Monday September 30, 2013, no151
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
The new Cold War
By Ghaleb Kandil
What happened in recent days on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly clearly illustrates the emergence of new international relations, characterized by the end of American hegemony and the emergence of new realities. These suggest the beginning of a different world than the one that has been experienced during the second half of the twentieth century Cold War.
Some analysts believe that the end of the unilateral American hegemony inevitably lead to the emergence of a multipolar world. But a closer look at what happened shows the following observation: the emerging powers, including the axis of the resistance led by Russia, with a key role to Iran, managed to impose new balances through a process of accumulation of victories, especially against Israel in Lebanon, and thanks to the strength of Syria in the universal war against it. These new realities have forced the U.S. and its British and French allies to accept the new rules, which resulted, in the Security Council, by reciprocity in the use of vetoes, which was in recent decades, the monopoly the West.
This new balance of power is characterized by the end of the great wars and invasions, but it will not prevent the continuation of political conflicts and crises. There is a vital issue for Russia: the recovery of its historic role in Slavic and Orthodox Europe, controlled by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A multipolar world means a global change of rules and relationships within the UN. However, the administrative and political structures of the organization and its executive arm, remain totally under American hegemony. This means that the imbalance will continue until the emerging forces that dismantled the unipolar world, are able to reconstruct the institutions of the United Nations to impose a change in their operating rules, such as the integration of new permanent members to the Security Council, like Brazil, South Africa and later on Iran.
The new world order will be the fall of the unilateral hegemony of America, which has used the past three decades its military power to attack and subjugate other Nations. Throughout this period, Washington has used the UN and its institutions as if they were an extension to its diplomacy. Russia and China were in a waiting period and were satisfied, at most, to protest politically, until the victory of the resistance against Israel, in 2006, laid the foundations of great change.
Many contentious issues remain between America on one side, Russia, China, Iran and the members of Brics, on the other side. Open competition for control of energy resources and markets will continue and will continue to cause biases in the international arena. But the new realities will prevent the United States have recourse to war to impose their will.
If the Yalta conference resulted in a division of the world into two spheres of influence, on which were deployed armies of the two great powers of the time, today, there are no lines of demarcation between very specific areas of influence. Instead, the lines are tangled and no compromise is possible. According to these new rules of engagement, the contemporary cold war will take place.
The scope of Iranian victory
By Ghaleb Kandil
Iran crowned 33 years of resistance against the US-Western blockade by obliging the United States to recognize it as an independent power. Thanks to the wisdom of his leadership, Tehran has managed to wrest this recognition both in terms of form and substance.
Thus, Washington has recognized the power of Iran and is resigned to accept its entry into the club of world leaders. It also acknowledged its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy without Iran makes any concession.
We are witnessing the beginning of the rise of Iran, which has resisted all this time to complex wars launched by implacable enemies, who used all their weapons: pressures, threats, embargoes, blockades, sanctions, state terrorism, assassinations of scientists, terrorist attacks, secret wars, economic wars, subversion etc. ...
But despite the huge resources thrown into battle by the United States, Israel and their auxiliaries, they lost in front of the determination of the Iranian people and its commitment to independence.
Faced with these wars, Iran has relied on its own resources and has significantly expanded its military and technological capabilities, even managing to launch the conquest of space. In cooperation with Russia, China, Korea, Brazil, Venezuela and India, the Islamic Republic has made great strides, becoming a model for developing countries.
Iranian citizens have made huge sacrifices to save the independence of their country. Now they can finally see the realization of the objectives designed by great leaders and strategists from the beginning of the revolution: build an independent state, provide the means to defend its independence and force the colonialist West to recognize it. All plans and all efforts have been made, the last 33 years in this direction.
American recognition of Iran's power is a consecration of the new balance in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf. In this region, the presence and the Iranian role in the political and economic fields will be crucial.
At the strategic level, it is important to emphasize the importance of the Syrian-Iranian alliance, which has promoted and covered the Resistance. This alliance greatly helped Iran build its independence model on the world stage. If the resistance of Syria and its president offered the people of the world the chance to break the unilateral American hegemony, the alliance between Damascus and Tehran has laid the foundation for deterrence against Israel.
Today, the leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is entitled to the skeptics, and they are less numerous in Iran, the bet made by his country on the Resistance and Syria was winner. It was a valuable strategic asset that has helped make many achievements.
Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic
«We are confident that the battle we are conducting with our allies is the battle of all of the resistance front. I am confident that the chief of loyalty [Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah] can contain the repercussions of any aggression against Syria. We have 1000 tons of chemical weapons that were initially a burden for us. Getting rid of them would have been costly and would have taken years, in addition to the environmental dilemma they pose and other problems that would need to be resolved. Let them then come and take them. The chemical weapons are not and were not their aim. They wanted to change the balance of power and protect Israel. Chemical weapons were manufactured in the eighties as deterrence in the face of Israeli nuclear weapons. Today, it is not a deterrence force anymore. We have deterrence weapons that are more important and more sophisticated to challenge Israel, which we can blind in an instant. President Barack Obama is a hesitant and unstable person. He is too weak to launch an aggression against Syria.»
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah secretary general
«The accusation that we received chemical weapons from Syria is truly laughable. We understand the dimensions and background of these accusations, and these have dangerous consequences for Lebanon. We decisively and conclusively deny these accusations which have absolutely no basis in truth. We call for a political solution in Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries that have backed the rebels should review their positions. A gamble on a military resolution and on military success is a losing and destructive gamble. A takfiri group working in the framework of the Syrian opposition carried out the attack against Dahieh. The group had Lebanese and Syrian members.»
Michel Sleiman, Lebanese President
«It is important to encourage influential regional countries to be aware of the importance of shielding Lebanon from struggles and of not implicating it in the politics of axes. These countries should be encouraged to provide real support for the contents and aims of the Baabda Declaration and for the path of dialogue and consensus. The Lebanese people still need the support of brotherly and friendly countries in tackling the negative repercussions of external crises and issues. I reiterate my call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria, and underscore the need for a participation of all concerned countries in addressing all the aspects of the Arab-Israeli struggle.»
Samir Mazloum, maronite bishop
«Everything happens for decades shows that the desire to empty the region of Christians is real and it is now being implemented. The interests of many states have converged with that will. Christians should focus on their faith and their ancestors, who sacrificed their lives to preserve their presence on their land. Extremist groups may succeed in the short term, but long term, they will fail. The Church has always been persecuted and even so, it's still there.»
Gebran Bassil, Lebanese caretaker Energy Minister
«Lebanon should stop receiving refugees unless for exceptional cases, and the Syrians already in Lebanon should be deported. We need funding to enable us to deport the Syrians in a humanitarian manner and not to improve their situation on Lebanese soil. What is happening in Lebanon is an organized crime perpetrated by some Lebanese and non-Lebanese officials in order to change the demography of the country.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«Any cabinet formed by President Michel Suleiman and PM-designate Tammam Salam would be legitimate and constitutional. It is impossible to form a government unless it includes neither March 14 nor March 8 ministers. March 8 ministers disobey laws and unfortunately the custodians of the law are not holding them accountable.»
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said on Sunday that Hezbollah troops withdrew from Baalbek following deadly clashes between Hezbollah militants and members of Sunni families. “The Lebanese army took charge of all Hezbollah’s checkpoints in Baalbek,” said Charbel. The Lebanese Armed Forces announced on Saturday that it “adopted extensive security measures” to end the clashes. It also noted that a soldier was severely wounded during these clashes while he was at his residence. The Baalbek clashes claimed the lives of four people, two of which were militants of Hezbollah, a security official told AFP. The bloodshed is the worst sectarian violence to hit Baalbek, a Hezbollah bastion across the border with Syria and home to a complex of famed ancient Roman temples.
The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that French President Francois Hollande has not received the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Yuhanna X Yazigi on the occasion of his last visit to Paris, while French official authorities promised that a meeting will take place between the two men. Ecclesial sources found it strange that the meeting hasn't been held, especially after what happened to Maaloula and after the suffering of the Syrian Christians in general.
Al-Manar TV station (Hezbollah) said that the car bomb used in the attack Roueiss, which killed 27 people and injured 330 on 15 August, was a black BMW. Its owner, Nada Salman, a resident of Mousseitbé, had sold it to a local man of Ersal. The investigation revealed that Ms. Salman has nothing to do in the attack, but ultimately the car fell into the hands of Omar el-Atrash, a man who presides a terrorist group at Ersal. The car was prepared for the explosion in a garage in Ersal and Syrian nationals have changed color and license plate. The so-called Mohammad Jassem al-Karhouni was seen driving the car in Ersal, three days before the bombing of Roueiss. The vehicle was then moved to the neighborhood of Cola.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
Claire Chokor (September 27, 2013)
The positions of the Kataeb show that the party stands out from its allies 14-March on several issues. However, all suggest that the Kataeb remain in the camp, but there is no doubt that they will no longer accept to be locked in the cage of Saad Hariri. They are indeed convinced that the regional and international order is changing, and, consequently, the opening has become more necessary than ever. Therefore, we should not be surprised by a dialogue between the Kataeb party and Hezbollah, or a reconciliation with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Marada on the concerns and expectations of Christians. Also as part of the same policy of "opening" we will soon see President Amin Gemayel in southern Lebanon.
As Safir (September 25, 2013)
Denise Atallah Haddad
Local Arab and Western diplomatic and political circles have given a great interest in every detail of the last speech of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as well as its timing and the messages he expressed.
The positive reception by Nasrallah 's security plan for the southern suburbs of Beirut has attracted the attention of some diplomatic circles. The ambassador of a major power said that "the flexibility displayed by Hezbollah and its readiness to abandon the signs of force and influence show that it is sensitive to the Iranian method of adaptation to new circumstances", added the same source.
Nasrallah's speech is not interpreted in the same way by all March-14 counterparts. There are differences within the coalition on how to read and understand these positions. Some circles detect "an escalation" and say that Nasrallah "pretends to make concessions in the form while in substance, he is uncompromising". However, other circles it is possible to "build on some elements of the speech." But all of them agree on the fact that "the secretary general of Hezbollah insists hinder the formation of the government and imagine, with his political camp, arguments based on the size of the representation in the executive, while their objective is to obtain the blocking third".
Some other personalities of the Future movement (FM), the Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Phalange Party, believe that Hezbollah wants to spend this time with the least possible tensions in Lebanon, waiting for developments in Syria and US-Iranian and Iranian-Saudi negotiations.
Other circles of the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces officials and independents, see that Nasrallah's speech is a consecration of the tension in the country. He clearly stated that there would be no government without blocking third, he attacked Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. According to these circles, Nasrallah sent messages to FM to say that cohabitation is becoming increasingly difficult.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
Nabil Bou Mouncef (September 27, 2013)
The results of the meeting of the international support group for Lebanon shows that this event helped to internationalize in highest degree, and in an indisputable manner, the declaration of Baabda. Lebanon's stability has received a rare unanimous international support, in contrast to the acute divisions on the Syrian crisis. This support is based on the declaration of Baabda, and stakeholders have praised the policy of distancing advocated by President Michel Sleiman towards Syrian conflict. Lebanon can therefore claim to have achieved a political and diplomatic breakthrough, but it will be faced with new challenges when it comes to establishing the funding mechanism which could include the creation of a fund fed by donors. This funding may be dependent on the formation of a new government in Lebanon.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Qass em Qassem (September 27, 2013)
Since Hamas decided to move its politburo from Syria to Qatar, its president Khaled Meshaal has been feeling like a prisoner, isolated from political developments in Palestine. The search for a new host country has begun, with Sudan as the most likely destination for the Islamist resistance movement.
Head of Hamas’ politburo in exile Khaled Meshaal cannot help but feel like a prisoner in his new headquarters in Qatar. But the local authorities who have surrounded the Palestinian leader with heavy security and restricted his movement say that the measures are for his own good, due to threats to his personal security.
Yet some other politburo members who have accompanied Meshaal to the Gulf emirate are complaining that the security measures are inadequate, prompting them to revive the idea of relocating to a place like Lebanon, Iran, or Sudan. Hamas sources say that Meshaal has expressed his willingness to consider another location that is better suited for the politburo’s activities.
From the outset, many in Hamas’ leadership were strongly opposed to the idea of relocating the politburo from Damascus to Doha, particularly as it represented a slap in the face to the movement’s former allies in the axis of resistance. Close observers point out that there was hardly a consensus within the top leadership on taking such a step, and that the decision was made by a minority who happened to be present at the meeting.
Most prominent among those who opposed the move were the Gaza cadre who know well the level of support and assistance Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria have provided the movement over the years. Inside sources reveal that tremendous pressure has been exerted on the Hamas leadership to distance itself from Hezbollah and to publicly denounce its intervention in Syria, which some in the Palestinian resistance have reluctantly obliged.
Hamas’ military wing, known as Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, put up the most resistance to their party’s new realignment in the region. They know first-hand the amount of sacrifice and commitment Hezbollah in particular has shown to the Palestinian resistance. To this day, Qassam commanders continue to visit Beirut on their way to Iran, spending several days as guests of their counterparts in the Lebanese resistance.
For its part, Hezbollah seems reluctant to hold Hamas responsible for the actions of a few individuals, insisting that the decision by some in the movement to join the fight against the Syrian regime was a personal one, and not one officially taken by the leadership. Iran, too, has shown its willingness to mend fences with Hamas, particularly after Israel’s assault on Gaza in March 2012, which prompted Tehran to quickly replenish Qassam’s military supplies.
Before the toppling of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, Hamas and the Jordanian government had agreed to move the politburo to Amman. However, with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Jordanian king had a change of heart, believing that this is the beginning of the collapse of the Brotherhood in the region as whole.
Other options that are geographically close to Palestine have been ruled out for various reasons. Egypt, for example, is currently out of the question given Cairo’s accusations that Hamas is meddling in the country’s internal affairs to lend support to the Muslim Brotherhood. A return to Syria is equally impossible, although some have suggested that Damascus is open to the idea but without Meshaal.
This leaves Khartoum as the best option for the time being. Hamas is not a stranger to Sudan, where the movement regularly gathers to hold politburo elections and conduct other party business, not to mention that Iran has established several weapons factories for Hamas in the country.
Al Akhbar (September 25, 2013)
The US Embassy in Lebanon was handed to Ambassador David Hill without any change in Washington's policies toward Lebanon, which have remained stagnant since 2004.
Ever since he arrived in Beirut on August 29, the new US Ambassador to Lebanon David Hill has been sending signals that suggest his tenure will differ from that of his predecessor Maura Connelly’s.
In his approximately six introductory meetings, held since July 6, when he presented his credentials to President Michel Suleiman, he did not hesitate to show a different approach to his embassy's dealing with Lebanese sides.
Some of those who met Hill noticed a different approach, although without illusions about Washington’s Lebanon policies, which have not changed since 2004. At the time, then-ambassador Jeffrey Feltman was appointed under the shadow of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the following months of turmoil in Lebanon, beginning with the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri, the withdrawal of the Syrian army, and Hezbollah’s first stint in power.
In the years that followed, as the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, Feltman's shadow hung over the style adopted by subsequent ambassadors in dealing with different Lebanese sides.
Some of those who met Hill over the past few weeks, especially following his meeting with Michel Aoun on July 16, pointed to his interest in being different and his insistence on his wish to meet with the widest spectrum of parties.
The past three ambassadors limited their meetings, with few exceptions, to March 14 figures, ignoring the other side. The regular diplomatic reports based their content on feedback from March 14 politicians, until Washington was taken by surprise by the events of 7 May 2008. However, some of those who knew Hill from his two previous stints in the embassy in Lebanon, on both ends of the 1990s, point out the following:
1) Hill was appointed as political attaché in 1993, under ambassador Ryan Crocker, then as chargé d'affaires under David Satterfield in 1998. Both periods were during the Syrian army's presence in Lebanon and Israel's occupation of vast areas in the south. It was the height of Syrian control over Lebanese politics and the low point of Christian political influence, as well as Hezbollah's rise and its consequent classification as a terrorist organization by the US. The Lebanese recall the hundreds of statements by Satterfield that criticized Hezbollah's attacks on the Israeli army, threatening South Lebanon with retaliatory attacks.
However, the new ambassador is now in the midst of a completely different balance of power. There is no direct presence of the Syrian or Israeli armies in Lebanon; Syria is no longer politically involved in Lebanon; and there are sharp internal divisions in light of Hezbollah's unprecedented power.
Also different is the presence of three Christian leaders in the middle of the national formula: former president Amin Gemayel, Aoun, and the head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea.
2) Hill's presence in Lebanon was interrupted in 2001 when he joined the Amman embassy, then as a presidential envoy to the Arab-Israeli peace process. He spent most of his diplomatic career outside his country, moving between its embassies more than his ministry's departments.
But this was before he attended intensive working meetings, most prominently a full day in Washington last August with Lebanese Americans to discuss the Lebanese file and its problems. Hill is aware that he will be seeing the same politicians he met at the beginning of the 1990s, who were in positions of varying degrees of power. However, his interlocutors will be the same.
3) Hill is also here to finish an era began by Feltman, ever since the country became divided between March 8 and March 14. This is similar to the situation faced by former ambassador Michele Sison on the eve of the Lebanese presidential elections during the presidential void of 2007. Hill will confront themes such as stability, supporting the Baabda Declaration, and Lebanon's neutrality in the war in Syria.
Many who met Hill noticed a new approach in the embassy's dealings with leaders. Hill repeatedly mentioned his openness and willingness to meet many of them for talks. While he cannot break his country's laws, which prohibit him from meeting with Hezbollah, Hill seems keen on meeting with friends of the party that his country's laws do not prevent him from meeting, including Nabih Berri.
This approach indicated a different attitude than Connelly, who rarely visits them since they are not in March 14. This is also the case with Sison, although she gave more attention than her predecessors – especially Feltman – to cultural, social, and humanitarian issues, rather than politics. She promoted herself as less politicized and the embassy passed through a phase of decline, offset by Feltman's prominent role in the State Department.
Even after leaving Lebanon, Feltman remained in contact with his Lebanese friends, especially Fouad Siniora and his close friend and head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, relying on so-called "SMS diplomacy," contacting them on every political or social occasion.
4) It is believed that Hill brings a new method in approaching foreign policy. Washington has not abandoned its allies in March 14, brought together by Feltman who promoted their unity and organized the 2005 elections and its alliances. There is no longer any interest in what the US calls independent Shia, which it funded and supported to encourage their opposition to Hezbollah, like with Sison.
Since arriving in Beirut, Hill spoke about the Baabda Declaration and building Lebanese institutions. Hill avoided attacking Hezbollah in meetings with the party's close allies, like Berri and Aoun, but on the eve of his appointment on August 1, he criticized Hezbollah in front of Senate.
It seems the new ambassador doesn’t wish to take rash steps. However, one Hezbollah MP, commenting on Hill's statement in the Senate, said that he is no different than his predecessors.
Al Akhbar (September 25, 2013)
Tel Aviv is close to completing a geological survey of the occupied Golan Heights, where commercial deposits have been discovered. Up to 10 major drilling rigs could soon be pumping oil from the Syrian territory.
Israeli media are reporting that the American oil company Genie Energy has completed a major geological survey in the southern part of the Golan Heights and results are expected within a few weeks.
The reports say drilling could start as soon as the survey is analyzed, pointing out that extracting oil in this area will be much easier and cheaper than it is in the Mediterranean, where oil and gas lie as deep as five kilometers below the sea level.
Not surprisingly, the New Jersey-based Genie Energy, which was granted survey and drilling rights in the Golan last February from the Israeli government, is owned by rich Zionists like Howard Jones and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Some commentators did raise the issue of the Golan Heights being occupied land, making any such activity as extracting oil a violation of international law. However, Genie’s Israeli manager, a former minister, is quoted as saying that he does not expect any international pressure on this matter, particularly from Syria, which is embroiled in an internal war.
For its part, the Hebrew business daily Globes warned of a repeat of Israel’s experience in the occupied Sinai peninsula in the 1970s, when as an occupying power Tel Aviv extracted large amounts of petroleum, compensation for which the Egyptian government is still pursuing to this day despite the Camp David Accords.
The newspaper added that Cairo is in the process of drawing up a lawsuit against Israel around this very issue, asking for billions of dollars in compensation.
Al Akhbar (September 24, 2013)
General Michel Aoun has decided to leave the presidency of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). For the first time, the issue of transforming the FPM into an institution was seriously discussed between him and senior officials of his party. The change began in some structures of FPM. The white smoke should appear within six months.
The question of the Presidency of FPM has become a priority for General Aoun two months ago. Nobody knew except those around him constantly at Rabié. Michel Aoun has used the weekly meeting that takes place every Saturday with officials authorized to speak to the press to discuss this issue with them. It was the first time he talked with his supporters about the sustainability of FPM "after him", says one of the participants in the meeting. He asked that the names of a potential successor are reviewed: "I would not stay president of the FPM", he said.
By six months, the name of the successor should be known. "You have to choose the one you consider the most appropriate and best suited to lead the FPM", he said. He did not specify if the successor is elected or appointed and he himself didn't put forward any name.
The Independent (British daily, September 22, 2013)
While the Assad regime in Damascus has denied responsibility for the sarin gas missiles that killed around 1,400 Syrians in the suburb of Ghouta on 21 August, information is now circulating in the city that Russia's new "evidence" about the attack includes the dates of export of the specific rockets used and – more importantly – the countries to which they were originally sold. They were apparently manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1967 and sold by Moscow to three Arab countries, Yemen, Egypt and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. These details cannot be verified in documents, and Vladimir Putin has not revealed the reasons why he told Barack Obama that he knows Assad's army did not fire the sarin missiles; but if the information is correct – and it is believed to have come from Moscow – Russia did not sell this particular batch of chemical munitions to Syria.
Since Gaddafi's fall in 2011, vast quantities of his abandoned Soviet-made arms have fallen into the hands of rebel groups and al-Qa'ida-affiliated insurgents. Many were later found in Mali, some in Algeria and a vast amount in Sinai. The Syrians have long claimed that a substantial amount of Soviet-made weaponry has made its way from Libya into the hands of rebels in the country's civil war with the help of Qatar – which supported the Libyan rebels against Gaddafi and now pays for arms shipments to Syrian insurgents.
There is no doubt that Syria has a substantial chemical weapons armoury. Nor that Syrian stockpiles contain large amounts of sarin gas 122mm missiles. But if the Russians have indeed been able to identify the specific missile markings on fragments found in Ghouta – and if these are from munitions never exported to Syria – the Assad regime will boast its innocence has been proven.
In a country – indeed a world – where propaganda is more influential than truth, discovering the origin of the chemicals that suffocated so many Syrians a month ago is an investigation fraught with journalistic perils. Reporters sending dispatches from rebel-held parts of Syria are accused by the Assad regime of consorting with terrorists. Journalists reporting from the government side of Syria's front lines are regularly accused of mouthing the regime's propaganda. And even if the Assad regime was not responsible for the 21 August attacks, its forces have committed war crimes aplenty over the past two years. Torture, massacre, the bombardment of civilian targets have long been proved.
Nevertheless, it also has to be said that grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad's army. While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later – and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in? Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin – which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene – the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations.
As it is, Syria is now due to lose its entire strategic long-term chemical defences against a nuclear-armed Israel – because, if Western leaders are to be believed, it wanted to fire just seven missiles almost a half century old at a rebel suburb in which only 300 of the 1,400 victims (if the rebels themselves are to be believed) were fighters. As one Western NGO put it yesterday: "if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God's sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?"
The Russians, of course, have made similar denials of Assad's responsibility for sarin attacks before. When at least 26 Syrians died of sarin poisoning in Khan al-Assal on 19 March – one of the reasons why the UN inspectors were dispatched to Syria last month – Moscow again accused the rebels of responsibility. The Russians later presented the UN with a 100-page report containing its "evidence". Like Putin's evidence about the 21 August attacks, however, it has not been revealed.
A witness who was with Syrian troops of the army's 4th Division on 21 August – a former Special Forces officer considered a reliable source – said he saw no evidence of gas shells being fired, even though he was in one of the suburbs, Moadamiya, which was a target for sarin. He does recall the soldiers expressing concern when they saw the first YouTube images of suffocating civilians – not out of sympathy, but because they feared they would have to fight amid clouds of poison.
"It would perhaps be going beyond conspiracy theories to say the government was not involved," one Syrian journalist said last week, "but we are sure the rebels have got sarin. They would need foreigners to teach them how to fire it. Or is there a 'third force' which we don't know about? If the West needed an excuse to attack Syria, they got it right on time, in the right place, and in front of the UN inspectors."
Fides (Information service of the Pontifical Mission societies, September 26, 2013)
Life for Syrian religious minorities gets more and more difficult and in the conflict they are the most vulnerable sectors of society. As Fides learns, 36 ulemas (Muslim religious leaders) of Douma, one of the largest suburbs of Damascus, issued a "fatwa" (a legal decree) that legitimizes the right of the faithful Sunni Muslims to seize and take possession of goods, homes, property belonging to Christians, Druze and Alawite and members of other religious minorities" who do not profess the Sunni religion of the Prophet". The fatwa openly invites to "boycott and break any relationship with the people of Damascus who betrayed the revolutionaries or abandoned them". Confiscated property, states the fatwa - of which Fides received a copy - will be used in part "to purchase weapons", in part to help orphans, the poor, the families of martyrs and widows.
"We call on our people to cling to our Islamic traditions and regularly attend the house of God (mosques) in order to safeguard our soul and society", says the text of the ulema.
As reported to Fides, the leaders of the various Christian churches are seriously concerned, noting that such measures do nothing but "exacerbate violence on sectarian basis, which scars Syrian society".
NowLebanon (Internet site close March-14 coalition)
Karen Boulos, September 26, 2013
A source told NOW on Thursday that retired singer Fadel Shaker--who controversially supports on-the-run cleric Ahmad al-Assir--has left Lebanon and is living in Qatar.
The source said that Shaker, along the people who were with him at the time of the clashes with the Lebanese Armed Forces in June, hid in a small area of the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp and left the neighborhood toward the end of August 2013.
The same source also said that Shaker’s personal bodyguard also confirmed that he told his mother that he was living in the “emergency neighborhood” of the Ain al-Hilweh camp where she visited him daily. “A car with a diplomatic license plate number, which might have been from the Qatari embassy, waited for Shaker at Sidon’s entrance and took him to Rafiq Hariri's Beirut International Airport,” the source added. However, the Qatari embassy has denied any knowledge of such events. In July, Shaker admitted to killing two soldiers and injuring four others in a video published by the Asia News local website where he boasted about what he called “a victory.”