March 26/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it
Matthew 07/13-27: "‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. ‘Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? " Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers." ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was its fall!

Keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
Second Letter to the Thessalonians 03/06-14/"We command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 25-26/18
Jesus’ Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday/Elias Bejjani/25 March/18
Lebanon elections and Hezbollah’s fearmongering about war with IsraelAli Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Use Your Brain: Artificial Intelligence Isn't Close to Replacing It/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/March 25/18
Big Tech May Be Monopolistic, But It's Good for Consumers/Michael Strain/Bloomberg//March 25/18
Will Trump Let Assad Get Away With Using Chemical Weapons in Syria?/Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/March 25/18
Palestinian Christian Theologians against Israel/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/March 25/18
Debate over intellectual freedoms and rights in Saudi Arabia/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Iran’s ‘Hitler’ facing the Trump storm/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Will New US Security Chief Take The World To War/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/March 25/18
Turkey’s Cruel Joke As Its Fighters Loot Afrin/Diana Moukalled/Arab News/March 25/18
The Saudi Aramco IPO: Back to basics/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Abbas’ deplorable legacy: Beginning of the end/Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Some causes for concern following John Bolton appointment/Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/March 25/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 25-26/18

Jesus’ Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday
Report: IDF hit Hezbollah outposts in Lebanon
Lebanese PM Hariri Leads Election Campaign Against Hezbollah
Lebanon elections and Hezbollah’s fearmongering about war with Israel
Hariri and Rifi in Electoral War of Words
Hussein al-Husseini Withdraws from Electoral Race
Hariri Meets Islamist Prisoners' Families, Urges Beirut Voter Turnout
Khalil Says Electoral Rivals Want to 'Weaken Resistance'
Jabbour Says Shiite Opposition to Take on Hizbullah in Baalbek-Hermel
Hariri announces Tripoli Electoral List: Our project is to protect the country and the North with deeds not words, with moderation not extremism, with wisdom not fake wars.
Hariri from Manara: Beirut angry at certain attempts to take control of its decision
Hariri visits Machnouk at his electoral office
Hariri meets with Islamic detainees' families
Jumblatt cables Macron denouncing Trebes terrorist attack
Arslan via Twitter: Mountain's guarantee is liberation from isolation, encouraging investments
Saleh representing Berri: Elections a decisive phase
Ezzeddine from Tyre: Our city must be ready to invest in oil resources
Rahi chairs Palm Sunday Mass in Bkirki

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 25-26/18
Keep shouting, don't become anesthetized, pope tells young people
Saudi Crown Prince visits Boston with focus on science and innovation
Bahrain announces steps against ‘malicious social media accounts’
Ghouta civilians receive aid if they pledge allegiance to Assad
US Airstrike Kills Two Qaeda 'Terrorists' in Southern Libya
US Weighs Recommendation to Expel Russian Diplomats
Hamas to Accuse PA Parties of Involvement in PM Assassination Attempt
‘Aleppo’s Artery’: A Route Paved with Death, A Money Well for Pro-Regime Militias
Israel PM Eyes Mumbai Flights after Saudi Opens Airspace
German Police Arrest ex-Catalan Leader Puigdemont
Tearful Syrians in Rebel Enclave Begin New Evacuation
Israeli Warplanes Hit Hamas in Gaza
Nigerian Town Awaits Release of Christian Girl Held by Boko Haram

Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 25-26/18
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
Report: IDF hit Hezbollah outposts in Lebanon
Liad Osmo/Ynetnews/March 25/18/Terror group's affiliated network Al Mayadeen denies reports in Al Arabiya alleging that the Israeli military had launched strikes on several outposts in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley region of Baalbek adjacent to the Syrian border. Arab media reported Sunday evening that Israel has attacked Hezbollah outposts in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley region of Baalbek adjacent to the Syrian border. The Al Arabiya network reports were denied by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen network. The terror-affiliated network cited what was described as a trustworthy source to prove that there was no basis for the reports of an Israeli attack. Hezbollah’s military public relations site also insisted that the reports were without foundation and that no attacks were launched either on Lebanese or Syrian soil. The reports come days after Israel confirmed that it was responsible for the 2007 destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor. Earlier in Sunday, head of the IDF's Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi provided his first public comment on the split with former Mossad head Tamir Pardo, who claimed that the late discovery of the Syrian nuclear reactor was an abject intelligence failure, saying it was "improper to present success as failure.""MID has a strategy of partnerships, and we don't have the privilege of working alone. Even after removing the blackout, I'm proud MID is at an all-time flourish—with Israel's citizens as benefactors," Halevi said, speaking Sunday afternoon in a conference organized by Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth to celebrate 70 years of Israeli success.
Lebanese PM Hariri Leads Election Campaign Against Hezbollah
Beirut- Paula Astih/Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/18/Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri successfully rallied people behind him after targeting in his speech Hezbollah, making it clear that voters have a choice to make between two very different political atmospheres. “The choice in the elections will be easy: stability, security, economic drive and jobs, or God forbid, economic and social nightmares,” Hariri told the people of Akkar. Hariri’s speech comes at a time when the national registry for electoral lists is almost complete, in light of partisan alliances formed nationwide. The deadline for submitting electoral lists is March 25, announced the Interior Ministry. “This election, with all due respect to all candidates, and all lists, is actually a confrontation between two lines, two approaches and two wills. Between a line that wants to protect Beirut’s political, national, Arab and Beiruti identity, and a line that wants to put its hand on Beirut’s decision and identity,” Hariri said in a speech during a ceremony held by the Future Movement at the premier’s Downtown Beirut residence to announce the electoral list of the Beirut-II district. Called “The Future Is for Beirut,” the 11-member list includes, among others, Hariri, former Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk. After announcing an electoral list he heads in Beirut, Hariri also announced his bloc’s electoral list in Akkar. Prime Minister 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. “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,” he added.
“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.”Hariri warned against Hezbollah, driven by Syrian regime head Bashar Al Assad, seeking to gain new territories in upcoming elections. “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 (Syrian influence) and Hezbollah? In Beirut and Bekaa, also the same thing,” he told the crowd. “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, oppression and assassination era,” he explained.

Lebanon elections and Hezbollah’s fearmongering about war with Israel
Ali Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
انتخابات 2018: حزب الله يرهب جمهوره بحرب إسرائيلية افتراضية

علي الأمين/20 آذار/18
Hezbollah’s election campaign for the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections in May heavily relies on fear-mongering about the possibility of a war with Israel.
Hezbollah has played a major role in formulating a new electoral law that helps it infiltrate parliamentary representation allotted to other Lebanese sects and gives it control over Shiite representation.
Hezbollah’s poor governance
However, it seems the party still faces problems with its support base. These problems mainly relate to the lack of economic development in areas under its control and there is growing criticism of its MPs for not improving the economic situation over the past nine years. Baalbeck and Hermel (located in the Beqaa Valley) which supported the party’s establishment in 1982 suffer from the worst forms of economic ills. They have been most neglected, although Hezbollah has represented them for more than 25 years. They suffer from serious social and economic problems in addition to a high rate of lawlessness and the spread of criminal gangs. To overcome these objections, Hezbollah has resorted to intimidating people and is warning of a possible war with Israel, claiming it to be an imminent threat. Hezbollah is also issuing warnings of a possible ISIS threat, irrespective of the fact that its Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah announced the party’s victory against ISIS just a few months ago!
Hezbollah is thus incapable of objectively answering the questions of its supporters regarding the poor performance of its MPs in improving the situation in Beqaa. It has also nominated the same MPs, who are accused of dereliction and corruption, for the upcoming elections – a move closer to defiance. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah thus warned of the election of MPs who are supported by ISIS and by those who fund the organization. “If I have to visit each village (in Beqaa) to garner support for Hezbollah’s electoral list, then I will,” the secretary general said. This clearly shows that people in Beqaa no longer commit to the directions of Hezbollah and its secretary general like they did in the past. Therefore, there are fears that not all of Hezbollah’s candidates will win there, unlike what has happened since 1992 and until 2009.
In response to objections by the Shiite community, Hezbollah has resorted to tactics of intimidation and is fear mongering about an impending war with ISIS, which it claims is making a comeback.
It has also used its media outlets and social media pages to air and post large amounts of reports – both real ones and fabricated ones – about an imminent Israeli war against it. However, Israeli stances are the same and nothing has changed. Thus, there is nothing that justifies these reports.
To respond to citizens’ questions on livelihood and employment, all what Hezbollah has done is intimidate people. Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has said that Hezbollah is confident about its list of candidates, which he believes will win particularly in Shiite areas and that the movement will also help its allies to win. This means that Hezbollah wants to guarantee itself a parliamentary bloc that has a solid Shiite base and MPs from different sects. Hezbollah aims to use this strong bloc to confront any constitutional or legal issues that may threaten its strategic and military role.
Undemocratic practices
However, this does not mean that Hezbollah takes the constitutional process seriously. In 2009, when the March 14 coalition won the majority of parliamentary seats, Hezbollah negated this victory, thanks to the power of its arms, and shifted the parliamentarian majority in its favor. Hezbollah even succeeded in toppling the cabinet of Saad Hariri, the leader of the March 14 bloc, and replaced him with Najib Mikati. Hezbollah’s arms are thus enough to alter constitutional formulas in its favor. At the same time, Hezbollah is greatly interested in the parliamentary elections. It helped prepare the new electoral law and followed through with the process until it was approved. It has struck alliances and now awaits the holding of elections because it wants to show everyone that it still enjoys popular support. Parliamentary elections, despite all their defects – especially amid Hezbollah’s power of arms and ability to forge results in some electoral districts that are under the party’s control like the case is in Beqaa and the south – reflect the people’s political opinions and how they have changed especially within Hezbollah’s strongholds.
Hezbollah is using all its might to fix electoral lists – not only its own but also its rivals! It’s using its political, financial and security influence to divide its rivals’ lists and politically infiltrate them.
Driving wedge in opposition
According to some sources, Hezbollah has to some extent succeeded in deepening the rift between Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement in Baalbeck, thus confusing the latter parties’ supposed allies in the Shiite community. This rift has also contributed in reviving Hezbollah’s hopes that its electoral lists will not be significantly infiltrated. An activist who is working on forming an electoral list that opposes Hezbollah and that includes all the parties which have been victimized by it has said: “In addition to managing its own electoral lists, it’s also managing its rivals,” hinting that it’s not unlikely that Hezbollah has struck a deal with other parties “to prevent its parliamentary infiltration in the Northern Beqaa.” In exchange, Hezbollah will owe the other party a political favor.The activist also claims that Hezbollah can go to any length to avoid embarrassment in the upcoming elections. Many of those who have a share in governance with it are willing to sell their prospects of victory for a cheap price by attempting to divide parties that oppose Hezbollah or weaken these parties’ via multiple electoral lists in several districts, particularly in northern Beqaa. This is the prospect Hezbollah is banking on ahead of the scheduled elections!

Hariri and Rifi in Electoral War of Words
Naharnet/March 25/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri and ex-minister Ashraf Rifi traded tirades Sunday in connection with the heated electoral battle in the northern city of Tripoli. "Talking about disloyalty, we cannot forget the world champion who is writing reports against us and accusing us of treason and in the end he says that he is fighting Hizbullah," Hariri said at a Tripoli rally to announce al-Mustaqbal Movement's candidates for the Tripoli-Minieh-Dinniyeh district. "We, al-Mustaqbal Movement, have lists in almost all of Lebanon against Hizbullah, from Shebaa to Sidon, from North Bekaa to West Bekaa, and from Zahle to Beirut and the North. We have candidates who are in direct confrontation with candidates from Hizbullah and lists supported by Hizbullah," Hariri said. "If you are against Hizbullah, why are all your lists confronting the lists of the al-Mustaqbal Movement?" Hariri added, addressing Rifi without naming him.
"If I am confronting Hizbullah, Hizbullah is attacking me, and you have nothing else to do except attacking me, what does this mean?" the premier went on to say. Rifi was quick to hit back via Twitter. "I call on PM Hariri to honor his stances by resigning from Hizbullah's government, removing the Syrian regime's cronies from his lists and turning his electoral rhetoric in Tripoli and Akkar into a political rhetoric against Hizbullah's project in Beirut," Rifi said."Loyalty to individuals is slavery and clientelism, seeing as they are humans who err and succeed," Rifi added. "We are the loyal ones who are free in our loyalty to our approach, beliefs and the cause of the martyrs, whereas those who have surrendered to the mini-state (of Hizbullah) do not have the right to call on others to also surrender," the former minister emhpasized.

Hussein al-Husseini Withdraws from Electoral Race
Naharnet/March 25/18/Former parliament speaker Hussein al-Husseini on Sunday announced his withdrawal from the electoral race in the Baalbek-Hermel district. Slamming the new electoral law as “deformed proportional representation,” Husseini said in a statement lamented that “money, arms, mouthpieces, sectarian incitement, foreign meddling and the abuse of power will be used” in the electoral process. “This is not a parliamentary vote but rather a call for legitimizing the representation of the de facto rulers,” the ex-Speaker warned. “The confrontation should now be through implementing the constitution and liberating the Lebanese from political and sectarian hegemonies... and consequently establishing a civil political system based on freedom, equality and independence,” Husseini went on to say.

Hariri Meets Islamist Prisoners' Families, Urges Beirut Voter Turnout
Naharnet/March 25/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri met Sunday afternoon with families of Islamist prisoners at the Quality Inn Hotel in Tripoli, his office said. The families have been staging protests for several weeks, demanding a “general amnesty” for their sons ahead of the parliamentary elections. Lebanese authorities have rounded up hundreds of Sunni Islamists over the last years, including some involved in bombings against civilians and deadly clashes with the Lebanese Army. They also include extremists believed to belong to al-Qaida-linked groups and the Islamic State group. A lot of Islamist prisoners and their families have decried delay in judicial procedures and trials. Some prisoners are held for several years without trial or conviction. Earlier in the day, Hariri attended a breakfast at the Manara Palace Cafe in Beirut, in the presence of ex-MP Mohammed al-Amin Itani, Mustaqbal Movement candidates for the Beirut district, and a number of Beiruti dignitaries and families. “Today Beirut is angry, because some are trying to put their hands on it,” Hariri said. “This time we cannot stay home and say that the list would win anyway. In these elections, the more the voter turnout rises, the more the chances of the rival lists will diminish,” the premier noted.

Khalil Says Electoral Rivals Want to 'Weaken Resistance'
Naharnet/March 25/18/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil on Sunday noted that some parties are seeking to win seats in the strongholds of Hizbullah and the AMAL Movement in order to “weaken the resistance.”“The sons of this region are clinging to the 'diamond army-people-resistance equation,'” Khalil said during an electoral meeting in the South. He urged all parties to “be clear in dealing with the issue of the defense strategy and how we can protect Lebanon from the threats of both the Israeli and the takfiri enemies.”“We know that some want to downsize us and our role in parliament and government... Some want to clinch seats from our lists, specifically in the region, in order to weaken us and affect the role of the resistance,” the minister added.

Jabbour Says Shiite Opposition to Take on Hizbullah in Baalbek-Hermel
Naharnet/March 25/18/Votes for opposition Shiite candidates in the Baalbek-Hermel district will mainly come from Shiite voters and not from the Lebanese Forces or al-Mustaqbal Movement, LF spokesman Charles Jabbour has said. “With the new electoral law and amid relatively balanced demographics in the Baalbek-Hermel region, we have the ability to engage in a clear battle,” Jabbour said in remarks to Kuwait's al-Seyassah newspaper published Sunday. This requires “an alliance between three main components – the Christian component which predominantly supports the LF, the Sunni component which is predominantly close to al-Mustaqbal Movement, and the Shiite component which is against the partisan Shiite duo (Hizbullah and AMAL Movement),” Jabbour added. “The importance of this component is that, for several considerations, it has the courage to confront the partisan Shiite duo,” the LF spokesman explained. He noted that “not only there is a real chance to win a Maronite, a Greek Catholic or a Sunni seat, but also to win a Shiite seat.”“Hizbullah had announced that it is seeking to win 27 out of 27 Shiite seats, so any rival win at the Shiite level will create a new Shiite dynamism which will begin in Baalbek-Hermel and extend to all Shiite districts in future electoral rounds,” Jabbour added. He pointed out that “Hizbullah is trying to avoid this, because any rival Shiite win will not be achieved by Sunni, Christian or Druze voters but certainly by Shiite voters.” “The Baalbek-Hermel battle has an exceptional sovereign nature, and that's why the LF had insisted from the very first moment not to ally with the Free Patriotic Movement in this district..., seeing as the FPM cannot confront Hizbullah in such a fierce battle in this district,” Jabbour added.
Hariri announces Tripoli Electoral List: Our project is to protect the country and the North with deeds not words, with moderation not extremism, with wisdom not fake wars.
Sun 25 Mar 2018 /NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri patronized Sunday the Future Movement's ceremony in Tripoli to announce the "Future is for the North" electoral list. In his delivered speech addressing the large crowd of supporters, Hariri said: "Do you know what the best thing in these elections is? It is to stand here in the heart of the golden triangle called, Tripoli-Minnieh-Denniye! Yes it is a golden triangle, because you are the gold that cannot be bought with the world's money. Because the loyalty in your hearts, minds and consciences, the loyalty to the Future Movement, to Saad Hariri and to Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri is the gold that detects the fake tin others think they can sell! Here, Rafic Hariri knew that he has support and that nothing in the world can break his dignity, his project, his faith in his religion, in his environment, in his Arabism and in his moderation. He believed in you and in your loyalty, you the people of Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye.
Talking about loyalty, I have to start by saluting the loyal friend Mohammed Safadi for his stance in these elections, though we would have liked him to be on the North list, your list "the Future is for the North" that we came here to announce.
I pay tribute to Mohammed Safadi, who publicly disowned the zero percent government, which not only did nothing for Tripoli, but also disrupted the projects that were ready and that we are bringing back to implement! They are trying to give the impression that the Future Movement is a stranger to Tripoli. As if we do not know that the people of Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye gave a permanent residency to Rafic Hariri, his sacrifices and his love in the hearts of each and every one of you. As if Saad Hariri does not recognize, in every moment and decision he takes, the favor of the people of Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye towards the Future Movement and the school of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
This manner of talk may be normal in the election season because they forgot how their whole political and nonpolitical presence started. Maybe they forgot how the government was formed in 2005 and who named the Prime Minister. Maybe they forgot how the list was made in 2009 and who announced the list. They said that Tripoli rejects tutelage on its decision. First, I will not discuss the issue of tutelage with them because they are experts on it, partners in it and representatives of it. Did you recognize who I am referring to or do I need to tell you the first letter of his name?
Yesterday I said in Akkar that there are lists for Bashar and Hezbollah being prepared in the North and outside. It seems they are longing for the tutelage era and for the time where the decision of Tripoli and the North was handed to the "Moumanaa" groups.
Let them all know, those on the lists of Bashar and Hezbollah, directly or indirectly: the era where they could control the decision of Tripoli will not return! The era of discord will not return and the era where they use intelligence services and weapons to impose their power will not return! They are telling you in the election season: Tripoli refuses tutelage from outside. Ok, but what about Minnieh and Denniye, do they also refuse the tutelage? Today I am here to ask for the guardianship of Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye over me. I am here to ask for your guardianship over your list, "The Future is for the North" through your votes. I, Saad Rafic Hariri, am not a guardian over Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye. But each and every one of you is a guardian over me. You know what? The best thing about lying is that it allows you to see honesty. The best thing about treason is that it makes you see altruism and the best thing about disloyalty is that it makes you see loyalty.
Talking about disloyalty, we cannot forget the world champion who is writing reports against us and accusing us of treason and in the end he says that he is fighting Hezbollah.
We, the Future Movement, have lists in almost all of Lebanon against Hezbollah, from Shebaa to Sidon, North Bekaa, West Bekaa, Zahle, Beirut and the North. We have candidates who are in direct confrontation with candidates from Hezbollah and lists supported by Hezbollah. If you are against Hezbollah, why are all your lists confronting the lists of the Future Movement and specifically the candidates of the Future Movement? If I am confronting Hezbollah and Hezbollah is attacking me, and you have nothing else to do except attacking me, what does this mean? If you know, it is a disaster, and if not, the disaster is greater!
Anyway, this region will say its word on May 6 and it will be the real response to the voices that you recognized. The word of the Future Movement is the word of Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye, from the national, developmental and social perspective.
Our project is to protect the country and the North with deeds and not words, with moderation and not extremism, with strong stance and wisdom and not with fake wars, and with honesty with the people and not by buying their friendship.
God bless the soul of Rafic Hariri who used to say: The most important thing is honesty...On May 6, we will all say the word of honesty and loyalty! It is not us who were in the Prime Ministry and watched 20 rounds of fighting in Tripoli without doing anything! As soon as Tamam Salam became Prime Minister, we ensured a political cover for the army and the internal security forces to impose stability in Tripoli and ensure the safety of our people in Tripoli. We did not bargain over detainees. When we assumed the Prime Ministry, we started working on an amnesty law and you saw that its draft is ready. We did not disrupt the projects in the region. We launched projects worth tens of millions of dollars in the infrastructure of Minnieh, Denniye and Tripoli and you are seeing them. Because ensuring employment for young men and women in Tripoli, Minnieh and Denniye is our main goal, the North's share of the national project is $3 billion. This amount is for electricity, sewage, water, communication, waste and tourism in the North. Three billions, and each billion will generate tens of thousands of new job opportunities. This is a reality and not just talk.
But this project, the project of stability, economic progress and development in the North and all over Lebanon needs something more important than financing. It needs your votes. The vote of each and every one of you. On May 6 you will decide if this project will continue or not and I am sure of your answer, in advance. A war was launched against us, against Saad Hariri and the Future Movement. It was not against those who blab because no one cares about them whether in Lebanon or outside Lebanon. We are the real nerve in confrontation, challenge and national balance.
We are the ones who change the equation, ensure that nothing comes before legitimacy and the state, and that strengthening the army and the security forces to disrupt the project against the state is one million times better than forming a militia and establishing confrontation lines in Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and other areas. We changed the equation and pushed everyone to recognize that protecting Lebanon would be by stopping the interference in the Arab affairs and preventing the Syrian fire from moving to our country. We changed the equation and said that the Sunnis in Lebanon are not weak and that their role in the national equation is stronger than any weapon and the policies of Moumanaa. We are the first defense line of the dignity of Sunnis because their dignity is the dignity of Lebanon. Lebanon's dignity, stability, moderation and Arabism are Rafic Hariri's legacy to all of us, particularly the people of Tripoli, Minnieh, Denniye and all of the North.  The stability, security, development, dignity, Arabism and moderation of the North is the trust that your list is carrying in these elections. Before announcing the names of members of the list, I want to salute and thank my colleague Ahmad Fatfat and pray for the soul of the late Badr Wanous. Now the members of your list, "The Future is for the North" are:
-Tripoli: Mohammed Kabbara, Samir Jisr, Georges Bkassini, Dima Jamali, Nehme Mahfoud, Walid Sawalhi, Laila Shahoud, and Shadi Nashabi;
-Minnieh: Uthman Alameddine;
-Denniye: Kassem Abdulaziz and Sami Fatfat.
This is your list. This is your decision and your date with truth is on May 6, to keep the 'Future for the North' and for Lebanon," Hariri concluded.

Hariri from Manara: Beirut angry at certain attempts to take control of its decision
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri indicated Sunday that the city of Beirut is angered today by certain attempts to take hold of its decision.  Speaking during a brunch held at "Palace Café" in Manara this morning, in presence of Future Movement's Beirut electoral candidates and supporters, Hariri said "his journey with the people of Beirut is long, similar to the case of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri." "There are sacrifices that we must make for the country's benefit, and we must be patient because Lebanon's rise is based solely on dialogue," he added. The Prime Minister urged the people of Beirut to vote heavily in the upcoming parliamentary elections, saying, "The higher the number of voters, the lower the chances of other lists winning." "This is a path that we will complete together, God willing, and we have to increase our efforts in these elections. We have to work together and love each other for the benefit of the Future electoral list of Beirut," Hariri concluded.

Hariri visits Machnouk at his electoral office
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Sunday the electoral office of Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nuhad el-Machnouk, at the "Lamb House" in Raouche. Speaking to a number of Beiruti families who were present during the encounter, Hariri said, "I am here only to greet you with good morning, and then leave you with my brother Nuhad before heading to Tripoli," adding, "You are in good hands with my brother Nuhad!"Earlier, Machnouk attended a brunch held in his honor by the Future Movement's educational branch in Beirut. Addressing the invitees and Future supporters, the Interior Minister said, "Your voices, the people of Beirut, will protect the city from handing over its decision to those who have insulted it, and wish to destroy its fabric by splitting up the votes and multiplying the electoral lists." Machnouk called on all Beirutis to vote heavily in the upcoming parliamentary elections, saying, "The attempt to sow despair in your hearts is a failed plan because you trust in yourselves, in being the sons of a great city." "If we do not go to the polls on May 6, then the decision of Beirut will be held by those who have insulted and abused it," he went on. "The electoral law puts us in the corner of fighting for Beirut's decision, and whoever holds the decision of Beirut holds the bulk of the country's decision," Machnouk underscored.

Hariri meets with Islamic detainees' families
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri met Sunday afternoon with the families of the Islamic detainees at the Quality Inn Hotel in Tripoli.

Jumblatt cables Macron denouncing Trebes terrorist attack
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Democratic Gathering Chief, MP Walid Jumblatt, condemned Sunday in a cable to French President Emmanuel Macron the terrorist incident that took place in a store in the town of Trebes in southwestern France, according to a statement by the Progressive Socialist Party's media bureau. Jumblatt regretted the loss of French officer Arnault Beltrame in the attack, praising his courageousness and dedication in defending his country's security and sacrificing his life to save the hostages. Jumblatt offered his sincere condolences to the late officer's family and to the French people as a whole.

Arslan via Twitter: Mountain's guarantee is liberation from isolation, encouraging investments
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Lebanese Democratic Party Chief, Displaced Minister Talal Arslan, said Sunday via Twitter that the guarantee of the "Lebanese Mountain" lies in the liberation of citizens from isolation and the encouragement of investments.
"Our decision to name our electoral list as 'The Mountain Guarantee' came with the aim of coexistence in the mountain, and liberating people from isolation and exclusion," stated Arslan. The Displaced Minister indicated that the list also anticipates "attracting tourism, industrial, agricultural and technological investments to secure the widest possible employment opportunities in the mountain, and to stabilize citizens, especially the youth generation, in their land and environment, away from fanaticism and sectarianism that have become a scourge on Lebanese society as a whole." "We also aim to ensure the return of the displaced with dignity, and to stabilize the residents and preserve their legitimate rights," he asserted. "It is necessary as well to strengthen cultural, scientific, developmental, economic and political dialogues, without which man cannot evolve to keep up with the times we live in," Arslan concluded.

Saleh representing Berri: Elections a decisive phase
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - MP Abdel-Majid Saleh considered Sunday that "the electoral phase is a very important, decisive juncture which lays the foundation for the future." "In light of this phase, the white and black lines will be revealed...In fact, there are certain projects and preparations underway at the local and regional levels that do not meet the agreement of all sides," Saleh added. Representing House Speaker Nabih Berri at a memorial ceremony held in the town of al-Qalaa earlier today, Saleh regretted "the decline of political discourse and the provocations launched by certain sides in their electoral campaigns, which neither serve Lebanon's internal national unity nor its civilized image across the world." "We at Amal Movement and Hezbollah do not block the arena before anyone and our alliance denotes a full national approach," Saleh emphasized.

Ezzeddine from Tyre: Our city must be ready to invest in oil resources
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Ezzeddine said Sunday that the city of Tyre must be ready to invest in oil resources.
Speaking during a luncheon banquet in Tyre, South Lebanon, Ezzeddine noted that "the city of Tyre must prepare to meet the challenge of discovering oil resources to support investments in this area." The Minister deemed that Tyre illustrated the image of Lebanon's message of coexistence between its citizens through their resistance and quest for modernity and development.

Rahi chairs Palm Sunday Mass in Bkirki

Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, presided over Palm Sunday Mass in Bkirky in the presence of several political and social personalities. The prelate said in his homily that "we are determined to build our society based on peace, modesty, love and tranquility." Finally, Rahi blessed the olive branches and planted the palm trees in the outer courtyard of the patriarchal edifice.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on March 25-26/18
Keep shouting, don't become anesthetized, pope tells young people
Sun 25 Mar 2018/NNA - Pope Francis, starting Holy Week services leading to Easter, urged young people on Sunday to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices or anesthetize their idealism. Francis spoke a day after hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters answered a call to action from survivors of last month's Florida high school massacre and rallied across the United States to demand tighter gun laws. He did not mention the demonstrations. The 81-year-old Roman Catholic leader led a long and solemn Palm Sunday service before tens of thousands in St. Peter's Square, many of them young people there for the Catholic Church's World Day of Youth. Carrying a woven palm branch known as a "palmurello," Francis led a procession in front of the largest church in Christendom to commemorate the day the Bible says Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a saviour, only to be crucified five days later. Drawing on biblical parallels, Francis urged the young people in the crowd not to let themselves be manipulated. "The temptation to silence young people has always existed," Francis said in the homily of a Mass. "There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive," he said. "Dear young people, you have it in you to shout," he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. "It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?"The young people in the crowd shouted, "Yes!"While Francis did not mention Saturday's marches in the United States, he has often condemned weapons manufacturing and mass shootings. Palm Sunday marked the start of a hectic week of activities for the pope. On Holy Thursday he is due to preside at two services, including one in which he will wash the feet of 12 inmates in a Rome jail to commemorate Jesus' gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he died. On Good Friday, he is due to lead a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at Rome's Colosseum. On Saturday night he leads a Easter vigil service and on Easter Sunday he delivers his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message. --- Reuters
Saudi Crown Prince visits Boston with focus on science and innovation
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 25 March 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman paid a visit to Boston that lasted several hours on Saturday before heading to New York, as part of his tour of the United States.
In Boston, Prince Mohammed met with the heads of universities and Saudi researchers and visited institutions developing artificial intelligence and technology, notably the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Four agreements were signed between MIT, Aramco, SABIC, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. The signing of these scientific and technological cooperation agreements took place on the sidelines of the Innovation to Impact Forum held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The most prominent of these agreements was a partnership between MIT and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology to collaborate on a new Saudi project named "Future Destination." The partnership includes joint agreements on research, student exchanges and entrepreneurship. The Saudi Crown Prince also visited the Mechatronics Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in addition to the IBM Watson Health center. Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a three-week visit to the United States last Tuesday and met on the first day with US President Donald Trump. The visit aims to strengthen cooperation with the United States and seek new investment opportunities.

Bahrain announces steps against ‘malicious social media accounts’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 25 March 2018/Bahrain’s interior ministry has announced they are taking “tough steps” in dealing with what they called “disruptive social media accounts”.Bahrain’s Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa made the announcement on Sunday targeting accounts that spread “malicious rumors that go against social harmony and civil peace”, adding that “security authorities would tackle any offence against national and traditional values”. According to the Bahrain News Agency (BNA), the minister said that some disruptive social media accounts claimed they were run by the Royal Court while it had been proved they were operated through malicious websites and had no links with the Royal Court or any other official organization in Bahrain. He said the Royal Court was an official authority that functioned to implement the directives of His Majesty the King in regard of supervising all constitutional organizations in the Kingdom to ensure they followed constitutional provisions in the best interests of the nation and its citizens. Thus, it is above any cyber activity against the norms and traditions of Bahrain whereas those accounts are destructive and not constructive. He said that those accounts were monitored since they relied on inaccurate information about individuals and organizations and were against the interests of the internal front. He said the operators of some of those accounts were identified and others would continue to be pursued. “We won’t be far from tracking them down and taking legal action against them even if we need to draft new legislation to tackle the latest developments in such crimes with their negative effects on members of society and the national fabric.”The Interior Minister said there would be a follow-up and steps would be taken to make them accountable in accordance with the law to stop their violations and misuse of the social media. He said it was unfortunate that the social media had been turned into a place to spread sedition and rumors rather than to strengthen community bonds.

Ghouta civilians receive aid if they pledge allegiance to Assad
Aahd Fadel, Al, 24 March 2018/A shocking video, reportedly emerging from Syria’s Ghouta, has shown an official in the Syrian regime’s parliament handing out aid packages to civilians, demanding that they cheer for President Bashar al-Assad and acknowledge him as their leader. The video stirred outrage among many viewers. Some referred to the incident as “disgusting and humiliating.”The MP, Mohammed Qaband, can be seen handing out packages containing nutritional material from a medium-sized transport vehicle. A Syrian regime soldier standing next to Qaband was also seen asking people to cheer on Assad. The civilians had to pledge their allegiance to Assad in return for aid.

US Airstrike Kills Two Qaeda 'Terrorists' in Southern Libya
Tripoli- Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/18/The United States forces announced killing “two terrorists” in an air strike in southwestern Libya on Saturday as part of efforts to deny militants a safe haven in the country’s vast desert. The strike hit on the outskirts of the city of Ubari and was carried out in coordination with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, the US Africa Command said in a statement. “At this time, we assess no civilians were killed in this strike,” the statement said. A house in the Fursan neighborhood was hit and two bodies were found there, a witness in Ubari told Reuters. Residents from the neighborhood said the house was frequented by foreigners, according to the witness, who did not want to be identified for security reasons. US forces have carried out occasional air strikes targeting militants in Libya over the past few years. They also launched an air campaign against ISIS in the terror group’s former Libyan stronghold of Sirte in 2016, as local forces battled to oust armed extremists from the city. Last year, the US said it had killed dozens of suspects in airstrikes in desert areas south of Sirte as it tried to stop militants regrouping. Libyan and Western officials have long warned about the risk of militants linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda using southern Libya as a base. Competing factions in Libya have fought for influence in the country’s south, where the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is aligned with the eastern-based government, recently stepped up military activity. Public violence has also flared in recent weeks in Sabha, about 170 km northeast of Ubari, displacing hundreds of families. On Saturday, LNA jets carried out strikes targeting mercenary forces southeast of Sabha, air force commander Mohamed Manfour said.

US Weighs Recommendation to Expel Russian Diplomats
Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/18/The White House is considering the expulsion of 20 or more Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain to enhance the special relations that unite both countries, based on a recommendation from the National Security Council. President Donald Trump is considering executing this option soon following the dispute between UK and Russia in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England, according to sources in White House. The UK accused Russia of poisoning Skripal and indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for the attempt. London ordered 23 Russian diplomats back to Moscow last week after the country concluded that Russia was responsible for the poisonings. It is believed that the US had been waiting to see what members of the European Council would do, a source with knowledge of the discussions told CNN. On Friday, 10 European countries announced they would follow the United Kingdom's lead by also expelling Russian diplomats. Meanwhile, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied rumors that Skripal had sent a letter to Putin asking him to be allowed to return to Russia. Skripal's friend, Vladimir Timoshkov told the BBC that the former Russian intelligence officer, who came to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap, regretted being a double agent and wanted to visit his family. Timoshkov said Skripal had called him from London in 2012 and told him he had written to Vladimir Putin asking to be fully pardoned and to be allowed to visit Russia where his mother, brother and other relatives lived. The Russian Embassy in the UK tweeted on its official account denying the letter saying: "There was no letter from Sergei Skripal to President Putin to allow him to come back to Russia." Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33-year-old Yulia, are still in coma after they were poisoned in the English cathedral city of Salisbury on March 4. The Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko sent a letter to police officer Nick Bailey, who was poisoned in the Sergey Skripal incident. He thanked the officer for being the first to respond and assured him Moscow wasn’t behind the poisoning. The Ambassador told Bailey that he was relieved to learn that the officer was feeling well enough to be discharged from hospital and reunited with his loved ones.“I wish you a full recovery and hope that you will be able to return to your normal life as soon as possible,” the letter read. Yakovenko also expressed “sincere gratitude” to Bailey for his bravery while “reacting to the assault on two Russian nationals, Sergey and Yulia Skripal who I hope will get well soon too.”"Please be assured that Russia has nothing to do with this reckless incident and is ready to cooperate with the British authorities with regard to the investigation both bilaterally and through international organizations," it added. According to media reports, Detective Sergeant Bailey was one of the first who tended to Sergei and Yulia when they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury so he was also exposed to a toxic agent and had to be taken to the hospital.

Hamas to Accuse PA Parties of Involvement in PM Assassination Attempt

Ramallah- Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/18/Recently surfacing signs suggest that Gaza Strip’s ruling party Hamas is moving towards accusing the Palestinian Authority and its affiliates of involvement in the assassination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah. Head of General Intelligence Majid Faraj in the Gaza Strip is among those thought by Hamas to have been involved. Despite Hamas’ inclination to point fingers towards the PA, there exists evidence tying the attempt to extremist militias. Hamas officials said they were preparing to accuse specific parties in Ramallah within a few days of announcing the end of the probe into the assassination attempt, which deepened Palestinian divisions. The PA, in turn, blamed Hamas for the assassination attempt. “PA officials insistence on stepping up their accusations against Hamas and their refusal to wait for the results of the investigation reflect a real crisis due to the exposure of crime details confirming their direct involvement,” Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. Barhoum's statement is not surprising in light of hints that Hamas leaders have resorted to blaming external parties since news of the assassination attempt first broke out. They spoke of a “play” to “disavow reconciliation” or “try to polish an alternative leadership.” But Barhoum’s statement is the first direct and explicit suggestion of PA's direct involvement. His accusations came at a time when Hamas confirmed that the coming days would reveal “the true beneficiaries of the attack targeting the convoy of Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah." “The beneficiaries of the bombing seek to torpedo reconciliation and strike security in Gaza,” he said. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas of being behind the attempted assassination of Hamdallah and Faraj and vowed to take "national, legal and financial measures" against the Gaza Strip. Abbas also attacked Hamas in an unprecedented manner, directing “big and small” threats.

‘Aleppo’s Artery’: A Route Paved with Death, A Money Well for Pro-Regime Militias

Aleppo- /Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/18/In 2014, Syria’s regime managed opening up a new off-road gateway into Aleppo city. Damascus loyalists then dubbed the route, “Aleppo artery,” after opposition factions had cut off the Aleppo-Damascus main road. The new route plays a major role in exacting regime influence, being a rich resource for regime forces and militias that allows them to collect "royalties" and ransom money. Far from being a lively artery, the route ironically is paved with life-threatening risks. Starting off from Damascus, the route connects to Homs, then Hama through the villages of Idlib, leading up to Aleppo. The original main route runs about 400 km long, but the newly opened road goes up to 600 km. Although the distance between Damascus and the center of Homs is smooth for by-passers, there is a state of great terror in the hearts of travelers approaching the peaceful countryside east of the city of Aleppo. Fear spikes even more in the countryside when approaching the area between Sheikh Hilal and Ithriyah. During the Syrian Civil War, Ithriyah became a strategically important point. It lays on the last highway under government control connecting the city of Aleppo to Khanasir and the Salamiyah region. It is an arid desert, with cars that are destroyed by battles and arbitrary checkpoints installed, often run by local combatants loyal to the regime. Collecting tariffs, checkpoints need to gather a regime-imposed sum of money before allowing vehicles inside. In areas where checkpoints exist, vehicles move at remarkable speeds attempting to escape paying fees and surpass pro-regime militias. “None can escape standing at these checkpoints because vehicles operated by militias are modern and can tackle high-speed chases and intercept escapees,” a local told Asharq Al-Awsat. More so, in case of an attempted evasion of the checkpoint, the driver will be paying a doubled royalty. Not only will those attempting to avoid paying up the militias need to do so in double, but will also do so after receiving various kinds of insults, hours in detention, and some extent of physical brutality. After bypassers pay their dues, they are then allowed a safe crossing into Aleppo and its outer skirts, local residents told Asharq Al-Awsat. “As darkness fell, cars driving through the area are less due to frequent kidnaps, aimed at collecting ransom took place,” one resident said. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the resident explained that the militia-infested route is described by most people as a "no return" route.

Israel PM Eyes Mumbai Flights after Saudi Opens Airspace
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 25/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he hopes to slash flight times between Tel Aviv and India's financial capital Mumbai, days after Air India ran the first scheduled Israel-bound service to cross Saudi airspace. The flight from New Delhi landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Thursday in a sign of a discreet warming of ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state. "What we have done here is a breakthrough to huge new markets and this is a very big change," Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. "The goal that I hope to reach is that the next flight or flights will also include direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai in five hours," his office quoted him as saying in Hebrew. Israeli national carrier El Al's current Mumbai service doglegs over the Red Sea to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia or Iran, in a journey taking around eight hours. Air India plans to run three flights a week in each direction after Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on the use of its airspace for commercial flights to Israel. Saudi Arabia, like much of the Arab world, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with the country.During a May 2017 Middle East tour, U.S. President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One in a rare direct flight between the two countries. Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Israel have a common enemy in Shiite-dominated Iran. Both are seeking to limit what they view as the Islamic Republic's expanding influence in the Middle East.

German Police Arrest ex-Catalan Leader Puigdemont
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 25/18/German police on Sunday arrested Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont as he crossed over by car from Denmark. Puigdemont "was arrested today at 11:19 am by Schleswig-Holstein's highway patrol force," a German police spokesman told AFP, adding that the detention was based on a European warrant. "He is now in police custody," added the spokesman. Puigdemont's party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa also separately confirmed that he was detained on arrival in Germany from Denmark. "It happened as he crossed the Danish-German border. He was treated well and all his lawyers are there. That is all I can say," she said. Puigdemont is wanted by Spain on charges of "rebellion" and "sedition", over his independence bid for Catalan. He had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him. Puigdemont's lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said on Twitter that Puigdemont was picked up by German police as he was traveling back to Belgium where he has been living in self-imposed exile.

Tearful Syrians in Rebel Enclave Begin New Evacuation
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 25/18/Weeping Syrians boarded buses to leave a ravaged pocket of Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, in a new wave of evacuations to clear another part of the former rebel bastion. Five weeks since the Syrian regime launched an all-out assault on Ghouta, it holds more than 90 percent of the onetime opposition stronghold on the edge of Damascus. To help it capture the rest, key government backer Russia has mediated talks with various rebel groups to negotiate withdrawals from the three remaining pockets. One area was emptied under such a deal in recent days and evacuations began late Saturday for a second part, held by the Islamist Faylaq al-Rahman rebel faction. That agreement is set to see some 7,000 rebels and civilians bused from the towns of Arbin and Zamalka and the district of Jobar to the rebel-dominated province of Idlib in northwestern Syria. After hours of delay, around 980 of them quit Ghouta on Saturday night aboard 17 buses and several ambulances. They arrived in part of Hama province near the border with Idlib on Sunday morning. Fresh evacuations were expected on Sunday. Devastated Syrian civilians and rebel fighters dressed in black gathered in the early morning in the main streets of Arbin, AFP's correspondent there said. They carried duffel bags and dragged suitcases stuffed to the brim as they shuffled past ruined buildings. By mid-morning, around 20 empty buses and ambulances had entered the town, parking at a large roundabout. Fighters and civilians began to board, bidding tearful goodbyes to their home towns before they headed to opposition territory further north.
Destroyed my future
Hamza Abbas, an opposition activist in the nearby town of Zamalka, told AFP he was planning to board the buses too. "People are very sad about leaving their homes, their land, their childhood memories and the place where they spent the best days of their childhood," he said. "They have no money, no houses, no furniture or even clothes to take with them because of this bombardment." As part of Faylaq al-Rahman's deal with Moscow, residents had been offered the option to stay in Zamalka and Arbin as the area fell under regime control. But Abbas said he would not. "I decided to leave Ghouta because how am I supposed to live alongside someone who killed my family, my siblings, my friends? With someone who destroyed me, my life, and my future?" Since it began on February 18, the Ghouta assault has left more than 1,600 civilians dead and thousands more wounded, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Even before the onslaught, the enclave's 400,000 residents had suffered for half a decade under a crippling regime siege that severely limited their access to food, medicine and other basic goods. The Syrian government has used siege tactics followed by heavy bombardment and negotiated settlements to recapture swathes territory it had lost to rebels. Damascus and Moscow have applied this "leave or die" strategy to Ghouta as well, smashing the enclave into three isolated pockets before seeking separate evacuation deals for each one. Under the first Russian-brokered deal in the region, hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham agreed to quit the town of Harasta. More than 4,500 people, including over 1,400 fighters, left Harasta for Idlib over the course of Thursday and Friday. Talks are also underway for a deal over the third and final pocket of Ghouta, held by Jaish al-Islam, which includes the region's largest town, Douma.
Buses arrive in Hama
The second agreement, reached with Faylaq al-Rahman on Friday, provides for evacuations as well as medical treatment for wounded civilians and fighters and the release of rebel-held detainees. People began leaving Faylaq-controlled territory in Ghouta late on Saturday night. Armed, masked Russian military personnel boarded each bus as it left Ghouta on Saturday night, according to an AFP correspondent.  They drove all night to Qalaat al-Madiq, a crossing point into rebel-held territory that is frequently used in such agreements. Another AFP correspondent in the town, in the central Syrian province of Hama, saw 17 buses and ambulances arrive on Sunday morning carrying the first wave of evacuees. From there, they are expected to head towards Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains mostly under rebel control. Tens of thousands of people bused out of opposition territory have been brought to Idlib in recent years under "reconciliation" deals like those negotiated in Ghouta. The population there has swelled with rebels, jihadists and civilians.  Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but has since evolved into a complex and devastating civil war.

Israeli Warplanes Hit Hamas in Gaza

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 25/18/Israeli jets pounded Hamas positions in Gaza overnight after Palestinians staged a cross-border raid into southern Israel, the military said early Sunday. "Israel Air Force fighter jets targeted a terror target in a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organization in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip," it said in an English-language statement. A Palestinian security source in the coastal enclave said the planes hit a base of Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, causing damage but no injuries. The strike on the Strip's Islamist rulers came after four Palestinians "carrying bottles filled with flammable material" breached Gaza's border fence on Saturday evening near the kibbutz of Kissufim, Israeli daily Haaretz reported, citing the army. There, they attempted to torch heavy equipment used for work on the frontier barrier, an army spokeswoman told AFP. The machinery was damaged but did not catch fire, and the attackers fled back into Gaza, she said. No casualties were reported. cident that took place yesterday is one of many severe incidents that have taken place in the security fence area," the statement said. Israel holds Hamas, which rules Gaza, accountable for all attacks launched from the blockaded coastal territory. Last month there was a surge in cross-border violence, seen as among the most serious since Israel and Hamas fought a war in 2014 -- their third since 2008.After a bomb wounded four Israeli soldiers inspecting the border fence on February 17, Israel responded by pounding 18 Hamas facilities in two waves of air strikes. Israeli ground forces also killed two Palestinian teenagers in cross-border fire.Last Sunday, Israel said it had carried out air strikes against an underground Hamas facility in the Gaza Strip. It said its ground forces had also destroyed a partly-built tunnel that could have been used for attacks on Israel.

Nigerian Town Awaits Release of Christian Girl Held by Boko Haram
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 25/18/Residents of the Nigerian town of Dapchi were hoping for the release of the last schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram, following encouraging indications from the authorities after the militants returned more than 100 youngsters they had seized. Her released schoolmates said the girl, Leah Sharibu, is a Christian who remained in captivity because she refused to convert to Islam. "There is so much expectation in the town following the news that the last remaining girl will be released," Kachalla Bukar, father of one of the schoolgirls recently freed, told AFP late Saturday by phone from the town in the northeastern state of Yobe. "We were told she was on her way but she has not yet been brought," said Kachalla, who is the spokesman of the abducted schoolgirls' parents union. The authorities had asked shopkeepers to close Saturday afternoon in anticipation of her arrival. National police chief Ibrahim Idris told reporters Saturday in Maiduguri, capital of neighboring Borno State, the girl "may be released today". Idris said he canceled a visit to Dapchi to avoid any "security hitch" in the town before Leah's arrival, without providing further details. In all, 105 of the 111 schoolgirls abducted on February 19 from their boarding school in Dapchi were released on Wednesday, raising questions about possible ransom payments. They were brought back by members of Boko Haram in nine trucks and dropped by the school.
'High spirits'
According to witnesses contacted by AFP, the girls were held on an island on Lake Chad, which is a known stronghold for fighters loyal to Boko Haram factional leader Abu Mus'ab al-Barnawi. Five of the girls died in captivity, according to their colleagues.On Saturday, soldiers deployed in Dapchi disappeared from the town's checkpoints, raising hopes for Leah's imminent release. "We believe the news of the girl's release is true because the body language of the security personnel, police and military, indicates the girl is on her way home," said resident Tijjani Goni. "The town is in high spirits and full of anticipation," Goni said. "The sudden withdrawal of soldiers from checkpoints is a clear sign the girl is coming," said fellow Dapchi resident Sanda Masida. President Muhammadu Buhari vowed on Twitter to do "everything in our power to bring Leah back safely." The Dapchi kidnapping revived painful memories in Nigeria of the April 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town also in the northeast, which caused global outrage. While some of the Chibok girls have been freed in exchange for ransom and the release of top Boko Haram commanders, a total of 112 remain in captivity. Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools giving a so-called Western education in the mainly-Muslim region as part of an insurgency that has killed at least 20,000 people and displaced more than 2.6 million since 2009. While a 2015 offensive launched by Buhari successfully reclaimed swathes of territory back from the jihadists in Nigeria, the group still stages deadly attacks on both military targets and civilians.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 25-26/18
Use Your Brain: Artificial Intelligence Isn't Close to Replacing It
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/March 25/18
Nectome promises to preserve the brains of terminally ill people in order to turn them into computer simulations -- at some point in the future when such a thing is possible. It's a startup that's easy to mock. 1 Just beyond the mockery, however, lies an important reminder to remain skeptical of modern artificial intelligence technology. The idea behind Nectome is known to mind uploading enthusiasts (yes, there's an entire culture around the idea, with a number of wealthy foundations backing the research) as "destructive uploading": A brain must be killed to map it. That macabre proposition has resulted in lots of publicity for Nectome, which predictably got lumped together with earlier efforts to deep-freeze millionaires' bodies so they could be revived when technology allows it. Nectome's biggest problem, however, isn't primarily ethical.
The company has developed a way to embalm the brain in a way that keeps all its synapses visible with an electronic microscope. That makes it possible to create a map of all of the brain's neuron connections, a "connectome." Nectome's founders believe that map is the most important element of the reconstructed human brain and that preserving it should keep all of a person's memories intact. But even these mind uploading optimists only expect the first 10,000-neuron network to be reconstructed sometime between 2021 and 2024.
So far, however, not much progress has been achieved in such reconstructions. "Didn't anyone tell them that we've known the C Elegans connectome for over a decade but haven't figured out how to reconstruct all of their memories?" Sam Gershman, a Harvard brain scientist, tweeted in response to a new story about Nectome. "And that's only 7000 synapses compared to the trillions of synapses in the human brain!"
Caenorhabditis Elegans is a tiny worm. It's not particularly smart, and its memories aren't complex, but it's not "uploadable" yet.
According to Anders Sandberg of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute, the human connectome could take up about 10 petabytes of storage. It would take some 283,000 such connectomes to match the total volume of information available on the internet today. But, contrary to the confident predictions on the Nectome site, the map probably wouldn't allow the complete reconstruction of the human brain. Experts are still arguing about how memories are stored, and many don't believe a connectome describes all, or even most, of the ways in which the human brain operates. It's not just that the technology to produce a human connectome doesn't exist yet -- there is plenty of uncertainty over what else might be needed for a "mind upload."
Building a connectome is not the only approach to the task of mind uploading. Scientists are trying, for example, to map neurons' firing activity over time; they are decades away from getting anywhere with a human brain.
And that's even before scientists begin to contemplate philosophical issues, such as whether an uploaded mind will be the same personality as the original "owner" of the brain.
The human brain may not be the most efficient form of intelligence; it needs a lot of biological backup machinery to make up for cells that die all the time, and its ability to store data is not as reliable as that of computers. Someday, many years from now, technology will probably exist that will be able to reconstruct the brain while cutting some corners for improved efficiency. But it's unlikely to be able to replicate every nuance of perception, memory, emotion, intuition.
We often talk about today's artificial intelligence -- based on algorithms that essentially use the brute force of computers to crunch problems such as image recognition -- as if it'll soon replace humans at complex creative and communicative tasks. That kind of AI, however, will never do it. Progress along the same lines can produce smarter digital assistants than today's Siri or Alexa. But a human, equipped with a computer, will still run circles around them because of the sheer, currently irreproducible complexity of the human brain.
I'd argue that a truly intelligent artificial entity -- intelligent like a person, with all the versatility it implies -- would need to run a relatively faithful reconstruction of the brain. Different kinds of intelligence than ours are possible, and they can be better than humans at some tasks, like playing chess or even safely driving a vehicle. But the human experience isn't limited to the mechanical performance of tasks. It depends on flashes of brilliance, and often on failures, to advance mankind.
Recreating the human brain is the holy grail of artificial intelligence. So far, even the most extreme optimists of mind uploading see it only in the distant future. With all the AI hype, we tend to underestimate the supercomputers we carry around in our skulls.

Big Tech May Be Monopolistic, But It's Good for Consumers
Michael Strain/Bloomberg//March 25/18
“Big tech” is under increasing scrutiny. Tech giants like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook are being accused of a wide variety of sins: promulgating fake news, stifling innovative competitors, and crushing mom-and-pop shops, to name a few. Some critics have gone so far as to call for these powerful companies to be converted into public utilities. Others want the government to use its antitrust powers to break up big tech. This borders on the absurd. For the past half century, the US government has followed the best standard that economists and legal scholars have come up with to define anticompetitive behavior: Are these companies threatening or reducing the welfare of consumers as determined by the prices, quality of products and services, and choices consumers face and the benefits of economic innovation that consumers enjoy?
This is the right standard. Another standard that could be used in antitrust enforcement is essentially "big is bad" -- the presumption that large and powerful companies should be suspect because of the political and economic influence they wield. This vague, fuzzier standard is inferior. It ignores the good things that come from size, including the ability to produce output at lower cost. It also invites regulatory mischief. And it weakens the focus on the benefits competitive markets offer to consumers.
By the standard of consumer welfare, big tech is a blessing. I have been using Gmail every day for over a decade. It operates flawlessly. And its search feature is so good that it acts as a virtual diary, allowing me to revisit correspondence from years ago with just a few keystrokes. Google, the creator and operator of Gmail, has charged me exactly zero dollars for this fantastic product. Amazon is pushing prices so low that some believe it is reducing the rate of price inflation for the overall economy. Apple put a sleek computer -- and the ability to access previously unimaginable quantities of knowledge -- in our pockets.
In short, by the standards of consumer welfare -- providing a variety of high-quality products, innovation, low prices -- big tech is one of the best things to happen in the economy in decades.
A more subtle argument against big tech involves the future: Yes, many new and innovative products are given away free today. But what effect is big tech having on tomorrow’s prices and innovation?
This argument assumes that big tech is stifling the competition today that tomorrow would lead to innovation or lower prices. I’m not sold. It is certainly true that consumer welfare can be harmed by the absence of products that might have been created if a market had had more competition. But look at what is actually happening: Big tech firms plow revenue into research and development in order to continue creating new and better products. These companies are innovation powerhouses, and there are no signs that that will change.
Are they stifling competition in news and information? Hardly. It wasn’t long ago that the average American’s choice in news consumption was the morning paper and three networks for the nightly news. Thanks to Google, for example, you can type in a few keywords and read dozens of news stories on your topic of choice.
Because of the importance of network size and upfront investment, does the tech sector naturally tend toward concentration? This is a reasonable argument. But it must contend with the fact that the web browser Netscape fell to Internet Explorer, that Hotmail was displaced by Gmail, the decline of America Online, that many speculate Apple’s ability to innovate is descending, and that Facebook “is losing its teenage users” because -- in the words of The Guardian -- “parents killed it.”
In other words: These companies haven’t been dominant for that long, there were dominant tech companies before them, and we shouldn’t assume that the current market leaders will dominate forever.
Yet another concern is that the tendency of tech giants to gobble up startups is suppressing innovation -- Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and Google’s purchase of YouTube, as examples. But it’s just as possible that the opportunity for an entrepreneur to create something great and sell it to big tech encourages more innovation than it suppresses. And by the standards of consumer welfare, it is not clear that it matters whether Facebook or shareholders or the founders own Instagram.
And let’s assume for the sake of argument that Amazon’s master plan actually is to dominate all retail sales -- including groceries -- by charging low prices that squeeze the profit margins of its competitors (again, a great thing for your pocketbook) and then, at some point in the future, jacking up prices and harvesting outsize profits. Even if that lay in store, the appropriate regulatory response would be to wait until much more evidence accumulates that Amazon actually might harm consumers and reduce competition. Online sales make up less than 10 percent of all retail sales. Walmart’s revenue is more than twice Amazon’s. It’s not time to call in the trust busters. This is not to say that big tech is without concern. There is a conversation to be had about the influence that social media companies like Facebook have on the public debate and in our political system. Its guiding light must be the preservation of free speech. But issues like the role of bots, the hosting of political content, and the amount of responsibility Facebook has over the content on its platform should be discussed. In addition, it is reasonable to be concerned about consumer ownership of social network data and search and purchasing histories, and about data security. But break up big tech? No. That would shatter some of the greatest achievements of the American economy.

Will Trump Let Assad Get Away With Using Chemical Weapons in Syria?

Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/March 25/18
The Trump administration maintains that it won’t tolerate chemical weapons attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its partners in Syria, despite reported widespread use of chlorine gas, along with credible reports of the nerve agent sarin. But there’s no real plan to stop these war crimes, and America’s credibility is on the line. As the Syrian war enters its eighth year, national security adviser HR McMaster called Thursday for punishing Moscow and Tehran for their part in ongoing atrocities in Syria. Such actions, he suggested, should have serious political and economic consequences.
“All civilized nations must hold Iran and Russia accountable for their role in enabling atrocities and perpetuating human suffering in Syria,” McMaster said at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Assad should not have impunity for his crimes, and neither should his sponsors,” he continued.
The regime’s attacks on civilians are worst now in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. Roughly 400,000 people are besieged by Assad’s forces, supported by Iranian-backed militias and Russian air power. The bombs raining down often disperse deadly gas. The UN special envoy for Syria has called Eastern Ghouta the “epicenter of suffering.”
It’s unclear what the Trump administration is prepared to do about it. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened last week that President Trump would respond militarily, as he did last April, if chemical weapons use continued. “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action,” she said at the UN Security Council.
Diplomats around the world scrambled to analyze the credibility of Haley’s threat. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces, warned that Russia would strike back this time. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called in Jon Huntsman, US ambassador to Moscow, to convey the same warning privately.
Haley’s comments were cleared through the interagency process, but no decision on military force has been made. The Pentagon doesn’t favor attacking Assad near Damascus, although Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said recently that “it would be very unwise” for Assad to continue using weaponized gas. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson favored negotiation with Moscow — before he was fired. Trump’s personal views are unknown.
Before any strike, the Trump administration would have to build an ironclad case of chemical weapons use, nearly impossible given the chaotic situation on the ground. White Helmets rescue workers and local doctors have collected ample evidence of chorine attacks, but verification could take months.
“We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place . . . so that our response can meet the threat,” CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo said March 11.
That leaves the United States and its partners searching for other tools. Haley’s staff is trying earnestly to negotiate a new cease-fire resolution at the United Nations, as well as a new resolution on monitoring chemical weapons use. In 2013, President Barack Obama’s threat of force preceded a deal with Moscow on chemical weapons. But there’s little chance that Russia will allow anything meaningful to succeed this time around.
Nevertheless, there’s much the United States can do. The Holocaust Museum issued a report last week recommending ways to protect civilians from chemical and other weapons. The report focuses on raising pressure on Moscow and Tehran, securing humanitarian access, supporting civil society in liberated areas and pursuing accountability for war criminals.
The House has already passed legislation to impose sanctions on Assad for war crimes and halt the flow of weapons used to kill civilians. The law is named after “Caesar,” the Syrian military photographer who smuggled out 55,000 images proving the Assad regime’s torture and murder of civilians in custody. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) prefers alternate legislation focusing more on investigating war crimes. The Trump administration hasn’t come out in favor of either approach.
If nothing happens before Eastern Ghouta falls, Haley and McMaster’s bluff will have been called. That spells disaster for upcoming diplomatic standoffs with Assad, Russia and Iran in other parts of Syria.
“Assad is challenging the will and the seriousness of the Trump administration,” said Hadi Al-Bahra, of the Syrian opposition negotiations commission. “As long as the regime can continue bombing with no consequences, they will never sit down at the negotiating table.”
The fallout will extend beyond Syria. In September 2013, then-Rep. Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argued in a Post op-ed that the U.S. failure to respond to chemical weapons use in Syria would embolden not only Assad but also other rogue actors, including Iran and North Korea. “Core US national security interests are implicated in Syria,” they wrote. That was right then and is still right now. When it comes to protecting Syrian civilians from chemical weapons, our interests and our morals align. So long as the atrocities continue, the flow of refugees will increase, extremism will worsen and the war will never end.

Palestinian Christian Theologians against Israel
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/March 25/18
The purpose here is not to condemn the church for what it believes. These beliefs, however, make it difficult to understand how the leaders of a church can advocate such intimate relations with Muslims, for whom everything Christians believe is pure blasphemy.
In the Qur'an, Jesus is regarded, not as God or the Son of God, but as a prophet inferior to Muhammad. The Qur'an is emphatic in saying that Jesus was not crucified, but that someone else was substituted for him. Therefore, Christ did not die to save mankind; this salvation is reserved only for those who believe in the God of the prophet Muhammad.
No one is suggesting that Palestinian Christians should invite their own deaths by outrightly defying the Muslim majority. It seems inexplicable, however, why these Christians prefer to join with the Islamic resistance rather than to remain silent, accept their supposedly inferior status, and refrain from overt endorsements of what Muslims view as right.
On March 3, Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, called for closer ties with Islam on the grounds that "the two religions have more in common than people think". What on Earth does this prelate think Muslims believe? After some 1400 years of rivalry and war, some sort of naivety and fuzzy thinking is making Christians the agents of their own destruction.
It is sad but possibly to be expected that many Palestinian Christians – who are constantly under threat but have not been killed or expelled – identify closely with the cause of their Muslim fellows as they engage in often violent "resistance" to Israel and the limited Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank (Judaea and Samaria). Christians may have a long history in Syria and Palestine, but the earliest Christians, including Christ, were, of course, Jews. According to Christianity Today:
The Acts of the Apostles states that the first Christians in Jerusalem were Jews, and historians believe that even after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Christianity in the Holy Land kept its Jewish flavor. But the Jewish revolt of Bar-Kokhba in 135 changed all this; Rome showed no mercy to the Jews and obliterated Jerusalem, renaming the city "Aelia Capitolina" and the country of Israel "Palestine." With this blow, the Christian Jewish community effectively disappeared.
As non-Jewish Christians emerged, persecution continued throughout the Roman Empire until the emperor Constantine converted in 312 and later imposed Christianity as the sole religion.
Under the Roman and Byzantine empires, the Christians of Palestine enjoyed freedom to live and worship as they pleased. In 634, however, a mere two years after the death of the prophet Muhammad, Muslim Arab forces defeated the Byzantines and took possession of Syria, of which Palestine was the southern region. "Palestine," although an ancient name, was imposed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in an apparent attempt to sever the land even then from its Jewish roots in response to a revolt in 135 CE.
Palestine, however, was never a separate state or province, regardless of its rulers. From 1923-1948, it was the name of the area under the British mandate: during that time, everyone born there – Christian, Muslim and Jew – was officially a Palestinian, with "Palestine" stamped on all passports.
Then, in May of 1948, five Arab armies attacked Israel on the day of its birth, explicitly hoping to end the new country before it could start. The people now called Palestinians were those Arabs who fled during that war, after their leaders promised them they would be able to come back and reclaim their homes as soon as the Arab victory was complete.
That the Arabs might lose this war – which was what occurred-- was never factored into this promise. When, after the war, the Arabs who had fled wished to come back, Israel reminded them that they had not exactly been allies, and declined to admit them.
During that war of 1947-48, Jordan illegally captured and later annexed much of Jerusalem. The Jews who had lived in those areas fled. Overnight, the Christians who had stayed in Gaza and the West Bank found themselves regarded as second-class, tolerated citizens, dhimmi people with few rights, who were forced to live as outnumbered "infidels" under Muslim rule. As such, they had no legal recourse and were under continual threat for their property and lives.
Until then, for centuries, Palestinian Christians had lived under a succession of Islamic empires and had little reason to love their overlords. With the slaughter and expulsion of the Armenians and Pontic Greeks by Muslim Turks from 1915-1923, Christians in the region had been reduced from being the citizens of the once-great Byzantine Empire, to a tiny minority in the land their ancestors once ruled.
The last of these empires was the vast Turkish Ottoman Empire, which the European allies displaced allies in 1918.
What today we regard as Palestinians, as the PLO leader Zuheir Mohsen explained in an interview in the Dutch newspaper Trouw in March 1977, are simply the Arabs who lost the war:
"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality, today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese."
Christians today represent a mere 1.3% of the Muslim Arabs (35,000 who live under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and 3,000 under Hamas in the Gaza Strip). In Israel, the numbers are, not surprisingly, higher:
Christians constitute 2.1 percent of Israel's total population. Some 83 percent of the Christians are Arab, representing a significant minority of 9.6 percent of the total Palestinian Arab minority in the state, which itself forms approximately 18 percent of the total population of Israel. The Christians in Israel thus form proportionally one of the largest Christian minorities within Arab populations in the Middle East.
The only Christian community in the Middle East to have grown since the end of the Ottoman Empire is the one inside Israel. Everywhere else, the numbers have been dropping due to emigration, a falling birth-rate, and persecution by Muslim majorities.
In Gaza and the West Bank, Christians have been routinely harassed, persecuted and even killed by their Muslim neighbors. There is no space here for a full account of the many indignities Christians have suffered under the Palestinian Authority, but David Raab has provided an overview:
The old Islamic disdain for Christians and other non-Muslims continues to infect modern Palestinian society. In a 2000 sermon from Gaza broadcast on PA television, Dr Ahmad Abu Halabiyya declared, amidst many calls for violence:
This is the truth, O Brothers in belief. From here, Allah the almighty has called upon us not to ally with the Jews or the Christians, not to like them, not to become their partners, not to support them, and not to sign agreements with them. And he who does that, is one of them, as Allah said: "O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies, for they are allies of one another. Who from among you takes them as allies will indeed be one of them...
...The Jews are the allies of the Christians, and the Christians are the allies of the Jews, despite the enmity that exists between them. The enmity between the Jews and the Christians is deep, but all of them are in agreement against the monotheists - against those who say, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger," that is - they are against you, O Muslims.
An Israeli government report, "Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas", from as far back as 1997, lists a number of cases of PA harassment of Christians, especially those who converted from Islam to Christianity, and are therefore regarded as apostates, meriting the death sentence. Pastors and others have been arrested, imprisoned, and threatened as possible Israeli spies. Here is just a single example:
A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader. He is currently being held in a prison cell with more than 30 people, most serving life sentences for murder.
Nor is Muslim mistreatment restricted to individuals and families. According to Raab:
The PA has shown contempt for certain Christian holy sites, and there has been significant desecration as well. For example, without prior consent of the church, Yasser Arafat decided to turn the Greek Orthodox monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile during his visits to the city. On July 5, 1997, the PLO seized Abraham's Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron, violently evicting monks and nuns.
Among the most publicized incidents was the 2002 takeover of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, when dozens of Palestinian terrorists held the sacred site of the birth of Jesus for five weeks, desecrating it, stealing anything valuable, and tearing up Bibles to use as toilet paper. The whole event was staged by the Palestine Authority itself, under Yasser Arafat.
Given that they have been, and still are, so mistreated by the Muslim authorities, why do so many Palestinian Christians express their support for a "resistance" – a euphemism for armed struggle -- to Israel by terrorist organizations, many inspired by jihadist ideals? This "resistance" takes its inspiration from the belief that any territory, once conquered for Islam (and, in this case, stolen from Christians), must remain under Islamic rule in perpetuity:
"Syrian Sheik Omar Bakri... said in an interview at the time that both Romania and Bulgaria were legitimate targets for attacks, because they are 'Islamic land' ...
"Once Islam enters a land, that land becomes Islamic and the Muslims have the duty to liberate it some day. Spain, for example, is Islamic land, and so is Eastern Europe: Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia."
Surely that is very far indeed from Christian precepts?
Yet, anti-Israel activism among Palestinian Christians who contest the liberation of Jerusalem by Israel from its illegal capture and occupation by Jordan is not hard to find. Presumably there is a justifiable concern among Christians to protect their safety, and the safety of Christian properties, by allying themselves with the Muslims among whom they have to live. In June 2017, for example, a "Letter from Palestinian Christians to the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Movement" was signed by thirty Christian organizations, Catholic, Assyrian, Orthodox, and Protestant in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Gaza. It begins: As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration.
It continues in the same vein. The seventh of its nine demands on the WCC and the Ecumenical Movement reads:
That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently. We ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and that you support athletic, cultural, and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions urging the ending of its occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and accepts refugees to return to their homeland. This is our last peaceful resort. [italics by the ed.]... In response to Israel's war on BDS, we ask that you intensify that measure ["urging the ending of its occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and accept[ing] refugees to return to their homeland."].
As Palestinian "resistance" has always been extremely violent (just for example, here and here), one form of it has centred around protests over the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. During a wave of these protests in July 2017, when Christians prayed with Muslims, one protester urged Christians to do more: "Bethlehem churches will close their doors tomorrow, Sunday, and urge Christians to head to the mosques... #Here_Is_Palestine."
Indeed, "On Thursday, a delegation of the World Council of Churches joined Palestinian worshippers protesting near Al-Aqsa and stood in solidarity with the Muslim community."
The anti-Israel Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia, Theodosios (Atallah Hanna), expresses Christian solidarity with Muslims in stark terms:
I support Palestinians and share their cause and their issues....
We the Palestinian Christians suffer along with the rest of Palestinians from occupation and hardships of our economic situation. Muslims and Christians suffer equally, as there is no difference in suffering for any of us. We are all living in the same complicated circumstances, and overcoming the same difficulties.
Hanna was one of the authors of the anti-Semitic Palestinian Christian Kairos Document, about which I have written here before. Kairos Palestine was created in 2009 and signed by thirteen Christian leaders in Jerusalem, representing the Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Maronite, Ethiopian, Greek Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Armenian Catholic churches – all of which are traditionalist denominations. One of its first paragraphs reads:
In this historic document, we Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.
This elevation of a political, legal and military concern into the realm of theology owes greatly to the style of Liberation Theology, a radical form of Christian belief and action that developed within the Catholic Church in Latin America, and based on concern for the poor and oppressed. Such concern is well within the bounds of the Christian tradition, but Kairos adopts a different form of replacement theology. It treats the Jews who have not embraced Jesus as their saviour, as no longer God's people. This allows the writers of Kairos to show concern for the Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike, yet show no such concern for Jews, faced by wars, terrorism, and international hatred -- and without whose protection by Israel's security services, as the Christians well know, they would be left to the same tender mercies of extremist Muslims as other Christians in the Middle East.
A genuinely ecumenical American center devoted to Christian-Jewish relations issued a document "Cautions to U.S. Churches Regarding the Kairos Palestine Document", in which they found serious fault with its arguments:
A group, Christians for Fair Witness, apparently felt obliged to wrote a reply: "Cautions to U.S. Churches Regarding the Kairos Palestine Document." It was endorsed by St. Paul University's Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, and by Dialogika (as is made clear on the Christians for Fair Witness website). While treating the Kairos document with respect, the cautions expressed were far-ranging and crucial....
That Jewish natural right was not once raised.... Only Palestinian rights and demands were considered of relevance to Christians.
The Cautions document also states: "The Kairos Palestine document professes that 'an end to Israeli occupation... will guarantee security and peace for all.'" (Sec. 7) ... But is that true? There was no security or peace prior to the occupation. This analysis continues with a list of Arab violence against Jews, the PLO's 1964 objective of liquidating Israel, and a clear statement that "There is no reason to believe that ending the occupation alone would bring security and peace to Israel and Palestine."
Kairos, not surprisingly, has inspired a vast movement of anti-Israel activism in many countries. Kairos, and literature relating to it, may be found in Western churches, such as Sweden's, during pro-Palestinian lectures and exhibitions. The Kairos document is so egregiously discriminatory that in 2010, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) declared it "supersessionist" and "anti-Semitic."
A leading figure among the authors of Kairos Palestine is Rev. Mitri Raheb, who has developed an international career as a self-proclaimed "Public Figure, Pastor and Theologian, Author and Social Entrepreneur". Mitri's CV is truly astonishing, from the awards he has received and the universities at which he has lectured to the institutions he has founded. He has had a broad media presence:
"The work of Dr. Raheb has received wide media attention from major international media outlets and networks including CNN, ABC, CBS, 60 Minutes, BBC, ARD, ZDF, DW, BR, Premiere, Raiuno, Stern, The Economist, Newsweek, Al-Jazeera, al-Mayadin, Vanity Fair, and others."
How many clergymen of any variety feature in Vanity Fair magazine, aimed at the luxury market? These are achievements of which many other theologians and church leaders might well be envious.
Born in Bethlehem in 1962, Raheb studied at two German colleges: the Hermannsburg Mission Seminary (1980-19894) and Marburg University (1984-1988), where he obtained a PhD in theology. He went back to Bethlehem in 1988.
Raheb is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, a version of Lutheranism established by German and English missionaries to Palestine in the mid-19th century. Based on a belief in the Trinity, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is fundamentalist in doctrine:
"The true way of salvation is revealed only through God's Word, and any claims for revelation of the way of salvation through other means must be rejected. The main purpose of Holy Scripture is to reveal to us that Jesus Christ is our only Savior."
It is immune to modern rationalist theology, and states, for example:
We confess that God created all things in six days by the power of His Word, exactly as is set forth in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and elsewhere in Scripture. We therefore reject the theories of "evolution," including "theistic evolution," not only because they lack a sound basis in scientific evidence but especially because they contradict the divinely-inspired account of creation as given by Moses in the Old Testament and confirmed by Christ in the New.
The purpose here is not to condemn the church for what it believes. These beliefs, however, make it difficult to understand how the leaders of a church can advocate such intimate relations with Muslims, for whom everything Christians believe is pure blasphemy. What is even stranger, is that apparently the Christians do not even plan to convert these Muslims.
In the Qur'an, Christian belief in God as three persons is anathema, as God is only One. Similarly, Jesus is regarded, not as God or the Son of God, but as a prophet inferior to Muhammad. The Qur'an is emphatic in saying that Jesus was not crucified, but that someone else was substituted for him. Therefore, Christ did not die to save mankind; this salvation is reserved only for those who believe in the God of the prophet Muhammad.... [F]or Muslims, the Bible... was a corruption of Islam by Christian priests and monks, in a distortion known as tahrif.
Raheb and his supporters from different denominations are clearly willing to ignore this gross denial of their faith in all its aspects, a denial that renders non-existent the fundamental aspiration to life after death in heaven through the sacrifice of Jesus. It is normal for religious people to identify themselves as members of their faith above all other allegiances, to the extent that they are willing to suffer death rather than deny it. Baha'is in Iran have been offered their lives if only they converted to Islam, yet all have gone willingly to the hangman's noose by refusing to do so. Christian martyrs, ancient and modern, are widely praised as ideal exponents of their faith. Many Christians have been killed by Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere, as in the Nag Hammadi massacre of 2010.
No one is suggesting that Palestinian Christians should invite their own deaths by outrightly defying the Muslim majority. It seems inexplicable, however, why these Christians prefer to join with the Islamic "resistance" rather than to remain silent, accept their supposedly inferior status, and refrain from overt endorsements of what Muslims view as right.
Raheb takes this so far that he cannot even bear to describe Jesus as a Jew. At a Christ at the Checkpoint conference in 2010, he stated that:
I'm sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I'm sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
The notion that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from an East European who converted has for many years been known, based on DNA testing, as a scientific fallacy. (In addition, see here.)
Raheb goes even further. He does not recoil from the violence, the genocidal threats, and the Islamic radicalism of Hamas. In an interview with the popular Egyptian daily al-Masri al-Yawm (Egypt Today) in March 2016, he praised the terror group (which is mainly responsible for the suffering of its own Palestinian people: Hamas is a Palestinian political movement that has an important role. No one can deny this. The Church is in constant communication with Hamas in the West bank via many delegations from the Church. Some people in the church believe in the armed resistance, and we do not disagree. Once you have occupation, you will have resistance. Here is a Christian leader celebrating a notoriously evil entity and announcing that "Some people in the church believe in the armed resistance, and we do not disagree".
Moments later, Raheb tried to mitigate his support by addressing his private views: "However, on a personal level, I do not believe in the armed resistance. How would you fight an enemy with arms that were made by him and its allies? It is smarter not to invite your foe to a wrestling match if he was a wrestler, but to invite him to a chess match."
Christian author Dexter Van Zile comments, "It's bad enough that Raheb, a Christian pastor, would distance himself from Hamas' jihadist violence not because it is wrong, but because it is ineffective."
A fundamental aspect of much modern theology across the Christian churches is a belief in the central role of reconciliation and peace-making by believers, both clergy and lay. Even the World Council of Churches, to which Raheb and his followers are allied, emphasizes the role of Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation. Supporting Hamas and all the other forces within the Palestinian "Resistance" is a total contradiction of such Christian values. In few other places may one find such a level of hypocrisy and willful self-contradiction. Yet in churches almost everywhere, the literature, films, and spokespeople of that Christian deception may be found month after month and town after town.
Let me end with an item of recent news. On March 3, Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Vincent Nichols called for closer ties with Islam on the grounds "That the two religions have more in common than people think". What on Earth does this prelate think Muslims believe? After some 1400 years of rivalry and war, some sort of naivety and fuzzy thinking is making Christians the agents of their own destruction. Sadly, the Christians of the West Bank are at the heart of this growing need to bow down to people who, for the greater part, despise and persecute them.
**Dr. Denis MacEoin has lectured in Islamic Studies in a university department of Religious Studies, including Christian theology, in the UK. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
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Debate over intellectual freedoms and rights in Saudi Arabia
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
The Riyadh Book Fair has reflected modern social phenomena, stirred debate among different movements and created a social, intellectual and media frenzy for over a decade and a half. The debate in Saudi Arabia is of a cultural nature, as the political situation has been settled through the royal family’s mandate that has enjoyed wide popular support and approval for about 300 years. The society has thus been spared of political chatter, unlike other Arab countries that are fruitlessly pre-occupied with it as they neither progressed on the developmental front nor changed on the political level.
The Riyadh Book Fair is much more than an event to sell books. It’s an annual event to showcase differences and discuss debatable matters. The fair’s events, for instance, included discussions on women’s work and driving of cars. The fair also acts as a mirror that exposes new trends in society and expresses the crisis which it is going through to overcome backwardness. Some try to push the society backwards and fear Western progress and intellectual developments. In recent years, discussions have tackled issues like terrorism, the Islamic Sahwa movement, women and the limits of their presence and books and their critique.
However, this year’s debates are a bit different. The social media phenomenon pervades this year’s fair following its ingress into society and the world of the media. Reality has been hijacked by this social media phenomenon, thus imposing a serious debate about writing standards particularly after a “social media star” recently published a book and printed 10,000 copies of it. The debate is mainly about the freedom to write and whether such writings, which detail tweets or spin yarns, should be printed by publishing houses. Writing books have always been an act carried out by an intellectual elite on the basis of their profound experiences. Man writes down experiences in his search for immortality. A book thus lives forever which is why many writers have voiced their desire to live longer to finish their work.
Cheering for ignorance and trivializing theories
Many intellectuals defend social media “celebrities” who write books as they view the latter as a “product” which is released in the market and then declines as social interests change. They believe even ignorant people have the right to write books regardless of the content. They basically defend the “right to write” and not the quality of the content created. There are thus two conflicting opinions: One that “sanctifies books” and believes they are the product of great knowledge and a culmination of a great existential experience and another that “sanctifies freedom” and believes that the former elite is outdated and has not kept up with the youths’ new interests. There’s clearly a wave that trivializes everything, not just writing books. This is not just about the dangerous “social media phenomenon” and its products. Those who were once considered intellectuals fell into the trap of cheering for ignorance and despising knowledge either by trivializing theories or discussing matters, such as politics and culture, which require great deal of experience before one can address them. The controversy stirred by the “social media star” who published a book, comes within a general context of madness. The old saying “There will come a time when man’s mind will be crippled” is so true.

Iran’s ‘Hitler’ facing the Trump storm
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
All indicators point to the fact that President Trump is determined to scrap the nuclear agreement signed by the P5 +1 with Iran. The most important sign in this regard is Trump’s sacking of Rex Tillerson from his position of US Secretary of State, and his appointment of the head of the CIA Mike Pompeo to the post. It is well known that Pompeo is a strong figure, familiar with Iran’s intentions and expansionist goals. He realizes how important this issue is for the security of US allies in the region. If the United States unilaterally drops out of the agreement, as is expected, it would entail the termination of this agreement.
Through this agreement, Iran was trying to improve its financial and economic conditions. As is well known, the US has almost complete control over monetary matters of the world. Thus, no Western company would dare hold any transaction with Iran, unless it is certain it has the approval of the United States.
Tehran’s limited options
In this context, one might ask: What options do Iranians have if the United States declares its withdrawal from the agreement? The answer is very simple: nothing but an escalating rhetoric threatening to destroy Israel, but these shall be empty words that’ll not change a thing.
As is known, Iran is currently facing a very difficult economic crisis. Waves of popular protests have hit the country more frequently in recent months. It is my assessment that the theocratic regime will be left with no option but to accept new US conditions seeking restricted Iranian intervention in neighboring countries as well as curtailment of Iran’s development of ballistic missiles. Even though Iran has openly opposed fulfilling US demands, it will eventually have to come to terms with them. Towards the end of the war with Iraq, even Khomeini had to yield to similar conditions and had said that it was like drinking from the poisoned chalice. Some analysts believe that if the United States would drop out of the nuclear agreement, Iran will create trouble, upset the security applecart and threaten the stability of the US allies in the region, particularly in Iraq, where for purely sectarian reasons, Iran has many cards that it can exploit against the United States. I don’t believe Iran has the same influence in Iraq today as it used to during the rule of its well-known agent Nuri al-Maliki. It is my view that the current Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has developed a popular base in Iraq after having purged the country from ISIS. His popularity will pave the way to his re-election as prime minister.
Iraq needs assistance of Gulf states, not Iran
Abadi has on many occasions shown that he distances Iraq from Iran, or from what he calls the policy of axes. Iraq currently needs to reconstruct what was destroyed in the war and this can only be achieved with the support of the Gulf Arab states. Iran cannot salvage its own deteriorating economy, so it’s in no position to help reconstruct Iraq. Besides, appealing to a sectarian sentiment no longer affects the Iraqis, be they Sunni or Shiite, as it used to do in the past. Iraqis today want to live a secure and stable life, not a life ravaged by wars, terrorism and sectarian strife which almost fragmented the country and subjected people to tragedies for the past thirty years. To conclude, the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement has become certain. The mullahs have no options to confront this decision. In order to address their worsening domestic economic issues, they must accept Trump’s amendments to the agreement or face a popular backlash at home that would give a jolt to the Khomeinist regime. If people starve, ideological nourishment will not be enough for them to survive.

Will New US Security Chief Take The World To War?
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/March 25/18
I have spoken to seasoned diplomats who are extremely worried at the prospect of John Bolton’s appointment as US National Security Advisor. When neoconservative warmongers like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Bolton previously ruled the roost at the White House, they envisaged the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions as only the first phase of “creative chaos” for remodeling the “broader Middle East.” Although their fevered plans were drastically curtailed and ultimately discredited, the current catastrophic state of the region can be largely traced back to this deranged worldview. Are the war drums about to start beating again?
In 2005, Bolton was appointed as America’s UN ambassador as an avowed enemy of multilateral diplomacy; summed up by his scathing claim that “there is no such thing as the United Nations.” The fact that this assertion has become increasingly accurate is partly due to acts of sabotage by Bolton, who under previous administrations lobbied successfully for the US to refrain from joining the International Criminal Court. Having interviewed Bolton and attended his briefings, I found him single-mindedly dogmatic, yet strikingly uncharismatic. This notorious “bomb thrower” (as he was described by the former boss of Fox News) may encourage Trump’s predilections for cutting support for those multilateral institutions which are supposed to underpin international law and global security, if only superpowers refrained from torpedoing them.
Trump’s foreign policy instincts during 2017 were often held in check by the “adults in the room” — figures like Bolton’s predecessor H.R. McMaster — who were regarded as level-headed advocates of the status quo. However, such advice clashed with Trump’s desire for a radically different approach to previous presidents, and he bristled each time they begged him not to tear up Obama’s Iran deal. Now that the adults have left the building in a stunning succession of departures, the mind boggles as to what the future holds.
With Trump slated to sit down with Kim Jong-un for face-to-face talks, there has never been a more inauspicious time to appoint such a unilateralist hawk. There are no longer any wise advocates of diplomacy whispering in Trump’s ear. A hollowed-out and marginalized State Department has been gutted at all levels through resignations and Rex Tillerson’s purges, with high-level positions vacant for over a year. Even if Trump and Kim do hit it off, this administration lacks the capacity and mentality for the complex negotiations that would ensue. Bolton would not be the only figure itching to derail these talks, pushing Trump toward a military option. For those who doubt where Bolton’s instincts lie, he recently wrote: “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”
After a long period in the political wilderness, and now an office-holder with immense responsibilities, John Bolton may wish to draw a line under his most inflammatory previous positions.
Those who want to see Iran challenged and contained should not rush to applaud Bolton’s appointment. Bolton was a prominent architect of the 2003 Iraq War, and the consequences of a new regional conflict could be similarly horrific. Make no mistake, Iran’s regime with its third-rate conventional military capacity is hated by its citizens and is all-too-ready to collapse. Yet a botched invasion could further destabilize Central Asia and give rise to even nastier successor regimes, particularly as Bolton and Trump are ideologically opposed to nation-building — leaving us with the consequences of a widening chain of failed states dominated by terrorist warlords all the way from the Mediterranean through into South Asia.
During Barack Obama’s tenure, Bolton repeatedly provoked Israel toward strikes against Iran. However, a conflict directed against Tehran’s proxies in Lebanon and Syria would leave a sizable part of the Arab world as a pile of smoking ruins. The belligerent parties — Iran or Israel — wouldn’t necessarily emerge significantly weaker from such a war, which would be heavily dependent on terrorist proxies and airstrikes across Arab territories. Such a conflict would simply play into the hands of hardliners on both sides.
We instead require a muscular multilateral framework for aggressive containment against Iran. The 2015 nuclear deal failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and expansionist regional meddling, which became more unrestrained after Obama’s deal due to the absence of any assertive containment strategy. Iran must face tangible consequences for its sponsorship of terrorist entities and efforts to dominate regional states. Given Bolton and Trump’s shared hostility toward multilateral diplomacy, the prospects of a smart and effective globally-enforced policy of containment toward Iran appear more remote than ever. A case could be made for regime change because the region simply cannot coexist with the malicious expansionism of this theocratic regime; but only if lessons are learnt from the disasters of 2003 and 2011 and nationalist Iranians are supported in eradicating every last trace of this abomination, which has done so much harm across the region.
Trump’s most successful officials are the yes-men who praise every nugget of wisdom coming out of his mouth and pander to his worst instincts. This is not a role the blunt and uncompromising Bolton will be particularly adept at. Bolton has predictably always argued for harsh measures against Moscow, whereas Trump goes out of his way to lavish praise on Vladimir Putin. Bolton described Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US elections in favor of Trump as “an act of war.” Trump’s fondness for asserting that the Iraq invasion was “the single worst decision ever made” and Bolton’s continued dogged defense of this war also make them an odd couple.
However, commentators note that, after a long period in the political wilderness, Bolton will be willing to bite his tongue and avoid confrontation with his new boss; particularly after McMaster’s stiff criticism of Russian meddling earned him a public rebuke and accelerated his departure. As an office-holder with immense responsibilities, he may also want to draw a line under his most inflammatory previous statements and positions. Bolton will probably try and focus on issues where he and Trump see eye-to-eye. For example, both men are comparably hawkish toward China and Venezuela, while superficially sharing the desire to appear tough on North Korea and Iran.
Bolton is the very definition of “hawk” and is one of the most militant figures in US politics. As one academic commented: “He’s never met a country he hasn’t wanted to destroy.” He is also outspokenly anti-Muslim. Bolton’s tendency toward Islamophobic conspiracy theories extended to joking that Obama was a Muslim and in 2012 appearing on a rabidly anti-Muslim radio channel for a debate about how the US administration had been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. As a regular commentator in the right-wing media, he is a voraciously pro-Israel voice, who stigmatizes the Palestinians as “terrorists” and derides the peace process as a waste of time. Thus by no stretch of the imagination should Bolton be seen as sympathetic to the concerns and challenges facing the Arab world.
Bolton, with his immense mustache, was portrayed by cartoonists as a small aggressive dog who rushed to bite the legs of passers-by. Such mindless and belligerent aggression for the sake of aggression is the last thing our complex and volatile world currently needs. Although Congress lacks a veto over the national security advisor position, senators must prove their readiness to hold the administration to account and halt any tendencies to rush into senseless confrontations. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that Trump rapidly despairs of his new warmonger and Bolton is pushed through the revolving doors of this reality TV White House before he sets off too many firestorms around the world.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Turkey’s Cruel Joke As Its Fighters Loot Afrin
Diana Moukalled/Arab News/March 25/18
Hours after the Turkish army and its Syrian allies declared they had taken full control of Kurdish Afrin, it seemed like the war in Syria had entered a new phase. Pictures circulated on social media showing fighters inside Afrin tearing down and destroying the statue of Kawa, a mythological Kurdish hero, in a scene similar to when Daesh destroyed archaeological statues and gravestones in some regions of Syria and Iraq. In fact, the war in Afrin did not end with the Turkish military taking control of the Kurdish province. Instead a second conflict broke out; this time a media war linked to the pictures and videos showing the desire for “vengeance” of Olive Branch fighters. The destruction of statues is not new in the history of the war in Syria. Factions of the Syrian opposition have already destroyed the statue of Ibrahim Hanano, one of the leaders of the Syrian revolution against French occupation, in the city of Idlib and decapitated the statue of the poet Abu Al-Alaa Al-Maari in his hometown Maarrat Al-Numan.
Back then, Syrian opposition factions used the pretext that the fighters thought they were statues of Hafez Assad. The same excuse was used by the supporters of the Turkish operation as they claimed the fighters had assumed the statue was that of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. They added that statues were an expression of the “sanctity” of idols and the renunciation of religion, and a symbol of pagan worship, in order to justify the act of destruction. The raising of Turkish flags and the destruction of the statue of Kurdish hero Kawa took place under the eyes and ears of Ankara’s military leadership. The video focused on the enthusiasm that was expressed the second the statue was brought down, as fighters declared their victory by shouting “Allahu Akbar” and other slogans encouraged by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to justify its military operation. These slogans were also adopted by groups allied with Turkey and by those who invaded Afrin and stole it, considering their act “the first Fatah Al-Islam” (operation embracing Islam) in the modern age. Once again, Afrin is being dealt with as a city inhabited by Kurdish “infidels.” Thus, the motivations for revenge multiply and are introduced as having historic religious dimensions. This is exactly what Erdogan did when he linked the war on Afrin with expressions from the Qur’an such as “figs and olives.” The Turkish media focused on the statue, describing it as one of the pillars of the Turkish victory in Afrin and bragging about it.
The official Turkish acknowledgement of the robbing and looting operations by armed fighters who entered the town in the context of operation Olive Branch seemed like little more than a cruel joke. The fighters in the videos and pictures we saw — invading houses and stealing cars, livestock and everything they could carry — entered Afrin in the context of the Turkish military operation. The Turkish flags that were raised and the statue of Kawa that was destroyed took place under the eyes and ears of the Turkish leadership. Therefore, the campaigns launched by Syrian activists in solidarity with the Turkish military operation reflect a type of duplicity and hypocrisy, as these activists themselves have launched campaigns criticizing robbing and looting operations, but have also welcomed Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish-Syrian town and its occupation.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter: @dianamoukalled

The Saudi Aramco IPO: Back to basics
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
Despite some intense lobbying by international stock markets like London and also New York, there now seems to be a new realism setting on when and where the planned Aramco IPO might take place.
The message from Saudi Energy Minister and Aramco Chairman Khaled al-Falih is that the Kingdom has not yet decided on a final venue for its dual Saudi-international listing, with not only London, and New York, but also Singapore and Hong Kong vying for this prestigious listing.
Once again, the delay in announcing an international listing venue has raised the possibility of a Saudi only listing. There is now feverish speculation that the long awaited mega Aramco IPO will either be delayed to 2019 and whether the international listing will take a secondary place with a primary listing on the Saudi Tadawul Stock Exchange becoming a more realistic choice. There has also been some statements from Saudi Ministers during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the US, that the 2018 listing date is still feasible and that all options – both domestic and international are under study.
The hoped-for inclusion of the Saudi Tadawul in several prestigious international indexes is the main factor for this newfound optimism for a Saudi-only listing of the Aramco IPO
This raises an intriguing possibility – is listing the Aramco IPO exclusively on the Saudi Tadawul a viable option and what has changed over the past few months, given the fact that all Aramco statements have been positive and that the company is well advanced in its preparations?
Detractors of a local listing have always argued that there is still some way to go for the Saudi Tadawul to ensure that the necessary legal, regulatory and operational infrastructure is in place to handle the mega Aramco IPO and that an international listing in a prized foreign bourse would bring the Kingdom prestige and ensures that Aramco applies best –in- class governance models. However, recent comments from no other than Energy Minister Khaled al-Falih has made analysts pause and take notice to a subtle but significant change of tone on where and when the Aramco IPO was heading, leading to speculation on whether an international exchange listing such as in London or New York now hangs in the balance.
Litigation concerns
The Saudi Energy Minister put it very frankly when he rightly stated that that Aramco was too big and too important for the Kingdom to risk listing in the United States because of litigation concerns arising out of the US JASTA Law and existing lawsuits against international oil companies for their role in climate change. “The only thing we know today is that Tadawul will be the key listing location as our national exchange,” Khaled al-Falih told CNN in a wide ranging interview ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the US. The Minister provided a significant reason for why a local listing now made more sense than before.
“We are waiting for the reforms to be in place and to join MSCI and Aramco listing in Tadawul will be catalytic for that capital market as we bring international capital to the kingdom.” As for timing on whether this will be 2018 or delayed to 2019, and if there was an internal deadline to meet for launching the IPO, the Minister was again frank by stating that as far as Aramco was concerned it was not going to be bound by an “ artificial listing deadline “ and would do so when it was ready . What he pointed to was that already the energy giant has had its legal status changed to a Saudi joint stock company effective from 1st January 2018 to start the process. The hoped-for inclusion of the Saudi Tadawul in several prestigious international indexes is the main factor for this newfound optimism for a Saudi-only listing of the Aramco IPO. While it was deferred for inclusion in 2017, the Saudi bourse is now very confident that it would be added to the Russell FT Emerging Market Index by March 2018, as well as the MSCI Emerging Market Index by June.
Passive capital flow
If these happen, then it will ensure that a local Tadawul Aramco IPO listing would attract significant passive capital inflow investments, with some estimating this at around $ 60 billion, as the Saudi Tadawul would be allocated a certain percentage weighting in these indexes and investors would, in effect, be “buying into” the Tadawul index and the Aramco listing. Passive investment funds that replicate MSCI indexes would need to put 4 percent of their funds allocated to emerging market indexes into Saudi shares to match the country weighting. Will a local listing close the door to an international offering? A Saudi only initial listing does not preclude an international listing at a later stage as this would provide more time for Aramco to carry out its internal structural and governance reforms and produce the necessary audited accounts on a regular basis, which can then ensure that any future incremental IPO listings to the initial 5 percent is well received by international investors. In the end, a final decision on when and where to list Aramco will be made in good time and after taking all factors and advise into consideration by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees the kingdom’s economic and oil policies as he juggles the multi-faceted implications of such a listing that involves geo- political relations, as well as a hard headed risk analysis and maximizing financial rewards. As the Energy Minister said, the company is too important to the Kingdom to expose it to any possible risk, however remote, in the future. In the meantime, everyone is still going to be guessing on the when’s and the where’s of this long awaited mega IPO.

Abbas’ deplorable legacy: Beginning of the end?

Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/March 25/18
“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to defy international law and accept Israel’s designation of Occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’.That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardent rightwing and pro-Israel US Ambassador to Israel as a “son of a bitch.”
Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time, land and lives, while leaving him with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy. Abbas is not angry because the US has betrayed its role in the so-called “peace process”, but rather because he always perceived himself as a member in the American camp of “moderates” in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters little. Abbas and his authority were paid billions of dollars which were never accounted for because of entrenched corruption among the Ramallah ruling elites.
The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas. They have disowned him and proceeded to imagine a ‘solution’ in Palestine that is purely in the interests of Israel.
A recent meeting chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis – without the involvement of a single Palestinian.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude toward Palestinians is reminiscent of the past. Not until the late 1980s did the US even acknowledge that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was a representative of the Palestinian people. Since Abbas rested all hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. Even the Europeans – who are supposedly unlike the hawkish US administration – have neither the will, desire nor political clout to replace the US.
They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible for any European government to replace the US as the new “honest peace broker.”Since Abbas rested all hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. Even the Europeans – who are supposedly unlike the hawkish US administration – have neither the will nor political clout to replace the US
Lack of popularity
Abbas’ popularity and authority among Palestinians are negligible. In fact, most Palestinians in the West Bank want him to step down. However, at 83 and despite suffering from ill health, Abbas is holding onto what little power he has.
It may appear that during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to his political rivals in Hamas and other groups. However, the opposite is true, as he has accused Hamas of an assassination attempt on PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.
On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted Hamdallah’s convoy, of which one exploded.
Hamdallah was visiting Gaza through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will ease life for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a debilitating and brutal Israeli siege since 2006.
Hamdallah’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions: Fatah, led by Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh in Gaza.
Although reconciliation efforts have for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups, held in Cairo in October last year, resulted in a breakthrough. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant PLO institutions.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program. And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.
Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”
Rekindled hope
Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans and all Palestinians, that respite is on the horizon.
Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit. Abbas’ party also moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas has inflamed intense rivalry among those keen to succeed the aging leader.
Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan who was ejected by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power. The US and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the status quo.
Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies but for what he represents – a PA leader capable of achieving a long-term understanding with Hamas. Killing Hamdallah also means ending or at least, obstructing, the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.
Of course, there are those in Fatah, including in Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion. The main suspect, Anas Abu Khoussa was killed in clashes in a Gaza refugee camp.
Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”
Existing disagreements
One should, however, not undermine the seriousness of the still existing disagreements between Hamas and Fatah that have thus far derailed the implementation of the unity agreement.
The main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’” While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.
Shunned by the US, relegated by triumphant Netanyahu, and incapable of forging lasting unity with Hamas or mobilizing Palestinians, Abbas’ legacy is reaching a humiliating end.
Considering that it was Abbas that empowered the US and Israel – through engaging in their political gambit and “security coordination” – he has no one to blame but himself. Nothing he could possibly say or do at this stage will alter his legacy or win him respect among disenchanted and angry Palestinians.

Some causes for concern following John Bolton appointment
بعض الأسباب التي تستدعي القلق بعد تعيين جون بولتون

Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/March 25/18
Analysis: The current makeup of the Trump administration doesn’t bode well, not only for Iran but also for North Korea and China, Putin, Assad and EU leaders. Netanyahu should be satisfied on the surface with the appointment of a clear friend of Israel as the new national security adviser, but the IDF might want to check its war reserve stores just in case.
Tehran woke up Friday morning to an unfavorable situation for the Iranians. The dismissal or resignation—it’s not entirely clear yet—of General H.R. McMaster from the position of US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and his replacement with former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, points not only to the disorder in the top echelon of the American administration and in the White House, but mainly to a foreign and security policy that favors conflicts over settling disputes through diplomacy.
The national security adviser who was dismissed or stepped down on Thursday evening, a decorated general with extensive experience in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, was against a US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran. Bolton, on the other hand, has publicly called on the administration several times to abandon what he defines as a bad agreement.
He isn’t the only one. The new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who replaced Rex Tillerson several weeks ago, is a diplomatic and security hawk who has also called for a cancellation of the nuclear agreement with Iran and for a conflict with North Korea. Pompeo, who came to the State Department from the leadership of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States, was replaced by Gina Haspel, who shares his thoughts and is possibly even more radical than he is.
The current makeup of the Trump administration doesn’t bode well not only for Iran but also for North Korea and China, and likely for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad and leaders of the European Union countries as well.
The Iranians are facing a clear dilemma now. They will have to agree to restrain their ballistic missile program and make amendments to their nuclear agreement with the world powers—or suffer harsh economic sanctions, which will badly affect the Iranian economy. On the other hand, they may decide to stop playing by the rules and move forward towards a nuclear bomb, risking an American airstrike on their nuclear facilities and missile.
These are basically the two strategic alternatives that will be have to be considered now by Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the ayatollahs. The Europeans will also have to double their efforts from now on and convince Iran to accept the compromise they are working on with the US, in a bid to prevent Trump from walking away from the nuclear agreement. The Iranians will likely become more attentive to Europe's leaders, after they realize that the alternative could be a military conflict with the US.
Assad should prepare himself
Another equally important strategic issue which will likely be reexamined in light of the changes in the US administration’s foreign and security policy is the planned meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The new national security adviser, who served as ambassador to the UN under President George W. Bush, argued recently that the meeting with the North Korean leader was a “waste of time,” based on the experience of previous US administration that had reached agreements with Pyongyang and then saw them violated.
A cancellation of the meeting, which is scheduled to take place in late May, could create a new explosive situation in East Asia, in the Korean Peninsula and in Japan. But that’s not all. The Trump administration recently announced new sanctions on Russia. Bolton and Pompeo will likely demand an even more hawkish policy.
The Chinese president should be as concerned as Putin. The recent US announcement on tariffs on steel and other products imported from China is essentially a first step towards a trade war with China under the “America First” slogan.
Assad, who is using chemical weapons against his own citizens, has a real cause for concern too. Rex Tillerson was a moderating factor in the American administration. Secretary of Defense James Mattis represents a level-headed approach too, not now he is a minority in the administration, and if Assad uses chemical weapons once again, he should take a harsh American response into account. In fact, Assad has already started preparing for such an option in after being told by the Russians that the Americans could attack him at any given moment.
If US is perceived as unreliable, Israel suffers too
Jerusalem allegedly has a cause for celebration. Bolton, the new national security adviser, is a clear friend of Israel. So is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and new Secretary of State Pompeo. They are all in favor of moving the embassy to Jerusalem and they all support Trump’s oppositional approach towards America’s enemies in the international arena and towards its economic competitors.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be satisfied, therefore, as his approach towards the nuclear agreement with Iran seems to be supported now not only by the president but by the entire American security-diplomatic echelon, perhaps excluding Secretary of Defense Mattis, who listens to the what the Pentagon generals tell him.
My advice to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, however, is to check the war reserve stores, so we don’t accidentally find ourselves involved in a war we didn’t initiate as a result of the unpredictable, zigzagging conduct of the US president and his senior administration officials.
Netanyahu can be satisfied with other issues as well, like the approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the current state of affairs, Trump likely won’t rush to present his plan for peace in the Middle East. There is a good chance that he will shelve it for a long time, perhaps even a year.
But the current Israeli government and Israel’s citizens should have a cause for concern, not so much because of President’s Trump conflict-seeking policy and his walk on the edge when it comes to international and strategic issues, but because of the disorder in the White House. In his 14 months in office, Trump has replaced three national security advisers. This is something that has never happened in US history. The national security adviser in the American administration is as important and sometimes even more important than the secretary of state, and is almost equal in status to the secretary of defense. He is the man who whispers in the president’s ear and briefs him every morning. He is the man the president trusts.
The replacement of three national security advisers indicates, therefore, that Trump is incapable of taking advise and, most importantly, that he has no self-discipline and no willingness to accept organized strategic planning that presents him with all the options from which he must pick out one. He has zero attention span and works according to intuition rather than according to strategic planning and discretion. Another problem is that there is no one in the administration now to present an opinion that contradicts the president’s opinion. Contradicting opinions are important, as they force all sides to reconsider and reach optimal decisions.
In Israel, we experienced a similar situation in the Second Lebanon War, when a prime minister who had just taken office, and had appointed a defense minister and chief of staff with little experience, entered a war without realizing he was entering a war. He and his cabinet were convinced that they were initiating a limited battle, and we all know what happened next. The same thing could happen with Trump, but at a much larger scale and with major ramifications.
If we’re already making comparisons, I should say that while the Second Lebanon War was managed terribly, we have been enjoying a relative calm in the north for the past 11 years thanks to the Israel Air Force. President Trump’s unreasonable conduct and the chaos in his administration could have positive results too. The Iranians may, for example, reach the conclusion that they shouldn’t get involved in a conflict with an unpredictable American president at this time. But that’s a gamble, and no one wants matters of war and peace, of life and death, to be in the hands of a man who is an obsessive tweeter and who declares war and then changes his mind, and so on and so forth.
We must remember that America’s international standing has a direct effect on the State of Israel’s security. The US is our patron. That doesn’t mean we’re incapable of defending ourselves, but America’s strength is an important component in Israel’s deterrence against its enemies, primarily Iran. If the US is perceived in the world as an unreliable country that can’t be trusted, Israel suffers too.,7340,L-5194967,00.html