March 25/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Palm Sunday/The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 14:1-72.15:1-47/The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place in two days' time. So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death. They said, "Not during the festival, for fear that there may be a riot among the people."  When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. "Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?  It could have been sold for more than three hundred days' wages and the money given to the poor." They were infuriated with her.  Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me.  The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.  Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them.  When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"' Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there." The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.  When it was evening, he came with the Twelve. And as they reclined at table and were eating, Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."They began to be distressed and to say to him, one by one, "Surely it is not I?" He said to them, "One of the Twelve, the one who dips with me into the dish.  For the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born." While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.'But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be." Then Jesus said to him, "Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times." But he vehemently replied, "Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you." And they all spoke similarly. Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch." He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him;
he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will."When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing.  Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him.  He returned a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.  Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand." Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, "The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely." He came and immediately went over to him and said, "Rabbi." And he kissed him. At this they laid hands on him and arrested him. One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them in reply, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs, to seize me? Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the scriptures may be fulfilled." And they all left him and fled. Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked. They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest's courtyard and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire. The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none.  Many gave false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. Some took the stand and testified falsely against him, alleging, We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another not made with hands.' Even so their testimony did not agree.
The high priest rose before the assembly and questioned Jesus, saying, "Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?" But he was silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him and said to him, "Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?"Then Jesus answered, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.'"At that the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further need have we of witnesses?  You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as deserving to die. Some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him and struck him and said to him, "Prophesy!" And the guards greeted him with blows. While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest's maids came along. Seeing Peter warming himself, she looked intently at him and said, "You too were with the Nazarene, Jesus." But he denied it saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are talking about." So he went out into the outer court. (Then the cock crowed.)The maid saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." Once again he denied it. A little later the bystanders said to Peter once more, "Surely you are one of them; for you too are a Galilean." He began to curse and to swear, "I do not know this man about whom you are talking." And immediately a cock crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times." He broke down and wept. As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.  Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered, "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?"
For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, "Then what (do you want) me to do with (the man you call) the king of the Jews?" They shouted again, "Crucify him."Pilate said to them, "Why? What evil has he done?" They only shouted the louder, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort.They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him. They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. They brought him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull).  They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it.
Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews."With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself.
Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.  At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "Look, he is calling Elijah." One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down."  Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath,  Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 24-25/18
Jesus’ Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday/Elias Bejjani/25 March/18
Out with the old, in with the new: Lebanon’s elections promise changing of the guard/Sami Moubayed/The Arab Weekly/March 24/18
Trump rattles White House with Bolton shake-up/Jonathan Easley and Jordan Fabian/TheHill/March 24/18
UK: Islamization Full Speed Ahead/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 24/2018
Why Palestinians Need an Israel Victory/Daniel Pipes/Australian/March 24/2018
Trump's War Cabinet … Against Whom/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 24/18
Is Qatar waking up from its stupor of stubbornness/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 24/18
The new Cold War between Russia and Britain/Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/March 24/18
China’s espionage scandal blow for ties with Africa/Huda al-Husseini/Al Arabiya/March 24/18/
Trump's North Korea Talks Need to Address Syrian and Iranian Proliferation/Jay Solomon/The Washington Institute/March 24/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 24-25/18

Jesus’ Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday
Lebanese President Warns of Country’s ‘Bankruptcy’
Aoun: No One Can Disrupt Relations with Saudi Arabia
Out with the old, in with the new: Lebanon’s elections promise changing of the guard
Sami Gemayel Blasts Government's Plan to Introduce More Tax Hikes
Nadim Gemayel: It Is Time for Citizens to Decide Which Nation They Want
Report: Aoun 'Mulls' Leading Cedre Delegation to France
LF Backed Electoral List Announced in Keserwan-Jbeil
Cypriot Minister in Beirut Next Week to Discuss Maritime Economic Zone
Electoral Lists Announced in Chouf-Aley, Zahle and Sidon-Jezzine
Hariri: Elections are a strategic matter through which we alter the country's direction
Lights out at Presidential Palace for Earth Hour tonight
Berri: The closer we get to the elections, the lower the level of political discourse
Hariri announces Akkar Electoral List: Our battle is to stop the guardianship from laying its hand again on North Lebanon
Pakistan's Ambassador: We are committed to strengthening our historical, brotherly ties with Lebanon
Rahi chairs second educational meeting in Bkirki
Khalil, Fayyad call for heavy turnout during elections

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 24-25/18
Syria Rebels Prepare to Quit Penultimate Pocket of Ghouta
Iran Slams US Sanctions over Hacking Scheme
Egyptians to Vote Monday, Sisi Re-election 'Guaranteed'
Europe Steps up Pressure on Russia over Spy Attack
Bolton: Trump Should Insist on Libya-style Denuclearization for North Korea
Policeman, who Traded Places with Hostage in France Shooting, Dies from Injuries
At Least 13 Killed, 27 Wounded in Apartment Block Fire in Vietnam
7 Arrested in Bahrain over Arson Attack at Police Patrol
Egypt FM: We Look Forward to Counter-Terrorism Coordination with India
Head of Alexandria Security Directorate Escapes Bombing
Oil Prices Rise in Strongest Showing since July 2017
The Russia World Cup Has to Save International Football from CrisisMalaysia Arrests 7 Men with ISIS Links Over Attacks Plot
Two Koreas Hold Talks Next Week ahead of April Summit between Leaders
China expresses regret at U.S. move to file WTO challenge
Car bomb explodes in Egypt's Alexandria, one killed
Jack Wilshere: Wenger Just Said if you Can Get a Contract Elsewhere you Can Go
Libyan Official Holds Sarraj Responsible for Failing to Unite Army at Cairo Talks

Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 24-25/18
Jesus’ Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday
Elias Bejjani/25 March/18
(Psalm118/26): “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh! We have blessed You out of the house of Yahweh”.
On the seventh Lantern Sunday, known as the “Palm Sunday”, our Maronite Catholic Church celebrates the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The joyful and faithful people of this Holy City and their children welcomed Jesus with innocent spontaneity and declared Him a King. Through His glorious and modest entry the essence of His Godly royalty that we share with Him in baptism and anointing of Chrism was revealed. Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, the “Palm Sunday”, marks the Seventh Lantern Sunday, the last one before Easter Day, (The Resurrection).
During the past six Lantern weeks, we the believers are ought to have renewed and rekindled our faith and reverence through genuine fasting, contemplation, penance, prayers, repentance and acts of charity. By now we are expected to have fully understood the core of love, freedom, and justice that enables us to enter into a renewed world of worship that encompasses the family, the congregation, the community and the nation.
Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time to participate in the Jewish Passover Holiday. He was fully aware that the day of His suffering and death was approaching and unlike all times, He did not stop the people from declaring Him a king and accepted to enter the city while they were happily chanting : “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”.(John 12/13). Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19/39-40). Jesus entered Jerusalem to willingly sacrifice Himself, die on the cross, redeem us and absolve our original sin.
On the Palm Sunday we take our children and grandchildren to celebrate the mass and the special procession while happily they are carrying candles decorated with lilies and roses. Men and women hold palm fronds with olive branches, and actively participate in the Palm Procession with modesty, love and joy crying out loudly: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21/09).
On the Palm Sunday through the procession, prayers, and mass we renew our confidence and trust in Jesus. We beg Him for peace and commit ourselves to always tame all kinds of evil hostilities, forgive others and act as peace and love advocates and defend man’s dignity and his basic human rights. “Ephesians 2:14”: “For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us”
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus’ story into Jerusalem appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). The four accounts shows clearly that the Triumphal Entry was a significant event, not only to the people of Jesus’ day, but to Christians throughout history.
The Triumphal Entry as it appeared in Saint John’s Gospel, (12/12-19), as follows : “On the next day a great multitude had come to the feast. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet him, and cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it. As it is written, “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King comes, sitting on a donkey’s colt. ”His disciples didn’t understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him, and that they had done these things to Him. The multitude therefore that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, was testifying about it. For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “See how you accomplish nothing. Behold, the world has gone after him.” Now there were certain Greeks among those that went up to worship at the feast. These, therefore, came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn, Andrew came with Philip, and they told Jesus.”
The multitude welcomed Jesus, His disciples and followers while chanting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”.(John 12/13). His entry was so humble, meek simple and spontaneous. He did not ride in a chariot pulled by horses as earthly kings and conquerors do, He did not have armed guards, nor officials escorting him. He did not come to Jerusalem to fight, rule, judge or settle scores with any one, but to offer Himself a sacrifice for our salvation.
Before entering Jerusalem, He stopped in the city of Bethany, where Lazarus (whom he raised from the tomb) with his two sisters Mary and Martha lived. In Hebrew Bethany means “The House of the Poor”. His stop in Bethany before reaching Jerusalem was a sign of both His acceptance of poverty and His readiness to offer Himself as a sacrifice. He is the One who accepted poverty for our own benefit and came to live in poverty with the poor and escort them to heaven, the Kingdom of His Father.
After His short Stop in Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem to fulfill all the prophecies, purposes and the work of the Lord since the dawn of history. All the scripture accounts were fulfilled and completed with his suffering, torture, crucifixion, death and resurrection. On the Cross, He cried with a loud voice: “It is finished.” He bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.(John19/30)
The multitude welcomed Jesus when He entered Jerusalem so one of the Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled. (Zechariah 9:9-10): “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth”.
The crowd welcomed Jesus for different reasons and numerous expectations. There were those who came to listen to His message and believed in Him, while others sought a miraculous cure for their ailments and they got what they came for, but many others envisaged in Him a mortal King that could liberate their country, Israel, and free them from the yoke of the Roman occupation. Those were disappointed when Jesus told them: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom” (John 18/36)
Christ came to Jerusalem to die on its soil and fulfill the scriptures. It was His choice where to die in Jerusalem as He has said previously: “should not be a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13/33): “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem”.
He has also warned Jerusalem because in it all the prophets were killed: (Luke 13:34-35): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! “behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.
Explanation of the Palm Sunday Procession Symbols
The crowd chanted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21/09), because Jesus was is a descendant of David. Hosanna in the highest is originated in the Psalm 118/25: “Please, LORD, please save us. Please, LORD, please give us success”. It is a call for help and salvation as also meant by the Psalm 26/11: “But I lead a blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me”. Hosanna also means: God enlightened us and will never abandon us, Jesus’ is a salvation for the world”
Spreading cloth and trees’ branches in front of Jesus to walk on them was an Old Testament tradition that refers to love, obedience, submission, triumph and loyalty. (2 Kings 09/13): “They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”. In the old days Spreading garments before a dignitary was a symbol of submission.
Zion is a hill in Jerusalem, and the “Daughter of Zion” is Jerusalem. The term is synonymous with “paradise” and the sky in its religious dimensions.
Carrying palm and olive branches and waving with them expresses joy, peace, longing for eternity and triumph. Palm branches are a sign of victory and praise, while Olive branches are a token of joy, peace and durability. The Lord was coming to Jerusalem to conquer death by death and secure eternity for the faithful. It is worth mentioning that the olive tree is a symbol for peace and its oil a means of holiness immortality with which Kings, Saints, children and the sick were anointed.
The name “King of Israel,” symbolizes the kingship of the Jews who were waiting for Jehovah to liberate them from the Roman occupation.
O, Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith to feel closer to You and to Your mercy when in trouble;
O, Lord Jesus, empower us with the grace of patience and meekness to endure persecution, humiliation and rejection and always be Your followers.
O, Lord Let Your eternal peace and gracious love prevail all over the world.
A joyous Palm Sunday to all

Lebanese President Warns of Country’s ‘Bankruptcy’
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/President Michel Aoun warned on Friday that Lebanon was “bankrupt”, which therefore demands the need to “control finances and combat corruption.”The president made his warning while receiving at the presidential palace Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. “Those who will be elected to parliament should know they are not coming for a stroll, but they should assume the responsibility of a country that is in danger,” Rahi said. Lebanon will hold parliamentary elections on May 6. Aoun and Rahi held a closed-door meeting that tackled latest local developments, as well as the situation of the educational sector and its institutions. The Patriarch called on the Lebanese to work together to provide the country with political, security, social and economic stability. Aoun’s statements were the first direct warning of their kind on the economic situation in Lebanon. He voiced his concern ahead of the Cedar 1 international donor conference that will be held in Paris on April 6. The meeting is aimed at providing Lebanon with financial support to strengthen the implementation of crucial reforms through investment projects and soft loans. Potential donor countries have urged the Lebanese government to introduce reforms and fight corruption to curb the deficit before aid is delivered in the form of long-term loans. Last week, Lebanon’s cabinet ratified the 2018 budget and will now pass it to parliament for approval. Economic expert Walid Abu Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the government already sent a positive message to the international community by sending the budget for parliament and announcing its decision to curb spending. “However, there are still unavoidable expenses related to the deficit in the electricity sector and in paying salaries and wages,” he added.
Lebanon has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world at about 150 percent.

Aoun: No One Can Disrupt Relations with Saudi Arabia
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Lebanese President Michel Aoun underlined the return of good relations between Beirut and Riyadh, noting that no one could disrupt relations between the two countries. Aoun received on Friday a delegation from the Lebanese-Saudi Business Council, headed by Raouf Abu Zaki. “Lebanese-Saudi relations have returned to their positive nature,” the Lebanese president said. “Nothing can shake the relations between the two countries,” he added. The delegation discussed with Aoun ongoing preparations for the Lebanese economic delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia in April, as well as the Saudi-Lebanese Economic Forum to be held in Beirut in 2018. “We are open to all forms of joint cooperation, whether economic or developmental. We are ready to provide the best conditions for such cooperation,” the president stressed. Abu Zaki, for his part, said that relations between the two countries would witness many positive developments and noted that the High Committee would convene soon, predicting “a promising Saudi, Gulf summer in Lebanon.” “We are at the beginning of a period of breakthrough with the Kingdom, at a time when Saudi Arabia is undergoing political, administrative, financial, economic and cultural reforms and witnessing giant projects that will provide business and investment opportunities for all qualified companies, primarily Lebanese companies,” Abu Zaki said. He added: “All this comes at a time when Lebanon is witnessing a situation of security and political stability under the leadership of your Excellency… At a time when Lebanon is launching an investment program at the Cedar 1 conference and it is possible for all Arab and international private companies to participate in these projects.”
Out with the old, in with the new: Lebanon’s elections promise changing of the guard
Sami Moubayed/The Arab Weekly/March 24/18
Beirut - Lebanon is bracing itself for parliamentary elections on May 6. If carried out successfully, they would be the first legislative elections in the country since 2009. Visibly absent from the parliamentary hopefuls is a long list of prominent politicians who have been represented in every chamber since the 1990s.
Among those is former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, an economist and seasoned statesman who was exceptionally close to Lebanon’s assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Siniora has taken a back seat in recent years after Saad Hariri — Rafik Hariri’s son — succeeded him in 2009, preferring the less visible post of head of Hariri’s Future Movement. Siniora is reportedly unhappy with how Hariri handled his latest crisis with Saudi Arabia, when, some allege, he was abducted last November and forced to announce his resignation from Riyadh, rather than Beirut, on a Saudi channel, rather than his own Future Television or via Lebanese state TV.
Siniora is also said to be unimpressed with how Hariri cannot seem to make up his mind vis-a-vis Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. In his resignation speech, Hariri threatened that Hezbollah’s arms would be chopped off, only to praise the group in January when speaking to the Wall Street Journal.
Another Hariri ally who will exit the Lebanese parliament is Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, formerly a main pillar of Hariri’s March 14 coalition. Jumblatt played a pivotal role in Hariri’s rise to power and in the creation of the political coalition that ejected the Syrians in April 2005.
Hariri badly needs both Siniora and Jumblatt to emerge victorious in the next parliament with a two-thirds blocking majority. Numerically that means at least 85 out of 128 MPs. Presently only two blocs can achieve that number. One is headed by Hariri and the other is jointly led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Hariri and his allies had 46 seats in the outgoing parliament and the rival Iran- and Syria-backed bloc had 47. Those numbers will likely change because Hariri no longer has on his side the Lebanese Phalange, headed by former President Amin Gemayel. He backed out in 2016, furious with Hariri’s backing of Michel Aoun as president, a post Gemayel wanted for himself. Gemayel has five MPs in parliament and that number is expected to increase in May.
Hariri also lacks the unwavering support of Jumblatt’s bloc, which supported him in 2009, making 85 seats out of 128 not so easy for Hariri.
His electoral allies are the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea, with whom Hariri is working to challenge Hezbollah in Baalbek-Hermel. This district will witness a big electoral battle in May, as Hariri tries to penetrate the Shia stronghold. It has six parliamentary seats: two Christian (one Maronite and one Catholic), two Sunni and two Shia seats. The number of voters in Baalbak-Hermel is: 43,000 Christians, 43,000 Sunnis and 230,000 Shias, making the Hariri plan ambitious and very difficult to achieve, since the lion’s share of Shia votes will go to candidates running with Hezbollah and Amal. The numbers in the district will make or break any upcoming parliamentary majority. The same applies to Hezbollah and Amal, which are deprived of the backing of veteran Maronite MP Suleiman Frangieh, once a main player in their March 8 alliance. The grandson of a president and a presidential hopeful himself, Frangieh had relied on Hezbollah to put him in power in 2016 but Hezbollah went for Aoun.
Frangieh won’t be running this year, which is problematic for his allies who had relied on him within his Maronite constituency, being scion of a ranking political family who heads a prominent political party. Hezbollah and Amal will also be deprived of the direct alliance of the Aounists, who commanded 19 seats in the outgoing parliament and put their full weight behind the March 8 alliance. It is far too difficult for them to do that again, having to stand as more neutral players because their leader is president of the republic. Additionally, there is plenty of bad blood between Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil and Berri because of a recent political feud that will make cooperation between Amal and the Aounists difficult. While big names part the scene in this year’s parliament, several prominent newcomers are making their debut, including three media personalities. One is George Kurdahi, a television presenter running on Aoun’s list. Another is Paula Yacoubian, another TV host running with the Hariri team. The third is Raghida Dergham, a respected journalist with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.
Several figures from military and security backgrounds are bracing themselves for the new chamber. One is former Brigadier-General Chamel Roukoz, the son-in-law of Aoun and commander of the Rangers Regiment. He was a candidate to lead the Lebanese Army.
Another is General Jamil al-Sayyed, the former head of Lebanese General Security who was famously accused and arrested over the Hariri assassination in 2005. He was released in 2009. A Shia officer with strong ties to Iran and Syria, Sayyed is exceptionally close to Hezbollah.
Running in Tripoli is Ashraf Rifi, the former director of Lebanese Internal Security. A former Hariri ally, he defected in recent years and is leading a political movement that poses the most serious challenge to Hariri. He, too, is close to the Saudis and backed by a rival branch of the House of Saud and is reportedly closer to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. Although he hates Hezbollah, he seems to have one thing in common with them — wanting the defeat of Hariri — although they remain at daggers drawn and aren’t remotely on the same wavelength for the next elections.
Sayyed and Rifi will greatly influence dynamics in the new chamber, increasing its massive polarisation because one is a staunch ally of the Saudis and the other of Syria and Iran.
Sami Gemayel Blasts Government's Plan to Introduce More Tax Hikes 24th March 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Saturday slammed the government's plan to introduce further tax hikes, one day after Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told MTV that tariffs and levies will be raised following the Cedre conference set to take place on April 6 in Paris. "It is hard for the ruling authority to stop squandering and corruption, and to control spending. It is much easier for it to increase taxes imposed on the Lebanese people that is already burdened with the high cost of living and the youths who are suffering from the growing unemployment rate in their country," Gemayel wrote on Twitter.

Nadim Gemayel: It Is Time for Citizens to Decide Which Nation They Want 24th March 2018/Kataeb's candidate for the Maronite seat in Beirut's first electoral district, Nadim Gemayel, said that Lebanon has been handed over to Hezbollah since the election of its top ally, Gen. Michel Aoun, as president, and the formation of a government in which more than 55% of ministers are affiliated to it. In an interview on Voice of Lebanon radio station, Gemayel said that Hezbollah is seeking to bring back the same people who were active during the Syrian occupation era, while fragmenting the March 14 coalition. "It is obvious that the electoral gains in the districts that fall under Hezbollah's control are more guaranteed, while in other areas, especially the Christian-dominated ones, there is confusion and fragmentation." Gemayel called on voters to distinguish between what is right and wrong, saying that should discern the difference between those who made the right choices and the ones who messed up. "People will have to determine what is the right choice to make? Would it be to vote for those who defend Hezbollah or those who confront it? Would it be to vote for the Hariri team or those who held onto the values and constants of the March 14 coalition?" "It is time for citizens to determine their choices and decide which nation they want. For its part, the Kataeb party represents the free, sovereign, independent and prosperous Lebanon," he stressed. Gemayel urged unity so as to re-establish the same political alignment that was present before the presidential settlement had dashed it, stressing the need for a ruling authority that is not involved in corruption and has an economic and developmental vision for the country. Gemayel noted that Hezbollah and its allies are expected to win more than half of the parliamentary seats, warning that this would lead to big changes in the country, starting with the legalization of Hezbollah's arms. "I do not only represent Ashrafieh and Beirut, but also every free citizen who wants real partnership and equality between the Lebanese," he concluded.
Report: Aoun 'Mulls' Leading Cedre Delegation to France
Naharnet/March 24/18/President Michel Aoun could lead Lebanon's delegation to Paris to take part in the Cedre conference set for April 6, in the French capital, al-Joumhouria daily reportedly on Saturday. The daily said that Aoun is “mulling” the possibility of leading the delegation to the conference also known as Paris IV, aimed at boosting support for Lebanon's ailing economy and promoting reforms. Shall Aoun decide otherwise, Prime Minister Saad Hariri will lead the mission to Paris. Hariri had announced on Tuesday during the Business and Financial Forum, that Lebanon plans, at the Cedre conference, to propose a program for investment spending and to secure $6 billion for projects for the next five years.

LF Backed Electoral List Announced in Keserwan-Jbeil
Naharnet/March 24/18/A new electoral list has launched the names of its candidates in the district of Keserwan-Jbeil, LBCI said on Saturday. The list called “Definite Change” is supported by the Lebanese Forces. It was announced from the residence of former Jbeil Mayor Ziad Hawat, said LBCI. For Keserwan, the list comprises LF candidate Shawqi Dakkash, Ziad Khalifeh (Free National Liberal party), Patricia Elias, Antoine Mhanna and Naaman Mrad. As for Jbeil, Fadi Rohana Saqr, Ziad Hawat and Mahmoud Awwad (Shiite). Keserwan-Jbeil has eights seats in the parliament, seven Maronite seats and one Shiite.

Cypriot Minister in Beirut Next Week to Discuss Maritime Economic Zone
Naharnet/March 24/18/Lebanon's maritime border file with Cyprus, Israel and Syria is expected to resurface again when Cypriot Foreign Minister, Nikos Christodoulides, visits Beirut on an official visit to the country next week, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Christodoulides is expected to fly in Beirut Thursday at the invitation of his Lebanese counterpart Jebran Bassil. He will hold talks with senior Lebanese officials, according to the daily. “A large Cypriot delegation will accompany the minister, along with experts in demarcating the island's maritime borders with its neighbors on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea to discuss all forms of economic, financial and investment cooperation between the two countries,” said the daily. The Cypriot minister will meet with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, PM Saad Hariri and Bassil. “He prepared a file related to the existing disputes over the maritime borders of the economic zone between Lebanon and Cyprus, Israel and Syria,” it said. Lebanon recently signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that its southern neighbour Israel says belongs to it. Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Beirut while Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory.

Electoral Lists Announced in Chouf-Aley, Zahle and Sidon-Jezzine
Naharnet/March 24/18/The Free Patriotic Movement and Minister of the Displaced Talal Arslan finalized an electoral agreement for the Chouf-Aley district on Friday evening, the National News Agency said. Under the agreement the alliance will comprise Arslan (Druze, Aley), Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil of the FPM (Maronite, Aley), Imad al-Hajj (Maronite, Aley) and Elie Hanna (Greek Orthodox, Aley). As for Chouf, Environment Minister Tarek al-Khatib of the FPM and Ali al-Hajj will run for the Sunni seats, Mario Aoun, Farid al-Bustani and Samir Aoun will run for the Maronite seats, Ghassan Atallah for the Greek Catholic seat while Marwan Halawi and Mazen Abu Dargham will contest the Druze seats. Earlier in the day, the engineer Michel Skaff had announced the Zahle for Everyone list. The list comprises the FPM, al-Mustaqbal Movement and independent candidates. Skaff and Michel Daher will run for the Greek Catholic seats, Salim Aoun for the Maronite seat, MP Assem Araji for the Sunni seat, Asaad Nakad for the Greek Orthodox seat, Nizar Dalloul for the Shiite seat and Marie-Jean Bilezikjian for the Armenian seat. “Our project is principled, nondebatable and nonnegotiable: preserving Lebanon's sovereignty, freedom and independence and backing the state and its constitutional institutions,” Skaff said. An electoral alliance was meanwhile announced in the Sidon-Jezzine district bringing together the FPM, the Jamaa Islamiya and Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Bizri. The list comprises al-Bizri and Bassam Hammoud for Sidon's Sunni seats, the MPs Ziad al-Aswad and Amal Abu Zeid for Jezzine's Maronite seats and Salim Khoury for Jezzine's Greek Catholic seat. The tripartite alliance is the product of several weeks of negotiations. MTV meanwhile reported that the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party have decided to form an alliance list in the Sidon-Jezzine district. The list, which will be officially announced within hours, comprises Samir al-Bizri for Sidon and Ajjaj Haddad (LF) and Joseph Nohra (Kataeb) for Jezzine, MTV said.

Hariri: Elections are a strategic matter through which we alter the country's direction
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Saturday, considered the elections as being a strategic matter through which we can change the country's direction. "It is true that we are opening dialogue with Hezbollah, yet we are putting our differences on hold...There is a problem in the country, but this problem should not develop to disrupt the citizen's life, so we agreed somewhere within the Cabinet to manage things for the benefit of the country...Today, in these elections, there are strategic matters. Here we can change the country's direction. This is the strategic point, the parliamentary elections," said Hariri. The Prime Minister's words came as he patronized the "Merehbi League" gathering in Tripoli earlier today, in presence of former MP Talal Merehbi, League Head Ghassan Merehbi and the Future Movement's Akkar candidate Tarek Merehbi. "We are going to elections in all of Lebanon...There are two lines and two paths: the one we are pursuing which calls for sovereignty, liberty, independence, and freedom of opinion and expression, while another team wants to put its hand on Lebanon and interfere, once again, in naming members of the electoral lists as we can see in Akkar and all of Lebanon," Hariri indicated. He confirmed herein that the Future Movement is fighting the electoral battle against such interference. "I want to thank each and every one of you, because our project is one of development and job opportunities...Our project is for the young men and women, and for dialogue to see Lebanon as every young man and women aspires for it to be," Hariri concluded.

Lights out at Presidential Palace for Earth Hour tonight
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - All external lights will be turned off at the Lebanese Presidential Palace for one minute at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, to partake in the global "Earth Hour" Campaign which began in most countries of the world today.
The Lebanese Television will be broadcasting the event live tonight.

Berri: The closer we get to the elections, the lower the level of political discourse
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, regretted Saturday "the dropping of political discourse, as we approach the date of the parliamentary elections, to levels that neither serve Lebanon nor its unity and image before the world." Berri's words came during a meeting with Al-Ghaziyeh Youth Football Club delegation, who visited him earlier today as they qualified for the Lebanese Forefront Football Teams. The House Speaker stressed that "the Lebanese youth remain the hope for Lebanon's future, and its bright and shinning image." He deemed that sports of all kinds have preserved their humanitarian aspect away from sects and sectarianism, despite the climates of political division witnessed in the country. "It is desirable that politicians today approach the elections with the same spirit of sportsmanship...but unfortunately, the closer we get to the date of May 6, the more the political discourse falls to levels that do not serve Lebanon and its unity and image across the world," Berri underscored.

Hariri announces Akkar Electoral List: Our battle is to stop the guardianship from laying its hand again on North Lebanon
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri patronized Saturday afternoon the Future Movement's organized ceremony in Khreibet el-Jindi in Akkar to announce the "Future is for Akkar" electoral list. In his delivered speech on the occasion, PM Hariri said: "Hello Akkar! How beautiful is Akkar! How fresh is the air in Akkar! The soil of Akkar! How beautiful are the youth of Akkar! The elderlies of Akkar! How nice are the people of Akkar! The list of Akkar, from Jumah, to Dreib, Kayteh, mountain and plain, the list of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's beloved people in more than 164 cities and villages. We decided to call it "Future is for Akkar" because hopefully together we will make the best future for Akkar! We decided to announce it from here, from the center of your Movement, the Future Movement in Akkar, to tell those who want to listen, that what Akkar has done for the Future Movement and the country, is engraved in our hearts forever. This is Akkar that we are all proud of, Akkar the coexistence between Muslims and Christians, Akkar the moderation and the first line of defense of the state, legitimacy and sovereignty. Akkar, whose sons are in the army and the security forces, exposing their lives every day, to protect Lebanon, its stability, and the safety and dignity of our people throughout Lebanon. This list, your list, the list of families, tribes and figures, who decided to unite to serve Akkar and its people and work together to stop the cycle of negligence and deprivation forever. "The Future is for Akkar" list that we are announcing today, is the guarantee for each and every one of you, that Akkar's share of the large national project that we are working on, will be major especially in terms of job opportunities for the youth in Akkar.
I, frankly, will never accept any investment project in the country in which Akkar does not have an important share. The region that protects the country with the lives of its youth, where each of its towns is sacrificing so the other areas can live in safety, stability and peace of mind, deserves special attention from the State and all Lebanese.
Every investment in Akkar, in its agriculture, development, schools, hospitals and roads, is an investment in the security and safety of all of Lebanon. The Future Movement has placed Akkar, in particular, and the whole north on a national agenda we are working day and night to achieve, from one country to the other according to the method of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. A national project that opens up new areas of employment for the youth. You started to see the results of this project in more than one institution starting from the dearest institutions to your hearts, the Army, the Internal Security Forces and all security services, that have been placed on the right line of Arab and international support, to reach economic development.
This project is the completion of Rafic Hariri's project. Otherwise, what would Rafic Hariri's project be other than ensuring stability for Lebanon, security for our people, and employment opportunities for all the Lebanese? I do not want to tell you what might become of our country, and specifically Akkar, if we lose stability and security in Lebanon. I do not have to tell you, while you live near the tragedy witnessed by our brothers in Syria. You are the people of generosity and pure Arab brotherhood, and you opened your homes to the refugees fleeing from the nightmare of the war and the regime in Syria. The choice in the elections will be easy: either stability, security, economic drive and jobs, or God forbid, economic and social nightmares.
The choice will be yours. You personally. On election day: if you vote for the Future list, the future will be for Akkar, for Lebanon, and for this political, economic and social project. However, if you do not vote, or vote for another list, you would be personally choosing to halt the project.
Here in Akkar, specifically, the choice is easy because our candidates in Akkar are all from the Future Movement, in addition to our Lebanese Forces ally who is on the list with us. I did not want to talk about the other lists but we cannot ignore what is happening! Is Bashar working on the formation of lists once again? And is Hezbollah fulfilling the task? Here in Akkar, there is a list, and in Tripoli there is a list, allies of the guardianship and Hezbollah? In Beirut and Bekaa, also the same thing.
Our battle is with these lists! Our battle is to stop guardianship from laying its hand again on Akkar, Tripoli and the North! Our battle is elections that do not surrender our regions' decision to the guardianship and its allies!
The lists of the Future Movement have taken this decision in all of Lebanon! These elections are a choice between two projects, two decisions, and two fates: Either a stable, secure Lebanon full of work, life and investment, a sovereign, independent and Arab Lebanon or a Lebanon of the guardianship, I, Saad Hariri Rafic Hariri, came to tell you today: We want an Arab Lebanon! You, in Akkar, what do you say? I cannot hear you! Raise you voices! Because the voice in Akkar resonates! The voice in Akkar is clear, honest and strong; the voice in Akkar has always reached all of Lebanon! I told you that I do not want to talk about the other lists, but I want to ask one question: what have they done for Akkar, over dozens of years, other than empty slogans and promises that do not translate into realities.
You know, and I say it humbly, that from the day this government was formed, Akkar started to see work and investment. I say it humbly because no matter what we do, we cannot repay Akkar for what it did and is engraved in my memory, my heart and my conscience since March 14, 2005 until today, and forever!" Hariri then left the podium and came closer to the large crowd of Future supporters gathered in front of him. He said: "I am here close to my beloved ones and my family in Akkar. In these elections, they want to cancel Saad Hariri, what are you going to tell them? Who are you with? I am with you and I remain for you, whatever happens. They killed Rafic Hariri, and Saad Hariri took over. We will remain standing in their face. Do not fear for me, I am in Akkar, and all these people guard me. We will continue this journey, and I want to say to those standing at the back, I am yours, we will protect Lebanon, and God willing, on May 6, we will show them who is the Future Movement, who is Saad Hariri and what is Akkar! Now I will announce the candidates on the list of "the Future is for Akkar": Hadi Hobeish, Mohamed Soleiman, Wehbe Katisha, Walid Baarini, Jean Moussa and Tarek Merehbi. In addition of course to Khoder Habib who could not be with us today for health reasons and we wish him a speedy recovery.
I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to all the MPs of the Future Bloc in Akkar who did not run for elections: Minister Moein Merehbi, MPs Khaled Daher, Khaled Zahraman, and Nidal Tohme. You are the colleagues who represented Akkar and represented me personally. We will remain together for the benefit of Akkar and the interest of all of Lebanon hopefully!" Hariri concluded.

Pakistan's Ambassador: We are committed to strengthening our historical, brotherly ties with Lebanon
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - Pakistan's Ambassador to Lebanon, Aftab Coukeir, said that his country is committed to further boosting its historical and brotherly ties with Lebanon. Celebrating Pakistan's 78th National Day in a wide reception held at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut on Friday evening, Coukeir deemed that his country "has paid a huge price for the sake of peace and stability in the world, which the international community ought to acknowledge." "We are a flexible and united nation. No one can separate between us. We will defeat the negatives and make Pakistan politically mature, socially harmonious and economically stable," he added. "We share brotherly, historical and cultural ties with Lebanon, as well as a peaceful political agenda and a progressive economic vision," the Pakistani diplomat went on. "Our leadership is fully aware of this relationship model and is committed to constantly strengthening our brotherly ties, while striving for peace and stability in the region and throughout the world," Coukeir emphasized. Attending the Pakistani National Day was a crowd of senior political officials and prominent figures and diplomats. The celebration was marked by remarkable artistic and musical shows reflecting the country's cultural heritage.

Rahi chairs second educational meeting in Bkirki
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Boutros Rahi presided over the second educational meeting in Bkirki. During the meeting, the Patriarch called on all the educational communities to "have the spirit of dialogue...and to abandon the logic of disruption and order to reach a rational and balanced solution that takes into account the interests of all." Rahi pointed out the importance of protecting the quality of education in the private schools, preserving the work of teachers' against unemployment due to the rise of school fees which reflected negatively on the parents and students. Finally, the prelate called on the State to "give serious attention to providing financial support to private schools."

Khalil, Fayyad call for heavy turnout during elections
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - The electoral committee of Amal Movement and Hezbollah held a meeting in the city of Khiam, in Akram Hamoud Hall, in the presence of Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and MP Ali Fayyad. Taking the word, Member of Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary Bloc MP Ali Fayyad called upon Khiam citizens to "heavily participate in the elections." In turn, Minister of Finance, Ali Hassan Khalil also urged Khiam residents to participate heavily in election day on May 6, in order to preserve Lebanon from the Israeli aggression and terrorism. Khalil concluded by saying "we are in drire need for a strong state that contributes to strengthening the role of institutions capable of adopting the required legislation to implement developmental projects at all levels through the House of Representatives."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 24-25/18
Syria Rebels Prepare to Quit Penultimate Pocket of Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 24/18/Syrian rebels and civilians gathered in rubble-strewn streets early on Saturday, awaiting evacuation from the penultimate opposition-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta. Faylaq al-Rahman, the Islamist rebel group that controls the area, agreed to pull out in exchange for an end to nearly five weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and its allies. The departure of thousands of fighters and civilians from the southern part of the onetime rebel bastion had been scheduled to start at 9 am (0700 GMT) but by late morning the buses had yet to arrive, an AFP correspondent reported. Dozens of fighters, their relatives, and other residents waited out in the open in the bombed-out streets of Arbin, one of the towns included in the deal. It was the first time in weeks that so many people were seen outside. Relentless shelling and air strikes had made it too dangerous to venture out of basement shelters, even to find food. Many had their bags already packed in readiness for leaving their hometowns and heading northwest to Idlib, the last province still largely under opposition control. In the nearby town of Zamalka, also included in the deal, ambulances were seen preparing to transport the sick and wounded for treatment. In addition to Zamalka and Arbin, the agreement includes Ain Terma and parts of the Jobar district -- all controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman. Eastern Ghouta was once the opposition's main bastion on the outskirts of Damascus, but the government has recaptured more than 90 percent of it through a mixture of military pressure and evacuation deals. The agreement with Faylaq came after a similar deal with the hardline Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, which saw the Ghouta town of Harasta emptied of rebel fighters on Thursday and Friday. More than 4,500 people, including over 1,400 fighters, left for Idlib, state television reported. Talks are under way over the fate of the last rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta around its main town of Douma, which is controlled by the Jaish al-Islam rebel group.

Iran Slams US Sanctions over Hacking Scheme
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 24/18/Iran on Saturday slammed new US sanctions against 10 of its citizens and an Iranian company over their alleged involvement in a massive state-sponsored hacking and intellectual property theft scheme. The US Treasury Department unveiled charges on Friday against nine Iranians along with sanctions against 10 individuals and the Mabna Institute, which it accused of hacking hundreds of universities on behalf of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi called the accusations "false"."Iran condemns the United States' provocative, illegal and unjustified actions, which are a major new sign of the hostility and animosity of US leaders towards the Iranian people," he said in a statement on the ministry's website. "They will not prevent the scientific development of the Iranian people."The two founders of the Mabna Institute, Gholamreza Rafatnejad, 38, and Ehsan Mohammadi, 37, were among the nine Iranians indicted in New York and whose assets are subject to US seizure. Since 2013, the Mabna Institute carried out cyber intrusions into the computer systems of 144 US universities, the Treasury Department said, and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries. Mabna Institute employees and contractors "engaged in the theft of valuable intellectual property and data from hundreds of US and third-country universities... for private financial gain," it said. "For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said. The US Department of Labour, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, dozens of private firms and non-governmental organisations such as the United Nations Children's Fund were also allegedly targeted. Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Iranians conducted "spearphishing" attacks designed to steal passwords from email accounts in what he called one of the largest state-sponsored hacking schemes ever uncovered. Since taking office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump has adopted a tough stance against Iran and repeatedly denounced a landmark deal that Tehran reached with world powers to curb its nuclear programme. Trump said in January that the 2015 deal must be "fixed" by May 12 or the United States will walk away.

Egyptians to Vote Monday, Sisi Re-election 'Guaranteed'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 24/18/Egyptians will choose their next president in elections starting Monday, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to easily secure a second four-year term. Some 60 million people in Egypt, the most populated Arab country, are registered to vote in three days of polling on March 26, 27, and 28. They will have the choice between the incumbent and one other candidate: Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a little-known politician who registered right before the close date for applications, saving the election from being a one-horse race. "Moussa Mostafa Moussa has little chance of winning a significant number of votes. His campaign is weak, many people do not even know he is running, and he is generally little known," said Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University. In an interview broadcast on Egyptian television this week, 63-year-old Sisi said the absence of serious opponents is not his doing. "I wish we had one, or two, or three, or 10 of the best people and you choose however you want," said Sisi.
'Result known in advance' -In the 2014 election, Sisi faced Hamdeen Sabbahi, an established left-wing politician much better known than Moussa. Still, Sisi won 96.9 percent of the vote. With Sisi's win effectively guaranteed, the authorities' concern this year would be turnout to enhance the legitimacy of the vote. Sisi has stressed in his pre-election appearances the importance of voters turning out in large numbers. In 2014, about 37 percent of voters participated in the two-day election, prompting authorities to add a third day to obtain a final participation rate of 47.5 percent.
It is unlikely this year that even that 37 percent will be achieved, said Sayed. "The result is known in advance, and this does not encourage Egyptians to go out and vote," he said. "And there is no campaigning: The voters are not exposed to and getting familiar with the candidates' ideas."During the campaign, Sisi appeared frequently on television and in newspapers, hailing factories and infrastructure projects built over the last four years. Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, are flooded with banners featuring photographs of Sisi and messages of support from business owners. Posters vowing support for Moussa, 65, are rarely seen. Many of the pro-Sisi banners carry praise for the relative calm of recent years, following the turmoil unleashed in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. But with an economic crisis and gruelling price hikes -- and the return of a regime seen as at least as authoritative as that of Mubarak -- support for Sisi appears to be slightly in decline. In his first term, Sisi had promised to restore stability, including in the economy. In 2016, he launched a three-year economic reform programme, part of a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan, which included the floating of the pound, leading to a loss of half of its value and causing prices to soar.
- Crackdown on dissent -But even as inflation spiked, no public displays of protest were witnessed under Sisi, who has led a wide crackdown on dissent since taking office. Sisi, the fifth president to hail from the military since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952, was elected president a year after leading the military ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, amid mass protests against him. Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012, in the first vote after Mubarak's ouster. But after year of divisive rule, with many Egyptians concerned about rising Islamist leanings in government, mass protests took place against him across the country, and Sisi, then head of the army, announced his ouster after an ultimatum for Morsi to call early elections. Hundreds of Morsi's supporters were killed in the August 2013 dispersal of two protest camps in Cairo, and thousands were arrested -- including Morsi himself -- and sent to mass trial in procedures condemned by the United Nations. A year later, a popular Sisi was elected as president, with the initial crackdown on Morsi's supporters expanded to include liberal and leftist secular activists. According to Reporters Without Borders, 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt. Nearly 500 websites are also blocked, while art is subject to rising censorship.

Europe Steps up Pressure on Russia over Spy Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 24/18/European countries are set to take further steps as early as Monday to punish Russia over the poisoning of a former spy in England, officials said, as diplomatic pressure builds on Moscow over the nerve agent attack. Russia, for its part, accused London of trying to force its European allies to take "confrontational steps" and unleashing an "anti-Russian campaign". EU leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to recall the bloc's ambassador from Moscow over the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday the poisoning with the Soviet-made "Novichok" agent was an "attack on European sovereignty", after EU leaders unanimously backed London's assessment that it was "highly likely" Moscow was to blame and that there was no plausible alternative explanation. A number of member states are considering following Britain's lead and expelling Russian intelligence agents posing as diplomats, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying further coordinated actions were "necessary" to respond to the attack. The 23 diplomats expelled by Moscow in a tit-for-tat move "have returned to the UK safely", British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter late Friday. The question of whether to expel Russian diplomats will be left to individual member states and EU President Donald Tusk said action was expected as early as Monday.But divisions remain over how far to go, with Austria already ruling out expelling diplomats, and Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, said it was not clear how many states would join the expulsions. "More than one but I don't think that it will be the whole group," Tusk said. Macron told a joint news conference with Merkel after the summit in Brussels that the March 4 incident -- for which Russia denies responsibility -- was "a serious challenge to our security and... an attack on European sovereignty". "It calls for a coordinated, determined response from the European Union and its member states," the French leader said. 'Extraordinary measure' -British Prime Minister Theresa May briefed other EU leaders on the probe into the attack over a summit dinner on Thursday. She managed to overcome resistance from countries like Greece and Italy who were reluctant to put their close Kremlin ties in jeopardy to persuade them to back Britain's conclusion that Moscow was to blame. Merkel said May had shared "certain findings" which left little doubt Moscow was behind the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II. "We believe that the analyses are already very well-founded and this has not been questioned by anyone," Merkel said. "We agreed -- Germany and France at least -- that such reactions are still necessary in addition to recalling the ambassador."European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the recall of the ambassador was an "extraordinary measure" never before taken by the bloc. The leaders of former Soviet bloc EU states the Czech Republic and Lithuania, as well as Denmark and Ireland, have said they were considering further unilateral steps, including expelling diplomats.
Latvia was the first to commit explicitly to expelling Russians, saying it expected to make an official announcement on Monday. - 'Confrontational steps' -Moscow denounced the moves by Britain and the EU.
"As for the decision taken, we regret in this context that again such decisions are taken using the wording 'highly likely'," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday. "We don't agree with this and we repeat again that Russia absolutely definitely has nothing to do with the Skripal case." Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Hanoi, separately accused Britain of "feverishly trying to force allies to take confrontational steps", suggesting London's focus was now on making "the crisis with Russia as deep as possible". The Russian ambassador to Britain wrote Friday to a policeman exposed to the nerve agent used against the Skripals, insisting on Moscow's innocence and thanking him for his bravery. Alexander Yakovenko told Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was released from hospital Thursday following two weeks of treatment, that he hoped the officer and the Skripals "get well soon". "I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you for your bravery when reacting to the assault on two Russian nationals," he wrote.

Bolton: Trump Should Insist on Libya-style Denuclearization for North Korea
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/John Bolton, US President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, said Trump should insist that any meeting he holds with North Korea's leader must be focused squarely on how to eliminate that country's nuclear weapons program as quickly as possible. Bolton, a hawk who Trump named on Thursday to replace H.R. McMaster in the key security role, told Radio Free Asia on Monday that discussions at the proposed summit with Kim Jong Un should be similar to those held with Libya in 2004. "Let's have this conversation by May, or even before that, and let's see how serious North Korea really is," Bolton said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on the RFA website on Friday. "If they're not prepared to have that kind of serious discussion, it could actually be a very short meeting." Bolton said North Korea had used negotiations in the past to camouflage its weapons development and he was skeptical about its intentions. He said US ally South Korea, which restarted talks with North Korea this year, should be cautious before agreeing to anything with Pyongyang. "We should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago," he said.

Policeman, who Traded Places with Hostage in France Shooting, Dies from Injuries
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/A gendarme, who offered to trade places with a hostage during Friday’s shooting rampage in France, died on Saturday morning from wounds he sustained in the operation. Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame was shot three times and also stabbed, bringing to four the death toll in the attack that took place in the southwestern town of Trebes. "He fell as a hero, giving up his life to halt the murderous outfit of a terrorist," President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement shortly before dawn on Saturday. Beltrame, who would have turned 45 in April, was a qualified parachutist who served in Iraq in 2005. He also worked as part of the elite Republican Guard that protects the presidential Elysee Place offices and residence in Paris, Macron said. Macron said of Beltrame: "In offering himself as a hostage to the terrorist holed up in the Trebes supermarket, lieutenant colonel Beltrame saved the life of a civilian hostage, showing exceptional self-sacrifice and courage."The news of Beltrame's death was first announced Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who said in a Twitter post: "Dead for his country. France will never forget his heroism, bravery and sacrifice."Friday's attacker was identified by authorities as Redouane Lakdim, a 25-year-old Moroccan-born French national from the city of Carcassonne, not far from Trebes, a tranquil town of about 5,000 people where he struck on Friday afternoon. Lakdim was known to authorities for drug-dealing and other petty crimes, but had also been under surveillance by security services in 2016-2017 for links to the radical movement, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said on Friday. "We had monitored him and did not think he had been radicalized," Collomb said after flying to the scene. His partner, who lived with him in Carcassonne, has been detained, Molins said. A second person was arrested overnight, a judicial source said on Saturday. Another source said the man, a minor born in 2000, was a friend of the gunman. Lakdim, whose rampage began when he shot at a group of police joggers and also shot the occupants of a car he stole, killed three people and injured 16 others on Friday, according to a government readout. The driver of the car remains in critical condition.
He then headed to supermarket where he took a number of people hostage. The attacker entered the supermarket saying he was a soldier of ISIS, Molins said.  He further demanded "the release of his brothers" from prison before shooting a supermarket customer and an employee dead.
"I was five meters away from him," the store's security guard said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He shot at me twice." Luckily for the security guard, "he shot badly."About 50 people were in the supermarket at the time, and though some people managed to escape, several remained inside. Beltrame was part of a team of gendarmes who were among the first to arrive at the supermarket scene. Most of the people in the supermarket escaped after hiding in a cold storage room and then fleeing through an emergency exit. He offered to trade places with a hostage the attacker was still holding, whereafter he took her place and left his mobile phone on a table, line open. When shots rang out, elite police stormed the building to kill the assailant. Police sources said Beltrame was shot three times. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. Macron has said security services are checking that claim. More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since 2015 by assailants who either pledged allegiance to ISIS or were inspired by the terror group. France is part of a group of countries whose warplanes have been bombing ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, where the group has lost substantial ground in recent months. One multiple attack by extremist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris while another killed close to 90 when a man ran a truck into partying crowds in the Riviera seaside city of Nice. Friday's assault was the first deadly attack since October 2017, when a man stabbed two young women to death in the port city of Marseille before soldiers killed him. Several attacks over the past year or more have targeted police and soldiers deployed in big numbers to protect civilians and patrol sensitive spots such as airports and train stations. A state of emergency put in place just after the 2015 Paris attacks was lifted last October when Macron's centrist government passed a new law boosting the powers of security forces.

At Least 13 Killed, 27 Wounded in Apartment Block Fire in Vietnam
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 23 March, 2018/At least 13 people were killed on Friday in an apartment block blaze in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam state media and a fire department official said. "Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation, but we also found people who had died jumping from high windows," the official said. "The injured are in stable condition now and we are still searching the block to make sure no one is still trapped in there." The blaze at Carina Plaza on Vo Van Kiet Street in the city also left 27 others injured, he said. The fire began at around 1:00 a.m. (1800 GMT Thursday) at the basement of the block and quickly spread to engulf the building, trapping hundreds of residents, according to the fire official. The fire started in the basement garage, with state media saying doors that separated the garage from the upper floors should have been shut, but they were opened, which allowed the smoke to rise to the upper floors. More than 30 fire engines and 200 firefighters were at the site and the fire was extinguished after an hour, the fire official said. The official Vietnam News Agency reported on Friday that the six-year-old block was made up of 736 separate apartments. They were built six years ago in Vietnam's southern commercial hub, formerly called Saigon. State media quoted the city's police and fire department as saying police rescued more than 100 residents while more than 1,000 escaped the fire themselves. "I did not hear any alarm or fire signals," Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted resident Nguyen Ngoc Mai as saying. "Rushing to the balcony, I could not see anything because there was a lot of smoke... I did not know what to do to save my life. Too panicked, but fortunately I was finally rescued." "We were awakened by loud noise. We ran out of the apartment but there was a lot of smoke. We only had enough time to grab the mobile phone, wet some towels to cover ourselves and ran out," online newspaper VnExpress quoted an unnamed male resident as saying. Tuoi Tre quoted Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Nguyen Thanh Phong as saying he was told by residents that the fire alarm system did not work and residents alerted others to the fire themselves. The paper also quoted Senior Lieut. Col. Nguyen Thanh Huong, the city's chief fire officer, as saying previous government regulations allowed fire safety inspections four times a year, but current regulations only allow one inspection a year. It was intended to reduce disturbing residents and businesses, but he said firefighters do not feel safe with the new regulations. Huong also said there were cases, particularly in cheap condominiums, where inferior alarm systems falsely went off and residents switched it off. Maj. Gen. Phan Anh Minh, the city's deputy police chief, told state media that the fire could have started from a motorbike's electrical system but the possibility of explosions has not been ruled out.In 2002, a fire at a trade center in downtown Ho Chi Minh City killed 60 people in one of Vietnam's worst fires.

7 Arrested in Bahrain over Arson Attack at Police Patrol
Manama - Obaid al-Suhaymi//Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Seven suspects wanted over an arson attack at a police patrol at the entrance of Deraz village have been arrested, Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The attack, according to Bahrain’s Director-General of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science, took place on March 21 and caused a minor injury to a policeman.
Crime scene specialists and other security teams were deployed to carry out an investigation, which led to identifying the suspects and arresting them, he said.
Cameras with footage showing the attack and some other evidence were also seized from the suspects. Legal proceedings were initiated to refer the case to the Public Prosecution, the official added.

Egypt FM: We Look Forward to Counter-Terrorism Coordination with India

Cairo - Sawsan Abou Hussein/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry concluded his visit to India by meeting on Friday Prime Minister Narendra Modi after chairing the seventh edition of the Egyptian-Indian Joint Committee.Shoukry delivered a message to Modi from Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on bolstering bilateral relations and maintaining contacts with the Indian premier on issues of mutual interest, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said. The minister expressed Egypt's aspiration to coordinate with India in combating terrorism and extremism. He also hoped for more coordination at international forums, as well as economic and trade cooperation in order to increase the volume of bilateral trade exchange. Shoukry highlighted the positive developments in Egyptian-Indian ties over the past three years. He also extended an invitation to Modi to visit Egypt.
Modi congratulated Shoukry on the success of the joint committee, Abu Zeid said, adding that he is looking forward to further cooperation with Egypt in the areas of investment, technology, training and combating terrorism. He also conveyed his special greetings to Sisi, wishing him success in the presidential elections. He described Egypt as a friend of India and Sisi as a great leader who succeeded in leading Egypt to safety. He noted Egypt’s efforts in fighting terrorism and extremist ideology. Modi also underlined the Egyptian government’s efforts to improve the business environment and make the country attractive to foreign investments. During his trip, Shoukry also met with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj to discuss cooperation in all fields, as well as a number of regional and international issues of common concern. Swaraj affirmed her country's keenness to coordinate and consult with Egypt on developments in the Middle East, hailing Cairo’s role in supporting stability and settling crises in the Arab region.

Head of Alexandria Security Directorate Escapes Bombing
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Alexandria's security chief Major General Mostafa al-Nemr escaped an assassination attempt after a car bomb exploded in Egypt's second city on Saturday. "On Saturday March 24 an explosive device planted underneath a car exploded ... as the Alexandria security chief drove by," the interior ministry said in a statement. Two people, including a policeman, were killed, and four others were wounded in the blast in the district of Roshdi, state news agency MENA reported. Photos on social media that Reuters could not independently verify showed a burnt out car and smoke at the site of the blast. Eyewitnesses said police and military personnel had formed a perimeter around the site of the explosion, which took place two days before the country is due to hold a presidential election. The blast also came during a wide-scale security campaign targeting Imilitants in the restive north Sinai Peninsula and other areas.

Oil Prices Rise in Strongest Showing since July 2017
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Oil prices increased one percent Friday, pushed by Saudi plans to extend output cuts into 2019. Brent crude futures were at $69.52 per barrel. For the week, Brent was set for a gain of about 5 percent, its strongest showing since July last year.
The rise of oil prices represents a challenge for the global shares market, which dropped due to concerns regarding a commercial confrontation between the US and China. Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid al-Falih revealed on Thursday that OPEC members will need to continue coordinating with Russia and other non-OPEC oil-producing countries on supply curbs in 2019 to reduce global oil inventories to desired levels. OPEC and non-OPEC countries struck a production supply agreement in January 2017 to remove 1.8 million barrels per day from global markets and end a supply glut. The cuts helped lift oil prices to current levels of around $65 per barrel. The oil producers will convene in June in Vienna to discuss further cooperation. “We know for sure that we still have some time to go before we bring inventories down to the level we consider normal and we will identify that by mid-year when we meet in Vienna,” Falih said. “And then we will hopefully by year-end identify the mechanism by which we will work in 2019,” he added during an interview with Reuters. Earlier, Falih said there is a general acceptance among producers that further coordination does not necessarily mean maintaining the same level of cuts. “It just means that the mechanism has worked and they have committed to work within that mechanism for a much longer period,” he said. “A new framework requires agility and a willingness to do things differently in terms of what levels of production as the market dictates,” Falih continued. Despite continued rapid growth in output from the United States, Falih said he did not consider the shale industry to be a threat. Falih revealed that the Kingdom may still move forward with the planned initial public offering (IPO) of Aramco in the second half of 2018. “We have prepared all documentation to be ready to do both domestic and international listings,” Falih stated. “We have not closed the door on 2018.”The Kingdom needed to be sure “that the market is ready and this is an optimum time to execute.”The minister said the company could be floated either domestically or internationally later this year. New York is still in the running for the IPO, but Saudi officials still need to weigh the potential legal risks of a listing in the United States, he continued.
The Russia World Cup Has to Save International Football from Crisis
London - Barney Ronay/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 23 March, 2018/As the friendly international spring break descended upon the season like a dose of Sunday afternoon blues, it has become a reflex response among those watching to sigh a little, to count the days, to see this severance from the teat of club football excitement as a draught of cold water, another unwelcome interruption from the dying hand of international football. In many ways this sense of deflation is a credit to the way the Premier League is sold and packaged. If not quite a reflection of its enduring tensions. It is worth being clear on this point. When the current round of 82 mixed and varied international friendlies has been played, Manchester City will still be miles clear of the field, the Premier League season still reduced to a wrangle to avoid 19th and 18th place. Serie A will still be the only major European league with anything resembling a title race. In the meantime international football, so often dismissed – with some justification – as a drowned world of by-rote mediocrity, is entering one of its periods of sharpened interest. Many of these games may look enjoyably obscure – Gibraltar vs. Latvia anyone? – or a selection of carefully staged geopolitical oddities (I bring you: Madagascar vs. Kosovo at the Stade Jean Rolland). But there is also something more tangible in train, the first real spark of the World Cup fuse, a kind of base camp for Russia 2018.
This will be the last round of friendlies before the club seasons end, a place where squads are trimmed and sharpened, tactical plans junked or fleshed out. And where we might get a sense of the look and feel of Russia 2018, European football’s last sensible international tournament before the inanities of the multi-nation Euros and Qatar’s winter-sun break. History suggests there are three key on-field components to a genuinely memorable World Cup. The first is a high-functioning top tier of teams: a pedigree winner and at least one other side touched with a little greatness to chase them across the line.
This often turns on circumstance. The most vivid teams define themselves in fine tournament details. The good news for Russia 2018’s prospects is the likely winners look both impressively stocked and genuinely hard to separate.
Hence, Friday’s round of fixtures and next week’s will produce moments of A-list gold. Argentina played Italy and will meet Spain on Tuesday. Germany played Spain and then face Brazil. Chuck in France, who played Colombia, and history, and indeed most predictions of the future, suggest the winner will come from this bunch. Germany are deserved favorites, with a method that seems beautifully grooved and some genuine depth in the player pool. Toni Kroos has matured into the real heart of this late-Löw team, all grizzled serial winners and fearless young talent. Germany do not exactly look irresistible. But they seem like a standard to beat, a default winner, supremely well-equipped to retain the title unless someone, somewhere can come up with a reason why not. Brazil are better under Tite, with less in the way of Neymar-dependence and plenty of elite club football faces. Not to mention a hard core who have played club football in Russia or Ukraine.
Spain’s blend of aging lions and sparky young guns is the usual seductive mix. Watching a midfield containing Isco, Thiago Alcântara and Andrés Iniesta might be an absorbing game within a game in its own right. France could probably pick a last-16 team from players who will not make their squad. Argentina have the greatest club footballer of all time and a rag-bag of talent and scufflers in support. There is enough here for the gears to click, the sense of destiny to take over, for at least one of the obvious A-listers to find its best rhythms. The second necessity for a functioning tournament is interest elsewhere, a generational moment from one or two of the nearly-theres: think Poland ’82, Holland through the 90s, Romania at USA 94, Colombia last time out. Again next week’s fixtures could offer some hope. Portugal are behind England in the UK betting, laughably, but they have a very decent chance of winning the World Cup. And throughout the week there are games that look like convincingly drool-worthy World Cup last-16 knockout ties. Poland, currently joint sixth in the Fifa rankings, played Nigeria. Nigeria then play Serbia. Belgium’s blend of muscular defense, attacking brilliance and Roberto Martínez has a one-off against Saudi Arabia. In the middle of which there is a genuine seam of talent, candidates for breakout success, a run to the semis, haunting penalty shootout agony. Similarly the final ingredient – the breakout-team, the Cameroon 1990 – also looks intriguingly poised. There will surely be hints this week. South Korea face Poland, Iceland play Peru, Denmark took on Panama. Even England, defiantly touting around their assortment of bafflement and inflated expectation, could surprise everyone by failing to collapse under Gareth Southgate’s cautiously dogged hand. So far, so familiar. But there is an added urgency too. Whatever your views on international football – and many younger fans, drawn more to individual players, do seem nonplussed by the spectacle of energetic mediocrity wrapped in a flag – it is undoubtedly entering a point of dramatic crisis.
Fifa is desperate for a successful World Cup. The club game continues to soar away into the stratosphere, sucking up coaching talent, setting an unmatchable bar of intensity. Meanwhile, the World Cup continues to struggle under its self-imposed yoke of corruption and tailing interest, the political difficulties of Russia, even the disaster-in-waiting of badly applied VAR. There is a genuine sense of jeopardy. International football desperately needs this to work out. And it all starts here.

Malaysia Arrests 7 Men with ISIS Links Over Attacks Plot
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/Malaysian police have arrested seven men with links to ISIS who were planning attacks on non-Muslim places of worship and other targets, Reuters quoted the authorities as saying on Saturday. The country has been on high alert since gunmen allied with ISIS carried out a series of attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighboring Indonesia, in January 2016. Six Malaysians were arrested in Johor state, north of Singapore, while a seventh, a Filipino man, was detained in the eastern state of Sabah, in multiple operations between Feb. 27 and Mar. 15, Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement. He said the six detained in Johor were members of an ISIS cell and included a 37-year-old technician who recruited new militants and was believed to be the mastermind of planned attacks on non-Muslim places of worship in the state's capital. A second suspect was a security guard who served as the cell's advisor and ensured members kept their activities secret. A third man was tasked with buying firearms from a neighboring country and identifying targets for attacks, he was quoted as saying by Reuters. "All of them planned to escape to a neighboring country and seek shelter from members of a militant group there after successfully carrying out the plan," Muhamad Fuzi said, without naming the country. Authorities arrested three other members of the same cell in follow-up operations, including a 25-year-old restaurant worker who had been ordered to kidnap and kill police personnel. Police also detained a 31-year-old Philippine national in Sabah on Borneo island. Mohamad Fuzi said the suspect had planned to carry out several attacks in Sabah and was responsible for making the state a safe haven for terror groups from the Philippines.

Two Koreas Hold Talks Next Week ahead of April Summit between Leaders
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 24 March, 2018/North and South Korea agreed on Saturday to hold high-level talks on March 29 in preparation of next month’s anticipated meeting between their leaders, Seoul announced. A team of three officials will be led by Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the country, the North told its neighbor early on Saturday, the South’s Unification Ministry said. They will meet at the border truce village of Panmunjom. “This morning, North Korea sent a message through a communication channel in Panmunjom agreeing to our suggestion made on the 22nd to hold high-level inter-Korea talks,” the Unification Ministry said in a statement. The Korean talks set for March 29 will precede musical performances in Pyongyang in early April by a group of South Korean singers making a reciprocal visit after the North sent performers to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Artists of both nations will collaborate for a show on April 3, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an aide of President Moon Jae-in. Moon plans to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un by the end of April.The summit aims to improve relations and resolve the standoff over the North's nuclear program. The leaders of the two Koreas have held talks only twice since the 1950-53 Korean War. The stakes are higher for a potential summit between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart that may take place by the end of May, however. Trump this week named John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations famed for his hawkish views on Pyongyang, to replace White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13, saying the two had disagreed over Iran and other foreign policy matters.
China expresses regret at U.S. move to file WTO challenge
Sat 24 Mar 2018 /NNA - China's commerce ministry said on Saturday that China expressed regret at the United States for filing a challenge at the World Trade Organization, adding that it has always respected WTO rules. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Friday that the USTR had filed a request for consultations with China at the WTO to address "discriminatory technology licensing agreements". China has been consistent in highly valuing the protection of intellectual property, the ministry said in a statement on its website. China has taken strong measures to protect the legal rights and interests of both domestic and foreign owners of intellectual property, the ministry said. --- Reuters

Car bomb explodes in Egypt's Alexandria, one killed
Sat 24 Mar 2018/NNA - A car bomb exploded in Egypt's second city Alexandria on Saturday, killing a policeman and wounding four others, the interior ministry said. The bombing had targeted Alexandria's security chief, the ministry said in a statement. Eyewitnesses said police and military personnel had formed a perimeter around the site of the explosion, which took place two days before the country is due to hold a presidential election. --- Reuters

Jack Wilshere: Wenger Just Said if you Can Get a Contract Elsewhere you Can Go
London - Dominic Fifield/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 23 March, 2018/It was in early August, with the new Premier League season primed, when Arsène Wenger delivered the news Jack Wilshere dreaded. The midfielder had been working up a sweat on an exercise bike in the gym at Arsenal’s training ground when the manager ambled over and left the spin session stalled. “It was an honest conversation,” Wilshere recalls. “It had been boiling up for a while. Everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and had been out on loan, got injured and wasn’t really in his plans. He just said: ‘At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.’”Almost eight months on and, as he sits in the Futsal hall at St. George’s Park, it is easier for Wilshere to reflect on such a painful memory even though, in essence, not much has changed. Arsenal’s stance may have shifted to the extent they have made a contract offer, albeit on a reduced basic wage of around £80,000 a week with significant incentives for a player whose body had proved so brittle. But, while Wilshere’s priority is to stay, he will not do so on those terms, leaving discussions at an impasse. With interest from Everton, West Ham and Juventus, the possibility remains that he could this summer leave the club he joined at the age of nine. Yet, around the issue of his long-term future, the landscape has shifted dramatically. Wilshere, for one, is clad in England training gear as he talks and is preparing to earn a first cap since Iceland and the national team’s humiliating departure from Euro 2016. His fitness has held and he has amassed more club appearances this season – 31 – than in any campaign since 2013-14, despite remaining among the Europa League and Carabao Cup fringe contingent until late November. He has even worn the captain’s armband, with his heavy involvement over the last few months and recall to the England set-up the reward for bold choices: whether that loan move to Bournemouth last season or his determination to prove he warranted a role at Arsenal this time round.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy with what the manager had said but, at the same time, part of me knew all this already,” he says. “All I needed was some clarity on where I stood at the football club. How did I feel after? It did make me think. He’d said I could fight for my position and, if I performed well in the Carabao Cup and Europa League, I’d have a chance. I had three or four weeks left in the transfer window but I didn’t find anything I wanted and at the same time I wasn’t really fit. So I decided to build up my fitness. I always had confidence I could get back into the midfield, and keep my place, if I was fit.
“I’d been in a similar situation the previous year. I’d come back from the Euros and picked up an injury in pre-season and, for the first few games, I was not in the team. I knew I had to play at that stage of my career because, the year before, I had missed a lot of football [an ankle injury had restricted him to three appearances for Arsenal]. I couldn’t just be coming on from the bench, so I went to Bournemouth. A lot of people disagreed with that decision but I played a lot of games and proved to myself I still could.
“So when the boss said I could leave, I wasn’t still thinking: ‘I need to get out and play games.’ It was more of a case of getting fully fit and showing what I could do. When I was at Bournemouth, getting back here was always the aim. This is where I wanted to be.”That sense of satisfaction stems from his restoration with club and country. Arsenal have leaned on their long-serving midfielder through the trauma of recent weeks, his displays offering encouragement as another campaign fizzles out prematurely on all but a European front and earning praise from such as Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso. For Gareth Southgate, a manager juggling midfield options, the 26-year-old’s return to fitness is timely. England have four friendlies before they confront Tunisia in Volgograd. Wilshere will have a chance to prove he warrants significant involvement. “I’ve always loved representing my country and it’s something I’ve missed,” he says. “But I never gave up hope I’d do it again. I’ve always felt this is somewhere I belong. Now it’s down to me to stake my claim. I’m not doing much different from in the past but, if I do not feel quite up to it, maybe I’ll miss a day rather than think I can get through it now. Also, I’m not going in for stupid tackles, which helps. That’s part of growing up and maturing.”The national set-up will welcome his class back into the fold, though he could yet depart for Russia with his club future unresolved. “I don’t think it would be a distraction,” adds Wilshere. “This is one of the most important years of my career and, if I’d worried about the contract, I would have probably ended up leaving in January. I just wanted to focus on getting back in the Arsenal team and then, hopefully, getting back here with England. “Ideally, yes, I’d want it sorted as soon as possible. I want to go to the World Cup and enjoy it. But we have three months till then and a lot can happen. Let’s finish the season strongly. We’ve got a big competition that we need to win with Arsenal and I want to be involved in that. Hopefully, going into the World Cup, I’ll be fit and, if selected, confident.”
The Guardian Sport

Libyan Official Holds Sarraj Responsible for Failing to Unite Army at Cairo Talks

Cairo - Khaled Mahmoud//Asharq Al Awsat/March 24/18/An official source in the Libyan National Army accused head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj of prolonging the Egypt sponsored negotiations aimed at uniting the Libyan military. A senior official in the Libyan parliament, meanwhile, doubted that UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salameh, would be successful in his mission to hold presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of the year. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the delegation, representing Sarraj at the Egypt talks, had resorted to stalling whenever discussions turned to determining the relationship between the Libyan army, in case it was unified, and the executive authorities in the country. “Sarraj took advantage of these negotiations to form the command of the army in western Libya, and now he has acquired staff and heads of branches through a series of recent military appointments," the source, who is close to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, said. "Sarraj has a formal command structure on paper only, but he not have any professional forces on ground,” the source noted, saying that this marks a precedent where “you have an army without any real soldiers.” The final communique of the Cairo meetings did not include any sign that an agreement would be reached over the army. It did however, say that meetings will be held in the Egyptian capital during the coming period in order to complete the four technical committees, which have been formed during the previous six rounds. Friday’s statement said that uniting the military will help push forward political efforts during this critical time. For his part, President of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives' National Defense and Security Committee, Talal al-Mayhoub expressed pessimism over Salameh’s efforts to amend the Skheirat agreement and hold elections by September. Mahyoub told Asharq Al-Awsat that there will be no elections before an agreement is reached on a consensual constitution in the country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 24-25/18
Trump rattles White House with Bolton shake-up
Jonathan Easley and Jordan Fabian/TheHill/March 24/18
President Trump is moving aggressively to reshape his team, and the unexpected moves are causing turmoil within his embattled staff.
The president’s supporters are cheering his decision to replace national security adviser H.R. McMaster with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, whose views are more in line with those of the president.
That sudden move comes after Trump replaced his secretary of State and national economic adviser in recent weeks — long-anticipated changes that nonetheless happened abruptly and sent shockwaves through Washington.
The staff shake-up reveals the president’s frustration with members of his old team who encouraged him to back away from or delay key policy decisions, which he frequently makes based on gut instinct.
Bolton, the hawkish former Bush administration official, has pledged to implement Trump’s agenda, even on matters in which they might disagree.
The president’s allies had grown frustrated with McMaster, believing he slow-walked the president’s agenda or sought to implement his own.
“Bolton is coming in to prosecute the president’s agenda, which sets him apart from McMaster who tried to advance his own policies and beliefs,” said a former White House official. “If Bolton sticks to that plan, he will be a success. The president wants people in the administration who, when he makes a decision, will follow through on it.”
Bolton will be Trump’s third national security adviser in just 14 months, adding to a level of turnover the White House not seen in decades.
The reshuffle is far from over.
The National Security Council is now bracing for a shake-up under Bolton’s leadership. There is hope among Trump's allies that Bolton will put an end to the damaging leaks from the National Security Council and rid the council of Obama-era holdovers — or anyone viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president.
Sources close to the council say spokesman Michael Anton and deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow could be among those on the way out.
One of Bolton’s top advisers, Richard Grenell, will not be joining Bolton in the White House. Trump has tapped Grenell to be ambassador to Germany, although Grenell is still waiting on his Senate confirmation.
But Bolton has other advisers who could be in line for key posts, including Sarah Tinsley, a longtime ally who is currently at Bolton’s super PAC, and Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst.
“Obviously, you have some folks on the [National Security Council] who are completely against this,” said one administration official. “They are bracing for a shake-up when he comes because we know he’ll want to bring in his own people. But he’s also bringing a much different worldview than what they’ve had there. It could be a tenuous situation early on.”
Bolton is not in lockstep with Trump on all national security matters. He has a strong personality and could clash with Defense Secretary James Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly, both of whom eventually soured on McMaster.
Bolton is said not to be the favored pick of Kelly or Mattis.
But his choice was cheered by Trump allies, who predicted he would find more success than McMaster, who also had ideological differences with Trump.
“It is a good move,” said Walid Phares, who was one of Trump’s national security advisers during the campaign.
“The White House and Congress both need him there at this particular junction,” Phares said.
In addition to serving as George W. Bush’s U.N. ambassador, Bolton also held key roles in the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations.
His critics have cast him as a "warmonger" whose impulse is always for military intervention.
Bolton has been vocal about ripping up the Obama administration’s deal with Iran — a position that the president shares. But he has also advocated for a military strike on North Korea at a time when the administration is pushing sanctions and potential talks between the countries.
Bolton’s allies say his reputation as a “warmonger” is overblown and that, at the end of the day, he and Trump both prescribe to Reagan’s “peace through strength” maxim.
“John understands that people view him as a warmonger but he’s really not,” said one person close to him. “He’s never worked in military planning or the Pentagon. He’s a diplomat who understands there’s no better reinforcement for American diplomacy than having the credible threat of military action behind you, and he uses that to gain a diplomatic edge. You need hard-edged diplomats like that to avoid wars. You get into wars with weak diplomacy.”
Trump’s abrupt personnel changes are still reverberating throughout the White House.
Trump’s move to replace McMaster with Bolton caught Kelly and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders by surprise. Less than a week ago, Sanders insisted there were no changes coming.
The Bolton episode highlighted Trump’s volatile decisionmaking process, which has frustrated some members of his team. 

Rumors of McMaster’s exit had swirled for months, and Kelly worked behind the scenes to craft a transition plan that would allow McMaster to land on his feet. 

After Trump axed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, speculation mounted that McMaster would be the next to go. But White House officials, including Sanders, publicly batted down the speculation after huddling with the president. 

Bolton himself seemed to be taken by surprise by the offer, which followed a Thursday afternoon meeting in the West Wing.
“Obviously it caught us off guard,” said an administration official.
But Trump’s allies say White House staff understand Trump’s volatile nature and will get over it. In the long run, they believe Bolton gives the administration a well-regarded establishment figure with broad support in the conservative foreign policy sphere.
“Bolton is a hard-nosed guy. He is not a wallflower,” the official said. “He also knows how to operate the levers of power. He is not a rookie at this, so he will be a force to be reckoned with.”

UK: Islamization Full Speed Ahead
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/March 24/2018
This is how Islamization occurs and is made permanent: Other schools will think carefully of the risks before they even attempt to "limit the Islamization process".
It is virtually impossible for "Islamophobia" to be "underreported" in London. The UK is nothing, if not clinically obsessed with "Islamophobia". In 2016, London mayor Sadiq Khan's Office for Policing and Crime announced it was spending £1.7 million taxpayer money policing speech online.
British police have even been taking lessons about Islam and "Islamophobia" from radical Islamist groups such as Mend. One of the most active Mend figures, Azad Ali, has said that he has "love" for Anwar Al-Awlaki, an influential US-born Islamic terrorist, who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The UK is accelerating its Islamization at an ever-increasing speed. The desire of the British establishment to submit to Islam appears to be overwhelming.
In a recent report, the Henry Jackson society exposed how the UK used taxpayer funds to support Islamist charities working against British society to the tune of more than six million pounds in 2017 alone. According to the report, "As the case studies in this report are illustrative rather than comprehensive, it is likely that this sum represents only the tip of the iceberg". The report concludes, "Until more comprehensive action is taken, a network of Islamist extremists operating in the UK will continue to use charities and taxpayer money to fund the spread of divisive, illiberal and intolerant views within our communities".
Among the charities detailed in the report, are several Islamic charities involved in dawa [outreach, proselytization], such as the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), as well as several charities connected to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) and Islamic Relief.
Deploying taxpayer money to support Islamic charities is not the only way in which the UK embraces Islamization.
St. Stephen's Primary School in Newham, London, was recently forced to change its ban on hijabs for girls under the age of eight, even though, in Islam, girls are not obliged to cover themselves before they reach puberty.
This reversal happened after a massive coordinated backlash by Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain -- which the UK government believes to be linked to the Muslim Brotherhood -- and MEND. The campaign against the ban included a petition, signed by more than 19,000 people as well as local councilors. Ten Newham councilors protested that, "To attack an article of faith and clothing in this manner is an outrage and is simply wrong. The argument against allowing school children of whatever age, to wear a hijab actually goes against our fundamental values as a progressive, tolerant and inclusive society. We therefore call upon the school to overturn this decision immediately..." During the coordinated campaign against the hijab ban at the school, teachers were subjected to bullying and abuse, and the head teacher responsible for introducing the ban was compared to Hitler.
The school's chair of governors, Arif Qawi, who had written in a social media post that he was trying to "limit the Islamisation process, and turn these beautiful children into modern, British citizens", also had to resign. Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said his organization welcomed Qawi's resignation, because of his "appalling" statements in support of the ban. "Yet serious questions remain unanswered as to the school leadership's attitude towards Muslims, which are potentially discriminatory...We hope that future decisions are made carefully and with full consultation with local communities." Versi said.
This is how Islamization occurs and is made permanent: Other schools will think carefully of the risks before they even attempt to "limit the Islamization process". According to the former head of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), Sir Michael Wilshaw, the lack of a national policy on wearing hijabs in schools is due to political correctness, which leaves teachers "alone, isolated and vulnerable".
"There's something like 150 schools... which in short make it compulsory for youngsters to wear a hijab -- so what's happening about those schools?", Sir Michael asked recently , "The country has enormously changed. When heads want to change things, they have now to take into account deep-seated and sincere feeling of communities, some of whom who have conservative views".
The British state evidently cares less about Islamization -- and the oppression of little girls -- than about political correctness.
The clerical establishment is also pressing Britons to accept and accommodate the ongoing Islamization more readily. Archbishop Welby cautiously admitted in November 2016 that dealing with the religiously motivated violence in Europe "requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that ISIS is 'nothing to do with Islam'... Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution."
Since then, however, he appears dutifully to have returned to the submissive fold and in February 2018, he was once more preaching the politically correct gospel of "Welcoming strangers to our country and integrating them into our culture... We must be generous and allow ourselves to change with the newcomers and create a deeper, richer way of life". One year ago, in February 2017, Welby suggested that Brexit and the election of Trump were both "in the fascist tradition".
Britain's security establishment also seems longing to submit to Islam. Scotland Yard recently warned that hate crimes ("Islamophobia", in other words, as no other hate crime is taken as seriously) are "hugely underreported". Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer, Scotland Yard's head of community engagement said: "The Met has seen a steady increase in the reporting of all hate crime, particularly racist and religious hate crime. Despite this rise, hate crime is hugely underreported and no one should suffer in silence."
It is virtually impossible for "Islamophobia" to be "underreported" in London. The UK is nothing, if not clinically obsessed with "Islamophobia". In 2016, London mayor Sadiq Khan's Office for Policing and Crime announced it was spending £1.7 million of taxpayer money policing speech online. Less than six months ago, London police teamed up with Transport for London authorities to encourage people to report hate crimes during "National Hate Crime Awareness Week", which ran from October 14-21. The events were mainly targeted at Muslims, with officers visiting the East London Mosque to encourage reporting hate crimes. British police have even been taking lessons about Islam and "Islamophobia" from radical Islamist groups such as Mend. One of the most active Mend figures, Azad Ali, has said that he has "love" for Anwar Al-Awlaki, an influential US-born Islamic terrorist, who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Meantime, while the police obsess over "Islamophobia", regular crime in London is exploding. The latest statistics from the London Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime show that in the past year, homicides have increased 27.1%, knife crimes have increased 31.3%, and there were 2,551 incidents of gun crime, representing a rise of 16.3%. Police recorded 7,613 rapes in the 12 months through January 2018 compared with 6,392 for the previous year, a rise of almost 20%. As reported by the Evening Standard, the figures also show an 8% increase in other sexual offences in the past year, bringing the total number of reported rapes and sexual assaults in London to almost 20,000. Campaigners have suggested the real figure could be "significantly higher" once unreported attacks are taken into account. British police, meanwhile, say they are at a loss to explain what is causing the rise in rapes.
The Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey was recently asked if he had any idea what was behind the surge. His answer: "No, is the honest answer... there is something going on with sexual offending in London that we don't fully understand, the causes of it. We see the end of it, [but] we don't understand the causes."
Meanwhile, 65,000 cases of child sex abuse reached a record high in 2017, or 177 every day: up 15% from 2016.
In Rotherham alone, after 16 years of dismissing the problem, the number of child abuse cases rose to 1,510. The National Crime Agency (NCA) inquiry, "the biggest of its kind in the UK, has identified 110 suspects, of whom 80% are of Pakistani heritage", officers said.
In its seeming eagerness to submit to Islam, the security establishment even appears to be willing to compare people responding to Islamization and Islamic terrorism with the Islamic terrorists themselves. In a recent lecture, one of the UK's top counterterrorism officials, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, outgoing head of counter-terrorism policing, compared Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islamist activist, often described as "far-right," to Anjem Choudary, a radical terrorist-linked Islamist cleric who has advocated sharia in the UK and is now serving a prison sentence for urging support for ISIS.
"Robinson also became a regular fixture in our media, giving him the platform to attack the whole religion of Islam by conflating acts of terrorism with the faith, often citing spurious claims, which inevitably stirred up tensions" Rowe said, "Each side feeds into each other's extremist rhetoric with the common goal of increasing tensions and divisions in communities".
Rowe also said, "The right-wing threat was not previously organized. Every now and then there's been an individual motivated by that rhetoric who has committed a terrorist act, but we've not had an organized right-wing threat like we do now".
Perhaps Rowley might stop to consider why there is now an organized right-wing threat. The British establishment -- people such as Rowley -- have categorically embraced the "Islam is peace" narrative. The establishment has even let itself and its police be lectured by radical Islamist organizations such as Mend on what Islam is -- and has doggedly refused to listen to any dissident voices. Large parts of the British population, therefore, have nowhere to turn with their frustrations at the rapid Islamization of British society, apart from anti-establishment or far-right organizations. No other organizations appear willing to have an open discussion about the ongoing Islamization. Rowley and other establishment figures, especially political ones, continue to evade responsibility for this upheaval -- a situation that seems bound to continue, unless or until the British establishment -- political, security, educational, clerical and cultural -- begins to address, openly and honestly, the rapidly increasing speed of Islamization into British society.
Unfortunately, that enquiry appears unlikely to happen.
**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.

Why Palestinians Need an Israel Victory

Daniel Pipes/Australian/March 24/2018
Dear Reader:
I am pleased to note that this article marks precisely 50 years since my first publication. It was a book review of André Fontaine, History of the Cold War that appeared in the Boston Globe on Mar. 24, 1968. The original can be seen here; an easy-to-read version is available here.
That review appeared when I was a freshman in college and it started my writing career. For some reflections on writing as a career, see here.
[Australian title: "Israeli victory essential for Middle East peace"]
The moment is right for fresh thinking in order to dispatch the old and stale Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
With Arabs focused on other issues – the Iranian nuclear weapon build-up, civil wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, Turkey going rogue, the Islamist surge, and the water drought – hoary anti-Zionist taboos have lost much of their pungency. A prosperous and strong Israel has lost hope in decades' worth of "peace process." The cowboy in the White House likes breaking with precedent. And the global Left's turn toward antisemitism, exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party, adds further reason for urgency; when it eventually holds power, the implications for Israel will be dire.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Arab-Israeli conflict will end only when the Palestinians' grievances are sufficiently satisfied so that they accept the Jewish state of Israel. This paradigm has reigned almost unchallenged since the Oslo Accords of September 1993; yet, that 25-year period has also made clear that Palestinians in overwhelming numbers (I estimate 80 percent based on scholarship and polling data going back a century) seek not peaceful co-existence with Israel but the brutal elimination of the "Zionist entity." With such attitudes, it comes as no surprise that every round of much-hyped negotiations has eventually failed.
Vladimir Jabotinsky.
I shall propose an entirely different approach to resolve the conflict, a reversion to the strategy of deterrence and victory associated with Zionism's great strategist, Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940): Israel should aim not to please its enemies but to defeat them. Counterintuitively, I shall show why Palestinians need precisely such an Israel Victory to slough off their current oppression, extremism, and violence, and to become a successful people.
An understanding of today's situation requires going back to the aftermath of World War I and the emergence of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the first modern Palestinian leader. He initiated a policy of rejectionism, of absolute refusal to accept any aspect of Jewish presence in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. A century later, that rejectionism remains the dominant strain of Palestinian life. Political differences tend to be tactical: Better to eliminate Israel by negotiating with the Israelis and winning benefits from them, or stick to the consistency of pure rejectionism? The Palestinian Authority (PA) deploys the first tactic, Hamas the second.
Over a 75-year period, 1918-93, the Jewish community in what is now Israel responded to rejectionism with deterrence, the policy of dissuading its enemies from aggression by threatening painful retaliation. However imperfectly applied, deterrence helped Israel evolve from the prospective prey of 1948 into the military powerhouse of 1993. Yes, even as Israel became a democratic, innovative, affluent, and mighty country, the basics stayed in place. Ideologies, tactics, strategies, and personnel changed, wars and treaties came and went, but Palestinian rejectionism stayed stagnantly constant.
By 1993, frustrated with the slow-moving and passive nature of deterrence, Israel's impatient citizenry opted for an immediate resolution with the Palestinians. In the Oslo Accords, each of the two parties promised the other what it most wanted: recognition and security for Israelis, dignity and autonomy for Palestinians.
In their haste to end the conflict, however, Israelis made three profound mistakes that summer morning on the White House lawn: (1) Granting Yasir Arafat, leader of an unofficial, dictatorial, and murderous organization, diplomatic parity with Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of a democratic and sovereign state. (2) Believing Arafat when he claimed to recognize Israel, when in fact he (and his successors) still sought Israel's elimination, now enhanced by his controlling two adjoining pieces of territory, the West Bank and Gaza. (3) Making concessions under the illusion that wars conclude through goodwill, when concessions actually had the contrary effect of signaling weakness and thereby amplified Palestinian hostility. These mistakes, tragically, turned a would-be "peace process" into a counterproductive "war process."
How to escape this 25-year dead end?
The study of history shows that wars typically conclude not through negotiations but through defeat and victory. According to the military historian Victor Hanson, "Conflicts throughout history become serial when an enemy is not utterly defeated and is not forced to submit to the political conditions of the victor." Defeat means giving up war ambitions. Victory means successfully imposing one's will on the enemy.
It's a simple, universal truth that Palestinians well understand. In July 2017, Fatah declared that the "campaign for Jerusalem has effectively begun and will not stop until a Palestinian victory and the release of the holy sites from Israeli occupation." Nor are they alone; thinkers and warriors in all eras concur on victory as the goal of warfare. For example, the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote "Let your great object be victory." U.S. general Douglas MacArthur stated that "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it." Victory is an intuitive human goal that only overly-sophisticated moderns could lose sight of.
Therefore, to gain Palestinian acceptance, Israel must return to its old policy of deterrence, of punishing Palestinians severely when they aggress. One example: When three family members were murdered in July 2017 while sitting down to Sabbath dinner in the Israeli West Bank town of Halamish, the Israeli response should have been to construct new buildings in Halamish and extend its boundaries.
That's deterrence; it's more than tough tactics, which Israeli governments already pursue; it means developing consistent policies to break rejectionism and encourage Palestinian acceptance of Israel. It implies a strategy to crush irredentist Palestinian ambitions so as finally to end the demonizing of Jews and Israel, recognize historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem, "normalize" relations with Israelis, close the suicide factories, and shutter the entire machinery of warfare. This process will be neither easy nor quick: it requires Palestinians to suffer the bitter crucible of defeat, with its attendant deprivation, destruction, and despair. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut.
A change of heart implies, not just a permanent absence of violence against Israelis but shutting down completely, everywhere from the United Nations to the university campus, the Palestinian-driven campaign of delegitimizing Israel.
If Palestinian defeat is good for Israel, it is ironically even better for Palestinians, who will finally be liberated from ugly ambitions, revolutionary rhetoric, and genocidal fantasies. An educated and skilled people can then improve its life by building its polity, economy, society, and culture. Think of this as a miniature version of post-1945 Germany. And if diplomacy is now premature, issues such as Jerusalem, borders, and resources can be fruitfully discussed after a Palestinian defeat. The two-state solution, an absurdity at present (it means asking Israel to strengthen its mortal enemy) will make good sense after a Palestinian defeat.
Like all outsiders to the conflict, Australians face a stark choice: either to endorse the Palestinian goal (explicit in the case of Hamas, implicit in that of the PA) of eliminating Israel or to support Israel's goal of winning its neighbors' acceptance. To state this choice makes clear there is no real choice – the first is aggressive, the second defensive; one is barbaric, the other civilized. No decent person can sanction the Palestinian goal of destroying a flourishing country.
Every prime minister since Ben Chifley and every parliamentary resolution and vote since his time has confirmed that Australian governments stand with Israel's drive to win acceptance (even if they disagree how this is to be achieved).
Western powers should support an Israel acting within legal, moral, and practical boundaries to take the steps necessary to win. They should move their Israel embassies to Jerusalem, reject the Palestinians' claim of Jerusalem as their capital, stand by the Israel Defense Forces when it punishes savagery, and join U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in denouncing the "Palestine refugee" farce whereby some children born today are deemed refugees.
Starting about a year ago, the organization I head, the Middle East Forum, has not only promoted the idea of Israel Victory but organized Israel Victory caucuses in both the Israeli parliament (26 members from 7 political parties) and the U.S. House of Representatives (a bipartisan group of 33 members). In both bodies, caucus members agree that Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are premature until Palestinians accept the permanent existence of the Jewish state; and that Israel Victory is the best way forward. Our goal is for Western leaders to urge Israel to seek victory.
Even opponents of this idea recognize its impact. Writing about Amb. Haley, Palestinian commentator Daoud Kuttab wrote that she "seems to repeat verbatim the Israeli and pro-Israeli lines of people like Daniel Pipes." The Guardian newspaper, among others, suggested that Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem under the influence of the Israel Victory Project.
Following a visit to Australia earlier this month, when I discussed this idea in private conversations, public talks, and in the media, I am now hoping for the start of an Australian movement and parliamentary caucus.
* Mr. Pipes (,, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. He recently visited Australia as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. © 2018 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Trump's War Cabinet … Against Whom?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 24/18
At an Iranian opposition event, John Bolton stood and told the thousands who had gathered: “We will celebrate with you in Tehran in 2019.” The words resonated with those inside the hall but did not receive much attention outside because the speaker was just a former ambassador.
His serious statement was not merely an interaction with the Iranian opposition's enthusiasm, but rather reflected his convictions, and this was clearly expressed three years ago in The New York Times when he wrote an article that triggered a storm of responses: “Bomb Iran!”
Bolton is the new national security adviser (NSA) appointed by US President Donald Trump as successor to H.R. McMaster. Reacting to his joining the White House team, opponents of the Trump administration have called it a “war cabinet,” because it includes such a large number of generals and conservatives.
The NSA is an important post. It was established at the beginning of the Cold War, and the holder chairs sessions covering important cases in the presence of key ministers such as the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. His office is in the presidential suite of the White House, and he is the one who briefs the president on many issues.
Bolton himself is well known for his hard-line positions, and he represents a school that believes in a strong America, at a time when Russia and China are escalating at the expense of the US, and small powers such as Iran and North Korea are threatening US security, interests and allies.
Because they do not want to discuss issues they cannot win with him, such as Iran and North Korea, Bolton’s opponents resort to throwing personal accusations at him, such as “he is racist,” and “he is against Muslims.” In fact, such descriptions are used in the media for character assassination.
Bolton certainly wants to get rid of Muslims such as those who are part of ISIS and al-Qaeda, and he wants to overthrow the clerical regime in Iran. He is against Hezbollah and the North Korean government led by Kim Jong-un.
Accordingly, let any Muslim reader who contradicts the opinion of Bolton in these cases raise a hand. I believe the majority of the 350 million Arab and Iranian Muslims are like Bolton: They share the same opinions. Even if my estimates are wrong, Bolton’s positions are the same as those of a large segment of the Middle East’s population. All of us are against extremism and extremists, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Those who accuse Bolton of racism are Khomeinists, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Western leftists.
As for Bolton’s promise to celebrate in Tehran in 2019, he is not likely to be celebrated on time by overthrowing the clerical regime. But the government of Tehran has been in a state of anxiety for the past two days, since Trump’s announcement in a tweet on the appointment of Bolton. And now the Iranians realize that their trick of bending a little to the Europeans by offering small concessions will not succeed in stopping the “bulldozer” of President Trump in his march on Tehran.
For those of us in the Middle East, and despite chaos and destruction, toppling the Iranian regime in a well-ordered way is an ideal solution to end the era of chaos that was started by Khomeini in 1979. He, the extremist Islamic groups and other regional regimes collaborating with them led the region to a series of crises, wars and a state of terror that have lasted for 40 years and made the entire world live in fear.
However, to avoid raising expectations too far, and to prevent my article from being misunderstood, the possibility of Trump and his hawkish government waging a direct war on Iran is unlikely, according to current crisis standards.
But this US administration might clash with Tehran if the Iranian regime dares to do what it did against the former administration, when it seized American sailors and humiliated them on television before the world. A foolish step like this could lead to war, and we know that the foxes of Tehran, despite their many adventures, fear the mighty. Germany and France would not succeed in softening the position of Trump, nor the positions of the rest of his Cabinet ministers: His adviser Bolton, his new Secretary of State, the new CIA director, or his Defense Secretary.
Trump’s enormous pressure on Iran will increase, as will the pressure on its allied forces and organizations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. It is more likely that the administration will increase its efforts to rid the Iraqi government of Iranian infiltration into its institutions, forces, and its security and financial apparatuses.
The pressure could reach Lebanon to weaken “Hezbollah,” and could increase pressure on organizational groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. It could also end the adolescent behavior of Qatar, which lost almost everything because of its policies against the Anti-Terror Quartet and because of its alliance with Iran and Turkey against them. What I thought was far, I can see now quite close.

Is Qatar waking up from its stupor of stubbornness?

Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 24/18
The picture is clearer now that Qatar, following months of obduracy and procrastination, issued a terror blacklist, similar to one issued by the anti-terror quartet — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The Qatari list included 19 people in all: 11 Qataris, one Saudi, four Egyptians and two Jordanians. A number of organizations which the anti-terror quartet had blacklisted were also included in the Qatari list, such as Yemen’s Ihsan Charity Association, Egypt’s Wilayat Sinai and six Qatari entities, including the Al-Karama organization.
The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash commented on Qatar’s move on Twitter: “The Qatari Interior Ministry issued a terror list that includes 19 people and 8 entities. The list includes 10 people whom the boycotting countries previously included in three of the terror lists they issued. Overcoming pride, Qatar has confirmed the evidence against it, and that its support of extremism and terrorism lies at the core of its crisis.”
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain decided to ‘boycott’ Qatar diplomatically, closed all land, air and sea routes to it (barring a few exceptions), and declared that Qatar’s authorities support destructive groups, armed Islamist militias, both Sunni and Shiite, and other organizations that seek to spread tension and strife through Arab and foreign media platforms, either in the name of democracy or in the name of jihad and the Islamic revolution.
An audacious approach
To address this Qatari role, which has been destructive since 1996 at the political, media, social and security fronts, the Arab quartet issued terror lists naming individuals, groups and institutions in Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and in Qatar itself.
The Qatari media – or rather the propaganda wing of the Muslim Brotherhood –adopted an audacious approach through European organizations which were infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood activists along with some “leftist groups” who stoked hatred against Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE long before the crisis with Qatar erupted. Iranian networks across the globe invested in this problem with Qatar out of their sense of enmity towards Saudi Arabia and not out of their love for Doha.
Quartet officials bided their time as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the quartet is not in any hurry over the Qatari issue and that nothing will change unless the reasons for severing ties are resolved. One of these most important reasons is Doha’s support for groups and individuals that harm both itself and the quartet and undermine the security of all Arabs. Does Qatar’s change of tack as regards those groups whom the Arab quartet categorizes as terrorists mark the first sign of Qatar’s awakening from its stupor of blind stubbornness? This would be a good omen and the first step towards restoring sensibility. Who could disapprove of Qatar from healing from this ailment?

The new Cold War between Russia and Britain
Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/March 24/18
The attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in London through the use of the dangerous nerve gas Novichok that was created by Russia during the Cold War constitutes the most recent chapter of the new Cold War. Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who led the team which invented the nerve agent and who currently lives in the United States after seeking asylum there, had strongly expressed remorse over his invention after the incident. The great inventor Alfred Nobel had many patents, the most notable one being the invention of dynamite and other deadly materials. After his brother died, the French press mistakenly printed his obituary calling him a murderer and other cruel names. He read his own obituary and started taking extra care of his reputation, so he decided to establish the Nobel Foundation with his own money to atone for his deadly inventions. The Nobel Awards are considered one of the most prestigious international awards today.
Iran’s regional ‘Cold War’
At the age of 90 and without a fortune to pass on like Alfred Nobel, Mirzayanov apologized for inventing the Novichok gas that almost killed Skripal and his daughter in Britain. As stated by the BBC's Arabic website, he apologized by saying: “Neither I nor any of the scientists who worked on producing and experimenting this poison thought it would be used for terrorism. It is a military weapon, a weapon of mass destruction.” Meanwhile, Iran intentionally and boldly started a Cold War in our region for decades. It has escalated this war since the outbreak of the ominous ‘Arab Spring’. The danger is that by not addressing this Cold War in the region, the problem might create a Cold World War. The Russian assassination attempt of the former Russian spy is a dangerous sign in this regard. A Western front quickly assembled to support Britain in its firm position against Moscow in light of this case. The front is composed of Britain, the United States, Germany and France. It became clear that Moscow is seriously seeking to initiate a new Cold War. Its alliance with North Korea and Iran, its annexation of Crimea, intervention in Ukraine, establishment of military bases in Syria and its rising use of vetoes in the Security Council are a clear illustration of this Russian desire.
Moscow seeks to revive Soviet era
The classic spy wars, carried out by conducting assassinations appear to be reviving. The war using leaked documents, such as WikiLeaks, is part of an old tactic that has been renewed. Electronic piracy and influencing state elections and decisions represent a new approach that has surfaced in the past few years. This is topped by Moscow’s exhibition of new sophisticated weaponry, which confirms its lack of commitment in recent years to international conventions. Moscow's greatest motivation for reviving the Cold War is its desires, as successor of the Soviet Union, and its eagerness to return as an international player on the Western stage and to establish a new bipolar international order. The vision adopted by the former American administration characterized by withdrawal from the world and isolationism greatly helped Moscow and its allies andThe ascendance of the mighty Trump to the presidency in the United States, and his recovery of his country's leading role in the world were supposed to have pushed others to reconsider their calculations. Other future scenarios remain open.

China’s espionage scandal blow for ties with Africa
Huda al-Husseini/Al Arabiya/March 24/18/
The war of spies between countries never ends; a notable example being recent developments between the UK and Russia. It’s true there is little cordiality between the two countries at present, but even spying on friendly states is a necessity of “national security.” Countries always deny accusations of espionage even when there is clear evidence.
Chinese shame
For instance, African Union (AU) countries learnt quite a lesson last year but they may not fully comprehend it because the other involved party is China. Last month, a detailed report revealed that China has been downloading sensitive information from the AU’s database for over a period of five years. The expose has led to a tense and embarrassing phase in China-Africa relations because both parties have often claimed that their political and economic partnership is based on mutual respect and trust. The recent incident in which Chinese agents are accused of infiltrating the African Union’s headquarters raises plenty of questions about the future of relations between China and some African countries.
China has strongly denied these claims while initial media reports voiced some African leaders’ anger. However, the AU’s official response has so far been in line with China’s. The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that the report about its alleged espionage is an attempt by Western powers to sow discord, adding that this will not affect the strong ties it has with Africa. China’s ambassador to the African Union dismissed the “absurd” spying claims but acknowledged they will create problems for African-Chinese relations.
The AU’s stance clarifies deep-rooted issues in its commercial and economic ties with the global power, China, as this scandal threatens to undermine the economic power and performance of the AU and Africa as a whole.
This political turmoil regarding China’s alleged spying surfaced in January 2018 when the French Le Monde newspaper published a report about China stealing secret data from the AU Headquarters. According to the report, AU officials discovered a year ago that sensitive information was being downloaded from the AU’s computers and transferred to Beijing every night, ever since the headquarters was built. Although surveillance bugs and microphones were found hidden in desks and the walls, the AU had kept silent until Le Monde’s report was published.
Impact of the expose
China built the AU’s headquarters in 2012 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for $200 million and actually brought construction material for that purpose from China. Many observers believe these developments mean China-Africa relations will decline, but economic and political partnership will continue.
There has been increased economic interdependence between China and Africa, so if any party decides to weaken ties, the economic performance of both sides will be affected adversely. For instance, China has made massive investments in Africa over the past decade. During the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation in South Africa in 2015, China pledged to allocate $60 billion for development projects across Africa. Bilateral trade estimates reached $149 billion in 2016.
China has also made security contributions in some trouble-hit areas like South Sudan. Natural resources are the main reason China sought to establish stronger political and economic ties with Africa. Therefore, losing access to these resources or even facing obstructions may hinder China’s role as the largest manufacturer in the world. Getting access to oil in Nigeria and Angola and to cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo makes it important for China to have strong ties with Africa so it maintains its status as an economic power. However, it’s worrisome that China provided everything which the African Union needs, from cement to furniture, and used these “gifts” to spy, especially as it seeks to support construction projects across Eurasia for its One Belt One Road Initiative.
African leaders opened their doors to China’s generosity mainly because of their suspicion of Western powers which colonized them and meddled in their affairs. African countries benefitted from China’s foreign policy which does not interfere in their affairs and from China’s low-interest loans. Therefore, these leaders may think the ties deserve this price, i.e. a little Chinese surveillance in exchange. Such a position, however, shows that the partnership between China and Africa is afflicted with an imbalance of power.
AU grows wary of China
China realizes this fact so it has reiterated its respect for the AU’s sovereignty and has expressed hope that it will resume its investments. Behind closed doors, Chinese officials made promises to their African counterparts to increase investment and not to intervene in their affairs. This is simply the “behind closed doors” policy which China adopts. However, it’s not possible to deny that the recent report has embarrassed some African Union members and has sown seeds of mistrust.
Although this development will not undermine relations between China and its most prominent African partners, like Rwanda and Nigeria, Botswana used what the report revealed to discourage excessive reliance on China. Relations between Botswana and China became tense after the latter pressured the former to cancel a visit the Dali Lama wanted to make. This made Botswana have second thoughts about its relations with China. However, the Botswana case is an exception and not the norm here. Accusations of espionage may lead to more adverse consequences for China if similar developments continued to happen. The African Union headquarters is not the only building which can be infiltrated as China has sealed deals to build and fund parliament buildings in Zimbabwe and Congo and to finalize parliament construction in Malawi, Seychelles, Guinea-Bissau and Lesotho.
This is in addition to construction works in Egypt’s new administrative capital. African countries will thus be more cautious when using Chinese construction companies for their future projects, especially projects related to security. They may even begin to rely on their own resources, particularly their own human resources. China has had its eyes on Africa for decades. Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Africa aimed to stop this Chinese tide. It’s too late for the US as Africa cannot do without Chinese largesse. However, since China’s flagrant violation is an unacceptable result of Chinese and African foreign policies, both parties (China and Africa) will probably blame Western media for trying to undermine Chinese-African relations. The defamation campaign against the West will allow all concerned parties to circumvent the uncomfortable facts surrounding the dynamics of relations between China and different African countries.
Secret cost of tying up with China
This will be the AU’s official policy. African leaders may remember this Chinese spying incident and take measures to monitor the activity of their biggest commercial partner, at least its activity within governmental buildings which Chinese companies constructed. In the long run, relations will not be tense as a result of these spying accusations because despite African countries’ suspicions, they will not find more trustworthy partners.
What these spying accusations revealed has raised questions about the “secret costs” for allowing China to build governmental buildings and sensitive infrastructure in Africa and other places. The Silk Road is very long and it passes through many countries, most of whom desire to work with China, as it is more stable than others and more generous in terms of constructing governmental buildings, bridges, ports and connecting railways. So do these countries think they will grow and develop at China’s expense without paying a price that harms their sovereignty?
It’s China whom great leaders once said “It is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep.” This giant is now awake.

Trump's North Korea Talks Need to Address Syrian and Iranian Proliferation
Jay Solomon/The Washington Institute/March 24/18
When Pyongyang was able to cooperate freely with Middle Eastern regimes in the past, it built a clandestine nuclear reactor in Syria, so Washington cannot afford to turn a blind eye to such activity again.
As President Trump prepares for direct negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in the coming months, one of the administration's goals for this historic dialogue should be to permanently halt Pyongyang's arms sales to the Middle East. Since the 1990s, successive U.S. administrations have held exhaustive talks with the regime aimed at ending its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, with very limited success. But Washington has never placed a high priority on shutting down North Korea's foreign proliferation networks, according to current and former U.S. officials. The result is that Pyongyang continues to export dangerous military technologies to countries such as Iran, Syria, and Egypt, despite facing draconian international sanctions.
Evidence of North Korea's clandestine role in building a plutonium-producing reactor in Syria emerged in 2007, just as the Bush administration was negotiating a disarmament deal with Pyongyang. At the time, construction of the reactor at al-Kibar was viewed as one of the worst cases of nuclear proliferation in history. Yet Washington nevertheless refrained from punishing North Korea severely in the hope of securing a diplomatic victory on the disarmament issue, according to former U.S. officials involved in the talks; the administration never demanded a full accounting of Pyongyang's activities in Syria either. That round of negotiations collapsed, however, and North Korea's nuclear arsenal grew dramatically in the ensuing years.
Although Israeli jets ultimately destroyed Syria's reactor in September 2007, killing a number of North Koreans working at the site, the United States cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the regional proliferation threat in the next round of talks. "Syria set a terrible precedent for the cause of nonproliferation," said Elliott Abrams, who served as a senior National Security Council official in the Bush administration. "North Korea basically got away scot-free with the sale."
Experts are also concerned that Pyongyang may have helped Syria develop other nuclear assets. On March 21, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a report calling for UN inspectors to visit a site near the western Syrian town of al-Qusayr, noting that the Assad regime may have built a uranium-enrichment facility there with Pyongyang's assistance.
Whatever the case, both Washington and South Korea say they will retain sanctions on the North during the next talks, despite Kim Jong-un's reported pledge to freeze all ballistic missile tests. "At this point, we have offered them nothing," South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told Face the Nation on March 18. "There will be no reward for dialogue."
This approach seems prudent given that Pyongyang's willingness to export sensitive technologies to Syria has once again been laid bare. In a confidential report, UN inspectors describe how North Korean trade companies smuggled tons of industrial equipment into Syria in recent years for what appeared to be the construction of a new chemical weapons production facility. The shipments, which were tracked by several UN member states, included acid-resistant tiles, stainless steel pipes, and other materials associated with such facilities. The UN also identified forty previously undisclosed North Korean shipments to Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center, the body that oversees chemical weapons production, between 2012 and 2017.
In addition, the UN found that Pyongyang has been deploying engineers to Syrian chemical weapons and missile plants in recent months. According to one member state, North Korean personnel were found at such facilities in Hama, Adra, and Barzah. The presumed purpose of their presence was to aid the Syrian military in its operations against rebels. Yet U.S. defense officials are also worried that the North Koreans are learning from the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, perhaps in case they need to resort to chemical attacks if conflict breaks out on the Korean peninsula. Washington believes that Pyongyang is more than willing to use such weapons, claiming that VX nerve agent was the instrument of choice when Kim Jong-un ordered the assassination of his half-brother last year in Malaysia.
UN, U.S., and Middle Eastern officials continue to express concerns about North Korea's suspected missile cooperation with Iran. Last September, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps displayed a new ballistic missile called the Khoramshahr at an annual parade in Tehran. Technical analysts say the weapon bears a sharp resemblance to North Korea's BM-25, which has a range of 3,500 kilometers—a capability that would allow Tehran to hit European capitals and Israel.
North Korea and Iran have been cooperating on missile development since the 1980s, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. Earlier versions of Iran's Shahab missiles were almost exact replicas of North Korea's Nodong series, and Western intelligence agencies tracked regular bilateral exchanges of scientists and engineers. Today, officials are trying to determine whether this cooperation remains close—and if it has extended to the nuclear field. North Korea's second-ranked political official, Kim Yong-nam, visited Tehran for ten days last August, setting off alarm bells in Western capitals. He had previously inked a scientific cooperation agreement with Iran in 2012, similar to the one he signed with Syria a decade earlier. At the time, Washington worried that the Iran agreement could presage nuclear cooperation, and such concerns persist.
To date, however, U.S., European, and UN officials say there is no smoking-gun evidence of nuclear cooperation between the two countries. And on missile development, North Korea and Iran appear to have grown largely self-sufficient, though the technical ties remain. "It doesn't seem like they need each other as much anymore," stated Uzi Rubin, an expert at Israel's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "The North Koreans are forging ahead of the Iranians in many ways."
Moreover, even U.S. allies in the Middle East have made arms deals with North Korea, say U.S. officials. Last year, the Trump administration withheld military aid from Egypt due in part to concerns that it was purchasing weapons from Pyongyang. These included 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades seized in Egyptian waters in 2016, a transaction that may have netted North Korea more than $20 million.
The Trump administration has stated that negotiations with Kim Jong-un will focus on dismantling the regime's nuclear arsenal and shuttering its proliferation networks—no surprise given that North Korea's recent advances on these fronts have caused growing unease in Washington. According to current and former U.S. officials, however, it is unclear what the administration could offer Pyongyang in return for cutting off one of the country's primary revenue sources. To be sure, North Korea is eager to roll back the punishing international sanctions, particularly those targeting its mineral and agricultural exports. But much like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong-un has shown no inclination to seriously modernize the country's economy or allow significant foreign investment, since any such steps could threaten his hold on the isolated state. Instead, the suspected depths of North Korea's economic ills mean that he will likely continue marketing his wares to bad actors in the Middle East, unless President Trump proves willing or able to offer him a sufficiently enticing alternative.
**Jay Solomon is the Segal Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.