March 16/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit 
John 03/01-21: " There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees.  One night he went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” “How can a grown man be born again?” Nicodemus asked. “He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!” “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” asked Nicodemus. Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don't know this?  I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven?  And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.”As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up,  so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son.  This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil.  Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up.  But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 15-16/18
Dr. Walid Phares:That day…UNSCR 1559 Became A Reality/Dr.Walid Phares/Face Book/March 14/18
EU: More Censorship to "Protect" You/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
Poland: Jihad in Asylum-Seekers' Clothing/Jan Wójcik/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
The High Price of Denial/Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
Does Tillerson's Removal Matter To Us/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/18
Lies as the distinguishing feature of Syria, Russia and Iran/Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/March 15/18
The departing Tillerson/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/March 15/18
What will Trump achieve by meeting Kim/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 15/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 15-16/18
Dr. Walid Phares:That day…UNSCR 1559 Became A Reality
It is not over, other March 14 days are still ahead
Hariri Meets Bogdanov, Ayesh on Sidelines of Rome II Conference
Mashnouq: International Community Gives Significance for Lebanon Stability
Aoun Calls EBRD to Contribute to Lebanon Road Rehabilitation
Bassil Calls for 'Liberating State Institutions from Civilian Militias'
Hariri in Italy for Rome II Meeting, Expects 'Big Arab Support'
Geagea: No Lebanon without Cedar Revolution, No Cedar Revolution without LF
Transfer of authority for UNIFIL's Force Commander Reserve
Loyalty to Resistance convenes in Haret Hreik, salutes Palestinian people
Mashnouk meets Bogdanov, Bert and Le Drian: Rome 2 confirmation of the world's adherence to Lebanon's security
Hariri at Rome Conference: We are here to build trust because viable security for Lebanon is viable security for region
Minister of Information meets candidate Violette Ghazal
Franjieh, French Ambassador tackle current situation
Geagea condemns assassination attempt on Palestinian PM
Khalil: Agreement with European Bank allows investments in Lebanon with no ceiling
Russia plans to retaliate after new US sanctions
US accuses Russia of ongoing operation to hack energy grid
US Navy sees better Iranian behaviour in Gulf
UK Announces $13M for Partnership with LAF, ISF, New Training Center for Border Troops
Bassil Asks UNRWA to Unregister Palestinians who Leave Lebanon
Lebanese-American Witness in U.S. Vote Probe is 'Convicted Pedophile'

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 15-16/18
Foot bridge collapses at Florida university, several killed - reports
Saudi Crown Prince Says KSA Will Develop Nuclear Bomb If Iran Does: CBS TV
Syria Conflict Rages as War Enters Eighth Year
Turkey Says Will Take Afrin Center in 'Very Short Time'
Moscow Confirms Role in E. Ghouta Offensive
New Convoy of Food Aid Enters Syria's Rebel Ghouta
Saudi Crown Prince Says If Iran Gets Nuclear Bomb, Saudi Arabia Will Follow Suit
Kremlin Slams Britain's 'Absolutely Irresponsible' Position
Report: Top Bottled Water Brands Contaminated with Plastic Particles
Bodies of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS to return to Egypt
US-Iranian man gets 25 years prison for trying to buy missiles for Iran
International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace holds its first session in Maltese Parliament next June
UK, U.S., France, Germany Point to Russia over Spy Attack
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 15-16/18
Dr. Walid Phares:That day…UNSCR 1559 Became A Reality
It is not over, other March 14 days are still ahead
د. وليد فارس لم ينتهي الأمر وأيام 14 آذار أخرى آتية بإذن ا
Dr.Walid Phares/Face Book/March 14/18
After 15 years spent working tiredly and relentlessly to get the UN Security Council to issue a resolution to liberate Lebanon from foreign forces, particularly the Syrian occupation; after a decade and a half of being deprived from seeing the land of the ancestors and my family, we finally were able to have the UN issue what was numbered UNSCR 1559 in September 2004 and have world powers ask Syria to leave Lebanon in April 2005. Up till the vote in New York no politician in Lebanon believed in such work, or proposed to help. It was only when the people took to the streets after February 14, 2005, that more people dared protesting and the snowball grew day after day.
On March 7, we headed with a group of NGOs to the UN again and asked for the implementation of 1559 under Chapter 7. At the end of the meeting, some among us including myself, spoke to hundreds of supporters in front of the UN Building.
In my speech I called the Lebanese inside Lebanon to rise and flood Beirut with hundreds of thousands of people to prove to the UN that the country is in support of 1559. My remarks were a message to the international community to stand by Lebanon as it was rising.
The next day Hezbollah and its allies organized a huge demonstration of more than 200,000 participants, topping the anti Government protesters. The pro Assad powerful march frustrated us throughout the day and we wondered if the people will accept to be treated as a marginal minority.
That night on Fox News the anchor asked me “how come the pro Assad demonstration can mass five times more than the demonstrators against Syrian occupation.” Without any report from Lebanon or any material evidence I told him: “Wait, the revolution isn’t over yet. A majority of Lebanese will take to the streets and will overwhelm Hezbollah.” I spoke from my instincts.
The Lebanese who were courageous enough to march in downtown Beirut after February 14, were an evidence that a majority of citizens will respond to Hezbollah. I told the world media that night, without any assurances: “give them a week, and you will see.” I told myself that the free Lebanese will march, they will have to. And one week later, on March 14, a million and a half marched and forced the world powers to order a retreat by Assad.
I remember that day in New York, and that week which saw the rise of a nation bled for 15 years and suppressed for another 15. Historians will write about the bravery of the men and women who protested and suffered inside Lebanon and about those in exile who sacrificed, until that victory day on March 14.
It is not over, other March 14 days are still ahead….

Hariri Meets Bogdanov, Ayesh on Sidelines of Rome II Conference
Naharnet/March 15/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri met at his residence in Rome, with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov where they discussed the Russian contribution to the Rome-2 conference and the bilateral relations between Lebanon and Russia, Hariri's media office said on Thursday. After the meeting, Bogdanov said: “Discussions with PM Hariri highlighted the significance of Rome II (donor conference). We are participating at the invitation of Hariri and the Italian government. “We have had a fruitful cooperation with Lebanon for a long time in various fields, including enhancing the army's combat capabilities so that it can fight the (extremist groups) Islamic State group and al-Nusra Front. We are cooperating in more than one area with the government, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior in training cadres and exchanging information regarding transnational crimes and terrorism,” he added. Discussions have also focused on cooperation between the two countries, stressing that Russia “will always support the legitimate interests of our friends in Lebanon and we demand that everyone respect Lebanon's sovereignty and political, economic and security interests.”The Syrian refugees issue was also subject for discussion, “it is a complicated file taking into consideration the economic, social and humanitarian conditions in Lebanon. We agreed to continue contacts and push things forward in order to strengthen the bonds of mutual friendship and cooperation based on mutual benefit,” concluded Bogdanov. Hariri arrived Wednesday evening in the Italian capital to lead Lebanon's delegation to the Rome II conference that is aimed at rallying support for Lebanon's army and security forces.
Hariri is accompanied by the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs; the chiefs of the army, Internal Security Forces and General Security; Lebanon's ambassador to Italy; the director of his office Nader Hariri; his adviser on military affairs retired Brig. Gen. Maroun Hitti and a large number of officers. Hariri also met with Saudi Assistant Minister of Defense Mohammed Bin Abdullah al-Ayesh, in the presence of ministers Nouhad al-Mashnouq and Jebran Bassil, the head of the Saudi diplomatic mission in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari and Hariri’s chief of staff Nader Hariri.

Mashnouq: International Community Gives Significance for Lebanon Stability
Naharnet/March 15/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said the international community “understands well the internal situation in Lebanon and gives special attention to our stability,” adding that Lebanon will for the first time propose a five-year support plan for its military and security, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. Mashnouq, member of a ministerial delegation taking part in the Rome II donor conference, said Lebanon will present a five-year plan for its military and security agencies, “its a first,” he said. Prime Minister Saad Hariri has led the delegation to the conference which is dedicated to boost the capabilities of the Lebanese army and security forces. The Interior Minister said he believes the conference will give positive results, “during my meetings with most of the ambassadors (taking part in the conference) I have sensed an absolute positive attitude for supporting Lebanon.” The conference “reflects good intentions at the level of all the participating countries. The Lebanese will hear good news. The plans will be discussed with the concerned parties, but they need time for implementation. The political forces in Lebanon must maintain internal stability to take advantage of the outcome of this conference,” he said.

Aoun Calls EBRD to Contribute to Lebanon Road Rehabilitation
Naharnet/March 15/18/President Michel Aoun, held talks at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, with President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Suma Chakrabarti, and an accompanying delegation, the National News Agency reported on Thursday. During the meeting, Aoun asked Chakrabarti for the EBRD's contribution to projects aimed at improving Lebanon's public services' sector, such as the rehabilitation of roads and public facilities and terminals. Aoun later received President of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub.

Bassil Calls for 'Liberating State Institutions from Civilian Militias'
Naharnet/March 15/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Wednesday called for “liberating the state” from what he described as “civilian militias.”“Lebanon was liberated from Israeli occupation in 2000 and from Syrian tutelage in 2005. Israel was defeated in the July 2006 war and terrorism was ousted in August 2017. This is the core of the agreement between us and Hizbullah: Lebanon's protection and strength,” Bassil said in a speech during the FPM's annual dinner. “The battle has become harder now, because it is about liberating state institutions from 'civilian militias.' During war, we were in a confrontation against parties wearing military fatigues but today they are wearing civilian suits and ties,” Bassil noted. Referring to the election of FPM founder Michel Aoun as Lebanon's President, Bassil added: “Sixteen months have passed and they have been more difficult, because once again, we are alone in the confrontation against the mafia and because our responsibilities and people's expectations have become bigger and broader.” “We won't stop until we liberate citizens from humiliation and subordination and until we liberate state institutions from corruption and militias,” the FPM chief vowed. He noted that “the FPM is a project” and its project is to “build the state.”The state is “our only choice and authority. Our state is neither the statelets of militias during wartime nor the feudal fiefdoms during peace time,” Bassil added.
He stressed that Lebanon is “not a country for foreign tutelage.”“It not a country for displacement or refugees. Lebanon is for the Lebanese. This is not racism but rather Lebanese patriotism,” Bassil underlined. He also called for “a strong army that protects sovereignty and independence and an independent foreign policy in the service of the republic, not in the service of foreign powers.”

Hariri in Italy for Rome II Meeting, Expects 'Big Arab Support'
Naharnet/March 15/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived Wednesday evening in the Italian capital to lead Lebanon's delegation to the Rome II conference that is aimed at rallying support for Lebanon's army and security forces. Hariri is accompanied by the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs; the chiefs of the army, Internal Security Forces and General Security; Lebanon's ambassador to Italy; the director of his office Nader Hariri; his adviser on military affairs retired Brig. Gen. Maroun Hitti and a large number of officers. “The Lebanese delegation to the conference is carrying a comprehensive plan that will be presented to the participating countries with the aim of supporting the army and the security forces for a period of five years,” Hariri's office said in a statement. In addition to host country Italy, the participants in the conference are the U.S., France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Russia, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Argentina, Brazil, Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, the Arab League, the EU and the U.N., as well as the NATO alliance as an observer.The conference will kick off at 4:00 pm Thursday (Beirut time) with a speech by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Speeches by Hariri and U.N. chief Antonio Guterres will follow before the beginning of the works of the conference.
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival in Rome, Hariri hoped the meeting's outcome will be “very positive” in order to “enable the Lebanese army and security forces to continue to perform their missions in preserving security and stability and implementing U.N. resolutions.” Asked about the Arab support for the conference, Hariri said he expects “big support.”As for the issue of Lebanon's so-called dissociation policy, the premier said: “We in the government have taken the dissociation decision and we are committed to it.”
“This is being implemented by all political parties,” he added.

Geagea: No Lebanon without Cedar Revolution, No Cedar Revolution without LF
Naharnet/March 15/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stressed Wednesday that “there can be no Lebanon without the Cedar Revolution and there can be no Cedar Revolution without the LF.”“March 14 is the spirit of a nation and a people's cause. It is a cause of freedom and the future of generations. Some think that March 14 no longer exists but they are mistaken,” Geagea said at an LF ceremony to announce the party's candidates and platform for the parliamentary elections. “March 14 will triumph in the end for a simple reason, which is that it alone embodies Lebanon's reality and future,” Geagea vowed. He noted that “there is no State in Lebanon” because “a large part of its powers is usurped” by Hizbullah. “Some are trying to cover up for this abnormal situation through an equation which they describe as a golden equation whereas it is a 'paper equation,'” Geagea said, referring to the so-called army-people-resistance equation. “This equation does not exist anywhere else on the face of the earth... It completely contradicts with the principle of the state that is known internationally,” the LF leader pointed out. He emphasized that there is a need for “the presence of the strategic, military and security decisions in the hands of the state's legitimate institutions, which alone should monopolize the use of force.”“We must confront those responsible for the flawed situation, mainly Hizbullah, but also all the forces and parties who work hard to find justifications and cover up for this flaw. We must not vote for any list that includes someone who has tried to justify or cover up for this blatantly flawed situation,” Geagea underlined. Turning to the LF's performance in recent years, the LF leader noted that his party's ministers have “confronted every proposal that contradicts with the legal norms and every file suspected of entailing corruption.”“Everyone wants to resolve the electricity problem, but the difference is that some political parties want to violate the applicable measures and laws,” Geagea added. He said that fighting corruption should take place through “voting for non-corrupt candidates, not slogans.” “Get rid of corrupt politicians instead of talking about them,” Geagea urged. He added: “Our experience in state institutions has been successful for twelve years. Have you ever heard any rumor about an LF MP or minister?” Geagea also vowed that the LF will work to “restore the state's decision and monopoly of arms” and to “preserve freedoms.”

Transfer of authority for UNIFIL's Force Commander Reserve

Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA- In a press release by UNIFIL on Thursday, it said: "Colonel Olivier BAUDET, Commander of the 1st French Foreign Legion Armored Recce Regiment, took over the command of UNIFIL's Force Commander's Reserve (FCR) from Colonel Bastian DUFILHOL as the FCR Commanding Officer and French National Contingent Commander. UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary was present on the occasion." Release added: "The Force Commander's Reserve, with 750 French and Finnish peacekeepers, is UNIFIL's quick reaction force. It is the operational reserve at the Force Commander's disposal, able to act in the whole area of operations (AO). Besides conducting regular patrols and other operational activities, FCR peacekeepers also participate in air and ground surveillance within the AO, including radar and anti-aircraft defenses, and provide training for the Lebanese Armed Forces."

Loyalty to Resistance convenes in Haret Hreik, salutes Palestinian people
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - "Loyalty to the Resistance" bloc on Thursday held its periodic meeting at its headquarters in Haret Hreik, chaired by bloc head MP Mohammed Raad. The bloc addressed most recent developments in Lebanon and the broad region. In a statement issued in the wake of the meeting, the bloc saluted the Palestinian people revolting against the Israeli enemy's terrorism and its ongoing crimes against humanity, underlining the bloc's constant support to their legitimate rights to resist occupation and determine their fate. On May 6 parliamentary elections, the bloc said it was following up with great concern the course of ongoing moves and actions in preparation for the forthcoming polls. The bloc anticipated that the results of the forthcoming legislative elections, which will be staged in accordance with the proportional law, shall reveal a new and healthier representation in Parliament.

Mashnouk meets Bogdanov, Bert and Le Drian: Rome 2 confirmation of the world's adherence to Lebanon's security

Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Nuhad Mashnouk, met in Rome with the special presidential representative for the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, and British Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Alistair Burt, who underlined “the role of the Lebanese Interior Ministry in maintaining security.""The participation of 40 countries at the Rome 2 conference to support the Lebanese Army and security services is an expression of utter commitment to backing up Lebanon and enhancing the role of its security services," Mashnouk said.
He thanked the "British support for security forces, and ongoing cooperation in terms of training.""Lebanon's geographical location requires the support of the international community and concerted efforts to maintain security and stability," the minister said.
Mashnouk has participated in meetings held by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, most notably with Saudi Defense Undersecretary, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayyash, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Hariri at Rome Conference: We are here to build trust because viable security for Lebanon is viable security for region

Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - In his delivered word during the opening session of the Rome 2 conference, entitled "Lebanon, building trust: a viable security for the country and the region", at headquarters of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Farnesina), Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: "It is a great honor for my delegation and myself to be welcomed in Rome for this conference. Thank you Prime Minister Gentiloni for hosting us and for your commitment to making this conference happen.  Thank you Mr Secretary General for always having the United Nations stand by our side. Thank you, the representatives of 41 nations gathered here today. Your presence is a clear indication of the importance you give to Lebanon's security and stability. It is also an acknowledgement of the role Lebanon plays in stability across our region.  It is a testimony to the need to build our State security institutions, the sole defenders of Lebanon's sovereignty. The Lebanese government recognizes that it is enjoying an exceptional moment of international consensus and support. We consider that it is in our national interest to preserve this international consensus and as such, we are committed to doing our part.
The President of the Lebanese Republic, Michel Aoun, announced three days ago, that the National Defense Strategy will be discussed following the legislative elections in May. I join President Aoun's call to the International community to support the Lebanese Armed Forces, to enable them to assume their duty of preserving security and stability in accordance with the National Defense Strategy. We have committed to investing in our Army and Security Forces in our new budget. Together, with your support and commitment, we can build a strong partnership in safeguarding Lebanon's state institutions.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, My government's priority is to create a virtuous cycle of security, stability, growth and employment for Lebanon and the Lebanese. Rome II is a first step towards achieving this and will be followed by the CEDRE and Brussels conferences. Indeed, stability and security are underlying conditions for economic growth and prosperity.  On December 5, the Lebanese Government with all its components committed to the policy of disassociation. This is today a collective responsibility. It is closely monitored by all State institutions to ensure it is executed to Lebanon's national interest in keeping the best relations with Arab countries and the International Community at large. I ask you all to give Lebanon the chance and the time to accomplish. I take this opportunity to thank our Arab friends present here today in support of our security institutions. The Lebanese will never forget everything you have done and we are happy you are here today to renew your commitment to Lebanon's stability.
My Government remains committed to ensuring that the LAF and the ISF continue to work together on the strategic level and to embarking on a major, long-awaited reform agenda in the security sector. It also remains committed to Security Council Resolution 1701 and 2372 which in itself urges international support for our Armed Forces.
We will be sending more LAF troops to the south and we stress our intention to deploy a Model Regiment. We thank UNIFIL and all the Troop Contributing Countries for sending their men and women to maintain peace and security on our Southern Border, the calmest border in the Middle East. However, Israel remains the primary threat to Lebanon. Its daily violations to our sovereignty must stop. While we are thinking of ways to move from a state of cessation of hostilities to a state of permanent cease-fire, Israel continues to make plans to build walls on reservation areas along the Blue Line. We are here to build trust because we have acknowledged that a viable security for Lebanon is a viable security for the region. All efforts must be channeled to maintain peace and calm on our borders. I cannot stress enough the great value I attach to recruiting more female officers and to ensuring increased representation of women at all decision making levels in institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) which was a landmark resolution on women, peace and security. Strengthening Lebanon's security institutions will strengthen rule of law. And strengthening rule of law will promote Human Rights. As such, I want to express today my Government's Commitment to take steps to activate our National Human Rights Commission in the coming months. We are also currently working on establishing a specialized Human Security Unit under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers which will focus on raising national awareness on the risk of possession and use of firearms by the civilians. As a future step, we plan to create a National Committee for firearms in Lebanon. This development confirms our engagement in the different contexts of the "UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. My government's policy is to consolidate strategies for all our security agencies, including the General security, state security and customs, in direct alignment with Sustainable Development Goal 16 and aims at promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The duties of General Security have increased exponentially. It had to cope with the massive influx of over 1,2 million displaced Syrians, while bearing the burden of addressing the major security challenges accompanying the crisis, in cooperation with the LAF and ISF. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the courage, bravery and commitment of the men and women of the Lebanese Military and Security Forces. Those who serve, those who have given their lives, and those who continue to risk theirs to confront the global threat of terrorism, in all its kinds. They sacrifice to fight and win this common struggle against extremism, intolerance and injustice, in order to safeguard our sovereignty, our diversity, our prosperity, and our way of life.
Stability is not granted. We have to work for it every day. The time for mobilization and for coordination is NOW. Together, we are facing a global threat that commands a global reaction. Lebanon is ready".

Minister of Information meets candidate Violette Ghazal
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of Information, Melhem Riachy, received this afternoon at his office in the ministry, the candidate for the Orthodox seat in the northern Metn, journalist Violette Ghazzal, who briefed him ideas about her electoral program.

Franjieh, French Ambassador tackle current situation
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh on Thursday welcomed at his Bnachai residence French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher, with whom he discussed the current situation in Lebanon and the broad region. Talks also touched on the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Former Minister, Rony Areiji, was also present during the meeting.

Geagea condemns assassination attempt on Palestinian PM
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Thursday vehemently condemned the assassination attempt on Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, saying such an attempt aimed at undermining and striking the Palestinian national reconciliation process. Geagea urged the Palestinian brethrens, of all affiliations, to rally around each other and cooperate to reach the unity of the Palestinian decision, as the sole means to realize the Palestinian people's hopes and aspirations.

Khalil: Agreement with European Bank allows investments in Lebanon with no ceiling
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of Finance, Ali Hassan Khalil, said that "the agreement between Lebanon and the European Bank allows investments in Lebanon without a ceiling, which leads to the expansion of the volume of joint projects."For his part, Bank President, Soma Shakrabarti, pointed to the size of projects to be invested in Lebanon, pointing out that "Lebanon bears great burdens due to the waves of displaced persons, especially in terms of energy, renewable energies and infrastructure," stressing his country's desire "to make a difference in the region."Khalil and Shakrabati delivered these statements during the launch of an agreement between Lebanon and the European Bank, which is the Bank's first investment in Lebanon.

Russia plans to retaliate after new US sanctions

Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - The Russian government says it’s preparing to retaliate after new U.S. sanctions against Moscow for allegedly interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, says the Kremlin is responding calmly to the new sanctions and — in his words — “taking this in our stride.” But he says Russia has “begun preparing retaliatory measures.” Ryabkov suggests the Trump administration timed the sanctions to come ahead of this weekend’s presidential election in Russia. The official is quoted by the Russian state news agency Tass as saying that the U.S. action is “tied to U.S. internal disorder, tied of course to our electoral calendar.” -- AP

US accuses Russia of ongoing operation to hack energy grid
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of a concerted, ongoing operation to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure, and separately imposed sanctions on Russian officials for alleged high-tech interference in the 2016 American presidential election. U.S. national security officials said the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and American intelligence agencies determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind the attacks on the energy sector. The officials said the Russians deliberately chose U.S. energy industry targets, obtaining access to computer systems and then conducting “network reconnaissance” of industrial control systems that run American factories and the electricity grid. The U.S. government has helped energy businesses kick out the Russians from all systems currently known to have been penetrated, according to the officials. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive national security information, left open the possibility of discovering more breaches, and said the federal government was issuing an alert to the energy industry to raise awareness about the threat and improve preparation. -- AP

US Navy sees better Iranian behaviour in Gulf
Thu 15 Mar 2018/NNA - The Iranian military's behaviour in the Gulf has changed "across the board" in recent months, the US Navy said on Thursday, after years of tensions in the busy waterway. Commander Bill Urban, spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said there had been no "unsafe or unprofessional" interactions with the Iranians at sea since August 14, 2017 when an Iranian drone with no lights on flew close to US aircraft operating in the Gulf. It "is a substantial period time since then, and something that we think is great," Urban told reporters. Last year and in 2016, the US Navy complained repeatedly about the behaviour of Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels, which would often shadow and steer towards US ships. In at least one incident, US sailors had to fire flares and warning shots before the Iranians turned away. Urban said that since then, the Iranians have stopped approaching so closely. "We have seen an across-the-board change in behaviour," Urban said. "I don't necessarily have a reason for that but it's pretty clear that it's something they are consciously doing."--AFP
UK Announces $13M for Partnership with LAF, ISF, New Training Center for Border Troops
Naharnet/March 15/18/UK Middle East Minister Alistair Burt announced further support of approximately $13 million to Lebanese security forces at the Rome II Conference on Thursday. “The funding uplift comes in addition to the over $110m the UK has already committed up to 2019 as part of its long-term partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces,” the British embassy in Lebanon said in a statement. The UK funding will go toward supporting the ISF’s Strategic Review plan to transform police across Beirut, improve training at the Police Academy, and put the Inspectorate General at the heart of planning and standards, including on human rights, the embassy added. “It will also continue to help the LAF secure the northern and eastern borders and vulnerable near-border communities through increased mentoring, training and provision of equipment, and will strengthen the LAF, ISF, Sate Security and General Security's response to terrorism and the causes of terrorism,” the embassy added. The UK additionally announced a new LAF Border Training Center in the Bekaa Valley which will train over 1,500 border soldiers this year and contribute to the UK’s “commitment to help train 11,000 LAF troops for urban and rural operations by 2019.” Speaking at the conference, Minister Burt said: “I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces on the transformation they have undergone in recent years. The courage and professionalism of these men and women, who risk their lives daily to protect their country, have earned them the trust and respect of the public. Along with the General Security and State Security they have shown that they – and only they – are genuinely capable of defending Lebanon.”“I am proud of the support the United Kingdom has given these institutions. Over the past six years we have provided more than £60m to help the LAF secure the Lebanon-Syria border. Over the last decade, with support from the United Kingdom and other key donors, the LAF has modernized and improved its capabilities. The United Kingdom also recognizes the vital role played by the ISF in protecting Lebanon’s security. Over the last three years we have provided £13m to support their Reform Plan,” Burt added. However, he noted that security assistance alone is not enough to ensure a stable and prosperous future for Lebanon.
“Clear political progress must also be made to strengthen the Lebanese state. I welcome President (Michel) Aoun’s recent commitment to discuss the National Defense Strategy after parliamentary elections in May. We call on President Aoun and the Government of Lebanon to ensure that this happens without delay following the elections,” Burt added. “We firmly believe that a secure and stable Lebanon is in all our interests. Your security is our security. Our continued support to Lebanon, along with the extra funding I have announced today, demonstrate the United Kingdom’s commitment to a strong, safe and sovereign Lebanon. We look forward to strengthening even further our security partnership with the Lebanese state, as we work together to achieve this goal,” the British minister went on to say. Burt met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Minister of Interior Nouhad al-Mashnouq on the sidelines of the conference. He will also meet this evening with Minister of Defense Yaacoub Sarraf.

Bassil Asks UNRWA to Unregister Palestinians who Leave Lebanon
Naharnet/March 15/18/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Thursday called on the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA to “unregister every Palestinian refugee who stays outside Lebanon or acquires the citizenship of another country.”“This would alleviate its financial burden and would contribute to lowering the numbers of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon without harming the right to return (to Palestinian territories occupied in 1948 and 1967), which is sacred,” Bassil told a Rome summit aimed at discussing UNRWA's future. The UN agency faces an unprecedented crisis after the U.S. froze tens of millions of dollars in funding. “We call on the international community to organize a campaign for the voluntary return of Palestinian refugees, seeing as all the prerequisites of a safe and dignified return are available,” Bassil added. Lebanese authorities had in December announced that more than 174,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, in the first-ever census of its kind for a country where demographics have long been a sensitive subject. The census was carried out by the government's Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in 12 Palestinian camps as well as 156 informal "gatherings" across the country. The result of 174,422 Palestinian refugees is much lower than previous estimates of up to 500,000. Palestinians began taking refuge in Lebanon with the creation of Israel in 1948, setting up camps that have since transformed into bustling, urban districts. But their presence has long been a controversial in Lebanon, with many blaming it for the eruption of the bitter war that ravaged the country between 1975 and 1990. Lebanon has not carried out a census of its own citizens since 1932, making the 2017 count even more remarkable. It sheds light on the living conditions of 174,422 Palestinian refugees, as well as another 18,601 Palestinians who fled the neighboring conflict in Syria to camps in Lebanon. Lebanon's Palestinian camps suffer serious problems, with varying degrees of poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure. Announcing the results, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a "duty" towards Palestinians but insisted that Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalization. Palestinian officials have also consistently rejected permanent resettlement in Lebanon because of their longstanding demand that those who fled or were forced out of their homes with the creation of Israel be granted the right of return. The census result is much lower than the 469,331 people registered in Lebanon with the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency. "UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon," spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP at the time. "If someone registered with UNRWA in Lebanon decided to live outside Lebanon, they don't notify us," she said.

Lebanese-American Witness in U.S. Vote Probe is 'Convicted Pedophile'
Naharnet/Associated Press/March 15/18/It was a few days before the one-year anniversary of U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration and a Lebanese-American businessman was on his way to Mar-a-Lago. George Nader, an international fixer whose long history included intrepid back-channel mediation between Israel and Arab countries — and a 15-year-old pedophilia conviction in Europe that has not been previously reported — was transiting through Dulles International Airport outside Washington. It was hardly his first far-flung journey to see top aides of the world's most powerful leader, as Nader had met the U.S. president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and chief strategist Steve Bannon in the days before they stormed the White House. But he encountered an altogether different scene awaiting him at the airport. There, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators stopped Nader, people familiar with the case said. His electronics were seized and he was then allowed to go to his lawyer. Nader later agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation, said the people with knowledge of the case as it pertains to Nader. They weren't authorized to speak publicly on the case and demanded anonymity.
Mueller, whose team has spent the last 10 months investigating possible Trump-related wrongdoing connected to Russia, is interested in high-level get-togethers Nader participated in after the presidential election, according to three people familiar with the case. The first took place in Trump Tower in New York in December 2016 and brought together Nader, Kushner, Bannon — whom Trump fired last August — and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates. The second occurred a month later in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles and involved Nader, bin Zayed, former Blackwater boss Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker close to President Vladimir Putin.
For Nader, it was the latest brush with the law in an eventful, globe-trotting career.
Many of Nader's former contacts and onetime friends have noted in recent weeks how they lost touch with him in the early 2000s. On Wednesday, an official in the Czech Republic told The Associated Press that Nader is a convicted pedophile and served time in a Prague prison around that time. Nader was convicted by Prague's Municipal Court of 10 cases of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a one-year prison term in May 2003, said Marketa Puci, the court spokeswoman. She said the crimes occurred between 1999 and 2002. Nader's legal problems in Prague appear unrelated to his role in Mueller's probe in the United States. But they contribute to the portrait of a man who has led a shadowy existence as a go-between across numerous Middle East capitals and who gave testimony to Mueller's Washington grand jury earlier this month.
Nader had worked in recent times as an adviser to bin Zayed, one of the most powerful men in the Middle East, according to people who know Nader. The questioning of Nader in the Mueller probe suggests possible interest in UAE relations with Trump's transition team or his administration. Puci, the court spokeswoman, said Nader was convicted of "moral corruption of minors, sexual abuse and impairing morals," after abusing underage boys. In one case, Nader requested oral sex from a 14-year-old in a room at the Hilton Hotel in Prague, Puci said. After the boy refused, Nader masturbated in front of the boy and paid him 2,000 koruna — worth about $100 today, she said. The verdict cites other examples of Nader providing money, jewelry, cellphones, clothes and accommodation for sexual services. The AP was able to see a copy of the verdict, which gives Nader's birthdate as May 15, 1959. Nader was separately accused in Washington, D.C., of child pornography infractions in 1985, but those charges were later dropped. A criminal docket sheet obtained by the AP shows the same birthdate for Nader. Two people with knowledge of the case say it involved the same Nader now cooperating with Mueller. Puci said it wasn't clear how much of the one-year sentence Nader served in the Czech Republic. He was ordered expelled following his time served. Kathy Ruemmler, who previously served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama, is among the lawyers representing Nader. She declined to answer questions about her client. But Sandeep Savla, another lawyer for Nader, said: "This is nothing more than an orchestrated, disgusting scheme by those who are trying to intimidate Mr. Nader into silence. It won't work. Mr. Nader will continue to answer truthfully questions put to him by the special counsel." Nader's connections with Trump confidants include Elliott Broidy, a top Republican fundraiser who co-hosted a Tuesday night event attended by the president in Beverly Hills, California. Earlier this month, several media organizations, including the AP, obtained emails belonging to Broidy, a California-based venture capitalist and the Republican National Committee's deputy finance chairman. They show Broidy emailing Nader with a summary of Broidy's talks with Kushner and Trump in the White House in October 2017, touching on matters including the UAE's bitter dispute with fellow Persian Gulf country Qatar. Broidy accused Qatar of hacking his emails. The Qataris denied the charge.
"Your government's actions against U.S. citizens will jeopardize your nation's relationship with the United States," Broidy wrote in a public letter to Qatar's U.S. ambassador.
In response, the Qatari government called Broidy's "baseless accusations" a "diversionary tactic."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on March 15-16/18
Foot bridge collapses at Florida university, several killed - reports
March 15, 2018(Reuters) - A pedestrian bridge spanning several lanes of traffic collapsed on Thursday at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County, trapping people and cars underneath the structure, with local media saying several people were killed. The bridge connects the university with the city of Sweetwater and was only opened days ago, CBS Miami reported. The channel showed footage of firefighters climbing on the wreckage of the bridge while paramedics treated several people on the road. Several people were killed, according to NBC 6 South Florida, citing the Florida Highway Patrol. The highway patrol did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. Miami police warned people to avoid the area. Live footage on CBS Miami showed the bridge had collapsed on top of at least three vehicles. Firefighters were on the scene and medics were treating injured people. Emergency personnel appeared to be trying to work their way through a hole in the top of the bridge. The Miami Herald reported the bridge was installed on Saturday morning. (Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)

Saudi Crown Prince Says KSA Will Develop Nuclear Bomb If Iran Does: CBS TV
AFP/March 15/2018/WASHINGTON: Likening Iran’s leader to Adolf Hitler, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in a US television interview that if Tehran gets a nuclear weapon, his country will follow suit. “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an excerpt of the interview that aired Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” Crown Prince Mohammed said he has referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as “the new Hitler” because Khamenei has expansionist desires.“He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler" Crown Prince Mohammed said in reference to Hitler's desire to conquer his European neigbors at the time. “Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.” The interview is scheduled to run on CBS’s “60 Minutes” show on Sunday, two days before the crown prince's scheduled White House meeting with US President Donald Trump. His comments come amid concerns over nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and just days after the kingdom put an atomic energy program on a fast track. Although intended to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, analysts warn the capacity to produce atomic energy could open a pathway to nuclear development for military purposes. A 2015 nuclear agreement has placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, but Trump has expressed a desire to scrap it, making its future uncertain.The Saudi cabinet says its nuclear program will be in “full compliance with the principle of transparency” and meet nuclear safety standards “in accordance with an independent regulatory and supervisory framework.”The country has accelerated plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades, according to officials and analysts, at a cost of around $80 billion. Saudi Energy Minister Khaled Al-Faleh said in October that the nuclear program would start by building two reactors, each producing between 1.2 and 1.6 gigawatts of electricity.

Syria Conflict Rages as War Enters Eighth Year
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/Syria's lacerating conflict entered its eighth year Thursday with the country riven by international power struggles, as Turkey encircled a besieged northern Kurdish enclave, while Russian-backed regime forces pounded into shrinking rebel areas near Damascus. The bloodshed, which has devastated huge swathes of the country since it started on March 15, 2011 when the government of President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on mostly peaceful protests, has splintered into ever more complicated conflicts. In the latest fighting, Ankara-backed forces launched a bombardment of Afrin and closed in on the main city, in an offensive that could redraw the map in northern Syria. The development came as regime forces, backed by Moscow, broke into a key town in the beleaguered rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta late Wednesday, driving further into the last opposition bastion outside Damascus. More than 1,220 civilians -- a fifth of them children -- have been killed in the rebel-held enclave since the Syrian regime launched a ferocious air and ground offensive on February 18. International efforts have consistently failed to stop one of the deadliest wars of the century, with more than 350,000 people killed since the conflict first erupted, and more than half of Syria's pre-war population of 20 million displaced.
While the past few months saw the collapse of the Islamic State group's "caliphate" -- an experiment in jihadist statehood declared in 2014 in swathes of Syria and Iraq -- world powers have since sought to carve out increased influence in the region. US-backed Kurds hold oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria covering 30 percent of the country and a motley assortment of Turkey-backed Arab rebels are cutting a third haven in the northwest. Ankara, which launched a deadly ground and air offensive against the Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin on January 20, vowed on Wednesday that its encirclement of the main city "will have been completed by the evening", a Turkish presidency source said.
The claim was laughed off by a top official in the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which controls Afrin. "It sounds like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight," Redur Khalil told AFP.
On Wednesday, Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the Syrian regime, which has deployed pro-government forces to the fray after the Kurds asked for help. Shells rained down on Afrin city, killing 10 civilians including four children. Displaced families have swelled the city's population to around 350,000, and officials feared a humanitarian crisis should Turkish forces draw closer. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Turkey-led forces controlled 70 percent of the wider Kurdish enclave, after seizing several villages.
- 'Anything that moves' -On the outskirts of Damascus, hundreds of kilometres (miles) south of Afrin, another humanitarian emergency was unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.
The Observatory said regime forces had penetrated into the town of Hammuriyeh in the enclave and were able to take control of parts of it amid heavy bombardment.
On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent saw a man in the doorway of a building holding the bodies of his two dead children. A doctor in the area said rescue teams could not get to victims because of the intensity of the bombardment. "The wounded are on the roads. We can't move them. The war planes are targeting anything that moves," Ismail al-Khateeb said. The United Nations has called for urgent medical evacuations for more than 1,000 people who desperately need medical treatment outside the besieged area.
A trickle of evacuations from Ghouta's largest town Douma began Tuesday under a deal with rebels, and more patients were allowed out Wednesday. At a Red Crescent centre in Douma on Wednesday morning, people crowded around buses and ambulances to be evacuated.
Among them, 18-year-old Omran stood leaning on crutches. Badly wounded two years ago in bombardment on Ghouta, he was missing his left leg, right arm, and left eye. "We haven't been able to treat some of these cases for more than a year," said Mohammed al-Marhum, a doctor.
The patients were transported to the government-controlled Wafideen checkpoint on the edges of Ghouta.
The Observatory said more than 220 people including 60 patients had left the rebel enclave in two days of evacuations. - Tightening grip -The UN Security Council demanded a 30-day truce last month to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations from Ghouta. Such evacuations in Syria typically see people taken out of a besieged area for care, and then transported back in after treatment. The Syrian government's assault on Ghouta has split the enclave into three sections, each controlled by different rebels. The regime has reportedly been pursuing separate tracks of negotiations to secure local truces or evacuations from each zone. The Russian military said the situation in Douma had "significantly stabilised" and an aid convoy of 20 vehicles was planned to enter the enclave on Thursday. Fresh regime and Russian bombardment Wednesday killed at least 31 civilians in an isolated southern zone of Ghouta, the Observatory said. State news agency SANA said five civilians died of their wounds after shelling on Damascus. Moscow's strikes also killed a dozen rebels from the Faylaq al-Rahman faction controlling the area, including two top commanders, the monitor said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday Ghouta rebels were planning to stage a chemical attack to give the US-led coalition the pretext to strike Damascus. His comments came as his Turkish counterpart visited Moscow for talks.

Turkey Says Will Take Afrin Center in 'Very Short Time'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/Turkey on Thursday said it would oust Kurdish militia from the centre of Afrin in northern Syria "in a very short time", as pro-Ankara forces surrounded the city. Ankara on January 20 launched a military operation supporting Syrian rebels against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its enclave of Afrin. Turkey says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. "The circle is closing in around the terrorists. We anticipate that the centre of Afrin will be cleared of terrorists in a very short time, God willing in the coming days," Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said. The rebels and Turkish troops closed in on the main city on Wednesday. Kalin told state broadcaster TRT in an interview that the offensive, dubbed operation Olive Branch, had secured 70 percent of the territory of Afrin district. The US, which has worked closely with the YPG in the fight against jihadists, has urged restraint and the operation has increased tension between Turkey and its NATO ally.
But following a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, the two countries said they would work together to solve a dispute over the control of the YPG-held Syrian town of Manbij. Turkey has repeatedly warned it could extend its Afrin operation to Manbij, where the US military has a presence, and even further beyond that towards the Iraqi border. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to visit Washington on March 19 but the ministry said the visit had been postponed after Tillerson was fired by US President Donald Trump, who nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo as his replacement. But Kalin insisted the change would not affect agreements with the US over Manbij that have yet to be made fully clear. Cavusoglu was quoted as saying earlier this week that Turkish and American officials agreed the YPG would withdraw from Manbij and the two countries' forces would secure the town. "Just because Pompeo is replacing Tillerson does not mean that the framework agreed on is being abandoned," Kalin said.  The spokesman said Pompeo did not have all the necessary information yet, but Kalin insisted the change was "not serious" and they would lose only "one, two weeks".The two sides last month said they would set up working groups to solve key issues affecting relations, with the first meetings taking place in Washington on March 8-9.

Moscow Confirms Role in E. Ghouta Offensive
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/Moscow said Thursday it was committed to helping Syria's regime "finish off" rebels in Eastern Ghouta, confirming its military is playing a role in the assault on the rebel enclave. Russia has provided few details of its involvement in the offensive on Ghouta but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday left no doubt Moscow's forces were taking an active part. "We will continue fighting terrorists, we will finish them off, we will help finish them off in Eastern Ghouta, where the Syrian army is now conducting operations with our support," he said. Since President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria late last year, the military has released little information about its involvement. Moscow has been overseeing efforts to evacuate civilians out of the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus through a humanitarian corridor. It has labelled rebel groups from that area "terrorists" who are not protected under the current ceasefire. Eastern Ghouta has been the target of a blistering government assault for the past month, causing a humanitarian emergency. The offensive, backed by bombing, has split the enclave into three sections. The Syrian Observatory monitor has blamed both Damascus and Moscow for massive civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta, though Russia has never admitted to participating in the bombing.

New Convoy of Food Aid Enters Syria's Rebel Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/A new convoy carrying desperately needed food aid entered the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Syria's capital on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP. "The convoy entered Ghouta and is going to Douma now," ICRC's communication coordinator Pawel Krzysiek said. Douma is the largest town in Ghouta, the opposition's dwindling enclave on the outskirts of the capital Damascus and the target of a blistering government assault for the past month. Even before the latest onslaught, Ghouta has been suffering a five-year government siege that has made food and medical supplies scarce. Thursday's convoy of 25 trucks was carrying food parcels and flour bags for more than 26,000 people, according to Krzysiek. "This is just a little of what these families need," the ICRC said. It was the third delivery of aid to reach Douma in 10 days. A convoy last week was delivered in two parts, after a first attempt on March 5 was cut short due to heavy shelling. Aid deliveries, carried out jointly by the ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and the United Nations, need permission from all warring sides in Ghouta.

Saudi Crown Prince Says If Iran Gets Nuclear Bomb, Saudi Arabia Will Follow Suit
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/Likening Iran's leader to Hitler, Saudi Arabia's crown prince warned in a US television interview that if Tehran gets a nuclear weapon, his country will follow suit. "Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an excerpt of the interview that aired Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Kremlin Slams Britain's 'Absolutely Irresponsible' Position
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/The Kremlin on Thursday slammed Britain's raft of punitive measures against Russia over the poisoning of a former double agent as "absolutely irresponsible." "The position of the British side appears to us absolutely irresponsible," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. He said retaliatory steps would soon follow, with Putin likely to chose the option that "most suits Russia's interests." On Wednesday, Britain said it would expel 23 diplomats and suspend high-level contacts with Russia, with other measures to follow. The announcement came after British authorities said Russia was "culpable" of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a Soviet-designed nerve agent called Novichok on March 4. Peskov reiterated Moscow's position that Britain's accusations were unfounded and that the attack on Skripal had "all the signs of a provocation." "The accusations are not backed up by anything and have been voiced before any information about the used substance could appear," Peskov said.

Report: Top Bottled Water Brands Contaminated with Plastic Particles

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/The world's leading brands of bottled water are contaminated with tiny plastic particles that are likely seeping in during the packaging process, according to a major study across nine countries published Wednesday. "Widespread contamination" with plastic was found in the study, led by microplastic researcher Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, according to a summary released by Orb Media, a US-based non-profit media collective. Researchers tested 250 bottles of water in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Thailand, and the United States. Plastic was identified in 93 percent of the samples, which included major name brands such as Aqua, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestle Pure Life and San Pellegrino. The plastic debris included polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make bottle caps. "In this study, 65 percent of the particles we found were actually fragments and not fibers," Mason told AFP. "I think it is coming through the process of bottling the water. I think that most of the plastic that we are seeing is coming from the bottle itself, it is coming from the cap, it is coming from the industrial process of bottling the water." Particle concentration ranged from "zero to more than 10,000 likely plastic particles in a single bottle," said the report. On average, plastic particles in the 100 micron (0.10 millimeter) size range -- considered "microplastics," -- were found at an average rate of 10.4 plastic particles per liter. Even smaller particles were more common -- averaging about 325 per liter. Other brands that were found to contain plastic contaminated included Bisleri, Epura, Gerolsteiner, Minalba and Wahaha. Experts cautioned that the extent of the risk to human health posed by such contamination remains unclear. "There are connections to increases in certain kinds of cancer to lower sperm count to increases in conditions like ADHD and autism," said Mason. "We know that they are connected to these synthetic chemicals in the environment and we know that plastics are providing kind of a means to get those chemicals into our bodies." - Time to ditch plastic? -Previous research by Orb Media has found plastic particles in tap water, too, but on a smaller scale. "Tap water, by and large, is much safer than bottled water," said Mason. The three-month study used a technique developed by the University of East Anglia's School of Chemistry to "see" microplastic particles by staining them using fluorescent Nile Red dye, which makes plastic fluorescent when irradiated with blue light. "We have been involved with independently reviewing the findings and methodology to ensure the study is robust and credible," said lead researcher Andrew Mayes, from UEA's School of Chemistry. "The results stack up."Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer for North America at Oceana, a marine advocacy group that was not involved in the research, said the study provides more evidence that society must abandon the ubiquitous use of plastic water bottles. "We know plastics are building-up in marine animals, and this means we too are being exposed, some of us, every day," she said. "It's more urgent now than ever before to make plastic water bottles a thing of the past."
Bodies of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS to return to Egypt
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 15 March 2018/Three years after 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were kidnapped and executed by ISIS militants in the city of Sirt in Libya, the Libyan attorney general, Siddiq Soor, agreed to return the bodies upon the request of Egypt’s public prosecutor. According to local media sources, the head of the Interrogations Office said that Libyan authorities received the request from Egypt’s public prosecutor through the Libyan foreign ministry. He added that the bodies were presented to forensics and DNA samples were taken. A committee from the foreign affairs and attorney general’s office met with the Egyptian public prosecutor and handed him the forensic samples that were taken from the bodies in order for them to be identified with the victims’ families. He confirmed that the bodies will be returned to Egypt, and that there are serious efforts in making sure that happens. The killings, documented in a grisly video released online by the extremists in 2015, shocked Egypt and led it to launch punitive airstrikes.

US-Iranian man gets 25 years prison for trying to buy missiles for Iran
Reuters, New York/Thursday, 15 March 2018/A dual citizen of Iran and the United States was sentenced on Wednesday to 25 years in prison after he was found guilty of trying to buy surface-to-air missiles and aircraft components for the government of Iran in violation of US sanctions. Reza Olangian, 57, was sentenced by US District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan. The sentence is the minimum allowed under federal law. Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a sentence that was longer than the minimum, although short of the life sentence suggested by federal guidelines. Preska said she did not believe a longer sentence was necessary. “I think Judge Preska saw that 25 years is an extraordinarily long time and that Mr. Olangian did not rise to the level of something as egregious as that,” Gregory Morvillo, Olangian’s lawyer, said after the sentencing. Olangian was convicted by a jury in November 2016 of crimes that included conspiring to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles. His lawyers have said in court filings that Olangian will appeal his conviction. At his trial, they said Olangian was an opponent of the government of Iran, and that his efforts to broker weapons sales were actually meant as a sting operation to expose Iran’s efforts to evade US sanctions. Olangian was born in Iran, came to the United States as a student in 1979, became a US citizen in 1999 and moved back to Iran in 2004, according to court filings.
Arrested in Estonia
He was arrested in Estonia in October 2012 and extradited to the United States following a sting operation orchestrated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Prosecutors said that in 2012, Olangian met in Ukraine with a DEA informant posing as a Russian weapons broker to arrange for the purchase of surface-to-air missiles and various military
aircraft components.
Prosecutors said Olangian negotiated a deal involving 10 missiles and dozens of aircraft parts, and stated during a video conference with the informant that he ultimately wanted to acquire at least 200 missiles. They said he aimed to make a substantial profit selling the weapons.

International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace holds its first session in Maltese Parliament next June
Thu 15 Mar 2018 /NNA - President of the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace, Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Jarwan, on Thursday met with the President of the Maltese Parliament, Mr. Angelo Farrugia, in the Maltese capital Valletta. The meeting was held to discuss means of cooperation and joint action between the Council and the Maltese Parliament in order to promote the culture of tolerance and peace around the world. Angelo Farrugia greeted Al-Jarwan and praised his efforts in spreading the values of tolerance and supporting peace in the world. He also expressed his admiration for the achievements of the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace, stressing its important role during the coming period as an international platform for tolerance, love and peace. For his part, Al-Jarwan praised the support of the Maltese government and parliament for the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace, hosting the Council's headquarters on Malta's territory, and providing services and facilities for peace efforts and spreading the values of tolerance, reflecting Malta's neutrality and its ancient role as a land of love, tolerance and peace for all people around the world.
The two parties agreed on holding the first procedural session of the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace in the Great Hall of the Maltese Parliament in June this year, in the presence of parliamentary and international figures and leaders.
The International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace is one of the organs of the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace. It is composed of parliamentarians from all over the world and is exclusively concerned with issues of tolerance and peace.
It also discusses ways to instill and spread a culture of tolerance and peace around the world to face extremism, intolerance, racism and conflict.
UK, U.S., France, Germany Point to Russia over Spy Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 15/18/Britain, France, Germany and the United States condemned a nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter, saying there was "no plausible alternative explanation" to Moscow's involvement. "We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal" in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, said the rare joint statement issued by the British government. "We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility."Britain has linked the attack to Soviet-designed nerve agents known as Novichok, and accused Moscow of failing to explain how the poison came to be used on English soil. "We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury," the four world powers said in their statement. "Russia should in particular provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon." The Salisbury poisoning is the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It amounts to "a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all," the U.S. and European leaders said. Novichok -- or "newcomer" in English -- refers to a group of powerful and deadly chemical compounds reportedly developed by the Soviet government in the 1970s and 1980s, some of which were adopted by the Soviet army in 1990. Almost everything in the public domain comes from Russian defectors who revealed the existence of the secret weapons program in the 1990s, including a former chemist who wrote a book about them. The aim of the nerve agents appears to have been to circumvent international conventions banning chemical weapons by developing compounds with new structures that would escape detection, experts say.
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 15-16/18
EU: More Censorship to "Protect" You

Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
There appears to be a huge disconnect here between the EU's professed concern for keeping Europeans safe -- as expressed in the one-hour rule -- and the EU's actual refusal to keep Europeans safe in the offline world. The result is that Europeans, manipulated by an untransparent, unaccountable body, will not be kept safe either online or off. And what if the content in question, as has already occurred, may be trying to warn the public about terrorism?
Regardless of these facts, including that women can no longer exercise their freedom to walk in safety in many neighborhoods of European cities, the EU has staunchly refused to stop the influx of migrants. It is, therefore, difficult to take seriously in any way the European Commission's claim that the security, offline and online, of EU citizens is a "top priority". If that were true, why does not Europe simply close the borders? Instead, the EU actually sues EU countries -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- who refuse to endanger their citizens by admitting the quota of migrants that the EU assigns for them.
These EU ultimatums also fail to take into account what a recent study showed: that the second most important factor in the radicalization of Muslims, after Islam itself, is the environment, namely the mosques and imams to which Muslims go and on which they rely. Although the internet evidently does play a role in the radicalization process, the study showed that face-to-face encounters were more important, and that dawa, proselytizing Islam, plays a central role in this process.
On March 1, The European Commission -- the unelected executive branch of the European Union -- told social media companies to remove illegal online terrorist content within an hour, or risk facing EU-wide legislation on the topic. The ultimatum was part of a new set of recommendations that will apply to all forms of "illegal content" online, "from terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement."
The European Commission said, "Considering that terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours of its appearance online, all companies should remove such content within one hour from its referral as a general rule".
While the one-hour ultimatum is ostensibly only about terrorist content, this is how the European Commission motivated the new recommendations:
"The Juncker Commission made security a top priority from day one. It is the most basic and universal of rights to feel safe in your own home or when walking down the street. Europeans rightly expect their Union to provide that security for them – online and offline. The Commission has taken a number of actions to protect Europeans online – be it from terrorist content, illegal hate speech or fake news... we are continuously looking into ways we can improve our fight against illegal content online. Illegal content means any information which is not in compliance with Union law or the law of a Member State, such as content inciting people to terrorism, racist or xenophobic, illegal hate speech, child sexual exploitation... What is illegal offline is also illegal online".
"Illegal hate speech", is broadly defined by the European Commission as "incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin".
The internet companies have three months to deliver results and the European Commission will then decide whether it will introduce legislation. Incidentally, the three-month deadline, in May 2018, coincides with the deadline that the European Commission gave itself in 2017 on deciding whether the "Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech" should be made into legislation.
In May 2016, the European Commission and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft, agreed on a "Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech" (Google+ and Instagram joined the Code of Conduct in January 2018). The Code of Conduct commits the social media companies to review and remove within 24 hours content that is deemed to be, "illegal hate speech". According to the Code of Conduct, when companies receive a request to remove content, they must "assess the request against their rules and community guidelines and, where applicable, national laws on combating racism and xenophobia..." In other words, the social media giants act as voluntary censors on behalf of the European Union.
The European Commission has been regularly monitoring the implementation of the Code of Conduct. It recently found that "Under the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online, internet companies now remove on average 70% of illegal hate speech notified to them and in more than 80% of these cases, the removals took place within 24 hours".
The European Commission's announcement on the new recommendations, specifically the one-hour rule, was heavily criticized. EDiMA, an industry association that includes Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter, said it was "dismayed" by the Commission's announcement:
Our sector accepts the urgency but needs to balance the responsibility to protect users while upholding fundamental rights -- a one-hour turn-around time in such cases could harm the effectiveness of service providers' take-down systems rather than help... EDiMA fails to see how the arbitrary Recommendation published by the European Commission, without due consideration of the types of content; the context and impact of the obligation on other regulatory issues; and, the feasibility of applying such broad recommendations by different kinds of service providers can be seen as a positive step forward.
Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights, described the Commission's proposal as "voluntary censorship":
"Today's recommendation institutionalizes a role for Facebook and Google in regulating the free speech of Europeans," he said in a statement. "The Commission needs to be smart and to finally start developing policy based on reliable data and not public relations spin."
Facebook, on the other hand, said that it shares the European Commission's goal:
"We have already made good progress removing various forms of illegal content," the company said in a statement. "We continue to work hard to remove hate speech and terrorist content while making sure that Facebook remains a platform for all ideas."
There appears to be a huge disconnect here between the EU's professed concern for keeping Europeans safe -- as expressed in the one hour rule -- and the EU's actual refusal to keep Europeans safe in the offline world. The result is that Europeans, manipulated by an untransparent, unaccountable body, will not be kept safe either online or off.
Only a few months ago, EU's Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos wrote, "We cannot and will never be able to stop migration... At the end of the day, we all need to be ready to accept migration, mobility and diversity as the new norm and tailor our policies accordingly".
The enormous influx of migrants into the EU, especially since 2015, is closely linked to the spike in terrorism, as well as the current and future Islamization of the continent. ISIS terrorists have returned to Europe or entered the continent disguised as migrants, and several have perpetrated terror attacks. According to Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counterterrorism Coordinator, there are now more than 50,000 jihadists living in Europe. In 2017, one terrorist attack was attempted every seven days in Europe, on average. When Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, gave his State of the Union Address to the European Parliament in September 2017, he admitted a hugely embarrassing fact:
"We still lack the means to act quickly in case of cross-border terrorist threats. This is why I call for a European intelligence unit that ensures data concerning terrorists and foreign fighters are automatically shared among intelligence services and with the police".
After the ISIS attacks in Paris in November 2015, the Brussels attacks in March 2016, the Nice attack in July 2016, the Berlin Christmas Market attack in December 2016, and the Manchester attack in May 2017 -- and those are just the most spectacular ones -- should the "intelligence unit" for which Juncker calls not have been the very highest priority for the European Commission? After all, it claims that security is its "top priority". Yet, Europeans are supposed to believe that removing "terrorist content" within one hour is going to protect them against future terrorist attacks?
Moreover, as long as you are claiming that security is a "top priority", if President Juncker so readily admits to lacking "the means to act quickly in case of cross-border terrorist threats", would the logical consequence not be to close those borders, at least until you have acquired those means?
European intelligence authorities have repeatedly stated that with the ongoing migration, Europe is "... importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other peoples, as well as a different understanding of society and law".
These are all factors contributing to the current spikes not only in the terror threat to Europe, but also in the crime waves sweeping countries such as Sweden and Germany, including the surge in rapes.
Regardless of these facts, including that women can no longer exercise their freedom to walk in safety in many neighborhoods of European cities, the EU has staunchly refused to stop the influx of migrants. It is, therefore, difficult to take seriously in any way the European Commission's claim that the security, offline and online, of EU citizens is a "top priority". If that were true, why does not Europe simply close the borders? Stopping terrorists at the borders would be infinitely more efficient at reducing the terrorist threat than requiring tech companies to remove "Illegal online content". Instead, the EU actually sues EU countries -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- who refuse to endanger their citizens by admitting the quota of migrants that the EU assigns for them.
These EU ultimatums also fail to take into account what a recent study showed: that the second most important factor in the radicalization of Muslims, after Islam itself, is the environment, namely the mosques and imams to which Muslims go and on which they rely. Although the internet evidently does play a role in the radicalization process, the study showed that face-to-face encounters were more important, and that dawa, proselytizing Islam, plays a central role in this process. Perhaps the EU should obsess less over inconsequential time frames -- last year the European Commission talked about a two-hour time frame for removal -- and worry more about what is being preached inside the thousands of mosques scattered around its membership countries, so many of them financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar?
Recent experience with Germany's censorship law shows that a company is likely to err on the side of caution -- censorship. And what if the content in question, as has already occurred may be trying to warn the public about terrorism?
Above all, the one-hour rule, with the threat of legislation behind it, looks more like a diversion created for public relations and for sneaking even more authoritarian censorship -- plus the ignorance that goes with it -- into the lives of its EU citizens.
**Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 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.

Poland: Jihad in Asylum-Seekers' Clothing
Jan Wójcik/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
The case of Mourad T. highlights a crucial concern: the ability of jihadists to pose as refugees, operating freely around Europe to bring about its downfall.
New information has emerged about a Moroccan national arrested in Poland two years ago for ties to the ISIS terrorist, Abdelhamid Abbaoud. Abbaoud was responsible for the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead and another 300 wounded.
Polish prosecutors recently revealed that Mourad T. attended a meeting with Abbaoud and other high-profile terrorists in 2014 in Edirne, Turkey. Polish security officials maintain that Mourad was assigned the role of "scout," to identify venues for attacks in Europe. Photos of potential targets and an improvised explosive device (IED) were found in his apartment, in the town of Rybnik. Investigators claim that Poland was not among his targets; he was heading for Germany.
Mourad was apprehended through a cooperative effort on the part of Poland's domestic counterintelligence agency ABW, the CIA and other Western security agencies.
This is not what makes the case particularly worthy of note, however. What does is that Mourad entered Europe with the refugee influx in 2014 by pretending to be a Syrian asylum-seeker, falsifying his date of birth -- portraying himself as much younger, to increase his chances to be granted asylum -- and travelling through Greece, the Balkan states, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, and finally to Poland. In 2015, he received a residence permit in Vienna from the Federal Office for Foreigners and Asylum, who were fooled by his false identity and registered him as a Syrian refugee.
The case of suspected terrorist Mourad T. in Poland highlights a crucial concern: the ability of jihadists to pose as refugees, operating freely around Europe. Pictured: Migrants traveling along the "Balkan route" toward Germany walk on a highway in Roszke, Hungary on September 7, 2015. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
By receiving official European documents, Mourad was able to enter Poland, one of the countries that has refused to accept more than a few thousand of the migrants that the European Commission demands they take in, under the EU's mandatory quota system.
Warsaw's resistance to the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa was explained by Poland's ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński in a May 2017 interview with the Gazeta Polska Codziennie newspaper. Kaczyński said that taking in immigrants from those areas would force Poland "to completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country." He added that if Poland were to succumb to EU pressure to accept refugees, it would be "a direct road to a social catastrophe, with the result that in a few years Warsaw could look like Brussels." Kaczyński also referred to the abuse of women that has increased across Europe with the influx of immigrants from Muslim countries.
Given the situation across Europe -- in Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Spain and elsewhere -- Kaczyński's fears are justified. The case of Mourad T. highlights a crucial concern: the ability of jihadists to pose as refugees, operating freely around Europe to bring about its downfall.
Jan Wójcik, a journalist, is regularly published in one of Poland's biggest news outlets,, and is Editor-in-Chief of
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The High Price of Denial
Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/March 15/18
They are now admitting what is visible to the eyes of ordinary Europeans may be an admission that things have got so bad -- and are so well known -- that even Chancellor Merkel and the New York Times are no longer able to ignore them.
If so, one thought must surely follow: imagine what might have been solved if the denials had never even begun?
Is it possible that mainstream politicians and the mainstream media are finally recognising what the European public can see with their own eyes? Two recent occurrences suggest that this might be so.
The first is a concession by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who almost half a year after her party's embarrassment in national elections has finally managed to put together a coalition government. Last September saw not only Merkel's party and her erstwhile coalition partners suffer a historic dent in their vote-share, but also saw the entry to Parliament of the five-year old anti-immigration AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, which is now so large that it constitutes the country's official opposition. If German voters meant to send a message, it could hardly have been clearer.
Perhaps it was even listened to. On Monday February 26, Merkel gave an interview to the German broadcaster N-TV. In it she finally admitted that there are "no-go areas" in her country: "that is, areas where nobody dares to go." She continued: "There are such areas and one has to call them by their name and do something about them." The Chancellor claimed that she favoured a "zero tolerance" attitude towards such places but did not identify where they were. Two days later, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert stressed that "the Chancellor's words speak for themselves."
Although the Chancellor chose to use few words, that she said these things at all is significant. For years, German officials, like their political counterparts across the continent, have furiously denied that there are any areas of their countries to which the rule of law does not extend. Denials have also issued forth from officials in, among other countries, Sweden and France. In January 2015, Paris's Mayor Anne Hidalgo threatened to sue Fox News after the station said there were no-go zones in her city. Hidalgo claimed at the time in an interview on CNN that "the honour of Paris" and the "image of Paris" had been harmed. It was a typically extraordinary claim, which ignored that if the "image of Paris" had taken any battering around that time, it might have been due to the massacre of 12 journalists, cartoonists and policemen at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the slaughter of four people in a kosher supermarket two days later. So concessions like Merkel's -- as opposed to cover-ups like Hidalgo's -- are to be applauded, slightly, when they occur.
Just a week later, another strange milestone was reached. The front page of the New York Times on March 6 carried a story -- also graced with the page's only pictures -- which nobody could have expected the paper to run. Under the heading "Old weapons rattle Sweden," the paper recorded the recent death of a 63-year old man in the Stockholm suburb of Varby Gard. As the paper records, Daniel Cuevas Zuniga had only recently finished a night-shift as an aide for disabled adults, and was cycling home with his wife, when, spotting a spherical object on the floor he stopped and reached out. It was an M-75 hand grenade; its explosive charge and 3000 steel metal balls instantly killed Mr Zuniga and blew his wife off her bicycle.
As the paper conceded, this is not a one-off event but part of an upsurge in violence -- particularly involving hand-grenades -- caused by the influx of foreign gangs and foreign weapons (largely from the Balkan wars of the 1990s) into the Scandinavian country. The paper quoted a Lebanese asylum-seeker who had previously been a commando in a Lebanese militia. Paulus Borisho, in his kebab shop, heard the blast that killed Zuniga. As the paper recorded:
"That a grenade should be found on the sidewalk outside a kebab shop, a few steps from an elementary school, was difficult for him to take in.
"Now when I think of the future, I am afraid" he said. "I am afraid for Europe".
As well he might be. The paper even had the decency to quote friends of the late Mr Zuniga, who reported that he had complained about recent "changes in Varby Gard" and had been "frustrated that the police did not have better control." Again: as well he might.
Of course, the upsurge in gang violence, and specifically grenade violence, in Sweden has been covered in other media outlets in recent years. These have pointed out the Swedish police's often ridiculous ways of addressing this problem. For instance, that Swedish police chief Linda Staaf recently tried to dissuade gangs from using hand-grenades in Sweden by pointing out that grenade-throwing is dangerous because the person who pulls out the pin could "expose themselves to a huge risk." Papers like the New York Times have taken little interest in such problems -- problems which have got so bad that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven even threatened to send the army into certain Swedish suburbs.
Instead, newspapers like the New York Times have tended in recent years towards the same denialism as Angela Merkel about the problems which mass immigration from the developing world is causing in Europe. They have tended to praise the "courage" of suspending normal border controls while covering over or ignoring the terrible consequences of importing millions of people whose identities are unknown. And of course, like Mayor Hidalgo in Paris, they have tended to shoot the messengers more than report the news, dismissing any such stories as "fake news", "alt-right" or "far right" propaganda.
Just last year, when Donald Trump famously mentioned "what happened last night in Sweden", the mainstream media knew what he was referring to. They knew that he was loosely referencing a report that he had seen on Fox news the night before about the increasingly bad situation in that country. The media, however, chose not to address that problem. Instead they chose -- in the main -- to laugh at the President and ridicule the idea that there were any troubles in the Scandinavian paradise.
Back then the New York Times headlined that President Trump's comments were "baffling", while much of the rest of the media simply pretended that Sweden was a land of infinite peace and Ikea which had been sorely slandered by the President.
The surprise that within days of each other, both Chancellor Merkel and the New York Times have become willing to admit facts which they and their apologists have long pretended to be imaginary could be progress of a kind. It may not, however, be a cause for optimism. Rather than being a demonstration that things are getting better, that they are now admitting what is visible to the eyes of ordinary Europeans may be an admission that things have got so bad -- and are so well-known -- that even the Gray Lady and Mutti Merkel are no longer able to ignore them. If so, one thought must surely follow: imagine what might have been solved if the denials had never even begun?
**Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."
© 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.

Does Tillerson's Removal Matter To Us?

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/18
The surprising thing about the removal of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not that Donald Trump fired him, but that he waited a year and a half to do so — given that the president is well known for his outspoken outbursts.
Everyone knows that Trump and Tillerson disagreed on many key issues, including the nuclear deal with Iran, North Korea, dealing with Russia, and of course Qatar.
His differences with the president aside, the Secretary of State also had disagreements with the government’s most prominent leaders, including the head of the CIA, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, the Homeland Security Advisor, and Trump’s ambassador to the UN.
Does the secretary of state have an important and effective role in a system headed by a strong president like Trump and his assistants? Well, America is a country of institutions, and thus, the State Department and its head have a big executive role. When the White House develops policies and adopts positions, it lets the executive bodies take care of the details.
A secretary (i.e. cabinet minister) is an important figure as he is one of the “king’s most trusted knights,” advancing across the chessboard and competing against others to score victories.
What matters for us is that we have good ties with all the state’s offices, as long as there is agreement with the president on the key issues. Unfortunately, the record of the State Department under Tillerson did not reflect the spirit of the White House and its policies with regard to several crucial matters, most importantly that of Iran. Many decisions taken by the previous Democratic administration regarding Iran still applied. Until now, the State Department has refrained from supporting the Iranian opposition and its protests against the regime at a time when Trump had declared his support for it.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee to replace Tillerson, has extensive knowledge of dealing with such issues, being the director of the world’s most prominent intelligence agency, the CIA.
The record of the State Department under the sacked secretary of state did not reflect the spirit of the White House and its policies on many crucial matters, most importantly that of Iran.
The US is a principal player in all of the Middle East’s key issues, which include confronting Iran’s expanding power, the Syrian crisis, the Yemeni war, and permanent issues like the conflict with Israel and terrorism.
Our relations with Washington are extremely important, from the intelligence report to the bullet, as well as issuing and defeating resolutions at the UN Security Council. We cannot streamline these relations by claiming that they are limited to trade deals and military contracts.
There is an eternal struggle among the world’s powers regarding who attracts the US government to its side and its cause; and we suffered a lot with the Obama administration when it stopped selling us weapons and ammunition when we were in the middle of a serious war.
What about Qatar, whose name was associated with the name of former secretary of state Tillerson?
Qatar is one part of the disagreement with Tillerson, but it is not the main cause. The Qatar crisis is a problem to Qatar but not to its neighbors. It is not an issue like Yemen or Libya. It is one that may be resolved this year, or take several more years; i.e. there is no hurry to resolve it as long as it is merely a political issue with no bloodshed.
Doha must now realize that its friend Tillerson did not do it any good, but it did manage to hurt him.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

Lies as the distinguishing feature of Syria, Russia and Iran
Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/March 15/18
The cruel Syrian war launched by Bashar al-Assad on his people seven years ago under the name of counterterrorism demonstrated that the culture of lies connects the three allies Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime’s indiscriminate shelling of Eastern Ghouta, targeting hospitals and blocking access to humanitarian convoys, confirms what is already obvious to everyone: That Russia is not committing to enforcing the UN Security Council Resolution that it had agreed to implement, which is to stop the fighting in Ghouta and deliver humanitarian aid. The international community is leaving the Syrian people to die while Russia’s bombing of Syria continues. Everyone knows that Putin and his crew along with the Iranian leadership are lying
Russia and chemical attacks
Russia, put under enormous international pressure, complied with the resolution but did not commit to it as it helped the regime continue its shelling. When French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reproached his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov about not halting the bombing and fighting in Ghouta, Lavrov replied that “the bombing targets terrorists in Ghouta and not civilians.”The Syrian regime and its intelligence services were schooled by the Soviet Union, which was later inherited by Russia led by figures, like Putin, who learned and grew up within the dictatorship of the former regime. Putin once promised former US President Barack Obama that the Syrian regime will destroy its chemical weapons. The same regime is now bombing children with deadly gases and chlorine.
Russia holds the Astana talks under the pretext of reducing the escalation in Syria while the opposite is true. Putin has also declared more than once that Russian troops will withdraw from Syria but they haven’t. In fact, they have increased their presence. Russia is also using mercenaries who previously took part in the war in Chechnya and Afghanistan to fight in Syria instead of the Russian army.
According to the Russian journalist Elena Volochine. who writes for the newspaper Liberation, Russia has hired a private military company, Wagner, to guard Syrian oil sites where Russian companies Gazprom and Lukoil have factories. The Russian defense ministry is providing Wagner with weapons, ammunition and equipment.
As stated by a Russian foreign ministry statement on February 7, Moscow acknowledges that dozens of Russian citizens have been killed in Deir az-Zour as a result of US bombing. The statement alleged that they had gone to Syria out of their own volition and for different reasons. Russia is not only lying inside Syria, but also internationally. British Prime Minister Theresa May stated that Putin was most probably responsible for the assassination attempt of the former Russian spy who worked for Britain and his daughter with poison gas. The anticipated Russian denial came from Lavrov. But no one can believe what the Russian leadership says. Previously Lavrov has already told Le Drian that Iran is a stabilizing factor in the region, as if the French minister is ignorant of what Iran is doing in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran the facile liar
Like its Russian and Syrian allies, the Iranian regime is no stranger to lying especially when it completely refuses to acknowledge supplying the Houthis and Hezbollah with ballistic missiles. Iran’s interference on the ground in Syria with its military experts and Hezbollah fighters to guard Assad and establish an arsenal of missiles and weapons between Lebanon and Syria is partly responsible for destabilizing the entire Middle East region, counting the entire Gulf region. Those who say that the dialogue with Russia and Iran is beneficial are misguided because it only culminates into non-commitments and the partaking in Assad’s crimes against his people. The international community is leaving the Syrian people to die while Russia’s bombing of Syria continues. Everyone knows that Putin and his crew along with the Iranian leadership are lying and are taking part in Assad’s crimes, but no one is doing anything to stop them and punish these criminals.

The departing Tillerson
Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/March 15/18
One of the worst periods that President Trump has gone through during his time in office was in August 2017 when he didn’t clearly condemn the violent acts of Iraqi extremist groups who protested the removal of a civil war statue. Three people were killed as a result of this violence.
Trump was faced with a wave of criticism and he was accused of Nazism and racism. During this critical time, the last thing he needed was an official to add salt to injury. This is exactly what Rex Tillerson did. While speaking to Fox News, he was asked what he thinks of Trump’s statements and moral values, so he said they represented Trump and not the US administration, i.e. he meant “Trump is the racist one and not us.”The most dangerous thing he did was depicting the administration as confused, contradictory and extremist while he appeared as the moderate and wise man and as the cold one among the hot-tempered. The opposite is in fact true. Tillerson may not have exactly meant it that way, but that’s how people understood his response. Media outlets that oppose Trump marketed Tillerson’s statement because it represented a testimony from within the White House – a testimony that’s far more important than politicians’ and commentators’ analyses. Anyway, we eventually realized that Tillerson is a skilled man in the world of oil and money, but lacks diplomatic genes. A man who does not know how to handle reporters’ malicious questions and who easily falls in their traps will cause embarrassment for himself and his administration.
Worsening relations
This was not the only direct incident to happen between Trump and Tillerson. Relations between them worsened when Tillerson was quoted as saying that Trump is a “moron.” Trump learnt about this but swallowed it. However, he burst in anger when it was leaked to the press. Tillerson denied calling Trump a “moron” but several sources confirmed otherwise and said he uttered the word in a moment of anger in the presence of many people, including Secretary of Defense Mattis. Despite the official meetings, dinners and lunches between Trump and Tillerson, relations between the two men remained tense and confused. Trump showed his dissatisfaction with Tillerson and humiliated him more than once. On Tuesday, he fired Tillerson via a Twitter post before he woke up. After he was fired, analysts were confused as to why Tillerson was chosen in the first place to perform this difficult task when he’s over 60-years-old and has no political experience, and no passion for diplomacy. Even when he was the CEO of Exxon, he wasn’t well-known for his social relations as he tended to keep to himself and avoided talking to employees as much as possible. He sat all by himself in his huge office like a sad God and had his lunch alone. The most logical reason as to why Trump favored him over other figures, such as Mitt Romney, is that thanks to his work he harbored strong ties with significant leaders like Putin. Tillerson could thus achieve tangible results via untraditional methods through these relations, his strong reputation and his influence. It later turned out this was not his strength as he did not have the characteristics of a good negotiator who is capable of exploiting personal relations, emotions and memories developed through friendships to achieve any remarkable diplomatic achievements.
Tillerson’s oil background
It was rather ironic that the figure who is supposed to be the most diplomatic was incapable of developing a friendly relation with his own president! Tillerson’s background in the oil industry led many to come up with conspiracy theories stipulating that Trump wants to benefit from Tillerson to make deals that increase his personal wealth. These are just theories which have been proven wrong when Tillerson was fired and replaced with someone who is not known for being wealthy. Tillerson was a strict and frank negotiator when he worked in the oil industry. A report in The New Yorker magazine said that while Tillerson was holding negotiations once, a Yemeni minister wrote the details of his Swiss bank account on the back of a business card with the number $5 million and gave it to Tillerson. The minister was demanding a bribe to seal the deal, but Tillerson immediately refused and rebuffed him.
In 2013, Tillerson held on to his stance which rejected the Obama administration’s and the Maliki government’s opposition to discovering new oil wells in Kurdistan, as this was likely to push the region to separate. Tillerson remained adamant and the Obama administration relented. However, when Tillerson entered Washington, where powers are distributed and where it’s said that Machiavelli himself may seem helpless, it made him dizzy. It appeared like he was wandering around the world with no influence whatsoever.
The most controversial incidents were related to the contradictory statements that Trump and Tillerson made – it’s as if they work in two separate administrations. Whatever Trump said via Twitter, Tillerson contradicted in a press conference hours later and whatever Tillerson told reporters, Trump would scold him for it in public. This troubled relationship confused those observing the work of the American administration as contradictory remarks were not only related to boycotting Qatar or to Iran, but also to China and North Korea. The most significant example is when Trump criticized Tillerson after he went to China to discuss possible negotiations with North Korea where he noted that discussions are useless with “rocket man.”
A contradictory administration
There are plenty of contradictory stances, but Trump fired Tillerson because he is not the right man to engage in negotiations with North Korea and in the historical meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Tillerson is not the man for this phase which needs experienced figures. Keeping him in his post may drown the boat before it sails. The most dangerous thing he did was depicting the administration as confused, contradictory and extremist while he appeared as the moderate and wise man and as the cold one among the hot-tempered. The opposite is in fact true. Tillerson, unlike other administration officials and due to a lack of required experience, a political vision and knowledge in history, made negative and wrong stances regarding Iran’s nuclear agreement and Doha’s support of terrorism. There are other negative stances which echo the former administration’s ideas.
This is exactly why Mike Pompeo, who headed the CIA, is suitable to become secretary of state as he has the required knowledge and enough personal experience. He worked for a long time in combating terrorism and he knows who supports, funds and promotes terrorism even if they’re disguised as friends and allies.

What will Trump achieve by meeting Kim?
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 15/18
Donald Trump’s quick commitment to meeting North Korea’s Kim Jong-un reportedly caught even his cabinet by surprise. Foreign policy observers certainly did not see it coming. But what will meeting Kim achieve?
At the very least, it changes the tone of the conversation after a year of mutual nuclear taunting. Whatever else we might think about the situation, that is to be welcome. But tone is not the same thing as policy, and, as things stand, nothing about the military policy of either country has changed.
The American goal in these negotiations is to stop the further development of the North Korean nuclear program and to defuse Kim’s nuclear capability. We know the North Koreans have the capacity to build and successfully detonate nuclear bomb.
And we know they are making progress toward missile delivery systems, which, if they do not threaten any US territories, they certainly threaten US allies such as South Korea and Japan. North Korea does pose a real nuclear threat to US interests and allies.
The short of it, however, is that the United States will not achieve this goal. Kim Jong-un may be an unpleasant character, but he is by no account crazy. And, it seems, he has learnt from history.
Every regime which has given up their nuclear program under pressure from the West has suffered the consequences
Chequered history
Saddam gave up his nuclear and other WMD programs in the Oil for Food programme, and less than 10 years later he was hanged by a US-installed Iraqi government. Qaddafi gave up his nuclear program in order to trade oil with the West, and again, less than 10 years later he was killed in a Western-supported uprising. Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union by 1996, and not two decades later, Russia, the recipient of those missiles, invaded and annexed Crimea. There is nothing to suggest that Kim intends to repeat this history. In fact, the reason he has pushed on with the nuclear program in recent years despite unprecedented pressure from the West and his neighbours, including the North’s longstanding ally, China, is because Kim and his regime are convinced that nukes are the only thing that can sustain their regime.
And it is difficult to argue against their case: every regime which has given up their nuclear program under pressure from the West has suffered the consequences; while now that Kim’s nuclear programme is on its feet and largely successful, “the most isolated regime in the world” gets to meet face-to-face with the leader of the free world. But the optics for Trump are much worse that that. It’s not just that Trump’s administration is rewarding Kim with a visit for decades of defiance and for breaking international rules on nuclear proliferation. The details of the meeting will also be hugely relevant.
Propaganda coup
Kim has not left his country since he has acceded to power. And he will not do so now. The meeting will most likely take place on the militarized border between North and South Korea, if not within North Korea itself.
This will be an unbelievable propaganda coup for the regime: after decades of delirious and fantasist news coverage in the North about how powerful the regime is to stand along against all the world’s great powers, now the American president comes to North Korean to “seek terms” with Supreme Leader Kim.
Never in their life would the officials at the propaganda ministry would have expected such a prize to land in their lap.
So best case scenario, the meeting between Trump and Kim will result in the North no longer lobbing missiles toward Japan, and perhaps fewer earthquakes in the Korean peninsula, in exchange for stopping the US - South Korea war exercises on the militarized border.
Worst case scenario… well, Kim and Trump will be alone in a room together. Let’s not speculate about what might be the worst thing that could happen.