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ORIENT TENDENCIES
Orient Tendencies no 150
 
 

Orient Tendencies

Monday September 23, 2013, no150

 

Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com

Editor in chief Wassim Raad

wassimraad73@gmail.com

New Orient Center for Strategic policies

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Bashar al-Assad wins the battle

of communication


 

By Ghaleb Kandil

U.S. and European media have recently published dozens of articles on Syria, citing issues they didn't evoke for more than a year. Images of the atrocities committed by the rebels have been published and photos on beheadings, cannibalism and other barbaric acts perpetrated by pseudo- revolutionaries have emerged. This growing media awareness coincided with threats of military aggression against Syria, launched by President Barack Obama.

This change in tone is especially illustrated by the severe indictment against Obama on FoxNews, the done by the famous Judge Jeanine Pirro on September 12. This TV station, run by the Conservatives, has engaged in a political trial against the decision of the war against Syria. Its conclusion was that Barack Obama wants to start a new military adventure in the service of Al-Qaeda Service, that is fighting the Syrian state.

Facts have proved them right. Al-Qaeda have launched last week a general attack to take control of northern Syria, after extending its hegemony over large portions of Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Hassaké.

At the same time, the first deputy director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Sergei Smirnov said between 300 and 400 Russian mercenaries fighting are in Syria in the ranks of extremists. These mercenaries "will eventually return. This is, of course, a great danger," the official said.

Last Wednesday, the French Minister of the Interior , Manual Valls , stated that 130 French nationals fight in the ranks of extremists Syria, noting that their return to France was a source of concern because of the potential threat they may pose.

This change of attitude on the part of Western media is due, first, to the failure of the war launched against the Syrian state for two and a half years by the Western governments, reactionary monarchies of the Gulf and Turkey. In addition, all the polls in the United States, France, Germany and Britain showed that the public opinion is opposed to the war against Syria. In the UK, Parliament expressed the will of the people by prohibiting the Prime Minister David Cameron to participate in any aggression against Damascus.
The popular rejection of a new war is due to the defeat of the United States and its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip, and in three Israeli wars against Lebanon in 1993, 1996 and 2006. These conflicts have had a serious impact on Western economies and left deep scars in the collective memory of the people. The resistance of the Syrian government against the universal war against him, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the weakening of Turkey, have reinforced public opinion in his pacifist choice.

Most articles and stories published in the Western media give, finally, a realistic picture of what is happening in Syria: A State ready to make serious reforms, which is struggling with gangs of extremists mercenaries, mostly members of Al-Qaeda. The "democratic" facade installed by the West and its auxiliary collapsed, to let appear the true face of the rebellion: Takfirists, criminals, child killers, rapists of women and man-eaters. These are the groups who are recruited, trained, armed, funded and fed by Saudi and Qatari democracies!

During his recent appearances in the Western media, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has managed to break the silence and to show the public the true picture of what is happening in his country. His arguments, his common sense, his logic, supported by facts, evidence and numbers, were able to convince many people, both ordinary citizens and in the intellectual and political honest elites. Western public opinion has not become pro-regime, but she grasped the reality of what is happening in Syria. A truth that the huge media machine controlled by the U.S., European countries and the Gulf governments have sought to hide the past two and a half years .

After winning the political and diplomatic battle, with the help of his Russian ally, and took over the military battle, with the support of Hezbollah and Iran, Syria is poised to win the battle for communication.

Another factor in the change of attitude of Western opinion , is the Vatican's position. The Holy city is firmly opposed to any military aggression against Syria. Position stems from its desire to defend the cause of the Christians of the East, whose existence is threatened by Takfirist, trying to destroy the last secular State in the East, guarantor of religious freedom for all citizens.

The day of prayer for Syria, celebrated at the initiative of Vatican on 7 September, gathered millions of believers in churches around the world, including the United States. This solidarity has also played a key role in swaying public opinion.

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Statements

 

Bashar al-Assad, President of the Arab Syrian Republic

«Syria would surrender Syria's chemical weapons. I think it's a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion. So it depends, you have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly. It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more. What we have is not civil war. What we have is war. It's a new kind of war.  Islamist guerrillas from more than 80 countries had joined the fight. We know that we have tens of thousands of jihadists... we are on the ground, we live in this country. What I can tell you is that ... 80 to 90 percent of the underground terrorists are Al-Qaeda and their offshoots. At the start of the uprising there were non-jihadist rebels, but since the end of 2012, Islamic extremists had become a majority. Tens of thousands of Syrians and 15,000 government troops had been killed mainly because of the terrorist attacks, assassinations and suicide bombers.»

 

Vladimir Putin, Russian President

«Will we manage to convince Mr Assad to get rid of chemical weapons? I don't know. Will we be able to see everything through? I cannot be 100% sure. Ensuring Syria's compliance is the joint responsibility of the entire UN Security Council. Russia had every reason to believe it was rebels, not the Syrian regime, who were behind the chemical attack on 21 August. It could have been a crafty provocation, involving the use of ancient Soviet missiles long decommissioned by the Syrian army, but used deliberately in order to implicate Mr Assad's forces.»

 

Michel Sleiman, Lebanese President

«The formation of a new government has become urgent in view of the major problems facing the Lebanese daily life of the citizens, and deadlines ahead with the arrival of winter. It is important that policy makers understand how this period is difficult, and reduce their claims to a unifying government can be formed, in which all parties are represented and assume overall national responsibility to restore stability political and security, and to plan the next step with its many deadlines.»

 

Bechara Raï, Maronite Patriarch

«War and violence always beget war and violence. You can never say that we can engage in a limited military strike because no one knows what might happen in the future. The key is that the world has responded to the call and prayed with the Pope, Christians and Muslims alike. We thank God that the subject has taken another turn and there has not been a new war with more destruction, deaths and displaced populations. Now it is hoped that another step is taken by the implementation of a solution to the conflict in Syria by political and diplomatic means, through negotiations and dialogue.»

 

Tammam Salam, Designate-Prime minister

«Designate-Prime Minister Tammam Salam voiced his rejection of the dialogue initiative launched by Speaker Nabih Berri in order to discuss the cabinet formation. The dialogue initiative derogates the powers of the designate-PM and the president, and shifts the formation process into a whole new [way] and to new customs that are completely unacceptable and that do not recognize the Lebanese constitution. The cabinet should not take a very long time to be formed, while the dialogue process would consume a lot of time, which would stall the cabinet formation. The issues raised for dialogue are essential and peculiar, and it could take a very long time to discuss them. The cabinet formation cannot wait for a dialogue conference to be resolved, and this would not be the right place to form a cabinet.»

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Events

 

  • A judicial source said that arrest warrants were issued against two Syrians by the military justice in the investigation of attacks against convoys of Hezbollah. One of the suspects was arrested on July 23, a week after the latest in a series of bomb attacks against Hezbollah convoys near the border with Syria. One person was killed and three injured in an explosion occurred on July 16.

 

  • According to Al-Akhbar daily, several Western diplomats to refrain from any movement outside Beirut, except in an emergency. They also try to avoid traveling in the capital. Western ambassadors have not been less vigilant following the decline of the threat of U.S. strikes against Syria. The only exception is the U.S. ambassador, David Hale, who continues to make formal visits to Lebanese officials.

 

  • A Palestinian man abducted and killed an Israeli soldier whose body was found on Saturday in the north of the occupied West Bank, the military said. An army spokesman said the soldier "was kidnapped and killed by a Palestinian near Qalqiliya yesterday (Friday) and his body was found" on Saturday. The suspected killer was also arrested, the spokesman said. Israel's internal security service Shin Bet said the suspect, a Palestinian from Beit Amin south of Qalqiliya, had confessed to killing the soldier. The suspect said he had abducted and killed the soldier i the hope that he could trade the body in exchange for the release of his brother jailed by Israel in 2003 in connection with several attacks.

 

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Press review

 

As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)

Imad Marmal (September 20, 2013)

The differences are widening day by day between Kataeb and their allies, the latest being about the attack by Islamist fighters against the town of Maaloula, in Syria. The Phalange were highly indignant about the reaction of the Future Movement (FM) and the Lebanese Forces (LF) and are surprised to see their allies take lightly what happened in Maaloula. These allies have indeed tried to hide the facts and distort reality, whereas for the Kataeb, it was absolutely necessary to bluntly condemn the armed groups that have carried out the attack. Other issues are added to the list of differences between the Kataeb and their allies: the national dialogue: Kataeb favor the resumption without preconditions, unlike LF, who oppose it, and FM, who requires the formation first of all, a new government; the government: Kataeb advocate a national unity government or small government formed of political key figures. However, the FM and LF reject one or the other of these two proposals and prioritize a neutral government of technocrats; Nabih Berri's initiative: President Amine Gemayel reacted positively while the LF and the FM rejected and protested against of its provisions; the Syrian crisis: the Kataeb oppose the intervention of some of its allies in this crisis and accuse them of passivity vis-à-vis challenges facing Christians in Syria because of the behavior of some opposition groups.

 

An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)

(September 21, 2013)

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the security forces will call up two thousand reserve personnel so that the ISF can deploy in the Beirut area of Dahiyeh, where Hezbollah erected several checkpoints following a deadly explosion that targeted the area in August. “The reserve personnel will replace ISF personnel in office jobs, so that the latter can deploy in Dahiyeh on Monday,” said Charbel.

“The deployment will start after the Fourth Unit gathers in the Dahiyeh [ISF] station on Monday afternoon, so that it can begin its mission starting Monday evening,” he added.

The interior minister also reiterated his rejection of self-security measures taken by Hezbollah, and revealed that the parties in Dahiyeh have voiced their relief over the planned security measures that the ISF will take in the area.

Hezbollah has stepped up its security measures, mainly in Dahiyeh and Baalbek, after a car bomb attack rocked the Shiite party’s stronghold on August 19.

On Thursday, Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance called on “Lebanese security and military agencies to handle the responsibilities of preserving security and stability and protecting locals in Beirut’s Dahiyeh.”

 

An Nahar (September 21, 2013)

Rosanna Bou Mounsef

Would Iranian small steps' changes towards greater openness to the West and other countries in the world affect Hezbollah in Lebanon? How?

Greeting made ​​by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to Jews for Easter aroused great interest. As well as information disclosed by President Barack Obama on an exchange of letters with the Iranian president, during the debate on possible U.S. strikes against Syria (...) The contact between Obama and Rohani is important in itself.

The Iranian president came to power by holding different diplomatic style than its predecessor in order to save the poor economic situation and do something useful for Iran in this field. But there is no chance that Iran abandon Hezbollah, which remains at the heart of its regional strategy, from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria. After 2006, the developments are more related to Iran than Syria, and the influence of Tehran has increased since the involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian war.

However, the pressure and the campaigns that Hezbollah faces from the United States, European countries -with the inclusion of its military wing of the terrorist list-, and the Gulf states, who are preparing to take sanctions against the party, are in contradiction with the kindness expressed toward President Rohani.

 

Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)

Marah Mashi (September 19, 2013)

Despite threats of an attack on Syria by Washington, the Syrian army successfully pressed on with its operation in the Ghouta area around Damascus.

Damascus – The capture of Deir Salman and Shebaa in the eastern Ghouta of Damascus by the Syrian armed forces represents a turning point in the battles underway to the south and east of the capital.

The two towns held strategic importance for the opposition, allowing them to run supplies to their forces deep in the eastern Ghouta, which posed a direct threat to the regime’s hold on Damascus, with Shebaa directly overlooking the main highway connecting the capital to the international airport.

The army decided to move on Shebaa after rumors circulated that opposition brigades stationed in the town were planning an attack on army checkpoints protecting the airport road, as a response to the army’s takeover of Deir Salman.

A Syrian army officer who had reached Shebaa reports that military operations in the area continued without interruption throughout the last few days, even during the height of the international crisis and the threat of a US attack that were sparked by the August 21 chemical attack in the eastern Ghouta.

Military analysts in Damascus are noticing that the opposition is increasingly resorting to almost suicidal attacks, which are being launched without calculation as to their cost. Some attribute this to the series of setbacks they have suffered, particularly around Damascus, causing them to make rash decisions in the process.

The confrontations underway to the east of Homs are but one example of how opposition forces have failed to carefully consider their military strategy. There they decided to move against the loyalist and confessionally mixed town of Maksar al-Hisan, prompting regime forces stationed in the town to launch a counterattack that succeed in re-claiming six villages that had previously been under opposition control.

 

Al Akhbar (September 18, 2013)

AhmaHassan

With the West’s decision not to intervene militarily in Syria, at least not directly, there is renewed talk of two courses of action dominating events in the country: a strong push for holding the Geneva II conference and an escalation in battles on the ground.

Damascus – After the relative calm that prevailed in Damascus over the past few weeks, with anxious anticipation of a Western strike, clashes in the capital have now resumed in parallel with escalations in the northern and southern Damascus countryside, Qaboun, and the Yarmouk refugee camp. Some believe this escalation could be part of preemptive preparations on the field ahead of the coming major political event in Geneva II.

In this regard, a high-level Syrian official who preferred not to be named told Al-Akhbar, “The road to Geneva is now compulsory for all parties. The conference will most likely be held in October, probably on October 28. We in the Syrian government declared our readiness to participate in the conference without any conditions, so the ball is now in the court of the opposition, which remains unserious about participation.”

When Al-Akhbar asked him about the identity of political forces participating in the conference and how they would be represented, he said, “The Syrian government has chosen the names of the officials that make up its delegation. As for the opposition, those present at the table will include the Kurdish forces, the Doha coalition (i.e. the Syrian National Coalition), the Commission (i.e. the National Coordination Commission), and the Coalition of Forces for Peaceful Change.

“Regarding the representation of each political faction, this is not important, because the outcome of Geneva II will not be determined by voting, but by accords that all parties will be committed to implement. But each faction has the right to choose its representatives at the conference.”

He continued, “The main problem that remains is that of military representation. It is not yet known whether a tentative formula has been reached to guarantee the participation of Syrian militants in the conference.”

According to the source, the majority of Syrians believe that reaching an accord with Syrian militants who have legitimate grievances may pave the way for the Syrian army and these militants to join forces against foreign fighters from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as other radical militant factions.

Securing the Capital Before Geneva II

Throughout the crisis, the armed opposition has consistently sought to disrupt security in the Syrian capital, especially before every international political event. In the balance of gains and losses, the opposition and the countries that support it know well that every gain or setback in the field will impact political negotiations. This has driven the two warring parties to further mobilize with one goal in mind: controlling Damascus.

On the ground, everything indicates that Damascus’ center will remain under the control of the Syrian army, whether before or after the international conference. One thing that could change this is if battles in the countryside tip the balance in favor of the opposition. Yet nothing in the daily battles taking place in the past few days suggests this is happening.

Indeed, the Syrian army continues to advance in the northern Damascus countryside. In Zamalka, near the city of Douma, the army pounded militant strongholds with mortar rounds before directly engaging opposition forces, inflicting heavy losses in their ranks. In Barzeh, the Syrian army is also advancing, following clashes in the vicinity of the Tishreen Military Hospital. Meanwhile, clashes along the Qaboun-Harasta-Irbeen axis are taking the form of “cleansing by fire,” with the Syrian army combing the area in preparation for declaring the northern countryside a region controlled by the Syrian government forces.

In the southern countryside, the clashes and skirmishes taking place in Daria are proceeding in a direction that favors the Syrian army, which has now surrounded the city, controlling more than half of it. This progress in the southwest, along the Sehaya-Daria-Jdeidet Artouz axis, is in dire need of an effective advance along the capital’s southeastern front, where the army was recently able to take control of the town of Shebaa after fierce fighting.

The southeast Damascus countryside is significant because it is now almost the only way left for the army to end the stalemate in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and the Filastine and Tadamon districts controlled by the armed opposition. But military analysts believe that seizing these areas can no longer be done using traditional tactics (air coverage with ground-based assault), and instead requires shifting the place of attack from the northern entrance of the region to the southern entrance.

This, they say, will be possible after the army regains absolute control over the areas of Sayyida Zeinab, Yalda, and Babila, cutting off the only supply route for the militants holed up in Yarmouk in the process. Today, there are reports indicating that the political and military leadership in Syria are in favor of this scenario, which they want to put into force before heading to Geneva II.

 

Al Akhbar (September 17, 2013)

Mouhamad Wehbe

Lebanon’s population is set to increase from a little over 4 million today to 6.4 million by 2014 if the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) estimate of Syrian refugee growth is accurate.

For over two and half years, Syrian refugees have been pouring into neighboring Lebanon, escaping the bloody conflict taking place in their country. Yet the Lebanese government has done very little to try to understand this development and what kind of impact it will have on the Lebanese economy and the livelihood of its citizens.

Lebanese officials have dealt with the issue by way of international agencies and NGOs, allowing them to do much of the work on the ground, while government representatives have focused on attending donor conferences, hoping to get a slice of the pie, something that the Lebanese state has mastered over the years.

To this day, no serious study has been conducted on Syrian refugees in Lebanon and their economic and social impact on their host country. There are, however, two attempts by ESCWA and the World Bank to come to terms with the impact such a large refugee population will have on the Lebanese economy.

Both studies agree that Lebanon is taking a beating as a result of the Syrian crisis, with its economy losing somewhere between $7.6 billion and $11 billion since the start of the uprising. This suggests, according to the studies, that Lebanon’s GDP per capita will decline between $1,800 and $3,000 over the course of three years.

Former labor minister Charbel Nahas, however, questions some of the results in the two studies because they don’t take into account the contribution made by these refugees to the overall GDP. Inevitably, the refugee population must be spending money to meet their daily needs and they must have a source of income or assistance to allow them to do so.

There are three possible ways that refugees are able to do this: 1) They are spending whatever savings they brought with them from Syria; 2) They rely on foreign assistance; and 3) They have found employment locally.

Therefore, according to Nahas, these sources of income must be taken into account to get a more accurate picture of how such a large number of refugees will affect the standard of living in Lebanon. But what the former minister finds most shocking about all this is the Lebanese government’s complete absence when it comes to an issue that is bound to have a powerful – possibly, devastating – impact on the country’s economy.

 

Al Akhbar (September 16, 2013)

Ibrahim al-Amin

Thirty-one years ago today, young men emerged to stand in the face of the Israeli occupation, insisting that resistance was their duty and fate. On 16 September 1982, the day Israeli troops entered West Beirut, an alliance of nationalist and leftist parties formed the Lebanese National Resistance Front, referred to as “Jammoul” in Arabic.

Thousands joined the movement to prevent the Israelis from entering Beirut. Many paid a heavy price with their lives, others spent years of their youth in one of Israel’s many detention camps – not to mention those that to this day still live with the scars of that war.

It is the occasion when we ask that annoying question: If Jammoul were around today, how would it have dealt with the situation we find ourselves in? And I am not talking to the left, but to all those who consider the Zionist state and its Western imperialist backers the greatest danger to the well-being of their land and people.

The same question could be posed in a far more provocative way by asking what have we done since our project stumbled and other forces came to take our place, or – as some suggest – pushed us forcibly aside. What have we done to persist in our struggle and solidarity with the Palestinian people?

Have we completely lost the initiative? Unfortunately, yes. That is what explains the demoralization that haunts a generation or more. It explains why we differ on just about everything today from theory, analysis, priorities, and even our collective interest. What was once a vibrant, broad left with deep popular roots has become little more than a collection of individuals with no one to represent but themselves.

Any kind of effort to revive the left takes us back to the necessity of some kind of review, otherwise there is no way to move forward. But any real revision means that a whole generation must submit its resignation and stand aside, giving a younger generation the opportunity to recast our project as it sees fit.

They should be free to start from scratch and dispense with whatever they deem necessary in order to breath life back into those old ideals, which would at least prompt people to take notice and believe again that they could lead to something better.

Those who are genuinely celebrating the birth of Jammoul today and have remained committed to the idea of resistance all these years are but a small indication that a review is past due and a new choice must be built.

 

Al Joumhouria (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)

(September 20, 2013)

Speaker Nabih Berri commented on the results of the discussions about his dialogue initiative with various Lebanese parties and said that the overwhelming majority of them supported it. “The overwhelming majority of the political parties that met with the Amal Movement delegation supported the initiative to return to the national dialogue conference", he said. However, he said that only the Lebanese Forces party rejected his dialogue initiative.

“Everyone supported the initiative except for LF leader Samir Geagea who told the delegation that he does not think such dialogue would yield results in the light of previous experiences,” Berri added.

“The Future Movement did not reject dialogue, a part of it welcomed my dialogue initiative, while the other part did not reject it completely but suggested ideas to add to the content of the initiative and voiced their willingness to discuss these ideas with me,” he added.

He also revealed that the delegation will stop its meetings with Lebanese parties and will start deliberation on the results of the discussions.

The speaker also noted that he would meet with President Michel Suleiman soon to discuss the results of the discussions about his initiative.

In response to Berri’s remarks, Geagea said later on Friday that if all Lebanese parties really did approve of Berri’s dialogue initiative except for the LF, then the dialogue committee should convene.

“Since everyone approved of participating in the national dialogue, then let there be a national dialogue conference, and we will approve of everything it decides if the decisions abide by the constitution and the laws in force,” said Geagea.

 

Al Joumhouria (September 19, 2013)

Sources of the Russian Foreign Ministry reported information, shared with various intelligence services, stating that al-Nosra Front has obtained the Sarin gas from regional and Arab countries. These services have also observed infiltration in Lebanon, the last two weeks, a large number of al-Qaeda elements from Arab and foreign nationalities, through illegal paths between the two countries. The sources said that Al-Qaeda's cells aim to extend confrontation in Lebanon. The sources warned against the continuation of this phenomenon that threatens Lebanon.

The same sources added that Russian experts came to the conclusion that the Sarin gas used in Damascus Ghouta is not Russian or Soviet-made, which shows that the UN inspectors should return Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, where Damascus ensures that chemical weapons were used by the rebels.

 

AFP (France-Press Agency, September 21, 2013)

Syria has completed the handover of an inventory of its chemical arsenal by a Saturday deadline as part of a deal that headed off military strikes, the world's chemical weapons watchdog said.

The "OPCW has confirmed that it has received the expected disclosure from the Syrian government regarding its chemical weapons program," the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in an email received by AFP.

"The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received," it added.
The OPCW has postponed a meeting of its Executive Council set for Sunday which had been due to discuss how to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program.

The US-Russian disarmament agreement, worked out as Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, requires Syria to hand over the whole of its arsenal which is to be destroyed by mid-2014.

UN diplomats are trying to thrash out a resolution to ensure Syrian compliance with the deal, but they first need the document laying out what US Secretary of State John Kerry called the "rules and regulations" of the disarmament to be agreed by the OPCW.

Following the deal, Syria asked to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW enforces. OPCW experts will now analyze the inventory handed over by Damascus to draw up a realistic timetable for destroying the chemicals, delivery systems and production facilities.

According to the framework agreed by Washington and Moscow, OPCW weapons inspectors are to complete inspections of Syrian weapons sites and destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by November.

But the international consensus on the plan has not carried over into negotiations on the wording of a UN Security Council resolution to back it up.

 

AFP (September 21, 2013)

Tunisia's women's ministry said Saturday it would come up with a plan to counter the growing number of women traveling to Syria to wage so-called "sex jihad" by comforting militants. "The ministry intends to boost its cooperation with both government and non-government bodies on this issue to come up with appropriate ways to thwart the plans of those who encourage such practices," a ministry statement said. "The ministry will work to introduce a plan of information, sensitivity and education targeting women and families everywhere to warn them of the seriousness of these practices," it said. A crisis group has already been set up, it added.

Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou told the National Constituent Assembly on Thursday that Tunisian women had gone to Syria where "they have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100" militants. "After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of 'jihad al-nikah' – [sexual holy war, in Arabic] -- they come home pregnant," he told MPs.

Ben Jeddou did not elaborate on how many Tunisian women had returned to the country pregnant with the children of jihadist fighters.

On Saturday, the health ministry statement said it had noted "an increase in the number of young women leaving for so-called jihad al-nikah", although it did not give any figures.

Jihad al-nikah, permitting extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners, is considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.

Media reports have said hundreds of Tunisian women have gone to Syria for this purpose, in addition to hundreds of Tunisian men joining jihadists battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Ben Jeddou said that since he assumed office in March, "six thousand of our young people have been prevented from going there".

He has said in the past that border controls have been boosted to intercept young Tunisians seeking to travel to Syria.

Media reports say thousands of Tunisians have, over the past 15 years, joined jihadists across the world in Afghanistan Iraq and Syria, mainly travelling via Turkey or Libya.

 

Ria Novosti (Russian press agency, September 20, 2013)

The Russian Black Sea Fleet’s Moskva warship has arrived to lead Russia’s naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea, a fleet spokesperson said Friday. “The Moskva missile cruiser has joined warships in Russia’s task force in the eastern Mediterranean following a voyage from the Atlantic Ocean,” Capt. 1st Rank Vyacheslav Trukhachev said. “The cruiser hosts the headquarters of the operational command of the task force, which includes warships from the Black Sea, Baltic and Pacific fleets,” Trukhachev said.

The Moskva arrives fresh from a tour-of-duty in the Atlantic, which started on July 3, during which it practiced firing at surface and aerial targets, he said.

The warship also made port calls in Portugal, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Russia has been increasing its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea since it announced in December it would establish a standing task force there to protect its interests in the region.

Initial statements by Russian Defense officials did not explicitly attribute this to the ongoing civil war in Syria, but on Sept. 5, the Kremlin chief of staff said that “given the presence there of amphibious landing ships, they are intended for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens.”

Since May 1, all Russian warships in the region have been grouped into a single task force under a dedicated offshore maritime zone operational command.

Russia’s naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean currently comprises 10 warships: the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the destroyers Smetlivy and Admiral Panteleyev, the frigate Neustrashimy and the assault landing ships Nikolai Filchenkov, Peresvyet, Admiral Nevelskoi, Minsk, Novocherkassk and Alexander Shabalin.

The Black Sea Fleet assault landing ship Yamal is expected to join Russia’s Mediterranean Sea task force by the end of September.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet flagship, the Varyag missile cruiser, which left Vladivostok Wednesday on a tour-of-duty in the Indian Ocean, may join the Mediterranean task force later this year, if necessary, Navy sources told RIA Novosti on Thursday.

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