March 31/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Holy Saturday/Don’t be amazed. You seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen. He is not here
Saint Mark 16/01-019/When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” for it was very big. Looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back. Entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were amazed. He said to them, “Don’t be amazed. You seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen. He is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him, as he said to you.’ ” They went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.† ‡Now when he had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. When they heard that he was alive, and had been seen by her, they disbelieved. After these things he was revealed in another form to two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country. They went away and told it to the rest. They didn’t believe them, either. Afterward he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at the table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn’t believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, “Go into all the world, and preach the Good News to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new languages; they will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will in no way hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord,§ after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. They went out, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 30-31/18
The act of forgiveness is the Core & essence of love, and love is God/Elias Bejjani/31 March 18
Non Elections … Lebanese-Style/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/March 30/18
Regulation Could Power a New Era of Silicon Valley Growth/Conor Sen/Bloomberg/March 30/18
Trump and the Fading Ghost of an Illusion/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 30/18
Why Christians Need Self Rule in Iraq/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 30/18
Tens of thousands of Palestinians swarm Gaza border, 15 killed by IDF fire/Ynet reporters, AP, Reuters/March 30/18
Why Iran fears Trump’s new national security team/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 30/18/
Turkey’s Russia, Iran links are far from an alliance/Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/March 30/18/
An Iranian hand and Qatari scream behind the Houthi missile attack/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Arabiya/March 30/18
A return ticket to the past/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Arabiya/March 30/18
The Shirazis and the media/Hassan Al Mustafa/Arabiya/March 30/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 30-31/18

The act of forgiveness is the Core & essence of love, and love is God
Jobless rate in Lebanon at 46%, president warns
Lebanon Reduces Deficit by $4.8 Billion ahead of Paris Meeting
Saudi and Emirati Envoys Pray in Baalbek Mosque
Rifi Says His Relation with Saudi Arabia is 'Frozen'
Jumblat Says Citizens 'Arrested' at Airport over Traffic Tickets
Around 1,000 Refugees to Return to Syria from Shebaa
France says not planning unilateral Syria operation
Jumblat Fears Mustaqbal-FPM Attempt to 'Besiege' Him
Berri congratulates Sisi on his reelection
Foucher lauds approval of State budget
Hariri meets with Tamer, Candidate Najm
Around 600 Syrian Refugees return home Saturday
Rahi officiates over Good Friday Mass in Bkirki
Harb: It is not important to give the expatriate the right to vote, but to protect this right and prevent forging his will
Marouni: Challenge Lies in Safeguarding the Opposition Voice in Parliament
Non Elections … Lebanese-Style
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 30-31/18
Syrian Rebels, Civilians Quit Ghouta as Talks for Last Pocket Stutter
U.S. Military Says 2 Coalition Personnel Killed in Syria
Turkey Snubs French Mediation Offer with Kurdish Militia
Erdogan 'Saddened' by France's Stance on Kurdish Militia
Kremlin Says Russia Did Not Initiate 'Any Diplomatic War'
France says not planning unilateral Syria operation
US military: Syria bomb kills 2 coalition troops, wounds 5
Russia Hits Back against EU Countries in Spy Row
Israel Tells U.N. It Will 'Defend' Itself from Gaza Protests
6 Dead, Dozens Hurt as Thousands of Gazans March near Israel Border
Trump Says U.S. Withdrawing from Syria 'Very Soon'
Pressure on Iran will help avoid war: Saudi Crown Prince tells the WSJ
France Says Not Planning Unilateral Syria Operation
Amnesty: 8 Iran Sufis on Hunger Strike, Claim Torture
Saudi Crown Prince Meets Representatives of Five Permanent Members of Security Council
Saudi Crown Prince: Houthi Missiles Sign of Weakness, Muslim Brotherhood an Incubator for Terrorists
Crown Prince Holds Talks with Chairmen of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan
New Case Doubles Legal Troubles for Sarkozy
Russia Expels 60 US Diplomats, Closes US Consulate in St. Petersburg
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 30-31/18
The act of forgiveness is the Core & essence of love, and love is God
Elias Bejjani/31 March 18
Today while solemnly we celebrate “The Holy Friday” that personify Our Lord’s love, sacrifices, Sufferings, pain and tolerance, let us all pray that Almighty God shall showers on us graces of love and forgiveness.
Jesus taught us in the “Our Father’s prayer” to forgive those who sin against us, so that He forgives our sins.
Jesus told us that if while presenting our offerings before the altar and remembered there that we have an unsolved conflict or a certain problem with anyone, we are ought to immediately abstain from continuing this holy ritual and go first to reconcile with the one who we have the conflict with, and afterwards return to carry on presenting the offerings.
Meanwhile our “Holy Bible” emphasizes in dozens of verses that faith without deeds, is a dead faith, exactly like a body without spirit.
Hence, a person who can not, and does not seek to forgive others, God shall not forgive his sins.
At the same time all prayers remain futile and worthless in case they are not genuinely combined at the same time with actual deeds.
Also, all sorts of faith, no matter how strong or solid they might be, shall remain superficial and incomplete without turning them into righteous deeds.
He who holds grudges, falls a prey to temptations, lives with hatred, and lets the devil control his life, is a person who does know how to love or forgive, and does not know Almighty God, because God is love and forgiveness.
In conclusion, any person no matter how righteous he might be, and does not know and practice both love and forgiveness he does know Almighty God.
On this “Holy Friday” let us kneel with reverence and call on our loving Father to grant us and every human being the gifts of forgiveness and love, and to enlighten our thoughts to clearly realize that faith without deeds is a dead faith and that God Himself is LOVE and forgiveness
Jobless rate in Lebanon at 46%, president warns
Staff Writer, The Daily Star/March 30/18
BEIRUT - President Michel Aoun said Thursday that the grave economic situation, presence of Syrian refugees and the reluctance of Lebanese to take low-paid jobs has caused unemployment to soar to 46 percent. Aoun made the remarks during a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Press Syndicate at Baabda’s presidential palace. “Unemployment has increased to reach an alarming 46 percent,” Aoun told The Daily Star during the meeting. “The reason is because Lebanese are selective about choosing a desired job. Because of this, they are replaced by Syrians working at a lower wage.” Official figures estimate the number of unemployed at 25 percent among the general population and 35 percent among youth aged 18-25. The government has repeatedly said that many Syrian refugees are working on construction sites and in factories and farms for below the official minimum wage, without receiving any social or medical benefits. Aoun also claimed that the number of Syrian refugees in the country had reached 1.86 million. The number of those officially registered with the U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon is less than 1 million. “Today, the United Nations thanks us for our humanity in dealing with the Syrian refugees,” Aoun said. He added, however, that he had told EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn a few days before that thanks and compliments “do not feed bread” to the refugees. “You have to resolve the refugee case before we ourselves become refugees,” Aoun recounted telling the commissioner, who was reportedly displeased. Aoun also spoke of protests that have flared up across the country in the past months as workers demand pension and salary increases. “We started talking about the salary scale in the first two months of my term. ... I told them, ‘Before you talk about increasing salaries, you have to tell citizens that Lebanon has gotten poorer.’ But the opposite of that happened. They demanded a raise,” Aoun said. “And now you see the deficit in the budget ... and the civil protests that are happening. You can’t just give a [salary] raise to one sector and leave out others.” He said these dynamics were behind his comment, made Wednesday, that Lebanon would be heading toward bankruptcy if it continued on its current trajectory. The statement, he said, was intended as a warning, to push people to take responsibility. In a session of Parliament held Thursday to discuss the budget, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said that, despite growing debt, Lebanon was “not a bankrupt state” and “has never suffered a setback in paying its obligations to lenders.”Despite the current situation, Aoun urged optimism. “Our reality should not make us frustrated. We know that the situation is difficult, but we can overcome it,” he said.

Lebanon Reduces Deficit by $4.8 Billion ahead of Paris Meeting
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/The parliament has adopted a 2018 government budget projecting a slightly reduced deficit of $4.8 billion. The package, only Lebanon's second voted budget since 2005, was approved late Thursday, days before a French-sponsored donor conference to support the small Middle Eastern country. The $4.8 billion deficit is a notch lower than the $5 billion that Lebanon, the world's third most-indebted country, approved last year when it adopted its first budget in 12 years.The first draft for this year's budget projected a $6.7 billion deficit, or three times the amount in 2011, the year neighboring Syria broke out into conflict, sending more than one million refugees into flight to Lebanon. Parliament voted the budget early to set the conditions for the CEDRE (or Cedar) Conference, also known as Paris IV, scheduled to take place in the French capital on April 6. The donor meeting will be attended by senior officials from several Arab and European countries as well as from key global and regional financial institutions. Lebanon hopes to raise "between 6 and 7 billion dollars in the shape of credit facilities and funds," Nadim Munla, an adviser to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, told AFP. Lebanon's growth rate has plummeted from 9% in 2010 to an average of 1.1% over the past three years, and similar donor conferences were held in 2001, 2002 and 2007. They did not yield all the pledged assistance, however, as Lebanon failed to comply with promised reforms.

Saudi and Emirati Envoys Pray in Baalbek Mosque
Naharnet/March 30/18/The Saudi and Emirati envoys to Lebanon on Friday paid a rare visit to the eastern city of Baalbek. State-run National News Agency said Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari and UAE Ambassador to Lebanon Hamad al-Shamesi performed the Friday prayer at the Grand Ommayad Mosque in Baalbek, at an invitation from Mufti of Baalbek and Hermel Sheikh Khaled Solh. In his Friday sermon, Solh condemned “the missiles that are targeting the land of the Two Holy Mosques,” Saudi Arabia. He also hailed “the efforts of the kingdom of goodness and the state of the United Arab Emirates.”After the prayer, Bukhari and Shamesi met with the head of Baalbek's endowment department and a number of Baalbek clerics, in the presence of al-Mustaqbal Movement's parliamentary candidate Hussein Solh, Baalbek deputy municipal chief Mustafa Solh and a number of mayors. The two guests later visited the King Faisal Al-Saud Mosque in Baalbek's Solh neighborhood where they met its imam, Sheikh Qassem al-Qobrosli. The visit by the two Gulf envoys comes amid a heated electoral battle in the Baalbek-Hermel region where a list backed by Mustaqbal and the Lebanese Forces is seeking to win some seats in Hizbullah's stronghold.

Rifi Says His Relation with Saudi Arabia is 'Frozen'
Naharnet/March 30/18/Ex-justice minister and Tripoli parliamentary candidate Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi has announced that his relation with Saudi Arabia is “frozen.”Rifi, however, stressed that there is “mutual respect” between him and the kingdom, in an interview with al-Akhbar newspaper published Friday. Turning to elections, the former minister added: “An electoral expert whom I trust told me that my popularity has declined. I agreed with him but said that there are two reasons: the lack of financial capabilities and the presence of security pressures.” “State authorities are currently using all their capabilities, using the carrot and stick approach and fabricating files for people,” Rifi charged.He added: “We have asked our people not to confront the security forces,” he added.

Jumblat Says Citizens 'Arrested' at Airport over Traffic Tickets
Naharnet/March 30/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Friday warned that Lebanese travelers are being “arrested” at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport over outstanding traffic violation tickets. “Is it true that citizens returning from abroad or traveling are being arrested at Beirut's airport under the excuse of traffic tickets and accordingly are being detained until the settlement of issues?” Jumblat asked in a Twitter post. “By the way, the public prosecutor does not work on Saturdays and Sundays, which would keep citizens detained,” the PSP leader lamented. He added: “Wouldn't it be better to jail top officials and their bodyguards who insult people in a provocative way during the passage of their convoys?”

Around 1,000 Refugees to Return to Syria from Shebaa

Naharnet/March 30/18/Lebanon's General Security agency is expected to implement Saturday an agreement reached with Damascus on returning around 1,000 displaced Syrians from Lebanon's Shebaa region to their hometowns inside Syria, a media report said. “Their hometowns which lie on Mount Hermon's eastern foot have been liberated from the militants of al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army,” al-Akhbar newspaper reported Friday. It said the Shebaa region had witnessed an influx of hundreds of displaced Syrians during battles in the Syrian towns of Beit Jinn and Mazraat Beit Jinn and areas surrounding them. “The return agreement had been raised when some Nusra and Daesh groups were evacuated from Arsal's outskirts to Idlib,” al-Akhbar said. “But the situations on the ground in the border town of Shebaa prevented its implementation,” it added. The daily said that Saturday's expected repatriation is supposed to take place through buses that will cross a seven-kilometer distance between Shebaa and the Syrian towns.The Lebanese General Security had in 2014 established a permanent border post in the region to control illegal crossing.

France says not planning unilateral Syria operation

Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - France said on Friday it is not planning a unilateral military operation in Syria outside the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group after senior Kurdish officials claimed Paris intended to send troops. "France is not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement, using another term for IS. Macron met with a delegation from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday, and Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told reporters afterwards that France was planning on sending "new French troops to Manbij". "The cooperation will be reinforced," she said. Khaled Issa, the official representative in France of Syria's Kurdistan, had added: "France is going to reinforce its military presence." The comments added to heightened international tensions as Turkey wages an offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey. Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in Afrin in January to oust the People's Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters who make up the bulk of the SDF, viewed as terrorists by Turkey. Turkey has threatened to expand its military operation against Kurdish fighters, who ousted IS from the town of Manbij near the Turkish border, and repeated the threat on Wednesday. But the US-led coalition fighting jihadists in Syria, of which France is a member, sees the YPG as a key player in the fight against IS and has warned that Turkey's operation risks distracting from that battle. Macron had on Thursday offered to help establish a "dialogue" between the SDF and Turkey "with help from France and the international community" -- an idea angrily rejected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. "We are extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue," Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara. --- AFP

Jumblat Fears Mustaqbal-FPM Attempt to 'Besiege' Him

Naharnet/Fri 30 Mar 2018/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat has criticized “the behavior of al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement on the eve of the elections.”“Their behavior suggests that there is an attempt to besiege me, probably for calculations related to the post-elections phase,” Jumblat told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Friday. “Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Minister Jebran Bassil may be involved in these calculations,” Jumblat added. He accused Hariri of backing down from their electoral agreement in west Bekaa in response to his “rejection of cooperating with the FPM.”Asked why he is dismayed by “FPM's behavior in Chouf,” Jumblat slammed the movement's “rhetoric.”“Their rhetoric has nothing to do with ethics,” he said. Asked whether he fears not being able to “form a parliamentary bloc with a political weight,” Jumblat smiled and noted: “When we toppled the May 17 Agreement, my friend Nabih Berri and I were not MPs... Political weight does not only depend on the number of MPs.”

Berri congratulates Sisi on his reelection
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, congratulated on Friday Egyptian President, Abdul Fattah Sisi, on his re-election. In his congratulatory cable, Berri wished Sisi to achieve more development and prosperity for Egypt and its people.

Foucher lauds approval of State budget
Fri 30 Mar 2018 /NNA - French Ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher, saluted in a statement on Friday, the work of the Parliament Council and the commitment of its Speaker in contributing to endorsing the State budget for 2018 in a short time. "Yesterday evening, the House of Representatives endorsed several laws, including the 2018 State budget and the hydraulic law. The Parliament Council also approved the International Financing Agreements, including an agreement with the French Development Agency for €30 million for small and medium-sized companies engaged in renewable energies," the statement said. "The adoption of these texts represents a positive step towards the convening of CEDRE on April 6. We applaud the work of the Chamber of Deputies and the commitment of its Head, which allowed the adoption of these texts within a limited period of time," the statement added. Foucher also hoped that "the upcoming CEDRE Conference will bring together as many parties as possible and allow Lebanon to implement the ambitious investment plan, coupled with the reforms that are expected by both the economic actors and the partners of Lebanon, in order to create the necessary jobs to re-launch the economy in a sustainable manner."

Hariri meets with Tamer, Candidate Najm
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri met Friday at the "House of Center" with the Lebanese Democratic Movement Head, Jacques Tamer, in presence of the Future Movement's electoral candidate for the Orthodox Seat in Beirut's second district, Nazih Najm. Following the meeting, Tamer said, "Our visit today to Prime Minister Hariri is to confirm our support to his efforts, being a man of moderation around whom all the Lebanese must rally." "We, as a Movement, will support Mr. Nazih Najm, the candidate for the Orthodox Seat in the elections, because he represents me personally, as well as the Movement and all friends," Tamer added. In turn, candidate Najm said, "I thank Mr. Tamer for his support, which he conveyed to Prime Minister Hariri, and we consider ourselves to be as a one group in the country." Najm added: "PM Hariri represents moderation and has the vision and program to save the economy and bring the country to safety shore, in cooperation of course with His Excellency, President Michel Aoun."

Around 600 Syrian Refugees return home Saturday
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - Some 600 Syrian refugees are expected to return to their homeland on Saturday morning, National News Agency Correspondent said on Friday. The first phase of their departure begins at 9:00 a.m. from Shebaa and Arqoub to the villages of Beit Jenn and Beit Jenn Farm, located on the eastern side of Mount el-Sheikh. Moreover, Syrian vehicles have been working to transport the refugees from the western entrance of the town of Shebaa in South Lebanon to their villages on the eastern side of Jabal al-Sheikh via the Hasbani-Masna'a road, NNA reporter added. The repatriation is being followed-up in coordination between the Lebanese General Security and concerned Syrian authorities.
Rahi officiates over Good Friday Mass in Bkirki
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Rahi, presided over Good Friday Mass service in Bkirki in presence of Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. Rahi's sermon, dedicated to the worship of Christ and his lifetime sacrifice on the Holy Cross to save the world, reminded all true believers of the importance of compassion, acceptance of the other and the promotion of forgiveness. The prelate hoped that "the words of Jesus on the Cross will be our Constitution in life, a fact that will make the resurrection a passage to a new life."

Harb: It is not important to give the expatriate the right to vote, but to protect this right and prevent forging his will
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - MP Boutros Harb considered in an issued statement Friday that the important thing lies not in granting the Lebanese expatriates the chance to partake in the parliamentary elections, but rather to protect their votes and prevent the falsification of their will. Commenting on the Interior Minister's decision to screen the votes of employees and voters outside Lebanon, Harb said: "The problem is not how to transfer the envelopes from the Central Bank to the registration committees, but how to control the transfer of envelopes containing the ballot papers from embassies and consulates to the Central Bank without any tampering or forgery along the way." "This is a serious issue that remains unresolved. The envelopes can be exchanged at embassies or consulates or as they are being transferred," he added. Harb urged the government to protect the electoral process from fraud, hoping to "put in place a mechanism that ensures the safety of the elections and their outcome." On the other hand, Harb criticized the Foreign Ministry's granting of passports to Lebanese expatriates at the expense of one thousand Lebanese pounds contrary to the passport law. "This denotes a violation that exposes the electoral process to appeal and renders the expatriate's vote invalid," he underscored.

Marouni: Challenge Lies in Safeguarding the Opposition Voice in Parliament Friday 30th March 2018/Kataeb MP Elie Marouni, who is running for another term in the upcoming polls in the Zahle district, warned of attempts to strip the city of its free decision, admitting that the race will be hard amid the absurd electoral law being adopted."The challenge lies in the importance of keeping the opposition voice in the Parliament," he told Addiyar newspaper. Marouni said that electoral bribery is being used in order to influence the voters, calling on them to realize that the money and services are transient while the country's future is what really matters. "Some candidates have money, while others have a history of national struggle."Marouni stressed that, if re-elected, he will work on implementing the Kataeb's 131-point platform which proposes solutions to almost all the country's problems, adding that he will seek to boost development in Zahle.

Non Elections … Lebanese-Style/إياد أبو شقرا: على الطريقة اللبنانية… انتخاب أي شيء ولا شيء
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/March 30/18
In one of Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Dr. Selim Al-Hoss most relevant quotes, he said: “Lebanon enjoys a lot of freedom but very little democracy!”; and in the current elections’ season, this quote is more truthful than ever.
Yes, there is a lot of freedom; perhaps, even too much. However, as far as democracy is concerned, and regardless of the electoral law adopted, it is supposed to embody well-informed and responsible freedom.
Alas, this is not the case. In Lebanon, there are no more criteria to run for elections, and no point in throwing promises at an electorate that does not care, is not interested in details, does not deal with the concept of elections in a mature and responsible way, and, ignore the fact that accountability is a vital part in practicing politics in an environment that claims to be free and sovereign.
Some may argue that there were several landmarks in the history of ‘Independent Lebanon’ (since 1943) that have proven the futility of attempts to keep a self-perpetuating ‘clannish’ and sectarian traditional political system. This is actually true; as on more than one occasion, this system staggered after an almost total rift remerged between its intellectual elites and its traditional base. However, regional factors and global considerations converged to aid, and then, rescue this system.
It is surely right to say that many intellectuals have rejected, for some time, the ills of ‘clientship’, nepotism, and taking refuge and strength in religious sects and feudal politics. But, they, either continued to adhere to the ‘idealism’ of their ‘ivory towers’ or fell at the first test with reality; and thus, some chose to coexist and accept the ‘rules of the game’ so becoming part of the system, or got desperate and left, or even, immigrated.
On the other hand, political parties, long hoped for as the intellectual and organizational vehicles for change, also changed. From the very beginning, there were openly ‘sectarian’ – Christian and Muslim – parties, as well as parties that were sectarian by nature although raising liberal banners and seeking an elitist target audience. Next to these two sets of parties were secular or semi-secular ideologies that were able to attract members and supporters from all sects.
However, as time passed by, and benefitting from experience, some of the sectarian parties managed to readjust its rhetoric and approach in order to adapt to the new post-1920 politics, which were by far more complex than the simple ones of Mt Lebanon of 1860-1865. On the other side of the arena, the ideological cross-sectarian alternatives collapsed as a result of the retreat of ‘Syrian Social Nationalism’ following the failed coup attempt of 1960-1961, Arab Nationalism after the Six Days war of 1967 and later the Camp David Accords (1978), and International Left as a result of the demise of the USSR in 1991.
Furthermore, the experience with the Palestinian Resistance Movement, which was penetrated by several Arab regimes that established loyal organizations within it, became a living proof that even the noblest of aims could not withstand regional pressures, whether through threats or financial ‘support’. This is exactly what happened in Lebanon, where many parties regarded as potential alternatives to the traditional ‘clannish’ system, became ‘mercenaries’ to neighboring countries, following their dictates and even joining their wars. Among the best examples, here, was the confrontation between the “two Baaths” of Syria and Iraq. The conflict began as an organizational difference between the ‘National Command’ hosted in Iraq and Syria’s ‘Regional Command’, but it soon developed into contradictory subservient loyalties to two clan-based regimes, one ‘Takriti’ in Baghdad, the other ‘Assadi’ in Damascus.
Later on, with the escalation of the Lebanese War, which almost brought down the fragile system, an international decision was taken to ask a local regional ‘policeman’ not only to save that system, but also destroy the then catalyst to its imminent downfall, i.e., the Palestinian Resistance Movement. This is exactly what happened, after giving the Syrian army the ‘green light’ to enter and occupy Lebanon, with international and Israeli blessings.
The beginning of this episode was camouflaged by a flimsy Arab cover called the ‘Arab Deterrent Force’, but soon afterwards, the Syrian regime metamorphosed into a ‘mandatory force’ that began rebuilding Lebanon as it wished. Thus, when wider interests, such as the adoption of the constitutional ‘Taif Accords’ of 1989, were not to Damascus’ liking, the latter worked to undo it, going as far as murdering the first post-Taif Lebanese President, and suspending every item Damascus felt would jeopardize its interests.
The ‘Taif Accords’ which were signed ten years after the Khomeini Revolution in Iran, were a serious internal – regional attempt to repair the Lebanese system and help it withstand ongoing demographic changes since Independence. But, unseen in the background, were the developing conspiracies against the ‘Accords’ between Damascus and Tehran.
For a long time, many thought that Damascus was the power in charge of the ‘Lebanese file’, more so after it was given a free hand in Lebanon as a reward for Hafez Al-Assad taking part in the ‘Liberation of Kuwait Campaign’ (1990-1991). However, the passing of Hafez Al-Assad and the takeover by his son Bashar, provided an early sign that Tehran was becoming the principal player, leaving Damascus the roles of Iran’s ‘bridge’ to Lebanon, and the ‘nanny’ of its regional project in the Arab Middle East. This fact did not take long to emerge in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, after the assassination of Rafic Hariri (Lebanon’s former Prime Minister) and his colleagues in early 2005. The assassination, in retrospect, was a necessary step in the advancement of Iran’s crawling expansion in Iraq and Yemen, including Iran’s political and strategic ‘war against political Sunni Islam’.
Today the role accorded to Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq become unquestionably clear, as the map of the ‘new Syria’ unfolds under Russo-Iranian sponsorship and tacit Israeli and Western approval; including the uprooting and displacement of more than 20 million Arab Sunni Muslims from the desert arc extending from Fallujah in the east to Daraa in the southwest.
This is a fact, I claim, most Lebanese are aware of. Still, as the Lebanese approach the ‘elections’ scheduled for May 6th, they behave as if this was an opportunity to ‘protest’. Just a demonstration they would join, and then return home.
No one really wants to think how absurd it is to have elections in the shadow of non-governmental weapons, and based on a sinister, distorted and ill-intentioned electoral law.
These elections are, actually, intended to legitimize the ‘status quo’ and make it ‘constitutional’, citing what is, in reality, an artificial stability and a fake moderation.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 30-31/18
Syrian Rebels, Civilians Quit Ghouta as Talks for Last Pocket Stutter
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Hundreds more Syrian rebels and civilians prepared Friday to leave Eastern Ghouta under a negotiated withdrawal, as Russia unilaterally announced a similar deal to empty the final pocket of the battered enclave. The former rebel bastion on the outskirts of Damascus has been drained by a nearly six-week Syrian government assault and a pair of evacuation deals brokered by regime ally Moscow. Under such agreements, rebels agree to hand over territory in exchange for safe passage for them and civilians to opposition zones in northwest Syria. More than 36,000 people have already been bused out of the enclave, and fresh evacuations were under way on Friday. Around 1,000 people, a quarter of them fighters, were boarding buses in a pocket of Ghouta held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel faction, according to Syrian state media. That agreement, reached last week, left the overpopulated, devastated town of Douma as the final rebel holdout in the region. Russia's defense ministry on Friday said it had brokered a deal that would see rebels abandon Douma "shortly", but the fighters there quickly denied it. "We categorically refuse leaving or being displaced," said Jaish al-Islam's spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar. "That's an essential demand of the negotiations. We have not reached an agreement yet," he told AFP, adding that talks were ongoing. Eastern Ghouta was the armed opposition's last stronghold around Damascus, which groups regularly targeted with rockets and mortar rounds.
Stalling talks
To secure Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad launched a ferocious air and ground assault on February 18 to oust rebels from their perch in Ghouta. More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the onslaught, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Troops pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy, seizing most of the enclave then breaking up what was left of it into three isolated pockets. Moscow stepped in and swiftly announced two withdrawal agreements with rebels, the first of which saw more than 4,500 fighters and civilians bussed out of the town of Harasta. The second deal, reached with Faylaq al-Rahman one week ago, has seen more than 31,000 people quit the towns of Arbin and Zamalka and the Jobar district. In the first two deals, rebels caved in to Russia's "leave or die" approach but negotiations for the Douma pocket, held by Jaish al-Islam, has looked more arduous.
Douma's population has swelled to an estimated 200,000 with people displaced from other bombed-out districts. Jaish al-Islam had been in talks with Russia to reach a settlement whereby they could stay, instead of being bused out like other rebels. But negotiations faltered over the group's demands of a general amnesty and safe passage for Douma residents to move freely across the country, a source with knowledge of the talks told AFP. Moscow threatened Jaish al-Islam with a renewed blitz on the town if they did not agree to withdraw, and Syrian troops have amassed around the holdout.
'Nearly wiped out'
The rebel movement have also come under growing pressure from Douma's residents, hundreds of whom have organized demonstrations demanding a status update on the talks. On Thursday, Russia's foreign minister said Syrian forces had ousted nearly all rebels from Ghouta. "As a result of this anti-terrorism operation in Eastern Ghouta, terrorist elements have nearly been wiped out of this suburb of the Syrian capital," Sergei Lavrov said. Syria's state news agency SANA said around 29,000 civilians had fled Douma in recent days, using a "corridor" opened up by advancing Syrian troops. SANA said a total of 143,000 people in total had streamed out of Ghouta along such corridors and as part of the evacuation deals. It did not confirm the agreement with Jaish al-Islam, but its correspondent said "preliminary information" indicated a deal was close to being reached.
The rebels evacuated so far were bused to the northwestern province of Idlib and one of the sticking points in the Douma talks appears to be the destination. "The problem with Jaish al-Islam is that it's quite big, very cohesive, very organized, but it doesn't go well with anyone else," said Thomas Pierret, an analyst at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

U.S. Military Says 2 Coalition Personnel Killed in Syria
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Two coalition personnel have been killed and five others wounded in an attack with an improvised explosive device in Syria, the U.S. military said on Friday. The U.S. Central Command did not give the nationalities of the victims of the attack, which happened on Thursday, with wounded evacuated for further medical treatment. The attack targeted personnel taking part in Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led drive to fight the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey Snubs French Mediation Offer with Kurdish Militia
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Turkey on Friday rejected a French offer to mediate with the Syrian Democratic Forces which is dominated by a Kurdish militia blacklisted by Ankara, a presidential spokesman said. An offer to facilitate dialogue between the two sides was extended by French President Emmanuel Macron late on Thursday after he met a delegation of Kurdish and Arab fighters. But Turkey dismissed it out of hand in a move likely to further fuel tension with Paris, which has expressed clear concerns over an ongoing Turkish military operation in northern Syria. "We reject any efforts to promote 'dialogue', 'contact' or 'mediation' between Turkey and those terrorist organizations," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. Macron said he hoped "a dialogue" could be established between the two sides with help from Paris and the international community.
The backbone of the SDF is the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a militia group which has been driven out of its Afrin stronghold by the Turkish offensive. The YPG is the military wing of the main Syrian Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The Turkish military began its offensive against the YPG in January, targeting the group over its ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and which Ankara blacklists as a terror group.
France 'cooperating with terror'
"Turkey's position on PKK/PYD/YPG, which seeks to legitimize itself as SDF, is perfectly clear," Kalin said, warning Paris against taking any steps which could be construed as legitimizing terror groups. "The countries we consider friends and allies must take a clear stand against all forms of terrorism," he said. "The various names and disguises cannot hide the true identity of the terrorist organization."Both France and the United States have worked closely with YPG fighters in the battle against Islamic State jihadists in Syria and During Thursday's talks, Macron acknowledged the "role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh", the Elysee said using an Arabic acronym for IS. But his remarks were not well received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he was "extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue."Macron and Erdogan have spoken several times on the phone since Turkey's operation began on January 20. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag took a much tougher line, lashing out at France and warning that any country cooperating with "terrorists" would be on Turkey's radar. "France's assurance of support for PYD/YPG/YPJ terror organizations is clear cooperation and solidarity with terror groups attacking Turkey," wrote Bozdag on Twitter.YPJ is the women's force within the YPG.
A sharp warning
"Those who cooperate with terror groups against Turkey ... and attack Turkey alongside terrorists will get the same treatment that we inflict upon those terrorists," said Bozdag, who is also the government spokesman."They will become Turkey's target."Bozdag said he hoped France would not take such an "irrational step."About 10 days into the Turkish operation in Syria, Macron had incensed Turkish officials by saying France would have a "real problem" if the campaign turned out to be an "invasion operation."The comments drew a sharp response from Turkish authorities, saying that Turkey has never been "colonialist" in its history, urging Paris to look at its own past. On March 18, Turkish forces and their rebel allies took full control of Afrin, with the YPG largely withdrawing without a fight.

Erdogan 'Saddened' by France's Stance on Kurdish Militia
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said he was "extremely saddened" by France's position after Paris offered to mediate with the Syrian Democratic Forces dominated by a Kurdish militia deemed a terrorist group by Ankara. "We are extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue," Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara after French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that he hoped "a dialogue" could be established between Ankara and the SDF. "We have no need for mediation... Since when has Turkey had an issue of sitting down at the table with terror organization?"The majority of the SDF is made up of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara says is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. But the YPG inside the SDF has been working closely with the United States to fight the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, much to Ankara's anger. "Those who say 'we guaranteed support to YPG', 'we can mediate between Turkey and SDF'... are out of their depth and are surpassing their limit," Erdogan thundered. "You can sit down at the table with terror organizations but Turkey will continue its fight against terror."During the meeting with a delegation of Syrian and Arab fighters on Thursday, Macron acknowledged the "role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh," using another term for IS. Turkey on January 20 launched an operation against the YPG in its western enclave of Afrin in Syria and on March 18, Turkish troops supporting Syrian rebels drove the YPG out of Afrin city. Erdogan hit out at France, saying it "still had yet to give an account for its dirty and bloody past" and that "after this stance, it no longer had the right to complain about terror organizations, terrorists and terror attacks." The Turkish president added that Macron had made "strange remarks" in a call about Syria last week. "I was forced to point it out to him, even if the tone was a bit raised," he said, without giving details.
Kremlin Says Russia Did Not Initiate 'Any Diplomatic War'
Fri 30 Mar 2018/The Kremlin said Friday it was not Russia that had unleashed a diplomatic war with the West following the mass expulsion of U.S. envoys in retaliation against coordinated moves by Britain and its allies over a spy poisoning. "Russia did not unleash any diplomatic war," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "Russia never initiated any exchange of sanctions." "Russia has been forced to take retaliatory steps in response to hostile, illegal actions" by Washington, he said, adding that Moscow wanted "good relations" and remained open for dialogue. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close Washington's consulate in Saint Petersburg in a tit-for-tat response to the expulsion of its envoys in the wake of the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Russia's expulsion of U.S. diplomats marked a "further deterioration" in relations between the two countries. In all, more than 150 Russian diplomats have been ordered out of EU and NATO member countries and other nations in coordinated action against Moscow over its alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in southwestern England on March 4. ---AFP

France says not planning unilateral Syria operation
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - France said on Friday it is not planning a unilateral military operation in Syria outside the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group after senior Kurdish officials claimed Paris intended to send troops. "France is not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement, using another term for IS. Macron met with a delegation from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday, and Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told reporters afterwards that France was planning on sending "new French troops to Manbij". "The cooperation will be reinforced," she said. Khaled Issa, the official representative in France of Syria's Kurdistan, had added: "France is going to reinforce its military presence." The comments added to heightened international tensions as Turkey wages an offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey. Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in Afrin in January to oust the People's Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters who make up the bulk of the SDF, viewed as terrorists by Turkey. Turkey has threatened to expand its military operation against Kurdish fighters, who ousted IS from the town of Manbij near the Turkish border, and repeated the threat on Wednesday. But the US-led coalition fighting jihadists in Syria, of which France is a member, sees the YPG as a key player in the fight against IS and has warned that Turkey's operation risks distracting from that battle. Macron had on Thursday offered to help establish a "dialogue" between the SDF and Turkey "with help from France and the international community" -- an idea angrily rejected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. "We are extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue," Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara. --- AFP

US military: Syria bomb kills 2 coalition troops, wounds 5
Fri 30 Mar 2018/NNA - The U.S. military said Friday that two coalition personnel have been killed and five were wounded by a roadside bombing in Syria in a rare such attack since the U.S-led coalition sent troops into the war-torn country. The military did not say where the incident occurred but it came hours after a local Syrian official said that a roadside bomb has exploded in the tense, mixed Arab-Kurdish town of Manbij that is not far from the border with Turkey. The U.S. military statement said the incident occurred on Thursday night and that the wounded personnel were being evacuated for further medical treatment. The coalition statement said details pertaining to the incident were being withheld pending further investigation. It did not identify the casualties as American soldiers, only coalition personnel members. The local Syrian official, Mohammed Abu Adel, the head of the Manbij Military Council, an Arab-Kurdish US.-backed group in the town, said the bomb went off hundreds of meters away from a security headquarters that houses the council just before midnight on Thursday. Earlier Friday, a U.S. military official, Col. Ryan Dillon, said an incident involving coalition forces was reported in Manbij but said no more information was available. He said the coalition was still gathering information about the incident. Manbij is under threat of a Turkish military operation. Ankara says Syrian Kurdish militiamen it views as "terrorists" and an extension of Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey is in control of the town. The town has also seen a number of small explosions, protests and an assassination attempt on a member of the Manbij military council in recent weeks. Local officials blame Turkey and other adversaries for seeking to sow chaos in the town that was controlled by Islamic state militants until the summer of 2016. The U.S.-backed backed Kurdish-Arab Manbij military council has been in control since and U.S. troops patrol the town and area with troops based nearby. --- AP

Russia Hits Back against EU Countries in Spy Row
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Russia on Friday expelled Dutch diplomats and told Britain it had one month to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country, hitting back at EU countries after a coordinated campaign by the UK and its allies over a nerve agent attack on a former spy. Earlier in the day Russia had summoned the ambassadors of a number of nations including Britain, France, Germany and Canada to inform them of retaliatory measures. Dutch ambassador Renee Jones-Bos said she had been told two diplomats would be expelled.  "Two of my colleagues are leaving Moscow. But we (the embassy) are staying here," state news agency TASS quoted her as saying. The Russian foreign ministry also gave Britain a month to cut its number of diplomatic staff in Russia to the same as Russia has in Britain. Moscow has already announced that it would expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close Washington's consulate in Saint Petersburg after the expulsion of its own diplomats and the closure of one of its U.S. consulates. In all, more than 150 Russian diplomats have been ordered out of the U.S., EU members, NATO countries and other nations in a coordinated action against Moscow, which they accuse of being involved in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a nerve agent attack in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. The ambassadors had earlier been seen arriving at the Russian foreign ministry, an AFP journalist reported. "The ambassadors will be handed protest notes and told about the Russian side's retaliatory measures," the foreign ministry said in a terse statement.  The ministry did not say what those steps would be, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would respond with "tit-for-tat" measures, but they might "not only" be symmetrical. The Kremlin said Friday it was not Russia that had unleashed a diplomatic war with the West. "Russia did not unleash any diplomatic war," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Russia never initiated any exchange of sanctions.""Russia has been forced to take retaliatory steps in response to hostile, illegal actions" by Washington, he said, adding that Moscow wanted "good relations" and remained open for dialogue.
'Great news'
Some people in Saint Petersburg said they welcomed the move. "This is great news," said Viktor Glushko, 60. "It is about time. Relations will not get worse because they were never good and we will get by without them." In Washington, the State Department said Thursday there was no justification for the Russian move and that the United States "reserves the right to respond.""It's clear from the list provided to us that the Russian Federation is not interested in a dialogue on issues that matter to our two countries," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the expelled diplomats. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Russia's expulsion of U.S. diplomats marks a "further deterioration" in relations between the two countries. Lavrov said the U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman had been informed of "retaliatory measures."
Yulia 'improving rapidly'
The hospital where Skripal and his daughter are being treated said Thursday that Yulia, 33, was "improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition", while 66-year-old Sergei remained in a critical but stable condition. Britain has said it is "highly likely" that Russia was responsible for the attack using the Novichok nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, but Russia has angrily denied any involvement. Russia said 58 diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Moscow and two from the consulate in the city of Yekaterinburg have to leave Russia by next Thursday. The U.S. consulate general in Saint Petersburg will have to be vacated by Saturday. Moscow warned that Huntsman's suggestion that the U.S. could also freeze Russian state assets would lead to "further serious deterioration in our relations."It also warned that it could take further measures in response if Washington "continued hostile actions" against the Russian embassy and consulates. Lavrov said Russia was also mulling tit-for-tat responses to the other countries that have expelled its diplomats. "As for the other countries, it's also all symmetrical measures as to the number of people who will be leaving Russia from diplomatic missions, and that's all so far," Lavrov said. The measures might "not only" be symmetrical, he added. Lavrov said Britain had informed Moscow of the state of health of Yulia Skripal on Thursday and that Russia had asked again for access to her as a citizen. After the poisoning, Britain reacted by announcing it would expel 23 Russian diplomats, suspend high-level diplomatic contact with Moscow and not send royals to the 2018 football World Cup hosted by Russia. Russia then responded by closing a British consulate in Saint Petersburg and closing the British Council educational and cultural organization.

Israel Tells U.N. It Will 'Defend' Itself from Gaza Protests
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Israel on Thursday warned the United Nations that it has the right to "defend" itself on the eve of a mass protest planned by Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon wrote to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council to warn of a "dangerous effort by Palestinian leaders to create conflict by orchestrating a series of mass confrontations." Palestinians in Gaza on Friday will kick off six weeks of protests leading up to the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem around May 14. The Israeli armed forces chief has warned that forces at the Gaza border with Israel were ready to respond if the border fence is breached. "In light of the Palestinians’ organized planned provocation for the coming weeks, I reiterate Israel's right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens," Danon wrote. The ambassador condemned the planned protest and said U.N. personnel in Gaza should refrain from taking part in the demonstrations.

6 Dead, Dozens Hurt as Thousands of Gazans March near Israel Border
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Clashes erupted as thousands of Gazans marched near the Israeli border in a major protest on Friday, with five Palestinians killed and more than 50 wounded. Some Gazans estimated the total number of protesters in the tens of thousands, including women and children. They gathered at multiple sites throughout the blockaded territory, which is flanked by Israel along its eastern and northern borders, AFP correspondents said. Smaller numbers approached within a few hundreds meters (yards) of the heavily fortified border fence, with Israeli troops using tear gas and live fire to force them back. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 201 people wounded from live fire, while the health ministry in the Gaza Strip said four people were killed during the clashes. Israel's military said: "17,000 Palestinians are rioting in five locations along the Gaza Strip security fence. "The rioters are rolling burning tires and hurling firebombs and rocks at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators."Earlier in the day, before the main protests began, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli tank fire near the border, the health ministry said. The Israeli military said the tank fire came after "two suspects approached the security fence ... and began operating suspiciously." Protesters were demanding hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948 be allowed to return. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya attended the protest, believed to be the first time he had gone so close to the border in years. Organizers said the six-week protest would run until the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem around May 14. The upcoming embassy move has added to tensions surrounding the march. Israel announced a "closed military zone in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip," accusing its Islamist rulers Hamas of using the lives of civilians "for the purpose of terror."It has deployed reinforcements, including more than 100 special forces snipers, for fear of mass attempts to break through the security fence. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a Twitter post directed to Gazans in both Hebrew and Arabic that "Hamas's leadership is playing with your life.""Anyone who approaches the fence today will be putting themselves in danger."U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December has infuriated Palestinians, who claim its annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state. Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
Rare family protest
Protests along the border are common, often culminating in young Palestinian men throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who respond with tear gas, and rubber and live bullets. The March of Return protest is different because it is intended to include families with women and children camping near the border for weeks. Five main camp sites have been set up spanning the length of the frontier, from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah where it meets the Egyptian border in the south. Cultural events are planned in the larger communal tents, including traditional Palestinian dabke dancing, while tens of thousands of meals will be handed out on Friday, organizers said. A young couple were married near one of the camps on Thursday evening. Saeed Juniya had erected a small tent a few hundred meters (yards) from the border fence east of Gaza City, where he was accompanied by his wife and children. "We are determined and not scared as we are not doing something wrong. The people are demanding their land and to return to their country," he said. Organizers say the camps will remain in place until May 15 when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or "catastrophe", of the 1948 creation of Israel with the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians. According to the United Nations, some 1.3 million of Gaza's two million residents are refugees or their descendants and the protest is calling for them to be allowed to return to land that is now Israel. Washington's plans to launch its new embassy around the same time, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Israeli state, have further stoked Palestinian anger. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, on Thursday labeled the protest an "organized planned provocation" and reiterated "Israel's right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens."
The launch of the protests comes as Palestinians mark Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.

Trump Says U.S. Withdrawing from Syria 'Very Soon'
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/U.S. President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that U.S. forces would pull out of Syria "very soon" and lamented what he said was Washington's waste of $7 trillion in Middle East wars. In a populist address to industrial workers in Ohio, Trump said U.S. forces were close to securing all of the territory that the Islamic State jihadist group once claimed. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now," he promised, to applause. Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "Very soon -- very soon we're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it -- sometimes referred to as 'land' -- taking it all back quickly, quickly," he said. "But we're going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be." State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked at a briefing if she was aware of any decision for the US to pull out of Syria. She responded, "I am not, no. No."The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat the Islamic State group while trying to keep out of Syria's broader civil war.  Trump's eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new U.S. Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson -- who has since been sacked. Tillerson argued that U.S. forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and al-Qaida from returning and to deny Iran a chance "to further strengthen its position in Syria."In a speech at Stanford University, he also warned that "a total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would restore Assad and continue his brutal treatment against his own people."But Tillerson has gone after being dismissed in a tweet. And Trump, who increasingly makes foreign policy announcements without seeking the advice of U.S. generals or diplomats, wants out. "We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. And you know what we have for it? Nothing," Trump declared, promising to focus future U.S. spending on building jobs and infrastructure at home.

Pressure on Iran will help avoid war: Saudi Crown Prince tells the WSJ
Arab News/March 30/18/Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman called on the international community to pressure Iran economically and politically. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman called on the international community to pressure Iran economically and politically with regards tothe nuclear agreement to avoid a direct military confrontation in the region during an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “Sanctions will create more pressure on the Iranian regime,” the Saudi Crown Prince said, explaining that efforts must be made to avoid a military conflict in the region caused by Iran. Iran has supplied the Houthi militia in Yemen with weapons used against Saudi Arabia over the past three years, the crown prince explained during the interview. Since the war in Yemen began, the Houthi militia group fired several ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. However, the crown prince stated that these attacks were “evidence of weakness”. Meanwhile in response to a question on Saudi Arabia’s intervention, the crown prince said: “Yemen was about to get split between the Houthis and Al-Qaeda if we had not intervened in 2015.

France Says Not Planning Unilateral Syria Operation
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/France said on Friday it is not planning a unilateral military operation in Syria outside the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group after senior Kurdish officials claimed Paris intended to send troops. "France is not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement, using another term for IS. Macron met with a delegation from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday, and Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told reporters afterwards that France was planning on sending "new French troops to Manbij.""The cooperation will be reinforced," she said. Khaled Issa, the official representative in France of Syria's Kurdistan, had added: "France is going to reinforce its military presence."The comments added to heightened international tensions as Turkey wages an offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey. Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in Afrin in January to oust the People's Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters who make up the bulk of the SDF, viewed as terrorists by Turkey. Turkey has threatened to expand its military operation against Kurdish fighters, who ousted IS from the town of Manbij near the Turkish border, and repeated the threat on Wednesday. But the U.S.-led coalition fighting jihadists in Syria, of which France is a member, sees the YPG as a key player in the fight against IS and has warned that Turkey's operation risks distracting from that battle. Macron had on Thursday offered to help establish a "dialogue" between the SDF and Turkey "with help from France and the international community" -- an idea angrily rejected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. "We are extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue," Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara.

Amnesty: 8 Iran Sufis on Hunger Strike, Claim Torture
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/March 30/18/Eight members of Iran's Gonabadi Sufi minority are on hunger strike, Amnesty International said Friday, protesting alleged torture in prison after protests in which security forces members were killed. "One of the men, Abbas Dehghan, has allegedly been threatened with his wife being raped in front of him if he does not 'confess'," the rights group said in a statement. Amnesty said the eight hunger strikers require medical care for injuries sustained during their arrest in the violent clashes with security forces on 19 February. The violence erupted during a demonstration by members of the Gonabadi order, known as dervishes, who were protesting the arrest of members of the sect, as well as rumors that their leader would soon be arrested. One member of the sect has been sentenced to death for driving a bus into a group of police officers during the protests, killing three. Two members of the Basij, an Islamic militia tasked with a number of policing duties, were also killed in the clashes. The men on hunger strike are being held in Shapour detention center in Tehran, Amnesty said, describing it as "notorious for extracting 'confessions' through torture". "Commonly reported methods of torture include kicking and punching; beatings with plastic pipes, cables or whips; prolonged binding; and various forms of suspension including one known as the 'chicken kebab', in which the person is suspended from a pole with their arms bent back and tied to their ankles and then flogged," the group said. More than 300 people were arrested in the February clashes. Amnesty said some families were not informed of their whereabouts and the authorities have been denied access to lawyers until their interrogations are complete. At least 20 members of the sect have been charged so far, Amnesty said, with more charges expected. It said one protester had died from injuries to his head, which police say were received during the clashes. The family told Amnesty it took two weeks for them to be informed of his death. A mystic branch of Islam, Sufism is tolerated in Iran but perceived as a "deviation" by many conservative members of the Shiite clergy. Emerging in the nineteenth century, the Gonabadi order is one of the most important Sufi branches in Iran. Its followers regularly complain of being harassed by authorities and discriminated against by the Islamic Republic.

Saudi Crown Prince Meets Representatives of Five Permanent Members of Security Council
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 30 March, 2018/Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense, met in New York in Friday with the five permanent Security Council representatives to the United Nations who are: US ambassador Nikki Haley, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, Chinese ambassador Ma Zhaoxu, UK ambassador Jonathan Allen and French ambassador François Delattre. During the meeting, the Crown Prince and the ambassadors discussed the current situation in the Middle East, highlighting the developmental in Yemen and the Iran-backed Houthi militia’s violations. Crown Prince Mohammed affirmed for the representatives the necessity that the Security Council must assume responsibility in this regard in addition to the need to respect international treaties, conventions and law and the United Nations Convention. The Prince also reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the huge bilateral cooperation between them. The meeting was attended by Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir, and Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Abdullah Al-Maalami.

Saudi Crown Prince: Houthi Missiles Sign of Weakness, Muslim Brotherhood an Incubator for Terrorists
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 30 March, 2018/Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense called for more pressure to be exerted against Iran economically and politically to avoid a direct military confrontation in the region. In an interview with 'The Wall Street Journal' published Friday, the Crown Prince said sanctions “will create more pressure on the regime" in Iran. “If we don’t succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years,” he added. Regarding the war in Yemen, Crown Prince Mohammed said consequences would have been worse if they did not act there. “If we didn’t act in 2015 we would have had Yemen divided in half between the Houthis and al Qaeda,” he said. Prince Mohammed described the missiles fired against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by Houthis as sign of weakness saying: “they want to do whatever they can do before they collapse.” The prince’s comments came days after 7 ballistic missiles were fired at Saudi Arabia, 3 of which targeted Riyadh, and which were intercepted by the Saudi Air Defense Forces. The UN Security Council condemned the Houthi missile attacks targeting Saudi cities and stressed that they pose "a serious national security threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as a wider threat to regional security." Of The Muslim Brotherhood, the crown prince said: "The Muslim Brotherhood is an incubator for terrorists. We have to get rid of extremism. Without extremism no one can become a terrorist.”

Crown Prince Holds Talks with Chairmen of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan

Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 30 March, 2018/Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense, met Thursday with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Morgan Stanley James Gorman. In a separate meeting, the Crown Prince also met with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Jamie Dimon. Both meeting discussed views on the services provided by the two banks to Saudi Arabia, in addition to opportunities of cooperation and strategic partnership.
Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi ambassador to the United States of America, and a number of senior officials attended the two meetings.

New Case Doubles Legal Troubles for Sarkozy
Paris, London- Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 30 March, 2018/Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his lawyer Thierry Herzog, and Gilbert Azibert, then a senior judge in France's highest court, will face trial over charges of corruption and misuse of influence. According to prosecutors, Sarkozy’s lawyer tried to get information from Azibert over the status of a campaign financing investigation. In that inquiry, Sarkozy was suspected of accepting illicit payments from the L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign. At the beginning of 2012, Sarkozy appeared before court for charges of illegally funding of his electoral campaign. In a related matter, the British judiciary released Alexander al-Jawhari, a French businessman of Algerian descent, in a bail for health issues. Jawhari was arrested on charges of Libyan funding of Sarkozy campaign in 2007. Alexander al-Jawhari, who is wanted by French courts, was bailed for 1.14 million euros at a hearing in London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court last Friday, Judge Emma Arbuthnot said Thursday. The judge said that she would re-evaluate Djouhri’s situation “weekly depending on his health”. Jawhari suffers from heart problems and is supposed to undergo surgery on Thursday, a source close to the case said. Jawhari’s name appeared in a suspicious deal with Libya and in the case of helping a prominent figure of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi regime to flee France. At that time, and following a three-year investigation, prosecutors in Paris had no sufficient evidence on a Libyan funding but a series of worrying testimonies and elements. Jawhari was released after paying a bail. Yet, in February, he was arrested again but was also released for his health condition.

Russia Expels 60 US Diplomats, Closes US Consulate in St. Petersburg
Moscow, London - Raed Jaber, Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 30 March, 2018/Russia has decided to expel 60 US diplomats and close the US consulate in St. Petersburg in response to US actions against Russia in the case of the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. Russia will close down the US consulate in St. Petersburg and expel 60 American diplomats as it takes tit-for-tat measures against all the nations that have expelled Russian diplomats, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said on Thursday. The Russian foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador in Moscow to inform him of the response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats. Lavrov stated that Russia will respond similarly to the countries that expelled its diplomats. Russia has declared 60 employees of the US Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the Consulate General in Yekaterinburg personae non gratae, they will have to leave the country by April 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. A Russian law enforcement committee which is running an investigation into Skripal’s poisoning said it has sent a request to Britain to provide Moscow with legal assistance. Moscow is seeking "the British colleagues to perform a number of procedural actions aiming at establishing the circumstances of the crime, as well as provide copies of the materials of the criminal investigation".
Committee’s spokeswoman said the Russian asked London to provide it "with the results of the inspection of the place where Yulia Skripal were found unconsciousness as well as with the results of her medical examination.” However, Moscow's request for samples of the chemical substance used to poison Skripal was rejected, and Russia repeatedly criticized Britain's refusal to involve Russian investigators in the case, or to help the Russian consulate in London to obtain information and visit Yulia Skirpal. The Kremlin is ready to cooperate with "any party working to ease tensions in the current crisis” and over the past days, it was noted that the Russian tone seemed more flexible and calm. Russia is now "carefully studying each step," a Russian diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat. The source added that there is a conviction in Moscow that US and UK led the campaign against Russia, but some countries that took “solidarity” measures told Russia that it does not want an escalation with Moscow. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Vienna might be prepared to act as a mediator to settle the spat between Britain and Russia.
Austrian Foreign Minister Karen Kniessel offered her country's mediation in resolving the crisis between Russia and Britain. Austria is ready to act as a mediator in settling the differences between the UK and Russia, she said."It is important for us to pursue such diplomacy, which allows us to maintain dialogue," she said. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova Thursday shrugged off a "surprise" threat against London, and announced a “gift to Britain” which will be declared. However, she stressed that the United States has no right to expel diplomats accredited at the UN headquarters and Washington did not implement the necessary procedures for that.
The spokeswoman said that Moscow has begun to feel a link between provocations in the case of Skripal and the situation in Syria. On banning journalists of Russian Zvezda TV channel from covering the European summit, Zakharova indicated that the West is dealing with Russian journalists as spies. She noted that they should remember that "the Russian Foreign Ministry has a lot of information about the activities of Western journalists in Russia and some of these cases have reached the courts.”Russia's foreign intelligence chief Sergey Naryshkin acknowledged that "among the representatives of the Russian diplomatic missions there are intelligence officers, but they are few, and they were providing security for Russian embassies."He said the expulsion of the diplomats is a provocation from a well-known group of countries that are working to create an atmosphere of hatred against Russia, stressing that “the response is coming, and will be firm.”Russian concerns about British and Western measures also tackled economic sides with the Kremlin spokesman discussing measures being considered by London and Washington aimed at Russian assets, including a ban on the issuance of sovereign bonds on the London Stock Exchange. A parliamentary committee will investigate suspicious funds paid in British property worth 880 million pounds purchased by Russian nationals. The Treasury Committee said it would investigate economic crimes in Britain after allegations that London has become the preferred destination for money laundering operations. Russia is closely watching a report that British Prime Minister Theresa May may be considering limiting London’s role in marketing Russian debt to investors, Kremlin spokesman said on Thursday. “We are watching this very closely. Indeed it is a very important matter that probably concerns (these) countries’ image as reliable economic partners,” Peskov said of the UK and US warnings. Peskov’s statements came after British newspaper The Guardian reported on Wednesday that May had agreed to consider a ban on the City of London helping Russia sell government debt in the wake of the poisoning of a Russian former spy in England. The spy and his daughter were exposed with nerve gas in their home. Britain's counter terrorism unit announced that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a deadly nerve agent left on their front door.
Dead of the force's counter terrorism unit, Dean Haydon, said: “At this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door. We are therefore focusing much of our efforts in and around their address. Those living in the Skripals.”
BBC’s Security correspondent Gordon Corera said the highest concentration was found on the Skripals' door handle, and could have been administered through a "gloopy substance which could have been smeared on to that door handle".
He added it would explain why the nerve agent may have been found on the Skripals' car or the restaurant in which they had eaten which has been cordoned off by detectives.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 30-31/18
Regulation Could Power a New Era of Silicon Valley Growth

Conor Sen/Bloomberg/March 30/18
The secret use of Facebook data in the U.S. presidential election has forced governments and consumers to think about how such companies gather and profit from personal information — a major concern overdue for close attention. This scrutiny may be the beginning of the end of the unregulated growth of Silicon Valley. Tech companies and their investors may shudder at the thought, but their fear of regulation may be unwarranted. Part of the maturation process of any industry is regulation that suits its activities, and the gains from a safer, more trusted technology sector could quite plausibly outweigh any losses.
This was one theme that emerged from discussions at last week's Bloomberg Ideas event in San Francisco, where Bloomberg columnists discussed some of the issues facing the technology sector. In a panel on regulatory challenges, columnist Joe Nocera talked about the growth of the credit-card industry decades ago. The industry fought regulation that imposed limits on how much cardholders could be liable for in the case of fraud or theft, but after the industry lost that fight and consumers had some protections, plastic became the coin of the realm. This would not have happened if the credit-card industry had remained a Wild West.
This is the model Silicon Valley should consider as its ambitions expand to industries at the heart of our daily lives. It was one thing when the industry was more focused on semiconductors and database software, where product failures may have been a big problem for engineers who relied on them but were a nuisance at worst for the public at large. It's quite a different matter when the industries in question are transportation, media, health care and finance — when failure has a much graver real-world impact on far more people.
One industry where regulation may provide the greatest catalyst for growth, as became apparent in my own Bloomberg Ideas panel on capital markets and innovation, is cryptocurrencies. While I remain a skeptic about the future of cryptocurrencies, a member of the audience expressed the modern version of the case Nocera mentioned: that institutional investors who are interested in cryptocurrencies could be waiting for a regulatory framework to emerge before allocating money to them. The early enthusiasts focus a lot on how a regulatory crackdown could represent the demise of cryptocurrencies — but clear rules and investor protections may provide the foundation for a more legitimate and much larger industry to emerge. My decision to deactivate my Facebook account last week in response to the company's data practices reflects this theme. While I remain a fan of Facebook's product as a user — there's no better way for me to keep up with distant family members and local news — I'm concerned with how the company and others use my personal data in ways I don't know about, and how indifferent the company seems to be about the appropriate business use of said data. My hope is that continued public scrutiny on the company leads to adequate reform or regulation, after which I would gladly reactivate my account. A regulated tech sector will be different, but there’s no cause to assume it will be worse. By curtailing some actions, regulations will encourage the public to go along with everything else the companies do — ultimately supporting this dynamic sector toward continued growth.

Trump and the Fading Ghost of an Illusion
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 30/18
Does the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Adviser indicate President Trump’s determination to formally renounce the so-called “nuclear deal” concocted by his predecessor Barack Obama?
The common answer of the commentariat is a resounding yes. Long before Trump promised to tear-up the deal, Bolton was on record denouncing it as an ugly example of appeasement.
Thus, next May, when the “deal” comes up for its periodical renewal, President Trump’s idea of “tearing up a bad deal” is likely to have broader support in his administration. And that seems to be exactly what Tehran is expecting.
In fact, just days after Bolton’s appointment, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency Behruz Kamalvand broke a year of silence to boast about ambitious new plans for speeding up and expanding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear project.
The buzz in Tehran is that the ruling establishment expects Trump to refuse to sign another waiver linked to the “deal” and, perhaps order a tightening of the existing sanctions. However, Tehran seems determined to continue its formal commitment to the “deal” as part of a strategy to drive a wedge between the Europeans and a Trump administration already unpopular in the old continent.
Tehran’s calculation is that the mid-term elections in the US may deprive Trump of crucial Congressional support and pave the way for his defeat in the following presidential election. Thus the wisest course is to keep everyone focused on the nuclear issue which the Europeans, and part of the political establishment in the US, believe they have solved thanks to the “deal” while he International Atomic Energy (IAEA) continues its 20-year long equivocation on the issue.
Only Iran that really knows its own intentions on that score.
Iran is right in saying that it is not producing nuclear weapons. What Iran is doing is to set up all the technical, industrial, and materiel means needed to produce such weapons, if and when it decides to do so.
While not producing nuclear weapons now, Iran has a program designed to make such weapons within months. It is like a chef who brings in all that is needed for making a soup but does not actually start the cooking until he knows when the guests will be coming.
In the past three decades Iran has trained and deployed the scientists and technicians needed, built the research centers required, and set up structures for a complete nuclear cycle, from raw materials to the finished product.
Part of the Iranian national defense doctrine is based on the capacity to produce and deploy nuclear weapons within a brief time span.
Before the revolution Iran regarded its northern neighbor, the Soviet Union, a nuclear “super-power” as the sole serious threat to its national security. The assumption was that in case of a Soviet invasion Iran should be in a position to use tactical nuclear weapons waiting for the great American ally to ride to the rescue.
After the mullahs seized power, Iran’s national defense doctrine was based on the assumption that it will, one day, fight a war with the United States plus its Arab allies and/or Israel.
The central assumption of Iranian strategists is that the US cannot sustain a long war. It is, therefore, necessary to pin down its forces and raise the kill-die ratio to levels unacceptable by the American public.
In the meantime, Iran would put its nuclear-weapons program in high gear, and brandish the threat of nuclear war as a means of forcing the US to accept a ceasefire and withdraw from whatever chunk of Iranian territory they may have seized.
Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani publicly evoked the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Washington’s regional allies, especially Israel.
“In a nuclear duel in the region, Israel may kill 100 million Muslims,” Rafsanjani said in a speech in Tehran in October 2000. “Muslims can sustain such casualties, knowing that, in exchange, there would be no Israel on the map.” Iran’s top military commanders also speak about a military clash with the United States as the only serious threat to the Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
They believe they have three trump cards to play.
The first is that Iran has a demographic reserve of some 20 million people of “fighting age” and is thus capable of sustaining levels of casualties unthinkable for Americans. The second is that Iran is already the missile superpower of the Middle East and could target all of Washington’s allies in the region.
Iran’s third trump card is its nuclear program. Without it the other two cards will not have the effect desired, especially if the US would unleash its new generation of low-grade nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use.
The real issue, as far as US and allies are concerned, is that the regime in Iran has been, is and most likely will remain, a threat with or without nuclear weapons.
Iran did not seize the US diplomats as hostages with nuclear weapons; nor did it massacre 241 US Marines in Beirut with an atomic bomb. The mischief that Iran is making in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain is not backed by nuclear power either. So the real question is: How to deal with a maverick power that has built its strategy on fomenting discord and instability not only in the Middle Est but anywhere else it gets a chance?
Washington hawks, among them Bolton perhaps, believe that the only realistic policy towards Iran is one of regime change before the Khomeinists build their nuclear arsenal. They believe that could be achieved with a mixture of military and diplomatic pressure combined with moral and material support for a pro-democracy movement in Iran. The Europeans, however, fear that any attempt even at soft regime change may push the Khomeinists on the offensive in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, the Caucasus, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. Could a realistic policy be developed through a sober assessment of both positions? If yes, that would requires far more sophistication than the “to waiver or not to waiver” debate over what is; in fact; the fading ghost of an accord wrought from dangerous illusions.

Why Christians Need Self Rule in Iraq
المسيحيون في العراق ولهذه الأسباب هم بأمس الحاجة لحكم ذاتي

Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 30/18
"These murders are giving us yet another signal that there is no place for Assyrian Christians in Iraq." — Ashur Sargon Eskrya, President of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq.
"The only way for us to have a bright future is to establish a local administration in the Nineveh Plain lands, which will be a safe haven for all persecuted communities, including Yazidis... [It] should be protected internationally. This would also include forming a no-fly zone, and having the province monitored by international powers for a temporary period until we strengthen our military force and reconstruct our areas." — Athra Kado, the head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, Alqosh, Iraq.
On March 8, three members of an Assyrian Christian family -- Dr. Hisham Maskoni, his wife, Dr. Shadha Malik Dano, and her elderly mother -- were stabbed to death in their home in Baghdad. The two doctors, who had left Iraq, the country of their birth, in 2003, returned five years ago to work at St. Raphael Hospital in the capital.
The victims, who lived in a neighborhood controlled by a Shiite militia, had been tortured, according to Ashur Sargon Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq, in an interview with Gatestone.
Eskrya also said that the motive behind the killings -- as in the case of an innocent Christian killed in Baghdad in February -- had not been established, and that so far, no suspects have been arrested. "These murders," he added, "are giving us yet another signal that there is no place for Assyrian Christians in Iraq."
An indigenous people of the Middle East, Assyrians have been targeted and murdered over the centuries for their religion and ethnicity. Yet they were once the rulers of the ancient Assyrian Empire. The traditional Assyrian homeland contains parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
The Assyrian legacy to civilization is significant. Ancient Assyrians were pioneers in science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, literature, art and technology. They were also exceptional builders, as shown by archaeological sites, including those at Ashur, Nimrud and Nineveh in Iraq. With the rise of Islam and the Arabian conquests of the 7th century, however, Assyrians and other eastern Christian peoples fell to a subordinate status -- "dhimmitude" -- which forced them to pay a tax, the jizya, in exchange for "protection." Since then, they have been persecuted repeatedly. According to the Assyrian International News Agency, every fifty years, an Assyrian massacre took place, but the 1914-1923 Christian genocide in Ottoman Turkey dwarfed previous massacres and resulted in the systematic extermination of around 750,000 Assyrians – nearly three-quarters of their prewar population.
After the end of World War I and with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Assyrians were excluded from the new forging of nation-states in the region. In spite of their having been severely persecuted and displaced by Muslims, Assyrians were not granted independence or autonomy in their ancient lands. Instead, they were left to the "tender mercies" of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Kurds.
Devoid of a government or security force, Assyrians in Turkey, Iran and Syria have been largely erased from their indigenous homeland. In Iraq's Nineveh Plain, however, Assyrians still form the majority and wish to establish a sustainable and democratic form of self-governance. Assyrians currently have a security force in the region: The Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU).
In an interview with Gatestone, Athra Kado, the head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in the town of Alqosh in Iraq and Director of the NPU media center, said:
"Our nation has suffered for centuries. The latest genocide by ISIS, as well as recent murders, such as those in Baghdad, are deeply affecting our people physically and psychologically. The only way for us to have a bright future is to establish a local administration in the Nineveh Plain lands, which will be a safe haven for all persecuted communities, including Yazidis.
"The new administration that needs to be established in the Nineveh plain should be protected internationally. This would also include forming a no-fly zone, and having the province monitored by international powers for a temporary period until we strengthen our military force and reconstruct our areas. In order to make this a reality, our Nineveh Plain Protection Units should be supported in both military and logistical terms."
Eskrya concurred, recounting for Gatestone:
"Throughout the bloody history of the region -- including the 1914-1923 Christian genocide, the 1933 massacre in Simele, the 1963 Iraqi-Kurdish War, the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the 2014 ISIS genocide -- Assyrians have lost their trust in governments that rule them, and they have even lost their trust in their own neighbors who engaged in kidnapping or even killing Assyrian Christians and raping women.
"Even today, Assyrian Christians still face genocide and discrimination in Iraq and the Middle East in general. During the ISIS invasion of the Nineveh plain, for example, terrorists grabbed our lands and destroyed our churches and historical sites. The result of all this persecution has been forced demographic change against Assyrian Christians.
"But through a local administration in Nineveh, economic and infrastructural developments can take place. The region is suffering from inadequate resources, so the new province should get a higher budget from the central government in Baghdad and should possess the right to self-rule."
Juliana Taimoorazy, founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and a senior fellow at the Philos Project, has been advocating serious security measures, economic development and the rebuilding of homes for Assyrians. In an interview with Gatestone, she said:
"We fear crimes such as the murder of the Assyrian family in Baghdad will chip away at the hope that has returned to the hearts and minds of those who have decided to return to their towns in the Nineveh plain. However, our resolve is steadfast, and we will not be shaken. I liken our Assyrian nation to a tree that is standing tall amidst terrible winds. Although our branches may break, our roots will always remain solid in the earth of Nineveh."
*Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist born and raised in Turkey. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians swarm Gaza border, 15 killed by IDF fire
عشرات الآلاف من الفلسطينيين يجتازون حدود غزة و15 قتيل بنيران الجيش الإسرائيلي
Ynet reporters, AP, Reuters/March 30/18
The 'Great March of Return,' orchestrated by Hamas, draws some 30,000 Palestinians to the Gaza-Israel border; riots ensue, prompting IDF snipers to shoot at main instigators; Defense Minister Lieberman warns anyone who approaches security fence is putting his life in jeopardy; Hamas leader Haniyeh: 'Israel's threats do not scare us.'
At least 15 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were wounded by IDF gunfire along the Israel-Gaza border, Palestinian sources said Friday, as thousands swarmed the security fence as part of "The Great March of Return," called for by enclave's militant Hamas rulers.
It was the deadliest day in Gaza in several months. Ten of the Palestinians were killed during the clashes, a farmer was killed by pre-dawn tank fire in a separate incident, and four others from IDF tank fire at an observation post in the northern Gaza Strip.
The IDF said two of the Palestinians killed were members of Hamas's elite Nukhba force. The military also said all of the dead were terror activists aged 18 to 30. According to Palestinian reports, one of those killed was reportedly 16 while another was 33.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday would be a national day of mourning. "Israel is fully responsible for all of the aggression in Gaza today, and fully responsible for the death of Palestinians," Abbas said.
He ordered the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad al-Maliki, to take all immediate steps to demand international protection for the Palestinian people.
The United Nations Security Council was due to meet later on Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza, diplomats said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 1,400 were hurt in the clashes. The ministry clarified those injured included protesters hit by live bullets and rubber-coated steel pellets, while others were overcome by tear gas.
Palestinian health officials said 758 of the protesters were wounded by live gunfire, while others were struck by rubber bullets or treated for tear gas inhalation. Witnesses said the military had used a drone in at least one location to drop tear gas.
Clashes on the Gaza border as part of March of Return (Video: Reuters)
While protest organizers expected some 100,000 Palestinians to join the demonstration, the IDF estimated only about 30,000 showed up.
Organizers invested a lot of resource in free bus services to transport Gazans to the border, the construction of the tent encampments, and an aggressive public campaign among other things, with little results.
In addition, Palestinian witnesses said tens of thousands gathered in tent encampments set up at five sites at a distance of several hundred meters (yards) from the border, but that only some of them engaged in clashes, burning tires and throwing stones at IDF soldiers.
As the protest turned chaotic, the IDF declared the security fence on the Gaza Strip border a closed military zone and began dispersing demonstrators using riot control measures and firing at major instigators with live rounds.
An IDF force caught a seven-year-old Palestinian girl attempting to cross the border fence, and returned her back to her parents in Gaza.
The IDF said that the girl was encouraged to attempt to cross by Hamas, which "endangers women and children and uses them cynically."
GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir said that IDF forces spotted attempts to carry out terrorist attacks, including planting explosive charges on the security fence, under the cover of the mass demonstration. No IDF troops have been hurt in the clashes. IDF officials estimated early Friday evening the violent clashes on the Gaza border will continue in the coming days, and that even after the great mass of rioters are dispersed, attempts will continue to sabotage the border fence and carry out attacks.
"We didn't allow any crossing of the border fence so far, and no significant damage has been caused to our infrastructure near the fence," said the IDF's Spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. "What's been happening since this morning is a violent terror protest. We're still in the midst of the event. So far, we've succeeded in our mission, and anywhere there was an attempt to damage the fence, accurate fire was used with strength, determination and discretion," Manelis added.
"We have information about plans to carry out many terror attacks during the rioting. A significant terror incident will lead to a response by us that will not be limited to the border fence area," the IDF spokesman warned.
The March of Return, Hamas says, is intended to be a weeks-long peaceful demonstration advocating for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.
The IDF is on high alert as it sees the march as a hostile attempt by Hamas to sabotage IDF infrastructure and the Gaza security fence, and fear it may lead to a mass breach of the border.
Haniyeh: We will not give up right of return
In the meantime, the Hamas leadership visited the various protest locations: the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, was east of Gaza City; Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was at the southern Gaza Strip; and Gaza Interior Minister Fathi Hamad was at the northern Gaza Strip. They were seen among the crowd, encouraging the people and showing their support.
"This march demonstrates that there are no alternatives to Palestine and the right of return (for the Palestinian people)," Haniyeh told exuberant gatherers, praising their decision to leave their home and attend the protest to "write the future."
Haniyeh then brought to attention the goal of the march, teling attendees it constitutes "the beginning of a return (of the Palestinian people) to the entirety of the land of Palestine.""We will not give up and we will not bargain with the Zionist entity over even a small piece of the land of Palestine," Haniyeh continued, stressing they will reject any deal proposed by the Trump administration, who he blamed of trampling Palestinian right by "Trump's decision to grant Jerusalem to Israel."
"Israel's threats do not scare us. Our people went out today to make it clear that we will not give up Jerusalem and that there is no alternative to Palestine and the right of return. We will not accept the right of return staying only a slogan," he concluded, telling the crowd, "walk in the path of Allah—you are the victors."Sinwar, meanwhile, said the protests are a signal to Israel and the world that "our people will not accept the continuation of the siege."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout. "The large crowds ... reflect the Palestinian people's determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right," he said.
Ahead of the protests, the military said it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control. The army said it would not allow the crowds to breach the fence or damage military infrastructure.
Brig. Gen. Manelis said Israel wants to avoid violence, but warned the IDF will shoot anyone who approaches the border's security fence, enforcing a "no go" zone for Palestinians.
At one of five encampments, east of Gaza City, people clustered around the tents. An unpaved road linking the tents and the border fence was filled with people walking in both directions. People ran for cover from time to time to escape tear gas.
Ghanem Abdelal, 50, distributed water bottles to family members sitting on a mat near one of the tents. He said he hopes the protest "will bring a breakthrough, an improvement, to our life in Gaza."
Families brought their children to camps just a few hundred meters from the border fence, with football fields marked out in the sand, and scout bands playing.
But hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organizers and from the IDF to keep away, increasing the risk of confrontation with Israeli troops who had taken up positions on the other side of the fence.
Some of the tents bore names of the refugees' original villages in what is now Israel, written in Arabic and Hebrew alike.
Eighty-year-old Mansi Nassar walked towards the sensitive frontier with the aid of his cane, disregarding entreaties to remain 700 metres (2,300 feet) from the barrier.
"I was born in Beit Darras inside Palestine and I will accept no less than returning to it," he said, referring to his former home village just south of the modern Israeli city of Ashdod. The village no longer exists.
Directly addressing the residents of Gaza in Arabic on twitter, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Hamas of "playing" with their citizens' lives, which he warned will be put in danger should they approach the security fence.
"I suggest that get on with your lives and not participate in the provocation," he wrote, attempting to dissuade them from the protest.
The start of the demonstration was symbolically linked to what Palestinians call "Land Day," which commemorates the six Arab citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces in demonstrations in 1976 over land confiscations. The week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, when Israel heightens security, also begins Friday.
Just hours prior to the march, a Gaza man was killed and a second was wounded by an Israeli tank shell after they approached the security fence at the southern part of the strip and "carried out suspicious activity," according to the IDF.
The Gaza health ministry spokesman said the two were farmers. Residents there said they were gathering crops to sell later.
The protest is due to end on May 15, the day Palestinians call the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe," marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.
While Gazans were rallying at the border, dozens of Palestinians commemorating Land Day clashed with IDF forces at the Beit El checkpoint at the entrance to Ramallah and in the Bab a-Zawiya neighborhood of Hebron, burning tires and throwing stones at security forces, which were using riot control measures to disperse them. 65 Palestinians were injured.
Palestinians have long demanded that as many as five million of their compatriots be granted the right to return. Israel rules this out, fearing an influx of Arabs that would eliminate its Jewish majority. Israel argues the refugees should resettle in a future state that the Palestinians seek in West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
**Elior Levy, Yoav Zitun, Moran Azulay and Matan Tzuri contributed to this report.

Why Iran fears Trump’s new national security team
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 30/18/
US President Donald Trump’s new national security team includes an intriguing character in John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN who will replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.
Trump’s move, which came just one week after he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, most likely occurred because the president was seeking to have a unified national security team — a critical point when it comes to having an effective and successful foreign policy. More importantly, one of the top foreign policy agenda items is linked to addressing the Iranian regime and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Previously, some significant differences existed, which were too deep to bridge. For example, unlike the president, McMaster and Tillerson were in favor of keeping the nuclear agreement.
Iran has reacted strongly to the new appointments by lashing out at the US and interfering in Washington’s domestic politics. For instance, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, called Bolton’s appointment a “matter of shame,” according to Fars News Agency. But the underlying reasons for Iran’s harsh reaction are actually anchored in the regime’s fears.
First of all, Trump’s recent appointment leads to a formation of one of the most determined national security teams in the history of the US when it comes to robustly countering the Iranian regime and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran’s ruling clerics fear that, with the appointment of Bolton and the exit of Tillerson, the national security team is totally in sync with the president regarding precisely what policies ought to be carried out in order to confront Iran’s increasing influence across the Middle East and beyond.
A United White House is set to focus on how to cooperate more closely with Arab states in order to counter Tehran’s destabilizing behavior and military adventurism in the Middle East.
From the perspective of the US national security team, the international community has exhausted diplomacy, negotiations and soft power efforts to change the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior, as well as stopping Tehran’s support for terrorist and militia groups across the region. Iran’s direct and indirect militaristic interventions, the supply of illicit weapons to its proxies, and its interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries continue to escalate on an unprecedented level, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
For the first time, both Trump and his national security team agree that the nuclear agreement is flawed because it empowers and emboldens the Iranian regime with the flow of billions of dollars and enhanced global legitimacy.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that such a development does not mean that the Iranian regime will immediately moderate its foreign policies. In fact, based on the almost four-decade history of the ruling clerics, the regime will pursue more aggressive policies in the region in order to project its power in the hope of pressuring the other side to surrender.
It is worth noting that Iranian lawmakers have already announced they will seek to build closer ties with Russia in order to counter the policies of the US and its allies. Closer ties between Tehran and Moscow would allow Iran to be more empowered to intervene in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Secondly, the Iranian regime is concerned that the recent changes in the US national security team represent good news for Arab states in the Gulf. This is due to the notion that, not only is Trump’s team now in alignment with the president, but it is also in sync with Arab powers, specifically as both sides view the Iranian regime’s expansionism as a top national security threat.
Such developments have uniquely created a fundamental convergence of interests between Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the US. This could lead to a powerful multilateral force that can transform policies into concrete actions.
As a result, the White House will most likely be focusing on how to cooperate more closely with Arab states in order to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior and military adventurism in the region.
This multilateral convergence of interests is what the Iranian regime fears because it can tip the regional balance of power against Tehran and its militias, and in favor of the Arab Gulf states.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council.
He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.

Turkey’s Russia, Iran links are far from an alliance
Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/March 30/18/
The presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran will come together on April 4 in Istanbul for a three-way summit on Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be hosting his counterparts Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in the second such tripartite summit following the one last November in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. In order to prepare the ground for this meeting, the foreign ministers of the three countries met in the Kazakh capital of Astana on March 16 to discuss the progress over the last year of the Astana process for Syria peace.
A day before the Istanbul summit, the Turkey-Russia High Level Cooperation Council will meet in Ankara. Besides the Syrian war and Turkish-Russian bilateral ties, one of the most interesting aspects of Putin’s visit will be a foundation laying ceremony for the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which Putin and Erdogan are expected to attend.
This will be a second ground-breaking ceremony for Turkey’s first nuclear power plant after the first was held in April 2015, but the project was halted when Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border in November of the same year.
According to experts who follow Russo-Turkish relations closely, the nuclear plant, which will be built by Russia’s Rosatom in the Akkuyu district of the southern province of Mersin at a cost of $20 billion, is the largest joint project that symbolizes strategic relations between Moscow and Ankara.
The three countries have managed to turn Syria from a bone of contention into a bridge between their capitals, but it would be naive to expect their tactical cooperation to turn into a strategic partnership.
Thus, Putin’s presence at the ceremony would be highly significant and symbolic at a time when the West has its eyes fixed on the deepening ties between Turkey and Russia. This week, Turkish and Western leaders came together at a high-level summit in Varna, Bulgaria, where they agreed to accelerate Turkish-EU relations. However, they also underlined that not all the negatives between Ankara and Brussels have been left behind.
While both sides reiterated their commitment to continuing the dialogue, there was another significant development taking place between the West and Russia. On the same day, 14 EU member states expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in an orchestrated reaction over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK. Unlike those countries, Turkey has said it has no plans to expel Russian diplomats, saying Ankara and Moscow have positive and good relations and that Turkey was not in a position to take such action against Moscow.
In light of this decision, the summit on Syria in Istanbul aims to show a picture of strengthening collaboration among Turkey, Russia and Iran via the Astana peace process. I would prefer to call the Astana process a “cooperation” between these three countries rather than an “alliance,” as many experts and analysts describe the relationship. In light of the Astana talks, many started to argue that a new alliance had emerged among Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, particularly against a common threat: The US. However, it would not be wrong to argue that the theories of an alliance are likely to fail to explain the situation among the three countries in the Astana talks.
When looking closely at Turkey’s bilateral relations with both Russia and Iran from a historical perspective, it is clear that these countries have never formed an alliance and are unlikely to do so in the future. History is certainly a good guide. Although the current crisis in Turkish-US ties serves the interests of Russia and Iran, it would be simplistic to argue that these countries have formed an alliance against a common threat. There are still significant differences between these countries’ perceptions of the US presence in the Middle East.
Also, for its part, Ankara is unlikely to give up its special role in NATO because neither Turkey nor the alliance has good reason to cut ties.
Also, there are still existing differences among these three countries on a number of issues. However, one should give credit for their collaboration in the Astana process, which seems to be a good example of pragmatic, rational and result-oriented mediation efforts for the Syrian war.
Needless to say, among the several attempts at mediation, the Astana process that was launched in January 2017 with the aim of putting an end to the violence and improving the humanitarian situation in war-torn Syria seems to be the most realistic and successful, at least for now, when considering progress on the ground.The three countries have managed to turn Syria from a bone of contention into a bridge between three capitals. However, it would be naive to expect the tactical cooperation among these countries to turn into a strategic partnership or an alliance when considering the potential differences among them, which could resurface as a result of unpredictable developments on the ground. At the end of the day, these three countries are seeking a greater role in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey's relations with the Middle East.

An Iranian hand and Qatari scream behind the Houthi missile attack

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Arabiya/March 30/18
In the rich, transcendent city of Riyadh, shrapnel from a missile fired by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Sunday night killed an Egyptian resident and injured other civilians. The criminal timing of the launch of the missile while Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on a tour in the United States. The Royal Air Defense Forces intercepted all seven missiles fired towards the kingdom – an act praised by the Saudi cabinet’s Tuesday session which was chaired by King Salman. It is no surprise that this terrorist organization launched these missiles with the aim of causing panic. This is what terror organizations such as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra Front and the Houthi Movement have in common. These groups’ main aim is to target the modern features of city life and take the world back to the dark ages. Saudi Arabia is a 300-year-old country that has fought dozens of wars. It has extensive military experience and has confronted several regimes and major powers. The storm following the Riyadh rocket incident is in our favor
Qatar’s gloating
After these missiles were intercepted, a close neighbor celebrated this criminal event against Saudi Arabia via its media outlets. The Qatari regime employed all its media platforms to celebrate and rejoice the missile attack. Some media outlets even stated that Riyadh was struck by an earthquake following the explosion, and that its streets wore a deserted look. The truth is that it was just another ordinary day for the bustling city of Riyadh and its seven million inhabitants. Dozens of videos taken by citizens showed that life was normal in the city on the same day, and that this rocket made no impact whatsoever except on social media networks. What’s more important than the firing of the weak missiles is analyzing the incident from a political and security angle. The missiles were made by Iran, and countries must investigate how Houthis attained them.
The British have already raised this rightful demand. As the date for determining the fate of the nuclear deal by the US approaches in May, Iran is trying to attract the world’s attention in any way possible. It is eager to trigger a war to internally stabilize the regime after protests erupted against it and after the society’s criticism of the regime escalated. It is important to confront Iran through political means and to enhance the presence of Iranian opposition groups regionally and internationally while economically isolating the regime. Such a response would send shockwaves within Iran. However, engaging in a military confrontation will not be useful. We must fight it politically and diplomatically and we will accomplish this especially with the rise of parties that Saudi Arabia has always been able to cooperate with, notably within the United States and Britain.
The sham terror list
We also must take into account the Qatari regime and its political and media practices by preparing real, effective sanctions that would affect the regime’s core. If the festivity over the attack on Saudi Arabia was issued by a country that’s bigger and more significant than Qatar, we would have considered it a declaration of war. As such, supporting the boycott and prolonging it, seeking greater and more stringent methods, confronting it with media and politics, and exposing its terrorism internationally is essential. We must never tire of exposing Qatar's schemes and conspiracies in order to caution the world of its devious designs, especially its support of terrorist organizations such as Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood. The terror list which Qatar issued aims to ease its international discomfort especially that when US President Trump met his great guest, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he said that “the United States would sever its relations with countries that support terrorism.” A simple reason why the Qatari terror list is a trick is that one of those listed, Mubarak al- Alajji, recently participated in an official sports championship in Doha, and was honored with a prize after his victory. This has been reported by Al Arabiya news channel and its website in great detail. Saudi Arabia is a 300-year-old country that has fought dozens of wars. It has extensive military experience and has confronted several regimes and major powers. The storm following the Riyadh rocket incident is in our favor. We now have the right to discipline the criminals involved in this incident and to decisively and firmly deal with them to protect the region and the world from their evil designs. “But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.”

A return ticket to the past
Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Arabiya/March 30/18
Those who wish to go back to the past suffer from a sick nostalgia and are deceived by a modified image of what they think were rosy days. They have not really thought about the scientific discoveries and moral and intellectual developments which made our world ten times better than the gloomy past.
If we bring back some important figures from the past to our present day, and house them in the most luxurious hotels, put them on board the most expensive flights, send them to the opera, have them spend vacations in the most beautiful islands while they taste the most delicious food and hand them iPhones, they will prefer to spend hours on WhatsApp and Twitter and stay in the present day for good instead of going back to the primitive past with all its glories.
The scene is different in the past where someone could simply smash your head to pieces because you have a different religion or sect. A long intellectual journey led humanity to a new phase that overcomes all old perceptions that humanity was locked up in for centuries
Difficulty in treating diseases
On the scientific level, today’s inventions were not known only 400 years ago. No one knew what DNA was, or the Big Bang theory or how things came into existence. They did not know what caused diseases and how to treat them so many people died of illnesses which you can now treat by simply buying some pills from your nearest pharmacy. The plague, which was known as the Black Death, killed one third of Europe’s population. A man would get sick from it and die a week later, however, this disease is no longer present today. The medical condition scurvy killed millions of sailors and its treatment today is simply effervescent vitamin C tablets. Their children used to die before their eyes and they did not know how to save them. People in the past thought the earth was flat and did not go to the extremities because they feared they’d fall. They did not know anything about gravity. If they see the GPS we have today they’d deem it magic and sorcery. People did not know why lunar eclipses happened so some priests exploited their ignorance and promised them that the moon will return to its normal state only if they make offerings like money or beautiful women.
In short, life and everything about it was a mystery to them. People roamed the earth with low IQ levels due to a severe lack of knowledge. If someone over the age of 40 from our present day decides to go back to the past, they will probably die as at the time, life expectancy was 35 years due to the spread of wars, diseases and crime, and due to the absence of police cars and surveillance cameras!
Moral development
On the moral level, human values and ethics have greatly developed in recent decades. For example, terms like human rights emerged, whereas if we go back to the past and mention such terms to people they will be confused and perhaps ask what human and what rights? The idea of man as a moral concept and independent entity only emerged in recent decades. This is why the idea of slaves was accepted in the past and did not trigger any qualms. The opposite is true today as the idea of slaves is not only immoral, but it’s also legally criminalized. Why? Because we have morally and psychologically developed. The same applies to marrying minor girls. This was accepted in the past but it’s now prohibited and rejected because it violates the present conscience which developed with time until it reached its best phases today, despite all other problems. Racism which categorizes people and measures pureblood was an accepted idea in the past, even at universities in the 1930’s where it was a recognized major. This is what Hitler relied on for his Nazi theory which made him kill people with physical disabilities using furnaces and gas chambers as he viewed them as a burden and a black stain which must be purged from the blood of the Aryan race.
Women and intellectual development
Women were followers and second-class citizens. However today, two of the most important countries in the world are led by women, Angela Merkel and Theresa May. Women advanced from being maids to becoming leaders reflective of civilized development over the centuries. The idea of sabaya (slaves) is shameful and is a serious violation of human rights in our times but it was accepted in the past. If those who are obsessed with the past think that the possibility that they may be slaves who are sold and bought for cheap prices is highly likely, they will give up on the idea of returning to the past altogether.
On the intellectual level, humanity developed during the past centuries because education prospered and illiteracy rates decreased. During the Middle Ages, priests were the only ones who knew how to read while others drowned in the dark. The more we go back in history, the higher illiteracy rates become. There were no schools, universities or majors. There were no students to begin with. This is why bitter religious, sectarian and tribal wars which killed millions of people erupted. Nothing defeated intolerance and intolerant people except thinkers and philosophers who shattered their ideas and transferred humanity to a whole different level. Today’s world has, despite religious and sectarian problems in some countries, overcome these wars. Global airports are the biggest example of the unprecedented mingling among people. The scene is different in the past where someone could simply smash your head to pieces because you have a different religion or sect. A long intellectual journey led humanity to a new phase that overcomes all old perceptions that humanity was locked up in for centuries. It’s for all these reasons and more that our world is much better than the lie of the rosy and romantic past which bad novelists and fake poets praise and which exaggerating preachers sanctify. For those people, we can book a one-way ticket to the past with no return.

The Shirazis and the media

Hassan Al Mustafa/Arabiya/March 30/18
In 1968, a total of 40 people, divided into four groups, gathered to learn literary writing under the supervision of Sayyid Mujtaba Shirazi, the son of late reference Mehdi Shirazi in Karbala. This was part of their Resalah related work (treatise on practical law) led by Sayyid Mujtaba’s brother Sayyid Ayatollah Mohammad al-Shirazi. Only four of these 40 people graduated from this course. One of these four men was Sheikh Ahmed al-Katib, the author of the book The Development of Shiite Political Thought, who later became critical of the Shiarzi Movement and the religious rhetoric’s nostalgia for the past.
What can be noted is that the Shirazi Movement was one of the most significant religious movements to use the media at an early stage. It was taken by the media and its guise, and it managed to promote its ideas, incense its opponents and recruit more followers through it
Early beginnings
In the 1960’s, a series of monthly books entitled The Sources of Islamic Culture was published over a period of 10 years under the supervision of Sayyid Sadiq al-Shirazi who is now the most followed reference among Shirazi Muqallideen (those who conformed to Shirazi’s teachings).
Back then, the Shirazi Movement, which was first formed in the city of Karbala, issued the magazines Morals and Ethics and Answers to Religious Matters.
This early interest in writing and publication was addressed in Sayyid Hassan al-Shirazi’s book, Literary Work. Heads of the Shirazi school believe that Islam was presented to people in an old and unattractive way, which forced them to be distant from it. Therefore, it was necessary to formulate a new and beautiful rhetoric that carries the message of Islam and influences the nation.
Revolutionary media
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the Shirazi Movement gained more prominence in the media, especially after it established good relations with the regime in Tehran and raised Arabic-speaking cadres. This made the Shirazi Movement among the top participants of the “revolutionary” media work. Sheikh Ahmed al-Katib, who had strong ties with Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, was one of the main contributors in establishing the Arabic-speaking Voice of the Islamic Revolution radio station in Abadan. He also presented a program called Today’s Iraq is looking for a Hussein for a year. People who did not belong to the Shirazi Movement helped establish this Arabic-speaking radio station, such as journalist Masoud al-Fak and others who belonged to the movement in support of Imam Khomeini. Some of these individuals later become opposition figures against the guardianship of the jurist and were interrogated and imprisoned. Iraqi members who belonged to the Islamic Action Organization, such as Doctor Mohsen al-Qazwini, Sheikh Sadiq al-Abadi and Sheikh Saheb al-Sadiq were engaged in media work since the beginning of the revolution, either via radio stations, television channels and magazines and newspapers.
Education and training
In 1985, Ahmed al-Katib established the media institution which operated for few years and contributed to teaching media studies to young men who were not skilled at professional writing. Sheikh Katib believed that the Shirazi Movement – although it began dealing with the media in the early stages – did not know the real and professional meaning of journalism and relied on a literary tone that addresses instincts. He criticized this rhetoric’s “superficiality and lack of depth in analyses.”The seminary of the “rising Imam” in Tehran, which included cadres and religious students who followed the reference of Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, did not have a negative stance towards the media and did not prevent students from reading newspapers and magazines, like some traditional seminaries did. It even published its own magazines and bulletins, such as the magazine Insights. It also organized workshops on journalism and media. Attending these workshops was obligatory for the movement members and elective for clerics.
Political media
For over 30 years, the Shirazi Movement was active in the media and produced a number of magazines, dailies and bulletins, hundreds of books and thousands of cassettes. Then it began launching religious satellite television channels.
The movement’s work in print media tackled three major fields which were politics, culture and heritage. Politics provided rich material for writing and these products acted as a propaganda tool in the conflict between organizations which operated under the Shirazi reference and opposing political regimes specifically in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Financial support from the Shirazi reference and Shirazi supporters as well as the facilitations which the Iranian regime provided - until disputes escalated with the Shirazi Movement and eventually led to severing ties in 1987 - helped produce this printed work.
The most important political publications are: 1. The monthly Martyr magazine, which began issuing its prints in 1980, followed up on the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its revolutionary rhetoric which it was in support of. Several men held the post of editor-in-chief there such as Sheikh Sadeq al-Abadi, Sheikh Saheb al-Sadeq and Nizar Haidar. The magazine included different movements operating under the Shirazi reference.
2. The weekly Islamic Work daily whose editor-in-chief was Nizar Haidar. It was issued by the Islamic Action Organization affiliated with the movement of Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi.
3. The monthly Islamic Revolution magazine which was issued by the Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula. In the beginning of the 1990’s, the magazine’s name was changed into The Magazine of the Arabian Peninsula. Its editor-in-chief was Dr Hamza al-Hassan.
Changing the name of the magazine reflected a political transformation in the organization’s intellect. This was accompanied with editorial change as the magazine publications adopted a softer and more realistic rhetoric to suit the transitional phase which witnessed intensified dialogue and negotiations for the return of the Reform Movement members to Saudi Arabia and the suspension of their opposing political activity in 1993.
4. The magazine Saudi Affairs, which later became a website, was publishing from London under the supervision of Dr. Hamza al-Hassan, who did not stay in Saudi Arabia for long after the Reform Movement was dissolved. Hassan returned to Britain and resumed his opposition activities from there. The magazine included political and legal studies and it formed the intellectual framework of Reform Movement members who defected and opposed the movement of Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar and his new political rhetoric in support of communicating with the Saudi government. The magazine which is no longer published cannot be categorized within the Shirazi Movement projects because its godfather had left the movement’s framework and adopted his own political orientations and intellect and eventually a more strict rhetoric following the Arab Spring developments in 2011.
5. Al-Baqi' Magazine was a Persian monthly publication affiliated with the Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula. Said Khakrand was its editor-in-chief for some time. The magazine’s publication was also discontinued.
6. Al-Ahdath newspaper was a political daily printed six days a week from London. It began publishing in 1988, around 3 months before Al-Hayat newspaper began publishing from London.
The newspaper marked a transformation in the methodology of youths who were raised in Al-Shirazi school as they began to think in a more realistic way, to expand the scope of their concerns and sought to be present in the entire Arab media arena and not just the Shiite one.
Al-Ahdath adopted an approach that kept away from political propaganda as much as possible. According to those who followed up with the publication of this daily, the latter did not take opposing and strict stances towards Arab governments. The team included people from different countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain. The newspaper thus gained the interest of many, especially during the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 as it covered the developments in details.
An editor at Al-Ahdath said the daily was printed late at night, thus it was capable of publishing more news from dailies which had concluded the editions for the day, like Al-Hayat newspaper. He added that Al-Ahdath did not compete with Ash-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat but sometimes it did a better job at spreading the news faster. He added that at the time, Al-Ahdath surpassed other dailies like Al-Arab newspaper that was published from London.
Al-Ahdath’s publication was also discontinued in the 1990’s.
7. Al-Resaliah Culture magazine, a monthly political publication affiliated with the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.
8. Al-Hoda magazine, a monthly publication that addressed political and cultural affairs and which was published in Iraq by Dar Al-Hoda for Culture and Information. It represents the thinking approach of the reference - Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi. The magazine is extant to this day.
Criticism and support of Shirazi publications
Some observers view these magazines and dailies as part of a historical era that was characterized by conflicts between opposition organizations, both leftist and religious, with governments in the region and as a normal product of change following the Iranian revolution in 1979 – despite the experience’s adverse or positive aspects. Others think these magazines and dailies contributed to forming political awareness, even if relatively, among Arab Shiite. However, some intellectuals and writers think these publications contributed to a political rift between Shiite populace and the regimes in states where they lived, which complicated problems and deceived young men into joining these movements “whose political ideology was immature.”
These different perspectives are based on one’s partisan political and intellectual stances. However, what can be noted is that the Shirazi Movement was one of the most significant religious movements to use the media at an early stage. It was taken by the media and its guise, and it managed to promote its ideas, incense its opponents and recruit more followers through it. However, this same movement fell into the trap of narcissism which inflates the self.
Jurisprudential, intellectual and cultural magazines, related to the Shirazi Movement or figures and their contribution to conceptual changes will be the next topic of my discussion in this series of articles.