‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Top Shia Cleric

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Shia Cleric

 

May 21, 2017 | 10:17 AM

About 200 Christian families in Iraq have filed a lawsuit against the head of the country’s Shia Endowment for inciting sectarian violence against the Christian minority by saying in a video that Christians should be converted to Islam or killed.

(Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it from Islamic States militants, Iraq April 9, 2017.

“Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya [a tax on non-Muslims],” said Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, in a sermon, according to a YouTube video uploaded by Middle East Monitor.

Declaring Christians to be “infidels and polytheists,” Al-Mousawi called for “jihad” against them. “Jews and Christians” must be fought and killed if they do not accept Islam, he went on to say.

The cleric is being compared to the Islamic State terror group, which is also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, which had asked Christians in Iraq’s northern provinces in 2014 to covert, flee or be killed. As a result of that warning, about 100,000 Christians had to flee at the time.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently met with Iraqi Christians during a visit to Jordan.

“People are divided from their children and families and have no idea what will happen. One woman has children in both Germany and the Netherlands, but has been refused entry to both so she doesn’t know when or if they will ever be reunited,” Welby said. “Young men are vulnerable to being recruited to extremist causes because their community and networks have been stripped away.”

Since 2003, as many as 1.5 million Christians, or close to 75 percent of all followers of Christ in Iraq, have fled the country, according to Josef Sleve, an Iraqi Christian lawmaker.

“The number of Christians living in the country now stands at between 500,000 and 850,000,” Sleve told Anadolu Agency earlier this month. “This means that over the past 14 years, some 1.5 million Christians have emigrated to other countries.”

IS has said it wants to wipe out Christians, and has beheaded, executed, tortured and enslaved thousands of people within its captured territory, which extends into Syria and other regions.

However, some Christians are now returning to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh in Iraq, and three major church groups have come together to rebuild more than 12,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged. The Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church have formed the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee to plan and supervise the rebuilding of the houses.

Security forces backed by a U.S.-led international coalition last year took back several cities in Iraq from IS and liberated eastern Mosul in December. They are now trying to liberate the western parts of the city.

In an interview with Fox News earlier this year, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the “vicar of Baghdad,” said the “time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some say Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited.”

He added, “If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot — food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/iraqi-christians-infidels-killed-converted-shia-cleric-mousawi

 

Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia

The White House announcement that US President Donald Trump will carry out his first foreign visit and that Saudi Arabia will be a major stop is a message on a major shift in his foreign policy priorities.

Since Obama’s term came to an end in 2016, relations with Saudi Arabia have changed. During Obama’s last visit to Riyadh, ties were at their lowest in more than half a century. With Trump in power, we are witnessing changes in all aspects: Syria, Iran, Yemen and bilateral relations.

The televised interview of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense clarified the stances from these issues that are expected to be part of the discussions in Riyadh.

Regarding Syria, Riyadh eased its stance to reach a political solution that satisfies Russia and doesn’t grant the regime and its allies a free hand. In the Astana talks, there were two prime developments – approval to differentiate national factions from terrorists and readiness to establish safe zones, two of Trump’s pledges while campaigning for the presidency.

On the Yemeni war, the deputy crown prince was persuasive when he boldly admitted that the rush in liberating Sana’a and other cities might cause huge losses on both sides of the conflict.

“Time is in our favor and we are not in a rush. We can liberate it in two days with a costly human price or liberate it slowly with fewer losses,” he said.

Iran is a mutual huge concern for Riyadh and the US as well as other governments in the region. The deputy crown prince specified the Saudi government’s vision and its current policy. He said the history of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran leaves no doubt that Tehran has been targeting it even in times of rapprochement.

He added that the kingdom will defend its existence and will not remain in a state of defense for long. Trump has already delivered clear messages against the policies of the Tehran regime in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf waters.

Talks on arranging regional relations meant mainly Egypt. In the televised interview, the deputy crown prince hinted to the Muslim Brotherhood’s media of standing behind growing Saudi-Egyptian differences. His statement put an end to speculations about the relations with Cairo, depicting them as a passing summer cloud.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a problem restricted to one country. This is a political group using religion as a means to reach power and is similar to communism which puts it on collision course with the rest of the regimes in the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a unified group from Gulf, Egyptian, Sudanese, Tunisian and other nationalities waging collective wars. The group tried to besiege the government in Egypt through the media and by provoking the Egyptians against it as well as urging the region’s people to cut ties with it.

Though supported by dozens of TV channels, websites and social media, the group failed to achieve its objectives. The Egyptian government is now stronger than when Mohamed Morsi’s government was ousted more than three years ago.

The Muslim Brotherhood project in Egypt has failed. Its losses grew when Trump reversed the foreign policy of Obama who had boycotted the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post

This Is A Re-blog Of A Very Serious Article; Everyone Needs To Understand Their Reality, Both Sides

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Final Chapter of Dialogue with Iran

While Iran is fighting Saudi Arabia and Gulf states through its militias in Yemen and directly in Bahrain, and combats for its interests in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, reconciliation and peacemaking attempts continued between Iran and the Gulf States, prominently Saudi Arabia.

Occasionally, calls for negotiations would come from former US President Barack Obama, or through European foreign ministers, and sometimes – shockingly – through Gulf countries’ efforts.

Each party credits itself for strengthening their positions even if it came on the expenses of Arab and Gulf states, though these calls would benefit Iran.

Everyone knows that Iran can’t go on with a reasonable dialogue while executing its expansion and interference in internal affairs policy.

Yet, it seems that the final chapter of these callings is irreversibly over after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman explained his country’s position saying it is impossible to reach mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran: “There is no common ground between us and the Iranian regime.”

So, it is rather impossible to hold negotiations with Iran which Prince Mohammed said was busy with its “extremist ideology” and ambitions to “control the Islamic world.”

The more important and clearer message here is that the battle will be in Iran and not Saudi Arabia.

Why the final chapter?

Precisely because Gulf efforts should be exerted to stop Iran’s expansions rather than being occupied with mediations that are only exhausting and offer the Iranian regime with an opportunity to catch its breath and promote its revolution before western state, and not country, as a peace agent.

It is about time things are set straight and positions are made based on facts, reality and the consequences the area will face because of Iran’s sabotage project. It is no longer useful for the collective Gulf official statements to follow a hostile policy towards Iranian extremism, and then it all changes once the meetings are over.

Iran’s position towards Arab interests became unprecedentedly hostile that it exceeds its eight years’ war on Iraq during the eighties of the last century. Tehran’s main goal is to reach Muslims’ Qiblah, as the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince said in his televised interview.

After all the one-way hostility that spreads from the east to the west of the Gulf, is it right to accept the requests for dialogue and mediation which occupy the region rather than focusing on the real battle?

Surely it is understandable for every country to run its policies based on its own interests. It is also clear that no state can force its own statements on another that doesn’t share the same ideas. But, it is important that the old tools of diplomatic exploitation be stopped, like this endless boring tale of dialogue. It is also crucial to end Iranian regime’s penetration of the Gulf system in a way that helps Tehran proceed with its extreme strategies.

It is about time policies match the reality of the stances given that Iran is literally waging wars on its neighbors via sending weapons and training militias.

Those who believe that their interest doesn’t include collectively fighting the Iranian regime should at least let someone else do this mission in a way that doesn’t complicate the decisive confrontation and thus lessen its strategic success once in a while.

No one wants to go into war with Iran or any other for that matter. Stopping Iran’s extremist project surely doesn’t mean anyone is banging the drums for war. But at the same time, an easy policy is never productive with a state like Iran. The administration of former US President Obama followed that policy for eight years and failed catastrophically.

The issue is now clearer to end Iran’s expansion. Offense is the best defense. It began with putting an end to Iran’s external interventions and exposing the Tehran regime for its domestic reality after it had deprived its people of development for over thirty years. Or, as the Saudi Crown Prince said: “We know we are a main target of Iran. We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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The Kidnap of the Qataris (By Iranian Militia) Is a Defeat to Iraq’s Sovereignty

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

The Kidnap of the Qataris Is a Defeat to Iraq’s Sovereignty

Former Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance Hoshyar Zebari said that the kidnapping of the Qatari hunters represented a defeat for Iraq’s sovereignty and institutions, knowing that it was not the first time it had happened. Turkish workers had also been kidnapped while working on the construction of a football field in al-Sadr city in Baghdad. Both crimes were conducted by a militia affiliated with Iran.

Is it possible that, upon Iran’s directives, armed militias abduct a group of Qatari visitors who legally entered Iraq with visas and were under the protection of Iraqi security forces?

Iran-linked militia Iraqi Hezbollah dared to publically challenge the government by kidnapping Qatari civilians for 18 months and, on behalf of Iranians, negotiated their release un conditions.

Iran is doing today in Iraq what it did in Lebanon during the 1980’s. It transferred Lebanon into an arena against the West, and at the time Iranian territories were secured, Lebanon was a target for Israeli occupation, US bombardment, and the Syrian troops for looting. Until this day, Lebanon is suffering within a semi-sovereign state.

Tehran’s regime was active in Iraq over the past few years establishing multiple militias to subdue other Iraqi forces. The largest of all the militias is the Popular Mobilization Forces which became a militia equivalent to the army in order to weaken the centralized Iraqi authorities, just like it did in Lebanon.

But, can the Iranian regime abolish the Iraqi state with its enormous resources and which is larger than Lebanon and has a far more important strategic value?

Iran is trying to control Iraq in a big battle where different Iraqi parties are fighting power and dominance. This is all happening amid difficult circumstances. The government in Baghdad remains silent, avoiding confrontation without any objections to Iran’s continuous interventions and breach of sovereignty.

In case Iranian intelligence manages to control Iraqi official and other institutions, the expected result will be the division of the country.

Kurdistan region can’t remain a part of a frail state run by Tehran. Kurds have always complained that Baghdad is no longer the center of the state because of its weak institutions. Similarly, the five Sunni governorates would refuse to be under the jurisdiction of Baghdad even though over the past eight years, Iran managed to recruit several leaderships, members of parliaments and media figures of those governorates.

It is not unlikely that most Iraqi voices rejecting the Iranian control and its militias in governorates of Shiite majority is because of direct control attempts.

During the years that followed the withdrawal of US troops, Iran managed to infiltrate and control the institutions of the Iraqi states. Tehran went as far to enforce its own interpretation of the Algiers border agreement between Iran and Iraq, changed the stream of Arabian Sea, and forced the Iraqi government to fund its militias in Iraq and Syria claiming they were fighting terrorist organizations.

Because of its area, Iraq won’t be as easy as Lebanon for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Weakening Baghdad will create a dangerous vacuum which will affect the region’s security, including that of Iran.

Iraq is a very important country for superpowers like US and Russia and none of these countries will allow the regional countries, be it Iran or any other, to dominate Iraq without a direct or indirect confrontation.

The repetitive Iranian acts of abduction and extortions in Iraq pose a clear threat to Iraq’s security, stability, and unity.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Hezbollah And It’s Illegal Actions (According to the UN treaty) In South Lebanon

  • (THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR)
  • Correspondent

APRIL 25, 2017 The stated objective of the Hezbollah-coordinated press tour of southern Lebanon was to see new Israeli defensive installations on the border – indications, according to the powerful Shiite Lebanese militia, of Israeli fears of Hezbollah’s growing military might.

But as the convoy of vehicles carrying a large group of Lebanese and foreign reporters reached the outskirts of this village on the Mediterranean coast, around a dozen uniformed Hezbollah fighters came into view in an orange orchard on the side of the road. Clutching rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers, their faces streaked in black cream, the fighters stood still and silent, in a frozen tableau.

The unprecedented spectacle appeared to be a deliberate and calculated breach of a UN Security Council resolution that bans non-state forces from bearing arms in southern Lebanon, and it illustrated the unmatched sway Hezbollah wields, and the impunity it enjoys throughout the country. That is the culmination of more than a decade in which Iran’s key ally amassed influence and power to defend its military priority against those who wish to see the group disarmed.

Viewing Hezbollah fighters in the field is rare enough, but this brief, subtly-delivered roadside display served to signal Hezbollah’s defiance and autonomy to multiple audiences. They included Israel, the Lebanese government, and UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed in south Lebanon, whose headquarters lay less than a mile away from the orchard.

The display of defiance was staged at a time of growing Hezbollah-Israel tensions. Hezbollah’s main strategic objective, analysts say, and one of its guiding principles in the complex arena of Lebanese politics, is to preserve its right to bear arms and its military prerogatives vis-à-vis Israel.

“Hezbollah wants to protect its right to fight Israel at a time of its choosing, and to secure its Shiite base’s political and economic rights in an antiquated sectarian political system,” says Randa Slim, a Hezbollah expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “To do the former, it needs a secure strategic depth in Syria, maintain and fully control its weapons arsenal in Lebanon, and a home-front that is not at war with itself.”

On the border

Opponents of Hezbollah say the border tour was another example of the party behaving above the law and holding the country hostage to its anti-Israel agenda.

“The tour … is considered an insult to the Lebanese state’s standing and a new threat to Lebanon’s relationship with the international community,” said Sami Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Christian party.

UNIFIL was clearly unaware of the nature of the tour, although it acknowledged that shortly before it began, the Lebanese Army had informed it of a media visit to the border.

The reporters, many of them laden with cameras and video equipment, marched along a narrow path that weaved through an old Israeli minefield to reach within 100 yards of a large Israeli Army listening post bristling with antennas and containing giant golf-ball-shaped radars.

The location is usually out of bounds to the public, and the sight of dozens of reporters entering the area to film the Israeli outpost caught nearby Italian peacekeepers by surprise.

“No, no, no,” admonished an Italian UNIFIL officer, running up to the reporters with his finger wagging in the air. But a Lebanese Army officer accompanying the tour took him by the shoulder and walked him back down the path. More stony-faced Italian soldiers looked on as the reporters departed the scene shortly afterwards in their vehicles.

“This was an assault on UNIFIL’s credibility and ability to operate along the Blue Line,” says Aram Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to the UN’s name for Lebanon’s southern border.

Overture to the UN

Stung by Hezbollah’s bold display, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri hurried to Naqoura the next day to meet with UNIFIL officials and reassure them that it is Lebanon’s government that controls the southern border, not Hezbollah.

“What happened yesterday is something that we, as a government, are not concerned with and do not accept. So I came here to emphasize that our role as a government is to preserve Resolution 1701,” Mr. Hariri told reporters, referring to the UN Security Council resolution that helped end the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in part by the ban on non-state weapons near the border.

Hariri, accompanied by the minister of defense and the commander of the Lebanese Army, added that his trip was intended “to tell the Lebanese armed forces that they and only they are the legitimate force in charge of defending our borders.”

The rare Hezbollah-arranged tour was held amid growing concerns in some quarters since January that a new war between Hezbollah and Israel may be imminent. The election of President Trump and his administration’s vow to roll back the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, across the Middle East has given rise to feverish speculation that the Lebanese group, which has gained invaluable battle-field experience in Syria’s civil war and amassed thousands of new surface-to-surface missiles, could come under attack by Israel.

Furthermore, Israel has repeatedly warned that the growing influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon since the two-month 2006 war means that in the next conflict the Jewish state will treat Lebanon as the enemy, rather than limit its operations to Hezbollah alone. With that threat in mind, Hariri, while at UNIFIL headquarters, called on the UN to help turn the current cessation of hostilities with Israel into a permanent cease-fire to offset the chances of another highly destructive war.

Hezbollah’s priorities

Ali Fayyad, a Hezbollah parliamentarian, nevertheless dismissed “exaggerated interpretations” of the tour and insisted in a statement that “the resistance [Hezbollah] is in a defensive position and that it is seeking to consolidate … stability in the south based on the equation of deterrence with the Israeli enemy.”

Hezbollah’s opponents say the party controls the levers of power over the Lebanese state in order to safeguard its own interests. While that is generally true, such criticism can ring hollow in a country where politicians of all political persuasions are widely seen as routinely exploiting state resources either for personal enrichment or to fund patronage networks on which their popular support rests.

And while Hezbollah’s influence within the Lebanese state today reaches into political, economic, security, and judicial spheres, analysts say its principle motive is less the acquisition of power but to defend and sustain what it calls its resistance priority – the anti-Israeli military component that lies at the heart of the party’s ideology.

Still, Hezbollah’s determination to hold onto its formidable military assets and the attempts by its opponents to de-fang the party have caused more than a decade of political divisions between the Hezbollah-led March 8 parliamentary coalition, oriented toward Iran and Syria, and the rival, pro-Western March 14 coalition, headed by Hariri. Sectarian tensions have soared and on occasions the country has come close to collapse.

When Hezbollah spent the 1990s battling Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, its armed status was sanctioned by successive Lebanese governments and guaranteed by neighboring Syria, then the dominant force in Lebanon. After Israel withdrew its troops in May 2000, Syria continued to provide cover for Hezbollah’s military wing despite growing calls in Lebanon for its disarmament.

String of domestic victories

But that fig leaf was removed with Syria’s political disengagement from Lebanon in April 2005, two months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current premier’s father, for which Damascus was blamed by many.

With Syria gone, Hezbollah had to take a more proactive stance to defend its weapons even as its domestic enemies sniffed new opportunities to have it disarmed. Hezbollah struck alliances with Shiite and Christian parties, joined the government for the first time, and used its weight to block legislation that threatened its interests.

It even resorted to taboo-breaking violence in May 2008, storming the western half of Beirut in response to a government decision to shut down its private telecoms network. The action triggered several days of sectarian fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war before the government was humiliatingly forced to rescind its earlier decision.

More recently, Hezbollah was able to secure the election of its Christian ally, Michel Aoun, as president. The previous incumbent left office in May 2014 and both sides submitted candidates. But Hezbollah and its allies refused to attend parliamentary sessions to elect a new president unless assured that Mr. Aoun would carry the vote. Hariri and his allies sought a compromise by dropping their own candidate and nominating another Christian ally of Hezbollah.

Still Hezbollah dug in its heels, insisting on Aoun. After a two-and-a-half-year deadlock, Hariri yielded to Hezbollah’s demand and Aoun was elected last November in a deal that saw Hariri appointed prime mininister. The result has effectively left the March 14 coalition shattered beyond repair, its leaders either marginalized or compelled into reluctant cooperation with Hezbollah.

That has left Hezbollah effectively the victor of the political battle that shaped post-2005 politics in Lebanon with no serious domestic challenge to its armed status.

“So far, Hezbollah’s assessment is that it can achieve its interests and the means to achieving them without ruling Lebanon – especially now that Michel Aoun is the president,” says Ms. Slim, the Hezbollah expert. “The moment any of these means are threatened, as we have seen in the case of [the anti-regime uprising in] Syria, Hezbollah will fight back.”

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

Story highlights

  • France finds common elements in samples from Khan Sheikhoun and a 2013 Syria attack
  • French Foreign Ministry says there’s “no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime”

(CNN) France has said that it has proof that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month that killed 89 people.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that samples taken from the attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun matched those from a previous incident.
“We have definite sources that the procedure used to make the Sarin sampled is typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories,” he said. “This method bears the signature of the regime, and that is what has allowed us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”
French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria and so were able to compare them, he said.
A tweet posted by the French Foreign Ministry said: “There’s no doubt that Sarin was used. There is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime.”
The attack has been widely blamed by Western powers on the Syrian government, which is supposed to have given up its chemical weapon stockpile in 2013 following an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus that activists say killed 1,400 people.
International chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last week they had found “incontrovertible” evidence that Sarin, or a similar substance, was used in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, but did not apportion responsibility.
UK scientists had already found that Sarin or a similar chemical had been used in the attack, having tested samples smuggled from the site.

Assad denies chemical attack in interview

Assad denies chemical attack in interview
However, Damascus denies it had anything to do with the Khan Sheikhoun attack, instead blaming “terrorist” groups. It also denies it has any chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key Syrian ally, has suggested meanwhile that the attack was carried out by “forces” trying to frame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow also questioned the impartiality of the OPCW.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia would not change its position regarding the Khan Sheikhoun attack in light of the French assessment.
“The Kremlin and President Putin still believe that conducting an impartial international investigation is the only way to find out the truth,” state-run TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

‘Common elements’

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 5.

The French Foreign Ministry said its independent investigation, declassified so it could be shared with the world, supported “with certainty” the conclusions also reached by the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and the OPCW.
Analysis by French experts of samples from the April 4 attack site and the blood of one of the victims confirmed the use of Sarin, its report said. Those samples were compared with samples from an attack on the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in April 2013, in which three grenades containing Sarin were dropped by a helicopter, one of which failed to explode, it said. According to the French army, only the Syrian regime had helicopters so it had to be behind the attack.

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, on April 5, 2017.

Scientists established the presence of the same chemical compounds in samples taken from Saraqeb in 2013 and from Khan Sheikhoun, the French Foreign Ministry said. “The Sarin present in the weapons used on April 4 was produced according to the same manufacturing method as that used in the Sarin attack carried out by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb.”
The report also cited the French military’s assessment that a warplane had been deployed from the Syrian regime’s Shayrat airbase on the morning of April 4 and had carried out up to six airstrikes in the Khan Sheikhoun area. “Only the regime has such air assets,” said Ayrault.

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack
“The French intelligence services believe that only Bashar al-Assad and some of the most influential members of his entourage are empowered to give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report added.
The report also describes the claim that rebel forces in the area had Sarin as “not credible.”
It casts doubt on the Syrian regime’s promised destruction of its chemical stockpile, saying that French intelligence services believe “important doubts remain about the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal.”

Missile strike

The chemical attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime in the six-year war, causing a major rift between Washington and Moscow.
On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase, US officials said.
The Khan Sheikhoun incident has led to renewed calls for Assad to be forced from power, as international ceasefire and peace talks continue to end a conflict which has killed 400,000 people, according to UN data.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Role-Making

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Role-Making

When the Saudi King receives the Egyptian president, the Arab role in the region will prevail over talks between the two leaders. This goes without saying, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt constitute the pillars of any effective Arab role. Any strategic gathering between the two countries would be regarded as a dynamic drive for common Arab work. Such joint collaboration is very much similar to the German-French joint cooperation in Europe, despite the different circumstances and characteristics. The relationship between Berlin and Paris does not require total conformity but is based on a common vision of basic challenges in the fields of security, politics, and economy.

The list of challenges on the Saudi-Egyptian negotiations table is clearly known: terrorism, represented by the forces of darkness, mainly ISIS; instability, which was caused by the big uprising launched by Iran’s revolution policies, apart from a president smiling and another flexing his muscles, and the deadlock resulting from Israel’s continuous settlements.

Other factors, which have belittled the Arab role in the region, cannot be ignored, such as fruitless policies that have fueled poverty, desperation, failure and backsliding.

The two leaders had to take into consideration a significant and decisive development when assessing challenges ahead. Before reaching its 100-day threshold, Donald Trump’s Administration has introduced a major change in the United States’ international image and rhetoric. It succeeded in restoring its prestige after it regained the ability to make decisions and placed the tremendous US force at the disposal of diplomacy to stop those who distort the balance of powers and violate borders and the requirements of world peace and security.

Statements made by the members of the new Administration have shown that the current US perception of the big chaos in the Middle East is completely different from that of Barack Obama’s Administration, in particular with regards to the Iranian upheaval in the region.

On the other hand, visits conducted by Saudi and Egyptian officials to Washington have reflected the two countries’ belief that Trump is the “president who will put the United States back on the right track”. The US president has also reestablished all alliances between the US and its traditional allies, as stated by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his interview with The Washington Post.

We are witnessing, therefore, a US Administration, which blames Iran for destabilizing the region and does not hide its intention to work closely with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab moderate countries to fight terrorism and suppress regional fires. It is clear that Trump’s Administration has listened with interest to the opinion of its Arab visitors on Syria, Yemen, settlements and other issues.

There is no doubt that the Middle East is currently an arena for raging conflicts, which will shape the region for many decades. Those wishing to sit around the negotiations table must prepare their working papers. Roles are built and made. They require continuous maintenance in light of internal and world developments.

A country’s demographic and military weight does no longer define its role. In the new world, roles have new prerequisites: the well-being of national economy, growth development, social cohesion, and youth engagement in shaping the future. Other prerequisites include institutions that are managed with integrity, competence and accountability.

One can say that Saudi Arabia is getting ready for the central role projected to it. Over the past two years, it has become obvious that the Kingdom has set a vision for what it wants to become in the future, in particular with regards to its economy, in light of changes in the world’s economies. It has proven that it can establish relationships on the basis of mutual interests and partnerships. The Kingdom has a program aimed at engaging the youth in the march towards growth and community-based rehabilitation to face new challenges. Royal decrees issued on the eve of the summit were very evident in this regard.

Egypt, for its part, is trying to get ready for the coming phase. Its war against terrorism, which targets its stability, unity, and role, did not lead it to neglect the difficult economic situation. The country is taking painful measures to reduce poverty and unemployment rates and revive its economy. Egypt’s economic battle is not separate from the fight against ideologies threatening its cities. Soldiers are needed to combat terrorism, growth is necessary to ease desperation, universities are indispensable to engage students in the wave of successive technological revolutions, and institutions are required to guarantee the rule of law and the protection of all citizens without any form of discrimination.

Role-making begins with education, openness to the world, planning and monitored execution.

Arab countries will not regain their natural presence in the region unless they take back their active role. They cannot take back that role unless they decide to move out of the long-standing stalemate and overcome regrets and melancholy. Roles are made with effort and knowledge. Future is built with numbers, not with illusions. Establishing Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s roles on solid and modern bases and forging firm cooperation mechanisms represent the means to restore balance in the region and shrink the power of non-Arab states to its normal size.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Egypt And U.S. Share Comprehensive Efforts To Combat Terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Cairo – Conflicts in the Arab region, most notably in Syria, Libya and Yemen, should be resolved, stressed Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The minister added there is a possibility to contain terrorism through Western intelligence agencies, not just military operations.

Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, the FM said that certain known factories are providing terrorist organizations with arms and equipment, calling for serious and effective cooperation to end this.

Shoukry pointed out that the US administration shares the same vision as Egypt in countering terrorism. He also discussed the situation in the region and the importance of giving people a chance to end their struggles and solve their problems.

When asked if there were any initiatives for a solution in Yemen, Shoukry replied that they are monitoring the UN envoy and other countries’ efforts to establish a resolution according to the agreed bases, such as the outcomes of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and supporting the legitimacy.

On terrorism, the FM stressed that Egypt will continue to fight it, especially after the two attacks on the Tanta and Alexandria Churches earlier in April.

Shoukry stated that he believes terrorism is expanding because the international effort that has been established did not succeed in containing terrorism, except in Iraq recently.

He added that the situations in Syria and Libya are complicated and terrorist organizations are spreading in Africa. He also cited the frequent attacks in Europe and Egypt that are evidence of the continued presence of these terror organizations.

According to the minister, the international community should “credibly tackle the matter because it is impossible that these organizations receive weapons and support unbeknownst to the western intelligence.”

Shoukry said: “If there a real international will to fight terrorism, then the international community should begin with determining how these terrorist organizations receive all these advanced weapons and equipment.”

The FM said it is “impossible” that intelligence agencies are unable to trace and determine the parties and states responsible for backing terrorist organizations. He added that this is crucial for the credibility of anyone who says they are fighting terror.

Commenting on Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s recent trip to the US, Shoukry explained that it took place shortly after US President Donald Trump came to office and when the US policy was still being shaped.

He did say however certain concepts were agreed upon, like fighting terrorism.

When asked whether Egypt will continue to unite all three Libyan parties, Shoukry stressed that his country never did and never will stop trying to unite Libyan parties. He explained that there are three institutions in Libya: presidential council, the parliament and the state’s council, which will form a committee to agree on the amendments needed to the Sukhayrat agreement.

He added that this constant effort with Libyan leaderships, which have met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, will continue until they are successful.

The minister stressed that Egypt aims to have natural relations with regional countries according to certain bases, which include mutual respect for sovereignties.

Furthermore, Cairo does not interfere in internal affairs and does not support organizations that back terrorism.

The FM was in Sudan recently on a visit, which he described as having “positive outcomes”.

He stated that it was an opportunity to review bilateral relations and the outcomes of the meetings of the joint high committee. He also explained that Egypt and Sudan agreed on a mechanism for political dialogue and discussed the regional situation.

The minister stated that bilateral relations might have had some misunderstandings or misinterpretations, which drove brotherly relations off their track.

When asked if the past has been forgotten, Shoukry stressed that Cairo is committed to a strategic ties with Sudan, which goes beyond any special relationships, adding: “Egypt does not conspire against or interfere in the affairs of any state.”

On Ethiopia, Shoukry said that both Cairo and Addis Ababa requested better coordination and asked for more frequent meetings. He explained that this could make it clearer to the public that issues are being discussed frankly and openly.

When asked about the Egyptian-Ethiopian relations, Shoukry said that Ethiopian FM Workneh Gebeyehu conveyed his country’s prime minister’s message to Sisi during his recent visit to Cairo. He added that the visit was an opportunity to discuss the importance of the mutual relations which are based on respect and common interests.

The Ethiopian FM stressed publically that his country will not take any move that could harm Egyptian interests. Meanwhile, Shoukry confirmed that Egypt is concerned with the Ethiopian development efforts, expressing Egypt’s willingness to be part of it through investments.

Shoukry said that the two countries agreed on dialogue to reach an ongoing mechanism to hold meetings every two months in order to discuss any misunderstanding or misinterpretation that could lead to wrong assumptions.

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.