Monday January 20, 2014, no167
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
STL: A legal fiasco, a political accusation
By Ghaleb Kandil
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has rehashed his political accusation, wrapped with technical explanations of the unique staging of this case: the alleged circumstantial evidence of the telephone lines, assumed to be the result of nine-year investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which cost so far, a quarter billion dollars.
The Attorney General rejected the version of the suicide bomber Ahmad Abu Adas, saying it was made to cover the tracks of the real assassins. But the prosecutor has no evidence justifying his rejection, although he acknowledged that the attack has been committed by a suicide bomber whose identity could not be determined, despite years of effort and colossal resources available to investigators, including all institutions of the Lebanese state. That investigators have access to all Lebanese archives, records of civil status, land registers, telephone data ... Briefly, the past, present and future of Lebanon is in the hands of these investigators, many working for foreign intelligence services, often enemies of Lebanon.
Lebanese taxpayers has spent over $ 125 million since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and he still do not know the identity of the bomber. While the Lebanese security services have come in just a few days to identify the terrorists who blew themselves up outside the embassy of Iran, 19 November 2013, or in the southern suburbs of Beirut, January 2, 2014.
But the worst manifestations of the first hearings of the STL was the terminology used by the accusers, that may exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon, already facing a serious political crisis and security instability unprecedented since the end of the civil war in 1990. The indictment constitute a serious threat to civil peace in Lebanon, from a United Nations court, which is an organization intended to preserve and promote peace in the world!
The adoption by the court of the Anglo-Saxon judicial system, which allows the use of circumstantial evidence, was tried after the failure of the very expensive international investigation to find material, solid and irrefutable evidence that can be exploited politically.
The points raised by the defense are important and serious. Lawyers emphasized that the indictment based on phone calls has no information on the content of telephone conversations between the alleged suspects. It merely indicate only that a group of individuals exchanged phone calls at certain times and in certain places, without providing any evidence that these conversations are related to the attack of 14 February 2005, which cost the life of Rafic Hariri and 22 others. The most serious are the revelations of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot on the origin of all these technical information. According to the newspaper, they were handed over to international investigators by Israeli intelligence, that is the party who has the most interest to accuse members of Hezbollah of being responsible for the assassination of Hariri.
It means that the prosecution used at hearings detailed Israeli telecommunications maps. However, it is well-known that large intelligence services have the skills needed to draw maps of their choosing, with telephone calls that may have never occurred in reality.
Among the most serious shortcomings of the Court, we note the changes made to its internal status (by the judges themselves) in order to protect the parties who have worked to cover their tracks. Thus, the Court held that it was not within its competence to examine the case of false witnesses, whose testimony led to imprisonment for more than three years, of four Lebanese Generals, finally released after the witnesses were deemed "unreliable". These Generals had been arrested in an attempt to fabricate evidence and testimony that would guide the accusation to Syria. But it was a dismal failure, and more than four years were lost in a dubious inquiries. Meanwhile, the false witnesses, who occupied the center stage for four years, are now spending hundreds of millions they have collected through their false statements on the beaches of Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
In the same way that false witnesses were created to accuse Syria, "the phone evidence" was conceived and built to redirect the charge to Hezbollah.
Everything we have heard and listened at the trial does not immunize the Tribunal against a repeat of the injustice suffered by the four Generals and dozens of other innocent people questioned for hours, for days and weeks... but this time , they are nobles resistant, who have dedicated their lives to the struggle against the Israeli occupation and the liberation of their country, who are being targeted.
Saad Hariri, Future Movement Leader
«I am prepared to participate in a coalition government with Hezbollah as a political party. I am very optimistic about the formation of this government. We know that Hezbollah is, in theory, responsible for these crimes… but the concept of a trial is that the suspect is innocent until proven guilty. After all, Hezbollah is a political party which has a strong alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement and others. We are trying to rule the country with everyone. We do not want to single anybody out because Lebanon is going through a difficult phase, especially since the international community has failed terribly at handling the Syrian crisis. I believe that justice has finally begun to be realized. Today is a great day for justice in Lebanon. The era of escaping punishment has ended in Lebanon, therefore I think that today was a great day for us. I believe that, like most international tribunals, it will take time. Historically, over the past 50 years we have had assassination after assassination and there has not been an effective tribunal or justice in Lebanon to know who killed who. Eventually I will return but there is a security problem in Lebanon, especially after the assassination of Minister Mohammad Chatah and Wissam al-Hassan before that. I hope to return one day when I believe it is appropriate. I don’t want to come back and end up like the others. I want to come back and play my role as I should.»
Gibran Bassil, Minister of Energy and Water (Free Patriotic Movement)
«The agreement between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah is essential, but not sufficient. We must include all other parties on the Lebanese political scene. The statement of Mr. Hariri constitutes a basis on which we can build these new agreements.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«We will not take part in a new cabinet if it upholds the status of Hezbollah’s arms, and if its ministerial statement does not underline Lebanon’s neutrality in regional conflicts, notably the Syrian war. There is no point in participating in the upcoming cabinet without a minimum of political change...The Baabda Declaration should be the political clause of the ministerial statement, but the statement should not include the unity of the army, people and Resistance. Hariri’s comments show good intentions, but do not at all mean that there is a division inside March 14. There are no divergent stances or decisions within the alliance. We are still in the deliberation phase, and have not yet discussed the details regarding the portfolios and the candidates.»
Hassan Fadalllah, Hezbollah MP
«We must seize the opportunity to form a political unity cabinet and not waste time. Despite the sharp division and differences which were prevalent lately, eventually there is no choice but to return to the dialogue table. The opportunity available today to form a cabinet forms a natural crossing point for the Lebanese people to decrease the amount of tension in the country.»
Overnight border shelling injured three people in the East Lebanese town of Ras Baalbak on Saturday, a day after cross border rocket attacks on nearby Ersal killed eight people, state news reported. The National News Agency identified the wounded men in Saturday's attack as Rifaat Nasrallah, Edward Shou'eib, and Tony Ghanem. The report said it had not identified the source of the fire, but Lebanon's northeastern border region has come under heavily shelling from fighters inside Syria over the past year. Anti-government rebels are known to have been behind a series of rocket attack against Lebanon's border district of Hermel, whose residents typically support Hezbollah troops fighting in Syria on the side of the government. And Syrian army helicopters have repeatedly launched strikes on the East Lebanese town of Ersal, whose residents mostly support the rebels. But ground-to-ground rocket attacks on Ersal have been rare, causing confusion as to who was behind Friday's bloody bombardment that left eight people dead, including six children between the ages of one and ten.
Syria's foreign minister has said Damascus is ready to offer a prisoner exchange with rebels. Speaking in Moscow, Walid Muallem also said he had presented a ceasefire plan for the second city Aleppo to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov The moves came as the opposition Syrian National Coalition meets in Istanbul to decide whether to go to next week's peace conference. The coalition is under Western pressure to participate in the Geneva II talks. However, many of its members have already pulled out. Some are reluctant to go unless President Bashar al-Assad is excluded from any transitional government, but Damascus says there should be no pre-conditions for the talks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said there is "good coordination" between Syria and its main allies, Moscow and Tehran, ahead of next week's planned peace conference, media reported Friday. His comments came as the three countries' foreign ministers huddled in Moscow Thursday to devise a joint stance that would ease the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down when the talks open in Switzerland after months of delays. "There is good coordination among Moscow, Tehran and Damascus for an active and constructive presence at Geneva II," state broadcaster IRIB's website quoted Zarif as saying. Ahead of the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and its allies had nothing to hide. "We have nothing to hide. We have no hidden agenda," he said, before he and Zarif joined Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for more discussions. With the so-called Geneva II conference set to open on Wednesday, Moscow wants to convince Washington to accept Tehran's presence at the talks to bolster its efforts to keep Assad in power and curb the future influence of his foes. The United States says Iran must accept a political transition in Syria before it can formally join the talks, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said no final decision had been reached on the Islamic republic's involvement. But Zarif said Iran would only attend "without preconditions". Zarif also warned about the spillover of the Syrian war into neighboring countries. "Extremism has spilled over from the Syrian borders and now is threatening regional countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia."
Up to 15 people, mostly foreigners, were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a popular Lebanese restaurant in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, police said. Islamist Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan district, which hosts many embassies and restaurants catering for expatriates. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its representative in Afghanistan was one of the dead, and the United Nations said four of its staff were unaccounted for. General Ayoub Salangi, an Afghan deputy interior minister, said between 13 and 15 people, mostly foreigners, were killed but their nationalities were not immediately clear. The attack took place during a busy dinner time on a Friday evening when expatriates in Kabul tend to eat out. The heavily fortified diplomatic district also houses many wealthy Afghans and business people. Bursts of gunfire followed the attack. "First there was a suicide attack near a restaurant for foreigners where a man detonated his explosives attached to his body, and then possibly one or two insurgents entered the restaurant," one Afghan security source said. IMF representative Wabel Abdallah, a 60-year-old Lebanese national, was killed in the explosion, the IMF said. He had been leading the Fund's office in Kabul since 2008. Four U.N. civilian personnel, who reportedly could have been present in close proximity to the scene of today's attack in Kabul, still remain unaccounted for.
Egyptian voters have approved a new constitution by 98.1 percent, the elections chief said Saturday, in what the government declared a popular endorsement of the army's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The result of the Tuesday-Wednesday vote had never been in doubt, as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists boycotted it, but the authorities wanted a large turnout in the first democratic test since the ouster in July. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who led the overthrow, had been monitoring the outcome for an indication of support for a possible presidential bid, military officials said. Electoral commission head Nabil Salib said turnout "reached 38.6 percent" of 53 million registered voters, with only 1.9 percent voting "no."
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
Mohammad Ballout (January 17, 2014)
The Attorney General of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Norman Farrell did not disappoint the expectations of the Lebanese. The prosecution maintained the charges in the circle of these five individuals only, thus avoiding direct accusation against the camp that would purportedly taken the five accused under his wing to spare them any trial. However, he did not hesitate to say that internal and external parties planned the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The evidence that led to the five accused are based on assumptions and mental exercises, any materiel evidence is lacking.
Norman Farrell has nothing in his wallet to confound the five defendants in the network share a telephone conspiracy involving forty cell phones, and a theory that leans to any particular content, to establish a link between the 5 accused and the network. The Attorney General has not provided any physical evidence, no texting and no voice recording of one or other of the five suspects. To compensate for the deficiency in terms of content, the prosecutor made a surprise by having recourse to a spectacular visual presentation. He did not however provide any new evidence that would corroborate the accusations, while promising to work there later. The trial could last three years or more, with a lot of countless risks for Lebanon, a Lebanese party being pointed at in this crime.
As Safir (January 17,2014)
It is unknown how many car bombs should explode even before some Lebanese parties are aware of the need to hasten the formation of a union government. While the new government will not make miracles and does not possess a magic wand to get rid of all the crises that have hit the country, it is also true that it will undoubtedly have a positive impact. However, the formation of a unifying government remains dependent on political maneuvering and conflicting calculations of 8 March and 14 March. One of the leaders of the March 8, on condition of anonymity, said that "March 8 believes that if he had not made concessions renouncing Form 9-9-6 in favor of the so-called ' three- eight ' formula, it was not possible to give a last chance agreement" on this issue. According to him, "the acceptance by March 8 the formula 8-8-8 is a proof of the flexibility and pragmatism of this coalition, which wants was truly to avoid all discord in the country and is willing to make concessions, to some extent, to reach the other side halfway. "This flexibility is due to the following reasons, according to the source cited: the security challenges facing the country; and not tp provide a pretext for the establishment of a government of fait accompli.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily, close to March-14 Coalition)
Sarkis Naoum (January 17, 2014)
Alleged concessions made by Hezbollah that helped to spread a positive climate on the new government issue (...) may not be strong or definitive. Thus, the retreat of Hezbollah from Syria is now a major regional decision, that has an international dimension. The party does not accept that the Ministerial Declaration explicitly mentions its withdrawal from Syria. It could at most accept that the text refers to the policy of distancing vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis and avoid getting involved there. But this is not a new position. The outgoing government of Najib Mikati had already adopted it as an official policy, without being implemented on the ground, either politically or militarily.
In addition, Hezbollah has not announced its agreement to abandon the formula army-people-resistance, any more than his ally in the Shiite leadership, the leader of Amal Movement, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Everything that has been said about it is that the language (Arabic) is very rich and it is possible to imagine a fuzzy formula not clear enough, which satisfies 8 and 14-Mars. Same think for the Declaration of Baabda, that President Michel Sleiman considers his greatest achievement, perhaps the only one. Arabic will arrange to make a reference in the text.
The supposed acceptance by Hezbollah not to use its powerful military force inside Lebanon needs to be scrutinized. The decision of Hezbollah and its first sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is not to be dragged into a fitna or an internal war and try to avoid by all means. But the party as well as Iran are determined to fight this battle if it is imposed.
Brandish the threat of the Lebanese Army facing Hezbollah is inappropriate, despite the competence of its officers and its soldiers and its efforts over the past three years. The Army is in fact an image of the Lebanese people, which is divided in communities and sects. It is not an autonomous body imported from Sweden or other countries.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Hassan Illeik (January 18, 2014)
In Lebanon, no one would cause a stir over the lack of governmental cooperation with the defense team in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Yet at The Hague, this is not the case.
The Hague – Yesterday’s events at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) did not include any legal confrontation between the prosecution and the defense teams. According to a defense official, the prosecution is quite aware that the trial will last for years, and with time, it will lose the media spotlight.
Hence, the prosecution opted to add a suspense factor to its evidence briefing. After the tedious presentation of trial counsel Graham Cameron on January 16, he described the telecommunications attributed by the prosecution to the five suspects, exactly as mentioned in the indictment few months ago, but with an interesting twist.
Practically, he didn’t come up with any new evidence. His theory was still based on “spatial concurrence” between a series of cell phones designated by international investigators as working within a “closed security circle," which were connected to the movement of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s convoy and the movement of the Mitsubishi truck most likely used in the blast.
Cameron sparked some suspense when he intentionally elaborated on details regarding a man named Sami Issa, affirming that he is Mustafa Badreddin and describing him as “a ghost who disappeared since 1999 and had no photos taken for him ever since.” Cameron continued: “He owns a yacht registered under a fake name, a fancy Mercedes and an apartment in Beirut, both not registered under his name. He has no bank records and pays his children school tuition in cash, he also has more than one girlfriend at the time. He owns a jewelry shop in Mar Elias and another in Jounieh and spends a good amount of time in cafes and restaurants with his friends, moving around with bodyguards."
It was not enough for the prosecution to throw in this “information," they also had to give it a sectarian aspect. To avoid affiliating the suspects with Hezbollah, they shed light on the fact they all belong to one sect without mentioning their political background. Cameron threw in his sectarian accusations quietly.
Some March 14 supporters saw Cameron’s speech as a final, irrefutable judgment while others estimated it was “convincing but we should also wait to hear the defense."
Even though the defense won’t speak until Monday, lawyers appointed by the defense bureau refused to cede to the prosecution and decided to launch a counterattack through a press conference. They were accompanied by a representative of the prosecution, vice president of the investigators team, Tunisian Mohamed Lajmi, who had been attending the trial from seats designated for the public.
Lajmi is the one who listened to the statement by Lebanese politicians (including Saad Hariri) in the recordings broadcasted by New TV, two years ago. He listened in to what the defense had to say, wrote down some notes and left smiling as usual.
Defense lawyers for Mustafa Badreddine and Hussein Oneissi, Antoine Korkomaz and Vincent Courcelle Labrousse expressed their “dismay” that the prosecution didn’t present any new evidence after nine years of investigations.
“It doesn’t matter if the prosecutor tells us that somebody called another. He has to reveal the content of the conversation, and this content doesn’t exist. Before that, he has to prove that the number belongs to this certain person. There is no tangible evidence proving a conspiracy,” Korkomaz said.
Labrousse said, “Until this day, I don’t know why the man whose interests I represent [Oneissi] has participated in the crime," adding, “the prosecutor has to present obvious evidence and not invite judges to imagine the content of telecommunications because trials cannot be based on theories."
Yasser Hassan, who is also defending Oneissi, stressed that the defense teams are not the suspects’ defense lawyers, meaning that they don’t represent the suspects but were assigned to preserve their rights.
According to Hassan, “One should look to the historical course of events leading to the Hariri assassination which aimed to change the system in Lebanon," adding, “the prosecutor has to tell us who has such an interest.”
Al-Akhbar can reveal that on January 13, the trial chamber judge directed the Lebanese government to comply with the defense demands within the period of one month, threatening to refer the issue the UN Security Council, in virtue of the tribunal status and its agreements with the Lebanese government.
Interestingly, the defense team doesn’t enjoy the same political and media coverage by March 14 forces as does the prosecution. These forces usually cause a stir whenever the prosecution reveals that one of its demands was delayed by Lebanese authorities, even for few days.
The courts’ sessions were adjourned until Monday, when “preliminary interventions” will be presented by the defense. However, these lawyers worry that the prosecutor will keep launching new indictments, which would delay the trial.
Al Akhbar (January 18, 2014)
Two weeks of positive developments in Lebanon relating to the formation of a new “inclusive” March 8-March 14 coalition government culminated with an accord over an 8-8-8 ministerial lineup and comprehensive alternation of cabinet portfolios, but on little else. It seems that the March 8 camp’s only concern is to reassure MP Michel Aoun that no further progress is to be made without his consent.
A statement from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of March 14, declaring he was ready to participate in a coalition government with Hezbollah may have been surprising to the many who rely on television for news. But to those working in the “political kitchens” of March 8 and Hariri’s Future Movement, plus MP Walid Jumblatt’s, the statement was more than expected.
Indeed, the prevalent view in the ranks of the March 8 camp, days before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) began its trial sessions in The Hague, had been that the trial saga would pass without any serious repercussions on the efforts to form a coalition government, or even the overall political climate in the country. The view was that the Future Movement and March 14 would not go too far in capitalizing on the STL politically, at least, not in a manner that would harm the current détente.
What has prompted Hariri to accept a coalition government with his longstanding opponents in Hezbollah? Bear in mind that little has changed when it comes to Iran-Saudi relations in the past few months, and that “no serious engagement has taken place” between the two countries, according to prominent March 8 parliamentary sources.
Multiple sources have also purported that Saudi Arabia did not welcome Hezbollah’s participation in the government, but that the kingdom had only declared that it did not mind it. The sources frame this position in the context of Saudi’s realization of international developments and Western pressure on Saudi to ease its belligerence on Iran and its allies. Furthermore, the sources assert, Saudi now understands that Lebanon may be the last bastion of Saudi influence, and therefore, it understands now that it may be necessary to safeguard its position by giving a chance to accord.
According to the same sources, a de facto government – one that does not receive the consent of March 8 – would not have received a vote of confidence in parliament. This, they say, would have forced the president to conduct new consultations with parliament, in which case March 8, together with MP Jumblatt and perhaps with Western blessing, would designate a Sunni prime minister from outside the pro-Saudi camp to avoid instability. This would be a repeat of what had happened with Najib Mikati. In this scenario, March 8 would go on to determine the outcome of the presidential elections without Saudi influence.
Those concerned in March 8 are aware of the “bend” in which the Saudis found themselves, with Suleiman insisting on forming a de facto government. This, they say, explains why the 8-8-8 formula became acceptable, with compromises on the issue of the “king minister” – a centrist minister who would have the swing vote in key issues – thanks to the efforts of MP Jumblatt.
In addition to March 8’s newfound positive attitude, Western pressure on Hariri helped broker an accord with March 8 over two main issues, in addition to forming a coalition government: the 8-8-8 formula for the distribution of ministers, and the fair and comprehensive alternation of portfolios. However, this means that no negotiations have been conducted over the names of the ministers or the breakdown ministry allocation.
The initial agreement with Hariri does not mean that anything substantial has been agreed on yet. Sources close to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam say that now is a time for each faction to coalesce around a unified position.
Meanwhile, March 8 sources did not deny the ambiguity surrounding the Free Patriotic Movement, saying, “General Aoun thinks that we have agreed with Hariri on more than the outline. However, the truth is that things remain in the preliminary stage, and neither portfolios nor any other issues have been discussed yet, nor will they be discussed before we consult our allies.”
In March 14, meanwhile, the “obstacle” represented by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea dominates the deliberations. March 8 sources said, “Geagea is the most hawkish, for considerations related to the presidency.”
The cabinet formation efforts are still in the stage of agreeing over the broad outlines. As a next step, the efforts will be “internal,” that is, they will play out within each camp separately. The deliberations will focus on ministry by ministry, with an eye on the presidency.
Al Akhbar (January 17, 2014)
Rasha Abi Haidar
Who is Ahmad Issa bin Zakaria al-Sheikh, the chairman of the the Islamic Front’s Shura Council? With Muslim Brotherhood leanings, he managed to bring together Syrian opposition battalions under a Qatari umbrella and open direct lines with Saudi Arabia and Washington.
On November 22, 2013, major Islamic factions and brigades agreed to a pact that led to the formation of the Islamic Front, becoming one of the main armed opposition groups in Syria. The front includes: Liwaa al-Tawhid (Unity Brigade), Ahrar al-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant), Liwaa al-Haq (Righteousness Brigade), Suqur al-Sham (Hawks of the Levant), Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam), and Ansar al-Sham (Partisans of the Levant). They were later joined by the Kurdish Islamic Front.
The front’s Shura (consultative) Council is headed by Ahmad Issa bin Zakaria al-Sheikh, also known as Abu Issa al-Sheikh, whose role is no less important than that of the military leader Zahran Alloush, formerly head of Jaysh al-Islam.
Sheikh’s calm personality enabled him to bring together the various brigades affiliated with the front and avoid any internal strife. He is also the front’s most prominent spokesperson, especially with outside parties.
Sheikh was born in 1972 in Sarja, a village in Jabal al-Zawiya, a highland region in the Idlib province in northern Syria overlooking the border with Turkey. He grew up in a Muslim Brotherhood family. His father Zakaria was an active member of the Brotherhood in the Hama events in 1982. As a result, he was arrested and, it is believed, liquidated shortly after his imprisonment because of evidence proving his role in the assassinations carried out by the Brotherhood in Syria.
Abu Issa, who studied religious studies and undertook preaching, was imprisoned in March 2004 in Sednaya Military Prison in the Damascus countryside, where he met Alloush who became his comrade and fellow traveler. They both benefited from the presidential pardon issued in June 2011 and were released together.
Those who have met him agree that he is a mysterious figure and a clever and wily interlocutor. A source who was close to him during his imprisonment told Al-Akhbar that Abu Issa is “Talibani at heart” pointing out that “this was enough to get him unlimited Qatari support on all levels, financial, military, political and in the media.”
Two months after his release from prison, Abu Issa formed Suqur al-Sham Battalion in his hometown in Jabal al-Zawiya. The group quickly attracted a large number of fighters because of its high financial liquidity. Its activity spread dramatically, reaching over one-third of Idlib province in addition to a part of the Hama countryside.
Some of the areas that embraced this battalion, in addition to Jabal al-Zawiya, include: Khan Shaykhoun, Ariha, Maarrat al-Numan countryside, the city of Idlib, and Sarmin.
After the quick expansion of the group and the increase in fighters and affiliated brigades, the formation of Liwaa Suqur al-Sham (Suqur al-Sham Brigade) was announced. It consisted of more than 10 fighting battalions all over Idlib. It was also joined by Liwaa Daoud (Daoud Brigade) led by Hassan Aboud, who is currently a political official in the front.
The formation of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front was announced in September 2012 under the leadership of Sheikh, and Liwaa Suqur al-Sham was considered one of its most prominent constituents.
The new group included battalions from different provinces such as Deir al-Zour, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Latakia, before the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front joined the Islamic Front in November 2013 and Sheikh was chosen head of its Shura Council. His appointment came “as a natural result of the support he received from several foreign parties that have been providing the fighters with arms and money.”
Sources close to the head of the Shura Council told Al-Akhbar, “Sheikh visited Turkey frequently and met with Salafi financiers, primarily Kuwaitis, and with representatives of intelligence agencies, mainly Turkish, Saudi, and American.”
Sources said, “The friendship between Alloush and Abu Issa facilitated the latter’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially since Alloush is Riyadh's man.” They confirmed that Abu Issa accompanied Alloush on his recent Hajj.
The source describes Abu Issa’s relationship with US intelligence agencies as “very good,” especially since the United States is counting on an Islamist organization that is not hard-line. He pointed out that the brigades that have recently joined the front are in “constant contact” with US intelligence agencies.
Al Akhbar (January 17, 2014)
The January 16 attack in Hermel, Lebanon changed the rules of the game. Beirut’s southern suburbs are no longer the sole target on the Syrian opposition’s hit list.
After the “fortress of Resistance” in Dahiyeh, these groups are now targeting every "Hezbollah community." “They want to hit Hezbollah where it hurts it the most, a revenge for its incursion in Syria," said a source. New demarcation lines are appearing, separating Ersal, the capital of “the Syrian revolution” – and entry point of car bombs into Lebanon – and its neighbor Hermel “the capital of the Resistance” in the Bekaa.
Over the last couple of weeks, a Lebanese army task force conducted swift operations in Ersal to apprehend a number of suspects. The army chose this kind of operation to avoid clashing with hundreds of Lebanese, Syrian, and other armed men patrolling the northern Bekaa town, day and night. From December 19 to 24, security forces captured 13 suspects, all Syrians belonging to al-Nusra Front, informed sources said.
According to the sources, weapons and military equipment were also seized and the suspects admitted to army intelligence that they were moving between Ersal and Syria.
Two British men affiliated with al-Nusra were also caught in Ersal. Meanwhile Syrian jihadis told Al-Akhbar, “The army intelligence captured a German in Majdel Anjar a few days ago. He is a brother fighting on our side with Nusra."
Lebanese territories are buzzing with jihadis from all corners of the earth, moving around freely, using car bombs and suicide bombers. Despite the army checkpoint at Ersal’s entrance, cars used in such attacks are still crossing.
Yesterday morning, a suspected suicide car bombing targeted Hermel. Most probably, the car used in the attack crossed the same road as others before it. According to security sources and eyewitness testimonies, it entered the city from the direction of Masharih al-Qaa.
Once again, there was no clear target for the explosion in Hermel, just another random attack. Then al-Nusra Front in Lebanon declared responsibility for the attack via Twitter: “With the help of God, a stronghold of Iran's party in Hermel was shaken with a martyrdom operation spearheaded by one of al-Nusra Front in Lebanon's lions, in response to the group’s crimes against Sunni women and children in Syria."
The statement called upon Sunnis all over Lebanon “to stand side by side against the party of the devil, that we have always known as stupid and cowardly – stupid for its criminal estimations and cowardly for choosing its headquarters among civilians."
Revealing the presence of a suicide bomber wasn’t shocking, eye witnesses already confirmed it. Following information about security cameras capturing an image of the alleged bomber, people tried to figure out his nationality. The statement hinted that he might be Lebanese, describing him as “one of al-Nusra Front in Lebanon's lions." But security sources said he was most probably a Palestinian who has joined the war in Syria.
The bomber identity’s identity is still a mystery as the DNA test is not yet complete. However, some security sources estimated that the attacker was a Palestinian from the Bekai family, but that has not been confirmed.
Jihadi sources told Al-Akhbar, “The martyrdom operation missed its specific target. God’s will made it explode where it did. It is enough for us to hit the people supporting the group whose armed men are killing our brothers in Syria.”
The army said in a statement yesterday that preliminary investigations estimated that 30 kilograms of explosive materials were used in the blast. They were concealed in a 2010 Kia four-wheel with the fake registration number 266271/M.
Al Akhbar (January 17, 2014)
March 14 is a strange lot. They are unable to let things proceed naturally. Even the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which they hope would be a gateway to uncovering who killed Rafik Hariri, they cannot even wait for it to conclude. Like everything else, they are satisfied with the headlines and ignore the details. Aren't they the type of Lebanese who know everything and have no need for scrutiny, research, or diligence?
On January 16, in The Hague, Saad Hariri acted as if he was in Saudi or Beirut. He decided that everything the court needed was the opening session. As soon as the prosecution presented its accusations and evidence, without anything new and without any of the surprises promised by their political and security chiefs, Hariri came out with a verdict. He, like his comrades, was telling us that they need nothing of the prosecution, the defense, or evidence. He had decided in Beirut who was the killer, and he is saying now that his suspect is the court's suspect. When he accuses, the court needs to condemn, not merely repeat the accusation.
Hariri came out of the opening sessions of the STL to read a statement written before his arrival to The Hague. He did not even wait to listen to the defense. All he cared for was the opening session, then he got bored. He knows that everything the tribunal has was given by his security and political team, so he decided to surprise us with the shining truth.
"There is a Lebanese side, which is a suspect with substantiated evidence," he said. "We never thought that some Lebanese would sell their souls to the devil and volunteer to kill Rafik Hariri. This is the hurtful and painful truth. But it is the truth. Arrogance and attempts to evade justice will not work." He also claimed, "The criminals who perpetrated the assassination are Lebanese and follow a certain Lebanese party."
So, Hariri decided on the verdict. He decided unilaterally that he does not need the tribunal or additional explanations and presentation of evidence. There is no need for the defense or anything of that kind. And whoever disagrees with the "blood heir" can go to hell.
After that, they still want us to concede to such a tribunal and go along with this rash boy, just because he is the son of the victim? Do they want us to hold celebrations for justice, the truth, and other slogans, which prevented us from breathing for the past nine years?
Hariri decided it was the truth. Period.
Shall we tell him, frankly, just like he does: This is your truth and not the truth awaited by the people to know who opened the gates of hell in Lebanon and Syria nine years ago and is still doing so?
How could Hariri take such a step and hope that people accept him as a national leader and prime minister?
How could Hariri say what he said and expect an agreement the next day to run the country in partnership with those he decided were the killers? He was not satisfied with the framework of the court, which is accusing individuals. He was quick to tell those who still do not know that those individuals, whom Hariri decided were guilty, are members of a particular party.
How could Hariri tell his people, his audience, and his family what he said yesterday, then declare his agreement to sit at the same table with the killers or their representatives? Isn't this his logic? Or is he telling us, from the steps of the court, that he does not want a national partnership government?
There is more.
Saad Hariri is aware, like everyone else, that the evidence of the STL prosecutor has been prepared by the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) in Beirut. It was prepared in close coordination with Hariri personally, in addition to others who collaborated in this movie. Yesterday, the plaintiffs added some suspense and excitement, but they were also boring, nonetheless. Everything we saw and heard did not include even one bit of additional information from the leaks organized by Hariri and his team, for the most part, since the investigations began. He did not add anything to sustain the court's accusations in the crime of February 14.
Of course, this team will drown us in the next few days with a deluge of analysis, interpretations, explanations, wishes, and pleas related to the court's opening session. Because they are thinking of exploiting blood, they will use anything that falls into their hands.
Is there a need to remind them that the times have changed and the oppression, arbitrariness, and aggression they tried to impose in 2005 are no longer possible today, for them or their sponsor?
Is there anyone in this country who could explain to them that the Resistance's agreement on a government compromise, today, is not a sign of weakness and it is real chance for the country and its people, its alternative being an adventure that will not benefit the resistance, but will lead all its adversaries to total paralysis?
Final words ...
This court does not represent a fair consciousness. It only represents the interests of those who robbed the people of the world, pillaged their lands, and oppressed them. It is not a viable framework to announce the undisputed truth. It is only a tool serving the enemies of resistance. Therefore it is a tribunal not for Lebanon.
Al Akhbar (January 16, 2014)
The story of Wanis and Minas Livonian, two Syrian-Armenians from the north Syrian city of Aleppo, seems almost out of this world. They were killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and its local Sharia committee forbade their family from burying them.
Aleppo resident Anis Livonian, known as Abu Minas, owned a small ice factory in the eastern Aleppo countryside’s Bab district. The factory was the entire fortune of this 69 year old. When ISIS reached the region four months ago, it took control of the factory.
No one can imagine what Wanis and his son Minas, 38, were thinking when they decided to risk their lives and head to the industrial city in Sheikh Najjar. Certainly, they didn’t imagine it would lead to their deaths.
The father visited the booty department at ISIS headquarters, seeking a deal with the emir, but ISIS arrested them at once when it discovered they were Armenians.
Wanis was married with two daughters and a son. Minas was married with three children, the oldest 11 years old. Their family tried to obtain information about their whereabouts but to no avail.
Three months later, an ISIS religious judge came to the two men with a solution. A former prisoner of ISIS told Al-Akhbar, “Abu Issa told them: Convert to Islam and you will be safe." Naturally, they quickly agreed, declaring the shahada. Then, the two “Muslim Armenians” were sent back to their cell “temporarily."
Though Abu Issa had promised to release them, three days later Minas asked an “investigator” frequenting the prison about the reasons behind the delay. He answered, “The emir was not convinced by your Islam." Minas asked, “How was he not? We swore!” The investigator replied, “You, people of the book, your bible is distorted and your beliefs are void. You must have pretended that you converted to Islam to fool us."
According to the source, before the battles between ISIS and the armed opposition groups reached the prison, the two men were told, along with other prisoners, that they would appear before a judge. However, the judge was a gun, and the verdict was two bullets in the head.
The tragedy didn’t end with their death. A family member told Al-Akhbar, “We found out about their death over the Internet. It was very sad."
The relatives sought to retrieve the bodies. “We wanted to hold a decent burial for them, is not that the minimum we can do?”
Finally, some volunteers at a civil society organization managed to locate the bodies being held by the Aleppo Sharia Committee, which refused to hand over the body. Reportedly, the committee said, “This is impossible. They declared their Islam. They are now martyrs and should be buried in a proper way, according to Sharia.”
Russia Today (Russian TV, January 15, 2014)
A new MIT report is challenging the US claim that Assad forces used chemical weapons in an attack last August, highlighting that the range of the improvised rocket was way too short to have been launched from govt controlled areas.
In the report titled "Possible Implications of Faulty Technical Intelligence" Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector, and Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), examined the delivery rocket’s design and calculated possible trajectories based on the payload of the cargo.
The authors concluded that Sarin gas “could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the ‘heart’, or from the Eastern edge, of the Syrian government controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013.”
Based on mathematical calculations, Lloyd and Postol estimate the rocket with such aerodynamics could not travel more than 2 kilometers. To illustrate their conclusion, the authors included the original White House map that depicted areas under Assad control and those held by the opposition. Based on the firing range and troop locations on August 21, the authors conclude that all possible launching points within the 2 km radius were in rebel-held areas.
“This mistaken intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action based on false intelligence. A proper vetting of the fact that the munition was of such short range would have led to a completely different assessment of the situation from the gathered data,” the report states.
The authors emphasize that the UN independent assessment of the range of the chemical munitions is in “exact agreement” with their findings.
The report goes on to challenge the US Secretary of State’s key assessments of the chemical attack that he presented to the American people on August 30th and to the Foreign Relations Committee on September 3rd in an effort to muster a military attack on Syria.
“My view when I started this process was that it couldn’t be anything but the Syrian government behind the attack. But now I’m not sure of anything. The administration narrative was not even close to reality. Our intelligence cannot possibly be correct,” Postol told McClatchy publication.
“The Syrian rebels most definitely have the ability to make these weapons,” he said. “I think they might have more ability than the Syrian government.”
It also remains a mystery why the particular type of rocket that was used in the attack was not declared by the Syrian government as part of its chemical weapons arsenal when it agreed to destroy its chemical weapons and their delivery methods. OPCW inspectors charged with implementing the agreement also did not discover such a rocket in possession of government forces.
Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons through a deal brokered by Russia and the US after a sarin gas attack on August 21. Western nations blamed the deadly attack on President Bashar Assad’s forces, while Damascus accused the rebels for the incident. The UN fact-finding mission had no mandate to find out who carried out the attack.
Under the UN-backed plan, all of the country’s declared 1,290 tons of toxic agents should be destroyed by June 30. Initially, the first batch of the most dangerous materials was to be moved out of Syria on December 31.
However, the deadline was missed because of the ongoing war in Syria and technical issues. It was only on January 7 that “priority chemical materials” left the Syrian port of Latakia on a Danish ship for international waters.