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are registered in Lebanon with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA. Most live in squalid conditions in 12 official refugee camps and face a variety of legal restrictions, including on their employment.

Jumblatt, German Vice Speaker tackle latest developments
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - "Democratic Gathering" head MP Walid Jumblatt on Thursday welcomed at his Clemenceau residence German Vice Speaker Thomas Obermann, accompanied by German Ambassador, Martin Huth, and the Regional Representative of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, Achim Vogt. Talks reportedly touched on most recent political developments in Lebanon and the broad region.

Hariri receives Italian, Greek ambassadors
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri received this evening at the "Center House" the Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Massimo Marotti, who said after the meeting: "I came to visit Prime Minister Hariri to inform him about the latest regarding the Rome conference. The program is going forward very well and we are ahead of schedule and ready for the conference." Earlier, Hariri received the Greek Ambassador to Lebanon Theodore Passas and discussed with him the situation and the bilateral relations.

Samy Gemayel, Shorter tackle latest developments
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - Kataeb Party chief MP Samy Gemayel on Thursday welcomed at the Party's Central House in Saifi the British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter.
Talks reportedly touched on the latest developments with the looming May 6 parliamentary elections. The meeting was attended by n the presence of the President of the Economic and Social Council, Jean Tawileh, and Foreign Relations Coordinator, Marwan Abdullah.
As per a statement by Kataeb, discussions centered on the current economic situation, with Gemayel recounting the opposition's viewpoint concerning this dossier. Gemayel warned once again of a great economic collapse if the current political class continued to deal randomly with this dossier, underlining the dire need to endorse immediate reforms.

Abra detainees' families stage sit in outside Sidon's Dar Fatwa
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - The families of Abra detainees on Thursday staged a sit in outside Dar al-Fatwa in the city of Sidon, in solidarity with the Islamist inmates in Roumieh jail. On the other hand, the families and relatives of Islamist detainees staged a sit-in in the city of Sidon, demanding amnesty for their sons. Detainees' families called on the President of the Republic, the Speaker and the Prime Minister to open a new page through issuing general amnesty. In the same framework, Jezzine prison inmates announced hunger strike as of tomorrow [Friday] in solidarity with Roumieh Prison inmates.

Rahi sponsors Beirut Chamber’s brand opening in Jounieh: We look forward to new parliamentary figures
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - The Beirut and Mount Lebanon Chamber inaugurated its branch in Jounieh this Thursday, under the patronage of Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi, in the presence of the President of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Chamber, Mohammed Choukair, and a host of deputies and ranking dignitaries. The Patriarch delivered a speech in which he thanked the Chamber for its unyielding efforts to create job opportunities, despite the many difficulties. "Based on statistics, 30% of the Lebanese people are below poverty line," he said regrettably. Stressing the need to reform Lebanese regulations so as to facilitate investors' work and improve performance, the Patriarch said "We look forward to seeing new faces in the next parliament (...) because Lebanon is facing major challenges. We need responsible and conscious persons aware of the process of legislation by the parliament, execution by the cabinet and proper political conduct."

Machnouq attends Arab Interior Ministers' Conference in Algeria

Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nouhad Machnouq, on Thursday stressed that Lebanon is an Arab responsibility, saying Lebanon's security guarantees a central part of the strategic security of all Arabs. Minister Machnouq's fresh remarks came in his address at the 35th round of Arab Interior Ministers' Conference held in Algeria. "Lebanon is the first defense line for Arabs," Machnouq said, stressing the need to form a solid security nucleus, which will be the cornerstone of joint Arab security cooperation. Machnouq upped calls for the dire need to form a concrete security nucleus to constitute the backbone of a comprehensive proactive security action, which is solely capable of making a quantum leap in the war on terror. On the other hand, Machnouq met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who relayed to him the Lebanese people's satisfaction with the atmosphere of the recent visit of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh.

Army: Two explosive devices seized in Ras Baalbek
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - The Army Command - Orientation Directorate - issued on Thursday the following statement: "Today, a unit of the Army Engineering Corps in the locality of Haqab al-Ash - Ras Baalbek mountains, seized two explosive devices set for detonation each weighing 10 Kg, left behind by elements of terrorist organizations. Both bombs have been dismantled and detonated."

Siniora, Egyptian Ambassador talk bilateral ties
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - Future Bloc head Fouad Siniora on Thursday met at his Bliss office with Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon, Nazih al-Najjari, with whom he discusses the current situation and the bilateral ties between the two countries.

Berri, Riachy tackle current situation
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Thursday met at his Ain Tineh residence with Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, with talks reportedly touching on the current situation and parliamentary elections. Discussions also covered a range of media issues and relevant ministerial affairs. On emerging, Minister Riachy said that they discussed in depth the forthcoming parliamentary elections at the level of alliances, as well as affairs related to the Information Ministry in view of its new structure and name to be approved by the Parliament. Riachy also pointed out that the Lebanese Forces share with the Speaker lots of common denominators despite differences in certain political issues. On the other hand, Speaker Berri met with Central Bank Governor, Riad Salameh, over the current economic and financial situation.

Ogassapian on Women's Day: We continue to march towards equality
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of State for Women's affairs, Jean Ogassapian, congratulated Lebanese women on the International Women's Day, and said in a tweet:
"On International Women's Day, a tribute to the resilient Lebanese women who demonstrate their intelligent, committed and effective presence. Together we continue to march towards the recognition of rights and full equality. I am confident that Lebanese women will be able to bring about the necessary change towards a more balanced society."
On Lebanon’s parliamentary elections: A statelet is not destined
الانتخابات النيابية في لبنان: الدويلة ليست قدرا
Ali Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
علي الأمين/العرب/06 آذار/18
Candidate nominations for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon closed on Tuesday at midnight, where nominees compete to secure their spot in the 128 seats in parliament. What distinguishes these elections is that they be will be held after the current parliament, elected in 2009, extended its term twice. It’s thus been nine years since the last parliamentary elections were held. Note that the official parliamentary term in Lebanon is only four years.
What also distinguishes this year’s elections that are scheduled for May 6 is that they are void of political discourse. Meaning that the alliances imposed by the proportional representation system, which will be adopted for the first time in the history of Lebanese elections, and the nature of the division of electoral districts, make the competition limited in most constituencies to a sectarian nature. Hezbollah’s dominance over the Shiite sect allows it to win any parliamentary elections taking place in areas which are predominantly Shiite. This is not only because of its supporters, but also because logic stipulates that competition between the armed and unarmed ends in the former’s victory
The exception here is the Shiite sect, as the two major Shiite parties (Hezbollah and the Amal Movement), control the results that they want, and that is winning most Shiite seats in Parliament, as well as the ability to infiltrate the Sunni sect in some electoral districts. When examining the adopted proportional representation system and the nature of electoral districts, one can see that the results are in favor of the Shiite alliance, specifically Hezbollah. The latter is the party that first decided to impose this law, although it is common belief that Free Patriotic Movement leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was the one who promoted it and succeeded in imposing it. Hezbollah, however, is the primary beneficiary here. But why?
Hezbollah’s dominance
First of all, we should pay attention to the fact that Hezbollah is the only armed force that operates outside the framework of the country’s security and military institutions. It can even be said that it has power over all the official security and military entities. This weapon is not an idle element in any electoral process and any electoral law. When it comes to Shiite communities, the power of arms dominates the scene under the pretext of “resistance”.
Only Hezbollah has the ability to place its opponents in the category of the “enemies of the resistance”. This accusation in itself, and in the absence of an effective role by the state as a protective element of society, especially in the Shiite environment, makes objecting to Hezbollah’s policies or opposing them in elections come at a high price.
Parties or figures that seek to confront Hezbollah are simply aware that whoever thinks of competing with them within the Shiite community may face negative consequences such as accusations of treason or collaboration with an ‘enemy’ Arab or a western state. This threat will not only be directed at the opposing candidate, but also to anyone who votes for them and is aware of the cost of deviating from Hezbollah or publicly supporting its opponents. A voter’s livelihood may thus be threatened and they can be prevented from receiving the most basic rights.
There are many examples of individuals and entities within the Shiite community showcasing how Hezbollah does not tolerate any opposition. Their specialty is fabricating and installing security files against their rivals, and then accuse them of being employed by the enemy. This is what happened with Sheikh Hassan Mesheimsh, a cleric who opposes Hezbollah and who was imprisoned for four years over accusations of working for the enemy. This is a false accusation. But Hezbollah showed a great capability of fabricating files via official institutions without appearing in the picture. But everyone knows that they are the ones who drive and manage state institutions to serve their interests.
Other prominent figures have been attacked in Hezbollah strongholds because of political differences, including Sayyid Ali al-Amin, who was expelled from his city and dismissed from his job as a mufti because he opposed Hezbollah’s policies. A similar situation happened with Ahmad Kamel al-Asaad, a Shiite anti-Hezbollah politician, to the extent that one of his supporters was killed. Hashem al-Salman was also killed three years ago, when he and other Asaad supporters tried to protest in front of the Iranian embassy over the Syrian conflict. Salman was killed after a group of thugs opened fire on protestors. Due to Hezbollah’s dominance over the state, this case was never investigated or taken to court.
From this viewpoint of violence, Hezbollah succeeded in suppressing any opposition within its Shiite community. Some may ask aren’t there differences between Hezbollah and the Amal movement? No, because the alliance of the Shiite duo has been the only constant in Lebanon’s political life since 1992. This alliance’s strength is not due to local elements but is a result of Syrian tutelage. The latter actually imposed this alliance during the 1992 elections and until 2005. When the Syrian army exited Lebanon, Iran managed to strengthen this alliance thus solidifying Hezbollah’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, the Amal movement, headed by Nabih Berri, accepted the new situation, i.e. to be committed to the requirements of the Iranian strategy in exchange of maintaining its presence in the political scene and guaranteeing its share in the governance of domestic quotas.
Room for hope
Hezbollah’s dominance over the Shiite sect allows it to win any parliamentary elections taking place in areas which are predominantly Shiite. This is not only because of its supporters, but also because logic stipulates that competition between the armed and unarmed ends in the former’s victory. Therefore, the March 14 coalition’s victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections did not affect Hezbollah at all. Hezbollah’s possession of weapons was sufficient to end any meaning to its rivals’ electoral victory. Its arsenal turned the equation in its favor.
But if that’s the case, why does Hezbollah care about electoral law today?
There are two reasons behind Hezbollah’s interest and enthusiasm towards the law’s details. First is that this law, which adopts the proportional representation, allows Hezbollah to infiltrate other Lebanese sects as it aspires to have allies and followers from different factions. The new law makes them capable of doing so; while other Lebanese parties within the Shiite communities do not have this advantage for several reasons, mainly due to Hezbollah’s dominance via its arms.
The second reason, which is political, is that this law has helped Hezbollah impose non-political electoral alliances in most districts. This made Hezbollah’s secretary general say that there are no political alliances in the upcoming elections and that those who politically agree with one another can compete in the elections thanks to the nature of the law.
The results concluded by Hezbollah in advance are not definite. Elections’ results can still be surprising no matter how much Hezbollah can control them due to its power of arms. Holding elections is positive and necessary, even when the conditions of fair competition are absent and even when those who have power over state institutions can forge them. The Lebanese people’s optimism is thus limited to the elections’ ability to conclude with the election of some MPs who freely represent them and speak their voice. This is enough as long as the criterion of the minority and majority in Parliament is pointless due to the influence of Hezbollah’s arms. A Lebanese voice must continue to speak out in favor of the state project so that a “staelet” does not become the country’s destiny.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 08-09/18
May, Mohammed bin Salman agree to counter Iran’s destabilizing acts in region
Staff Reporter, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 7 March 2018/UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday agreed on the importance of working together to counter Iran’s destabilizing regional activity, according to the UK Prime Minister‘s office. May and Mohammed bin Salman also agreed that a political solution was the only way to end conflict and the humanitarian suffering in Yemen. They also agreed on the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access in Yemen, including through the ports, the Prime Minister‘s office said.
$90.29 bln trade and investment ties Britain and Saudi Arabia also set out an ambition to build $90.29 billion (65 billion pounds) of trade and investment ties in coming years, London said on Wednesday, calling the agreement a vote of confidence in the British economy ahead of Brexit. “The meeting agreed a landmark ambition for around 65 billion pounds of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the UK and new Saudi public procurement with UK companies,” a spokeswoman from Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said in a statement. “This is a significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy as we prepare to leave the European Union.”

Saudi Crown Prince holds talks with UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 8 March 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has met with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the second day of his historic visit to the United Kingdom. The crown prince vowed to promote religious freedom during his meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in Lambeth. His visit to the church on Thursday comes following his historic visit and meeting with Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral on Monday during the first leg of his maiden tour as Saudi Crown Prince. The meeting at Lambeth Palace was also attended by one of the Church of England's first senior female bishops, Christine Hardman, the bishop of Newcastle, and Nick Baines, the bishop of Leeds, according to Christian Today.

Jubeir: Agreed with UK on need to deter Iran, stop its support for terrorism
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 8 March 2018/“Iran is playing a destructive and dangerous role in Yemen and destabilizing the region,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a news conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir on Wednesday night. “The Saudi government has formed an alliance to support the legitimate government in Yemen,” Johnson said. The British minister pointed to “a British-Saudi agreement to control shipping lines in preparation for the opening of Yemeni ports.”For his part, Adel al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia agreed with Britain “on the need to deter Iran and stop its support for terrorism.”“We support the transitional process and the political dialogue in Yemen,” he added, stressing that “the war there was imposed on us.”He pointed out that “the Houthis have rebuffed all attempts to reach a political solution in Yemen.” The Saudi foreign minister affirmed the Kingdom’s continued humanitarian assistance to Yemen after the war. Jubeir pointed to the launch of a strategic partnership with Britain covering many areas. In another context, al-Jubeir stressed the existence of great opportunities for cooperation with Britain to achieve the Saudi Vision 2030, adding that “Vision 2030 includes a comprehensive restructuring process.”

Prince Charles Holds Dinner in Honor of Saudi Crown Prince
Asharq Al Awsat/March 08/18Prince Charles of Wales on Wednesday held a dinner banquet in honor of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Vice President of Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The dinner was held on the occasion of the Crown Prince's visit to the United Kingdom, SPA said. The banquet was attended by a number of senior officials, the agency added.

New UK-Saudi partnership to boost livelihoods in world’s poorest countries
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 8 March 2018/The UK and Saudi Arabia are building a new long-term partnership to improve livelihoods, boost economic development and create vital infrastructure to support some of the world’s poorest people in drought and conflict-stricken countries. According to a statement released by UK’s Department for International Development, this includes a commitment to work together in East Africa, which will in turn strengthen global prosperity. “The partnership – announced during the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia’s visit to the UK – is the first of its kind between the Department for International Development and the Saudi Fund for Development,” said the statement. “It will see British development experts working closer with Saudi counterparts, including in the Horn and East of Africa where both countries are already helping to lift people out of poverty,” it said. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “Global Britain is rightly recognized as an international leader when it comes to helping the most vulnerable, saving lives and tackling global challenges”.
The Saudi Fund
The Saudi Fund has a long record of investing in successful development projects around the world. We are sharing the best of British expertise, and our collective efforts will help create jobs and livelihoods to support the poorest people to stand on their own two feet.
This, in turn, will help to boost global prosperity which is in all our interests, Mordaunt is quoted to have said in the statement. By building critical infrastructure for some of the world’s poorest whose lives are threatened by drought, disease and conflict, together we can make a bigger difference and ensure that everyday tasks like collecting drinking water are made much easier, it said. Today both countries signed the Joint Cooperation Memorandum recognizing the collaboration between DFID and KS Relief to strengthen both countries’ humanitarian efforts.During the meeting, the UK noted that it was encouraged by the easing of restrictions into Yemen to ensure vital food and other supplies get through Hodeidah and Saleef ports to those in need. The UK recognizes Saudi Arabia’s legitimate security concerns and will continue to provide support to prevent illegal arms smuggling into Yemen. The UK statement said that there is no excuse to prevent humanitarian and commercial supplies from reaching those in need. This builds on the International Development Secretary’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December, where she called on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to restore and maintain full access for humanitarian and commercial imports and find a peaceful solution to stop Yemen falling into famine.
Syria Regime Pummels Besieged Eastern Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 08/18/Syrian forces pursued a relentless air and ground offensive against Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, moving closer to retaking the rebel enclave but also depriving desperate civilians of vital aid. More than 900 civilians have been killed in the nearly three-week assault on the last rebel enclave outside the capital, where dozens suffered overnight from a suspected chlorine attack. On another front in Syria's complex seven-year war, pro-Turkey rebels seized control of the key northern town of Jandairis from Kurdish fighters. Russia-backed government forces have retaken more than half of Eastern Ghouta, a monitor says, since launching their devastating offensive on the enclave on February 18. The fighting has prompted international outrage, culminating in the U.N. Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire, aid deliveries and evacuations. New air strikes on the town of Zamalka killed at least seven civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. An aid delivery planned for Thursday was meant to bring relief to war-weary civilians inside Eastern Ghouta, which is home to 400,000 inhabitants who have been living under government siege since 2013. But with bombardment continuing, the joint convoy between the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent could not go through. "The convoy for today is postponed," ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said. It marks the second time this week aid operations have been disrupted by military developments, with food deliveries cut short Monday due to bombardment. Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N.'s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA), said: "The movement of the convoy was not authorized by the Syrian authorities due to security reasons."
'Going to suffocate'
Eastern Ghouta towns and villages have fallen in quick succession in recent days, with regime forces on the verge of cutting the remaining rebel-held territory into two isolated pockets. A military official on Thursday said the regime would open up a new "humanitarian corridor" for civilians wishing to flee from the south of the enclave. AFP's correspondent in the town of Hammuriyeh saw motionless bodies lying in the streets on Thursday after a night of ferocious bombing. On Wednesday, volunteers from the civil defense group known as the "White Helmets" were seen trying to douse flames burning two men lying dead on the street next to a motorbike after a strike. Dozens of civilians were treated in the town for breathing difficulties late Wednesday, with medics reporting symptoms consistent with a toxic attack. Doctors at one facility treated at least 29 patients with signs of exposure to chlorine, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. It said victims were suffering from shortness of breath, wheezing, and redness of the eyes. Several families were seen trying to reach fresh air late Wednesday on the roof of a four-story building in Hammuriyeh, after air strikes on their neighborhood.  "I'm going to suffocate," two children screamed as rescue workers carried them down from the roof. Regime forces have been repeatedly accused of using chlorine on Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks, which both the government and Russia have staunchly denied.
Syria's war has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Turkey takes northern town
It has since spiraled into a complex conflict involving world powers. Since January 20, Turkey-led rebels have pressed an assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the north of the country. On Thursday, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels seized the town of Jandairis, the Observatory said. "Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels took full control of Jandairis... after heavy and sustained bombardment by the Turkish aviation," it said. A rebel commander from the Turkey-backed Faylaq al-Sham group told an AFP reporter in Jandairis the town was under full control. "The entire city of Jandairis was liberated from the secessionist gangs," said the commander, who goes by the name Abu Saleh. "The fight will continue until the whole of Afrin is cleared of them." Turkey says the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) who control the enclave are a "terrorist" group. But the Kurdish militia have also formed the backbone of a U.S.-backed alliance that has successfully fought the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria. The U.N. Security Council on February 24 demanded a 30-day cessation of hostilities across the country, but the resolution has done little to bring relief to civilians. The U.N.'s top body met behind closed doors on Wednesday in an attempt to shore up the ceasefire. U.N. peace envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed the meeting and offered to help broker a deal with Russia to allow fighters in Eastern Ghouta to leave, a diplomat said. Rebel groups operating in Eastern Ghouta have so far refused to discuss evacuating the enclave and have been firing rockets and artillery into eastern areas of Damascus in recent weeks, leaving at least 32 dead the Observatory says.

Dozens Treated for Breathing Problems after Raids on Syria's Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 08/18/Dozens of people were treated for breathing difficulties after air strikes slammed into Syria's Eastern Ghouta late Wednesday, a monitor said, with medics reporting symptoms consistent with a toxic attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 60 people in the besieged rebel enclave were left struggling to breathe after air strikes and barrel bombs hit the towns of Saqba and Hammuriyeh. Doctors at one medical facility in Eastern Ghouta said they treated at least 29 patients with signs of exposure to chlorine, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). SAMS is a medical charity that supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta and other rebel-controlled zones in Syria. It did not report any deaths but said it was likely that more victims were being treated at other clinics. "Due to chlorine attack in #EastGhouta, patients are struggling w/symptoms such as severe dyspnea, sweating, congestion of mucus membranes, severe runny nose, wheezing & conjunctival erythema," SAMS wrote on social media late Wednesday. "The emotional trauma from these attacks can not be measured." Dyspnea is shortness of breath. Conjunctival erythema is redness of the eye caused by dilation of the blood vessels. AFP's correspondent in Hammuriyeh saw more than 40 people on the roof of a four-storey building late Wednesday, trying to get fresh air after strikes on their neighbourhood. Parents had stripped their children down and were spraying them with water, fearing toxic substances had got into their clothes. - 'I'm going to suffocate' -Rescue workers arrived and transported the residents off the roof to a nearby medical facility even as bombing raged around them. "I'm going to suffocate," two children screamed repeatedly as they were carried down. Eastern Ghouta is facing a blistering offensive by Russian-backed government forces and allied militiamen, who are seeking to clear out rebels from the capital's outskirts. Regime forces have been repeatedly accused of using chlorine on Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks, which both the government and its ally Russia have staunchly denied. United Nations investigators say government forces used chlorine as a weapon at least three times between 2014 and 2015, as well as sarin gas in 2016. The latest assault on Eastern Ghouta began with an intense bombing campaign on February 18, followed by a ground offensive. Government forces have since captured more than half of the rebel-held parts of the area and killed nearly 900 civilians, according to the Britain-based Observatory. The toll includes at least 91 people killed on Wednesday. Air strikes continued to hit the remaining rebel-controlled parts of Ghouta on Thursday. A convoy of humanitarian assistance expected to enter the enclave was postponed, the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP. It marks the second time this week that aid operations to Eastern Ghouta have been disrupted by military developments, with food deliveries cut short on Monday due to heavy bombardment.

U.S. 'a Long Way' from Negotiations with N. Korea, Says Tillerson
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 08/18/Washington's top diplomat Rex Tillerson said Thursday the United States was "a long way from negotiations" with North Korea, which this week made a shock offer to discuss denuclearisation. Tillerson, who is in Ethiopia on his first-ever Africa tour, said the signals from Pyongyang may be positive but stressed negotiations with Kim Jong Un's regime were not going to happen soon. "I think as President Trump has indicated, (there are) potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue with South Korea," he told journalists. But "in terms of direct talks... we're a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it," he said. He said a first step would be "talks about talks" to see if "conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations." Details are still sketchy, but South Korea announced Tuesday that the North had stated there was "no reason" to hold on to its nuclear weapons "if military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed". The North is open to "frank" talks with the United States on denuclearisation and would suspend missile and nuclear tests while dialogue was under way, the South's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said after returning from a meeting in Pyongyang with Kim. President Donald Trump welcomed the offer as "very positive." However his Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress he was "quite skeptical" and Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. position towards North Korea would not change "until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearisation." China on Thursday urged the United States and North Korea to start negotiations as soon as possible, while Japan has warned it could be a ploy to play for time, and urged "concrete" steps from Pyongyang.

Japan punishes crypto exchanges after hack
AFP, Tokyo/Thursday, 8 March 2018/The Japanese government is slapping penalties on several crypotocurrency exchanges in the country, after 58 billion yen ($530 million) of virtual coins were lost earlier this year from hacking. The Financial Services Agency (FSA) said in a statement it had ordered FSHO and Bit Station, exchanges based in Yokohama and Nagoya, to temporarily halt their operations for a month from Thursday. The agency alleged that FSHO “does not have a proper system to monitor trading and has not given training to its employees,” while an employee of Bit Station “diverted digital currency deposited by clients for his personal use.”Immediate comments from the two exchanges were not available. Authorities also ordered five other exchanges, including Coincheck, to improve their business practices. Coincheck was already slapped with sanctions in January following the hack.
The hack
The hack of Coincheck -- resulting in the disappearance of NEM cryptocurrency worth $530 million -- was one of the largest of its kind, and prompted authorities to search the firm’s office last month. The company has already pledged to reimburse about $400 million to all 260,000 customers who lost their holdings of NEM, then the 10th biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. But it is unclear how and when the money will be returned. Following the fresh FSA order, Coincheck vowed to “thoroughly review its management” and take measures to protect its depositors and deal with money laundering and funds for terrorists. “Once again we apologize to our customers and people concerned for causing a lot of trouble and worries,” the company said in a statement, promising to “do its best” to regain confidence.
Reimbursements and losses
In February, seven plaintiffs -- two companies and five individuals -- filed a lawsuit against Coincheck. They are seeking the reimbursement of 19.53 million yen ($184,000) in virtual currencies and further compensation for interest lost due to the hack. Thieves syphoned away 523 million units of the cryptocurrency NEM from Coincheck during the January 26 hack, exceeding the $480 million in bitcoin stolen in 2014 from another Japanese exchange, MtGox. That hack prompted Japan to issue new regulations, requiring exchanges to obtain a license from the FSA, but Coincheck was allowed to continue operating while the agency was reviewing its application. As many as 10,000 businesses in Japan are thought to accept bitcoin, and bitFlyer -- the country’s main bitcoin exchange -- saw its user base grow beyond one million in November.- With AP.

Saudi, UK companies sign 18 economic deals worth $2.1 bln

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/hursday, 8 March 2018/On the sidelines of the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to London, Saudi institutions and businesses signed agreements worth more than $2.13 bln (SAR 8.9 bln) with British bodies and companies.
Agreements signed included the sectors of health, investment, innovation and energy. Among the deals signed during the trip is the investment of one billion Saudi riyals on health care centers in Saudi Arabia. In a related context, the General Authority for Investment in Saudi Arabia granted 10 licenses for direct investment of UK companies in the Kingdom. British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca obtained a license to invest in Saudi Arabia.

Headed for very large loss in current fiscal year, confirms Qatar Airways CEO

Reuters, Berlin/Thursday, 8 March 2018/Qatar Airways will report a “very large loss” because of a regional boycott that has slapped restrictions on the airline, its chief executive said on Wednesday. The major Gulf airline lost access to 18 cities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain last June when the four countries cut ties with Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorism. The restrictions, which include a ban on using airspace over the four countries, is “putting financial strain” on Qatar Airways, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told reporters at the ITB travel fair in Berlin. “We will announce a very large loss during the current financial year which ends this month,” he said, without giving further details. Baker has previously warned that Qatar Airways would make a loss but had declined to disclose how significant it would be. Qatar Airways made $541 million (1.97 billion Qatari riyals) profit in its previous fiscal year. When asked if it was running short of cash, Baker said in an interview with Reuters TV that Qatar Airways may need to call on its state owners for extra funds should the boycott continue. “Not for the foreseeable future, but if it continues long term our shareholders will have to put additional equity into the company,” he said.
Popular routes
Saudi Arabia and the UAE were popular routes for Qatar Airways. The airspace ban means that for many flights to the west and south of the Gulf, the airline has to fly longer routes around the four countries which requires more fuel and increases costs.
The carrier has added new destinations in different countries and on Wednesday announced a new route to London Gatwick starting in May. Qatar has also been buying stakes in other airlines, most recently in Italian carrier Meridiana, which it will rename Air Italy. SEE ALSO: Qatar airways boss predicts losses, blames Arab boycott. Baker said the airline was not looking for any more investments in Europe, but remained interested in the United States and was waiting for Royal Air Maroc to go through a restructuring process before taking a stake.
In India, Qatar Airways is going through what Baker described as a “laborious” process of legal requirements before applying for a license to set up a domestic carrier there.
The government of Qatar agreed in January that Qatar Airways would release detailed financial information to the US government as part of a response to accusations by US airlines that the carrier had been illegally state-subsidized. Qatar Airways has denied the allegations and Baker has said the release of the data would have no impact on the airline.

Iran’s Supreme Leader: We Won’t Negotiate With West Over Regional Presence
Reuters/March 08/18/UK FM Boris Johnson says Iranian missiles fired at Saudi Arabia ‘unacceptable’Wife of Iranian-Canadian who died in jail barred from leaving Iran:'
LONDON: Iran will not negotiate with the West over its presence in the Middle East, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, days after the visiting French foreign minister sought to discuss Tehran’s role in regional conflicts. Jean-Yves Le Drian traveled to Tehran on Monday with a brief to reaffirm Europe’s support for a nuclear deal that opened Iran’s economy while echoing US concern about Tehran’s missile program and its influence in the region. “European countries come (to Tehran) and say we want to negotiate with Iran over its presence in the region. It is none of your business. It is our region. Why are you here?” Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website. Khamenei said Iran would only negotiate on that issue with other states in the region. “We will negotiate with America, when we wanted to be present in America,” he added. US President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal unless three European signatories help “fix” the accord by forcing Iran to limit its sway in the Middle East and rein in its missile program. French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized the program and raised the possibility of new sanctions.
Tehran supports Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad in the government’s war against rebel forces, including groups backed by the West, and is an ally of Israel’s enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran's presence in region has nothing to do with US or Europe: Khamenei
Thu 08 Mar 2018/NNA - Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday said Iran's presence in the region has nothing to do with the United States or Europe. Referring to remarks by American and European officials against Iran's presence in the region, Ayatollah Khamenei said: 'While the US is present everywhere with evil and seditious intentions, it constantly raises question about Iran's presence in the region. Do we have to get a permission from the US for our presence in the region? 'Should we hold talks with regional governments for our presence or with you? When we want to be present in the United States , then we will enter into talks with you,' Ayatollah Khamenei said in an address to a group of eulogists and poets on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Hazrat Fatima, the beloved daughter of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In response to European authorities' willingness to hold talks with Iran on its presence in the region, the Supreme Leader replied: 'What is your business to interfere with this matter? Is this our region or yours? What are you doing in our region? We make a deal with regional nations as we have already done...People should know about these political issues.'
The Iranian nation has been going ahead and making progress despite unprecedented and constant plots hatched by the enemies and this is a source of honor and sign of Divine favor, Ayatollah Khamenei said. Elsewhere in his speech, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution said a Muslim woman is influential in society, leads family and gives man peace of mind whereas the most sought feature of women in the West is her nudity and ability to physically attract men. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said : 'In Islamic logic, there's a framework to define women's roles. An Islamic woman is the one who has faith & chastity & leads the most crucial section of human education. She influences the society, achieves scientific & spiritual growth: She is the director of the family's hub. 'In contrast, there has always been a deviant framework; today, that different model for #women is the one offered by the west. Today, according to the western model, the most sought characteristics of a woman involve her ability to physically attract men and appease them: one distinct image (portrayed in society) of the western woman is her nudity,' Ayatollah Khamenei told the audience. -- IRNA

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 08-09/18
Britain's Massive Charity Scam

Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 08/18
The exploitation is so widespread that some Syrian women are refusing to go to distribution centres because people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home", the BBC explains quoting a new UN report on the humanitarian abuses.
More than half the humanitarian donations from the United Kingdom to Syria through small NGOs have ended up in the hands of ISIS and other jihadist groups, according to the think-tank Quilliam Foundation. In this way, millions of pounds, thanks to the generosity of British taxpayers, have fallen in the hands of terror groups.
Fatiha-Global, which should have brought help to Syrian refugees fleeing the war, instead diverted the funds to the Islamic State, the very terror group which had caused the refugee crisis to begin with. To top it off, the head of Fatiha-Global, Adeel Ali, was photographed with the jihadists of the Caliphate -- the same jihadist group that beheaded British volunteer Alan Henning, who had come to Syria on behalf of the subsidiaries of Fatiha.
In a secularized West, charitable organizations are the modern-day saints granting us our expiatory rites. Many humanitarian NGOs even seem to cater to Western consciences filled with guilt.
Since these NGOs say they work on behalf of "humanity" and for a "better world", while possibly assuming that states and governments act only for the sake of social efficiency or their own self-preserving interests. Yet, often these NGOs risk becoming bureaucracies as much as states do, sometimes even with similar sexual and financial scandals. At times these NGOs also can look like just a "mammoth machinery" with more employees than services; a steep, often unaccountable budget, and an ideology promoting the worst "Western stereotyping". The weekly magazine The Spectator called them "the bad charity".
Lately, not a single week has passed without a negative story in the press about British NGOs. Now Oxfam, one of the wealthiest and most important of them, is sinking from a series of scandals in Africa and Haiti. It used, it seems, taxpayers' money, intended for the earthquake victims, to pay for "Caligula-style orgies". It also fired the actresses Kristin Davis and Scarlett Johansson, who volunteered as Oxfam "ambassadors," after they appeared in advertisements for Israeli companies. Oxfam accused the women of rhetorically "oppressing" the Palestinians; meanwhile Oxfam's staff was physically oppressing the Haitians.
Every year, not only at Oxfam, more than 1,000 acts of sexual abuse are committed by people who are supposed to be protecting children and vulnerable people, according to the British charities' regulator. Even the NGO of David Miliband, the former Labour party frontrunner, was hit by a scandal of sexual abuse, fraud and corruption.
According to a report by the BBC, women in Syria have been sexually exploited by men delivering aid on behalf of the United Nations and other Western charities. "The exploitation is so widespread that some Syrian women are refusing to go to distribution centres because people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home", the BBC explains, quoting a new UN report on the humanitarian abuses.
According to Aidan Hartley in The Spectator, trouble for these NGOs began when they stopped helping people and started becoming politically correct by "blaming the West, stoking guilt and making Africa into a utopian playground for socialists from Sussex University".
Israel recently banned representatives of 20 non-governmental groups from entering the country, including the British organization War on Want, which according to NGO Monitor fabricates accusations of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" against Israel.
The historic Halo Trust was an organization beloved by Britain's late Lady Diana. The actress Angelina Jolie in 2014 accused its executives of paying themselves handsomely with "consultancy fees." The Kids Company was also exposed for evidently squandering money on the "lavish" lifestyle of its founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh.
It seems that £35 million of public money have also disappeared down the black hole of the Libor fund, established by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to support war veterans. The Sunday Times disclosed that in fact, it "wasted" vast amounts of money.
In England, philanthropic organizations have become a bureaucracy. There are evidently more than 195,289 registered charities in the United Kingdom that collect and spend almost £80 billion a year. Altogether, the NGOs employ one million employees, more than the automobile, aerospace and chemical sectors in the UK. Most of the large NGOs in the UK, however, spend less half of their income each year on charitable works, according to the True and Fair Foundation. The Daily Telegraph found that the executives of many NGOs saw their salaries increase, despite efforts to curb pay levels.
In Haiti, after a devastating earthquake in 2010, humanitarian efforts, it seems, did more harm than good. First, UN peacekeepers brought cholera to the island, killing almost 10,000 people. Then, the UN troops sexually abused Haitian children in a child sex ring. Third came the scandal of Oxfam. It seems like a colonialism of the do-gooders.
Another British NGO, Amnesty International, we are told, excuses Islamic extremism. Its secretary general, Claudio Cordone, said that "defensive jihad" is not "antithetical" to the struggle for human rights after Amnesty came under scrutiny for the relationship with CAGE, another NGO founded by an extremist Muslim, Moazzam Begg, which campaigns for the release of imprisoned jihadists. When one of Amnesty's senior officers, Gita Sahgal, expressed concerns, she was suspended. "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender is a gross error of judgment," she wrote.
Amnesty International has come under scrutiny for its relationship with CAGE, an NGO founded by an extremist Muslim, Moazzam Begg, which campaigns for the release of imprisoned jihadists. When one of Amnesty's senior officers, Gita Sahgal (pictured), expressed concerns, she was suspended. (Image source: Nano GoleSorkh/Wikimedia Commons)
Some NGOs have been financing Islamic terrorism, especially in Syria, with taxpayers' money. William Shawcross, president of the Charity Commission, called it a "deadly" problem for the charities. More than half the humanitarian donations from the United Kingdom to Syria through small NGOs have ended up in the hands of ISIS and other jihadist groups, according to the think-tank Quilliam Foundation. In this way, millions of pounds, thanks to the generosity of British taxpayers, have fallen in the hands of terror groups,
Fatiha-Global, which should have brought help to Syrian refugees fleeing the war, instead diverted the funds to the Islamic State, the very terror group which had caused the refugee crisis to begin with. To top it off, the head of Fatiha-Global, Adeel Ali, was photographed with the jihadists of the Caliphate -- the same Jihadist group that beheaded British volunteer Alan Henning, who had come to Syria on behalf of the subsidiaries of Fatiha.
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 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.

Iranian woman who removed headscarf jailed for two years
Staff and agencies in Tehran/The Guardian/March 08/18
Prosecutor says woman took off obligatory hijab in Tehran street to ‘encourage corruption’
Staff and agencies in Tehran
An Iranian woman who publicly removed her veil in protest against Iran’s compulsory headscarf law has been sentenced to two years in prison, the judiciary said on Wednesday. Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, who announced the sentence, did not give the woman’s identity but said she intended to appeal against the verdict, the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency reported. Dolatabadi said the unidentified woman took off her headscarf in Tehran’s Enghelab Street to “encourage corruption through the removal of the hijab in public”. The woman will be eligible for parole after three months, but Dolatabadi criticised what he said was a “light” sentence and said he would push for the full two-year penalty. More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested since the end of December for publically removing their veils in defiance of the law. Most have been released, but many are being prosecuted.
Women showing their hair in public in Iran are usually sentenced to far shorter terms of two months or less, and fined $25. Iranian law, in place since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, stipulates that all women, Iranian or foreign, Muslim or non-Muslim, must be fully veiled in public at all times.
But the zeal of the country’s morality police has declined in the past two decades, and a growing number of Iranian women in Tehran and other large cities often wear loose veils that reveal their hair.
In some areas of the capital, women are regularly seen driving cars with veils draped over their shoulders. Dolatabadi said he would no longer accept such behaviour, and had ordered the impound of vehicles driven by socially rebellious women. The prosecutor said some “tolerance” was possible when it came to women who wear the veil loosely, “but we must act with force against people who deliberately question the rules on the Islamic veil”, according to Mizan Online. Since you’re here …… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too. I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.
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Italy Takes a Step Back From Europe
Ferdinando Giugliano/Asharq Al Awsat/March 08/18
There are two ways to look at Sunday’s Italian general election results.
One is simply to focus on the arithmetic. From that perspective, the outcome is really not that different from what was expected. There was no outright winner: Neither the center-right coalition, nor the center-left nor the anti-establishment Five Star Movement managed to win a majority of seats. The vote produced a hung parliament, which will make it very hard to form a government, let alone a stable one. That means a period of instability lies ahead — though one could say this is merely the norm for Italy.
And yet the simple arithmetic doesn’t really tell the story of Sunday’s dramatic result. This was an anti-establishment triumph of the same magnitude as the Brexit referendum or Donald Trump’s U.S. election victory. Two populist forces are on course together to secure around half the votes. Five Star looks set to be by far the largest party in Italy, polling well above 30 percent. Within the center-right bloc, the League is the dominant party, above Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
The Five Star Movement and the League are different beasts, but they share many traits. They have both been critical of the euro — though Five Star has recently toned down its rhetoric. They have also been skeptical of Italy’s approach to immigration, which has been to rescue refugees coming from the Mediterranean Sea. Most worryingly, they have been open-minded about claims that vaccinations are dangerous — a symptom of a broader skepticism towards science and “experts.”
The buzz in Rome is whether the two parties could team up and form a euroskeptic alliance. This partnership would likely be able to form a government, though politically that would be difficult to sustain. The League is formally in a governing coalition with the center-right and is now in the driving seat: As the largest party, it can pick its favorite prime ministerial candidate. Five Star’s base is made of many left-wingers, who would be against an alliance with the League. In his first remarks after the vote, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, said he was opposed to teaming up with Five Star.
But in a way, all of this is irrelevant. The bigger point is that a majority of voters have chosen to turn their back on the path Italy has taken since the height of the sovereign debt crisis. The technocratic government led by Mario Monti and the three administrations formed around the Democratic Party have shared one trait: They have all sought to modernize Italy’s economy — raising the pension age, passing labor-market reforms. They have also been broadly compliant with euro-zone rules. When they have sought exceptions — for both banking and fiscal matters — they have done so in agreement with European institutions.
The Five Star Movement and the League don’t want to hear any of that. Their programs include generous giveaways, such as a universal basic income (Five Star) or a flat tax (League), or lowering the pension age (both), none of which Italy can afford without deep spending cuts. In short, they want to bust the European fiscal rules, claiming Italy needs a stimulus now. Some — particularly within the League — are ready to leave the euro to win the right to spend more.
This poses a major dilemma for the rest of the euro zone — ironically, just as a window of opportunity for reforming the currency bloc was opening. French President Emmanuel Macron was waiting for a new administration in Berlin (approved on Sunday) to test his ideas on greater risk-sharing between euro-zone member states in exchange for a stricter management of the public finances. The popular sentiment which came out of Italy’s election is a challenge to this compromise.
Germany and France can react in two ways. They can pause the process of further integration, given that it is unlikely to be greeted with enthusiasm south of the Alps. Alternatively, they can treat Italy as a problem child, steam ahead with their preferred solution, and then ask whoever is in Rome to sign up to whatever they have agreed. One thing is clear: Italy will play little role in designing the new rules.
For the anti-establishment parties that are rejoicing today, this will be a real test. So far, they have sold the electorate a future made up of free money. However, reality is much harder. They may not like European rules, but for now they have to work within them. As for leaving the euro, that’s much easier said than done. The risk is that they will end up like Greece’s Alexis Tsipras: turning their backs on the promises they have made because the alternative would be disastrous.
A period of great uncertainty lies ahead, for both Italy and the EU. Italian voters have spoken. What they have said is confused; not at all the message Italy’s euro zone partners wanted to hear.

Why entering stadiums is a matter of joy for Saudi families
Dr. Razan Baker/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
Why should Saudi families not be overjoyed to enter stadiums? I come from a family in which my uncles were captains of the Al-Ittihad football team. They played in games I never had the chance to watch because they were not filmed those days in the late 1960s. For many years, I heard about the skill, performance and achievements of my father and uncles on the pitch through word of mouth. I attend football matches abroad with my family but have never done so here in the Kingdom. I have attended matches in which the Saudi national team has played abroad, but never in Saudi Arabia. I attended, as a sport reporter, Saudi volleyball and water polo finals in 2008. However, these events took place in closed rooms behind opaque glass screens so no one would know a female was there. I used to watch matches on TV and then telephone players for quotes after the final whistle. I knew deep inside that this would change. I just did not know that I would get the chance to watch a football match with my father and his grandchildren at a club that we have been supporting from one generation to another. This is not just a dream come true, it is history breaking tradition and culture in a very promising way. This is a result of Vision 2030. The nature of Saudi culture evolves around being there for each other and supporting each family member. In simple words, family always comes first.
Saudi culture evolves around being there for each other and supporting each family member. In simple words, family always comes first
Doubling spectators
When the decision was announced this year to allow families to enter stadiums in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, the number of spectators doubled. Al-Riyadiyah, for example, said this week that the number of spectators in the Saudi football league had risen from 32,244 in the 16th round to 61,441 in the 17th.
This does not only mean extra attendance, but also new areas of investment that would help the economy. We could see more kiosks, restaurants and children friendly attractions that families could visit before and after matches.
London, for example, built a new Olympic park to host the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The goal was to host the games but it also resulted in regenerating the East End of London and giving prominence to sports. It also created many jobs, increased the rate of rent in the area and helped in providing a kind of legacy to local people, not to mention a decrease in the rate of crime. That is why it might be just a football game for some, but for us it is a new window of opportunities and a way of sharing additional quality time with family. This is a time for families, siblings and parents to bond. This is how sports bring us together and that is what we are proud of and happy to see in Saudi Arabia.
Furthering interests
This is also why it matters to us. Mothers will no longer miss their children when they go to watch matches. Parents can now introduce their children to sports and find out which ones they really enjoy and encourage them to further their interests. Things like this do not happen by just watching sports on television.
First-hand experience can play magic. This is an opportunity to see the reactions of winners and losers after matches, something that can teach our children many lessons such as there always being a second chance and that you just have to be patient and committed to prove yourself.
In 2017, the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration published an article about this that concluded that family presence and involvement supported the acquisition and application of life skills and that youth participation in programs created opportunities for bonding and positive changes within families.
In my view, attending matches is going to be the new hype for families and entrepreneurs interested in a booming industry. Attendance will encourage athletes who will see their worth and value in society increase. Spectators will appreciate athletes more, will closely follow games and even start considering athletes as role models.
Entrepreneurs will also be there to seek opportunities and enhance the Kingdom’s business and economy. That is what the country is working hard to achieve through its vision and by allowing families to attend stadiums and enjoy matches. Let us be there for our national teams, children and future generations.
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette.

Is eastern Ghouta another East Aleppo?

Christian Chesnot/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
The regime of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, is steamrolling Ghouta day after day. The situation appears similar to the Aleppo siege, which ended by the end of 2016 with the evacuation of the last standing rebels with their families in the snow. The direction of those who fled Aleppo was Idlib. Air strikes, artillery shelling, chemical weapons, starvation and much more was resorted to in order to crush East Aleppo’s rebellion. The suburbs of Damascus are witnessing the same awful humanitarian crisis. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced developments in Eastern Ghouta and described people’s plight there as ‘hell on earth’. The UN once again finds itself paralyzed in terms of taking action. All it can do is issue statements. The first lesson here is that developments in Ghouta once again reflect the failure of the UN’s “humanitarian diplomacy” that’s reduced to mere incantations.
The UN once again finds itself paralyzed in terms of taking action. All it can do is issue statements. The first lesson here is that developments in Ghouta once again reflect the failure of the UN’s “humanitarian diplomacy”
Diplomacy of surrender
The ‘diplomacy of surrender’ reigns once again - this time in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Syrian regime’s aim is to empty Ghouta of its people to better isolate the armed groups and their families. By the end, buses will wait for them to take them to Idlib, Syria’s last-held rebel province.
The second lesson here is that the West is out of the game and they have no bargaining chip to really influence the crisis. For the United States and Europeans, the fall of Ghouta will resemble a political and moral loss. After this horrifying chapter, Bashar al-Assad will become the master of Damascus once again. Such a triumph will also close any room for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict. In any case, this is what Michel Duclos, France’s former ambassador to Damascus, thinks. How can it be conceived that the Syrian regime will suddenly be possessed by a desire to negotiate a political transition?
What after the collapse of Ghouta?
The expected collapse of Ghouta will conclude a chapter of the war in Syria. Assad now controls all the major cities. The opposition and the rebels are being pushed outside Syria and to the country’s outskirts. The opposition is also about to endeavor a long journey in the desert. The reality is cruel and the challenges they face are huge. They have failed to unite in order to topple the regime in 2011-2012. The opportunity will not represent itself anytime soon. They need to review their plans from A to Z. So what does the future hold for Syria after the fall of Ghouta? It certainly revolves around chaotic reconstruction and a long journey of daily agony for the Syrians. But perhaps this is when the Syrians demand accountability. We must not forget that Assad survived and remained president mainly thanks to Russia, Iran and the Lebanese party Hezbollah, as they all united just in time to support his regime. However, will these allies remain partners when the situation calms down? Everyone has his own agenda in Syria. As the Russians have previously stated, they are not “married” to Bashar al-Assad. Moscow is only interested in its geopolitical interests and the sustenance of the state structure. As long as they have not found an alternative for the Syrian president, they will keep protecting the regime. They also know that Bashar al-Assad’s term ends in 2021. Perhaps that’s when the political transition will begin. In the meantime, the Syrian people will have to grit their teeth.

Saudi-UK cooperation is a two-way street
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 08/18
All eyes are on the ongoing visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the UK this week. It might be a short visit with a lot of symbolism and photo opportunity events but beneath it lies issues of more substance and importance to both sides. Despite some criticism from politicians on the left and anti-war campaigners to the visit, the overall message is clear – both Saudi Arabia and the UK will stand to benefit from a closer relationship with each other rather than drifting apart. The signing of a new and comprehensive UK-Saudi “Strategic Partnership Council” — an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and foster cooperation on issues such as education and culture, as well as defence and security. It has laid the cornerstone for a long term mutual beneficial relationship Britain and sets out an ambition to build 65 billion pounds ($90.29 billion) of trade and investment ties in coming years. This will also go beyond current trade relations with British non-oil exports to Saudi Arabia totalling 6.2 billion pounds in 2016 and imports from Saudi Arabia totalling 2.6 billion pounds. As the British government officials have pointed out, this has in turn supported “tens of thousands” of UK jobs.
British lives have also been saved by Saudi intelligence, as is quickly forgotten by those who question Saudi Arabia’s value to the UK. The 14 trade MoUs, due to be signed during the visit, will be a boost to the UK as it tries to find viable long term trading partners post Brexit
Two-way street
The new investment and procurement opportunities envisioned is a definitely a two-way street that benefit both sides and will be spread across a range of sectors including education, training and skills, financial and investment services, culture and entertainment, healthcare services and life sciences, technology and renewable energy and the defence industry. All these areas are underpinning the new Saudi Vision 2030 modernization and economic diversification program of Saudi Arabia and British expertise in these areas will help the Kingdom given the already strong relationship both countries have especially in education and science. The Memorandums of Understanding for 14 trade deals are due to be signed during the visit will be a boost to the UK as it tries to find viable long term trading partners post a Brexit exit with growing economies like Saudi Arabia, China and India and is a welcome relief to Prime Minister May as the Brexit talks are getting bogged down in sniping from both the UK and EU officials.
“This is a significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy as we prepare to leave the European Union,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in the statement.
Then there is the expected Aramco IPO listing this year with major financial centres like London and New York vying for a slice of the international offering but it is not yet expected that a decision on where to list is made during this visit.
Defense partnership
Defense remains a vital partnership between the two countries as Britain is Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest supplier of defense equipment and London-based based BAE Systems has been waiting for a follow-on order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet after the initial Al-Yamamah sale of 72 of the warplanes in 2006. A deal would boost UK industry as Britain tightens its own defense spending. In this area the UK is also taking a lead in supporting the Crown Prince’s mandate for localization of as many of the imported defense equipment in Saudi Arabia to create jobs and add to local supply chain content.
The lessons of the earlier failures of the initial al-Yamamah offset program has been learned by both sides. Another area of UK expertise that Saudi Arabia values is UK cyber expertise to help them tackle the threat from Iran as cyber threat to both the public and the private sector has increased over the past few years from hostile actors. One of the most important aspects of the Crown Princes’ visit is to set the message that Saudi Arabia is a reliable partner and that the Kingdom is indeed open for business and is looking for international support for his internal economic reforms while at the same time trying to offer reassurance to nervous international investors given the quick pace of internal reforms and anti-corruption campaigns to ensure a level playing field for all parties.
For those who have criticized Saudi Arabia as a country that moves at a snail’s pace, the pace of change has literally taken everyone by surprise and make the same people now say slow down. The Crown Prince has, however, made it clear – join us or be left behind.

Arab states must unite to stop Iran’s weapons smuggling
يجب على الدول العربية الإتحاد لوقف تهريب الإسلحة الإيرانية للحوثيين
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 08/18
According to the latest reports, the Iranian regime is increasing its efforts to illegally supply weapons to terrorist groups and its proxies, specifically the Houthis in Yemen, as well as many other militias in Syria and Iraq.
When it comes to smuggling and supplying the Houthis with weapons, Tehran is engaged in four major categories: First is the supply, sale or transfer of short-range ballistic missiles (known as Borkan-2H ). Second is the supply of field storage tanks, which are utilized for liquid bipropellant oxidizers and developing ballistic missiles. Third is supplying unmanned aerial vehicles (such as Ababil-T and Qasef-1). Fourth is the provision of ballistic missile technology to the militias.
These acts are in violation of two UN resolutions: 2216, which imposes an arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and 2231, which bans the Islamic Republic from transferring weapons and advancing its ballistic missile program in specific instances.
Intriguingly, even the annual report of the United Nations conclusively revealed that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is in non-compliance with paragraph 14 of resolution 2216 (2015).” It added: “The panel has now identified strong indicators of the supply of arms-related material manufactured in, or emanating from, the Islamic Republic of Iran subsequent to the establishment of the targeted arms embargo on April 14, 2015, particularly in the area of short-range ballistic missile technology and unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Despite such findings, the UN has not yet taken any concrete measures to punish the Iranian regime. One of the reasons for this is the veto power that Russia holds in the Security Council. Russia recently vetoed a resolution that would have simply applied pressure to Iran over the transfer of weapons to Yemen. Therefore it is unlikely the UN will be capable of action as long as Russia supports the Iranian regime.
Since such a global institution has failed to hold the Iranian regime to account for its crystal clear violations, the solution to this problem is dependent on employing the power of regional organizations and coalitions. In fact, in some cases, a united regional front can be much more effective in establishing peace and halting destabilization in the region than the international organizations.
A regional consensus could be more successful in establishing peace and halting destabilization than the UN, which has its hands tied by the Russian veto.
This is where a coalition of several Arab states, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, could play a major role. There are several gradual steps that Arab states can take. First is to impose targeted sanctions aimed at holding the Iranian regime accountable based on the findings of the UN over Tehran’s smuggling of weapons. Arab states can impose sanctions on specific entities that the UN has found to be involved in supplying and transferring weapons to Tehran’s proxies. One should remember that Arab states in the Gulf and other nations in the region endure the direct and indirect consequences of Iran’s smuggling of weapons and destabilizing behavior.
Secondly, the Arab states can impose sanctions on those entities and individuals that the United States has already sanctioned for violations of UN resolutions and international laws. Many of these entities and individuals are affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Third, a coalition of Arab states can utilize their economic power to counter the Iranian regime. Regional economic sanctions can have an impact on the regime’s trade and revenues.
By taking these steps, Arab states are simply following international law, implementing the legal framework, responding to the UN’s findings and imposing penalties on the Iranian regime. These are the penalties the UN wants to impose itself, but it has so far failed due to Russia’s veto power.
It is worth noting that these actions would also send a robust message to European countries, and Russia and China too. These global actors will be more inclined to pressure the Iranian regime over its illicit weapons activities if they see that other countries in the region are united and already imposing penalties and pressuring Tehran through economic and political frameworks.
Waiting for the international community to take action and stop the Iranian regime’s smuggling of weapons would be futile. In addition, Tehran simply disregards global condemnations or UN reports indicating that it is violating international laws or resolutions.
One of the inevitable repercussions of waiting for international institutions or global powers to take action and stop the Iranian regime is to witness Tehran’s increasing influence, power and further destabilization of the region. The Arab states can unite and play a critical role in stopping the Iranian regime’s illicit smuggling of weapons. When a united Arab front leads in confronting Iran, the EU, Russia and China would find it extremely difficult not to join them.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh