Moroccan PM Avoids Getting King Involved in Government Lineup Disputes

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane speaks during an interview with Reuters in his house in Rabat

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane speaks during an interview with Reuters in his house in Rabat, Morocco, October 3, 2016

Rabat- Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has expressed his unwillingness to resort to royal arbitration regarding consultations on the government line-up which is in a stagnation state due to dispute between Benkirane and some parties, after more than two months from 7 October general elections.

Benkirane said in a meeting for the regional council on Sunday in Rabat, “The king arbitrates among institutions and not parties and I will not get him involved in matters related to political parties—these parties should be responsible themselves.”

“If the king decides to carry on early elections, we will participate despite not supporting this step,” he added. Benkirane undermined the lateness in announcing the government line-up, considering it a normal issue and denying the fact that Morocco has entered a phase of political crisis.

Commenting on Benkirane statements, member of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) Abdul Aziz Aftati told Asharq al-Awsat that Benkirane’s unwillingness to get the royal institution involved in the government line-up related issue is correct.

“The stance of Benkirane is right and many parties that respect the constitution and institutions back it,” he added.

Also commenting on Benkirane discouragement to carry on legislative elections as a solution to the government line-up crisis, Aftati said that “holding elections will not bring anything new and things will remain the same—if elections are held, the PJD will win with even more seats while the Authenticity and Modernity Party will be defeated.”

The stumbling of the government formation is due to a dispute between Benkirane and Aziz Akhannouch, Secretary General of the National Rally of Independents Party (RNI), who refuses the participation of Independence Party in the upcoming future unlike Benkirane.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Social media campaign challenges Palestinians to donate

Palestinians check their Facebook accounts at an internet cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 6, 2012

It remains unknown who started the campaign launched under the Arabic hashtag #Haram-al Khair (Pyramid of Charity), which has taken the social media networks by storm in Palestine. But social media users are participating in the charity campaign nonetheless.

As part of this campaign, people challenge five Facebook friends to share a post saying that they will donate a sum of money depending on the “likes,” comments and the number of shares the post gets. Every “like” and share of the post counts for 1 Israeli shekel (about $0.26), while a comment is worth 2 shekels. After 24 hours, the person who created the post will donate the total amount “raised” to a charity organization or a needy family of their choice. He or she will then challenge five friends on Facebook.

The campaign has gone viral, and some banks and companies are taking part in it, including Palestinian cellular company Jawwal and the Arab Islamic Bank.

The challenge was launched on social media in Morocco, right before the Eid al-Adha holiday in September, when artists challenged each other through posts and videos to donate money to a poor family. The campaign has now reached Palestine ahead of the new year and at the onset of winter, when poor families are in most need.

Social media campaigns such as this one are not subject to any supervision by the authorities or charitable organizations, and anyone who accepts the challenge pays the amount “raised” out of his own pocket.

Walaa Jarar, 29, from the West Bank city of Jenin, told Al-Monitor, “I saw the campaign on Facebook and I liked the idea a lot. I asked one of my Facebook friends to challenge me and I shared the post on Dec. 9.”

Jarar said the goal behind this campaign is to use Facebook in a useful way for charity, noting that she was able to set aside from her own salary the amount corresponding to the number of interactions her Facebook post received.

Mohammed Hasna was also challenged by a friend. His Dec. 5 post received 1,100 “likes,” got 62 shares and about 384 comments. “I paid the rent of four families in need and offered in-kind contributions to poor families,” he told Al-Monitor.

Hasna said the campaign has achieved great success, but he noted, “The crisis in the Gaza Strip will not be solved by a [social media] campaign. Salaries are being cut and the unemployment and poverty rates are skyrocketing. To resolve this crisis we must end the blockade and the internal division.”

According to the Gaza Situation Report 94, the unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 43.9% in 2015, while the poverty rate soared to 39%, marking an 11% increase compared to 2013.

Al-Monitor was able to identify the group that named the campaign in Palestine the Pyramid of Charity. Hatem Hassouna, a member of the group and a civil society activist, told Al-Monitor, “We are a group of friends. We took part in the campaign after being challenged by others. We don’t know who came up with the idea and launched the campaign, but we decided to promote it. We chose the name Pyramid of Charity, because the campaign is like a pyramid that gradually grows and expands.”

Hassouna said that some social media users’ posts totaled 2,000 shekels ($517), adding that “not every social media user who is challenged will take part, because it is voluntary.”

Fadi el-Hindi, a civil society activist, was among the first in Palestine to join the challenge Dec. 3. He told Al-Monitor, “I liked the idea as it encourages to do good. I learned about it from a comment someone made on the post of my friend who challenged me.”

He said that the average amount collected by participants in the campaign is 400-500 shekels ($103-$129). He added, “It depends on the participant’s number of friends and people who reacted to his or her post.”

Hindi noted, “The campaign is only positive. It was used as a model to launch another challenge for volunteering, such as providing training and transferring knowledge and experience, but that has not been as successful as this campaign.”

Some people opposed the challenge on social media. Social activist Mohamed Sheikh Yusuf, 28, criticized the campaign and wrote on Facebook Dec. 5, “This challenge is only designed to play on people’s emotions.”

He told Al-Monitor, “Some perceived the campaign as encouraging, but for what? The only person making the donation is the person who writes the post, while the others are virtual donors who only contribute [with “likes” and shared posts] to the increase of the amount without actually making a donation.”

Joman Mazzawi, 32, from the city of Nazareth, told Al-Monitor, “I joined the campaign in late November after one of my Facebook friends challenged me. I challenged five other friends from different geographical regions, such as Gaza, the West Bank and the 1948 territories.”

She stressed that she took the campaign seriously and donated the amount to an initiative launched in Ramallah. She said it was a beautiful experiment for her.

Commenting on the criticism of some, she said that she is against virtual campaigns, as they are not usually linked to real issues. However, this campaign combines what is real and virtual, as it uses the virtual world to collect money to contribute to changing reality.

She said that there are several problems regarding the campaign, as some of those who were challenged may be embarrassed, since they may be “unable to take on the challenge given their financial situation and family responsibilities.”

The participation of Palestinian companies in the charity campaign was strongly welcomed by Facebook users in Palestine, whose number exceeded 1.7 million users according to statistics published in June 2015. The “likes,” shares and comments made on these companies’ posts were higher than those received by the posts of ordinary citizens.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Israeli policemen shoot Jerusalemite youth, arrest 10 in Shufat


The Israeli occupation police shot a Palestinian young man on Tuesday and arrested 10 others during clashes that broke out in Shufat refugee camp to the north of occupied Jerusalem.

The spokesman of Fatah movement in Shufat camp, Thaer al-Fasfoos, said that dozens of heavily armed Israeli policemen stormed the camp and fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the young men who confronted the raid.

He said that a group of undercover Israeli soldiers sneaked among those young men, ambushed five of them and took them prisoners after beating them.

Al-Fasfoos told Quds Press news agency that the policemen fired live bullets during the raid injuring a young man whose health condition is unknown yet.

The Israeli police claimed, in a statement, that its forces stormed Shufat camp to arrest Palestinian workers who don’t have legal permits to enter the territory.

It said that four Palestinian workers were arrested in one of the shops in addition to the ship-owner who is a resident of Shufat camp.

In the same statement, the police claimed that a group of Palestinian youths threw stones at the police and the latter responded using different means and arrested 5 boys aged between 16 to 17 years old and took them for investigation.

The Israeli police raids in Shufat camp happen on a daily basis allegedly to pursue young men throwing stones or Molotov Cocktails at the police patrols.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

The history of Hezbollah, from Israel to Syria

Despite faltering popularity abroad, Hezbollah enjoys extensive political power at home in Lebanon.

Once a champion of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the group’s popularity in the Middle East dropped amid its association with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria

In July 2006, long-standing tensions flared into war when Hezbollah operators crossed into Israel, killed three soldiers and abducted two others. Israel responded with a furious spate of air strikes on Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and violence soon swept the country, less than two decades after the population had emerged from its own civil war.

That summer, conflict between the two sides ripped through Lebanons recovering infrastructure and displaced almost a quarter of its people.

Israel has launched wars on Lebanon and Hezbollah many times, often in the southern swath of land that Israel carved out of the country and deemed a security zone during its long occupation throughout the 1980s and 90s.

The zone, which at one point grew to 10 percent of Lebanese territory, endured past the end of Lebanon’s civil war and generated frequent, bloody confrontations. Before Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah carried out a dozen self-martyrdom missions on Israeli military targets; in 1996, the Israeli army launched a campaign that led to the massacre of civilians at a United Nations base in Qana.

Compared with the hostile decades of the security zone, the summer war was a short blip on the historical record: 33 days of destruction that punctuated each sides longer struggle against the simple fact of the other’s existence.

READ MORE: Lebanon set for new presidential era

Both Israel and Hezbollah claimed 2006 as a victory at first, yet it was clear that for Hezbollah the gains extended beyond the war zones borders. Across the Arab world, citizens had been watching from afar as Israels bombing of bridges and shelters locked Lebanese communities into a grinding summer siege.

In the book Hezbollah: A Short History, scholar Augustus Richard Norton notes how outrage quickly spread over Israels military approach, termed the Dahiya doctrine for the neighbourhoods that Israel flattened across Lebanons south. By late July, angry demonstrations were mushrooming across Egypt. 

In Syria and Palestine, posters, bumper stickers and keychains blared strong messages of support for Hezbollahs soldiers. The group had become a regional anti-hero, exiting the war with a newfound cache of sympathy across the region.

After the war in 2006, Hezbollah reached the peak of its popularity, said Amer Sabaileh, a political analyst from the Washington-based Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute. [It] had the consensus of people when it came to resistance, credibility and speaking the truth.

Yet today, Hezbollah is in flux. Once a champion of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the groups popularity in the Middle East hovers at a new low due to its association with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria. In a 2015 Zogby poll, 96 percent of Egyptians agreed that Hezbollah has contributed to growing regional extremism.

Other Arab countries have joined the chorus of disapproval, with 86 percent of polled Jordanians holding a negative view of Hezbollah.

OPINION: The blending of Lebanon and Syria

The quicksand pull of Assads campaign has drawn Hezbollah deeper into a damaging war, even while forcing its members to shed some of their most important founding doctrines. As Sabaileh put it: Right now, Hezbollah is becoming, for many parts of Lebanese society, an antagonist.

As Hezbollah wages its new, more unpopular war in Syria, Lebanons past summer conflict is once again surfacing to political relevance. Last July, a Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel released a documentary titled 2006 about the groups war against Israel. The series showed never-before-seen footage of Hezbollah operations, as well as interviews with high-ranking Israeli officials who were apparently tricked into appearing on camera.

Political forces often turn to the past to sow legitimacy. For Hezbollah, the documentary harkens back to a point in time when the group enjoyed widespread legitimacy, and its violence could be framed in easier, Arab v Israeli terms.

According to Sahar Atrache, the International Crisis Groups senior Lebanon analyst, Hezbollah has always worked to knit tenuous associations between the legitimacy it garnered in 2006, and its current, more polarising involvement in Syria.

From the beginning, Hezbollah has tried to link the fight in Syria to Israel, she said. It has kept saying that Syrias part of the same axis of resistance to Israel, and that the aim of the war in Syria is a continuation of the war of 2006. Hezbollah keeps constantly going back to Israel; its something thats very recurrent in its speeches and party narrative.

For so long, Hezbollah has set its legitimacy against the backdrop of Israels regional unpopularity. Today, however, the group is seeing its resources drained by Syrias war, and is in need of a new raison detre to bolster this costly involvement. It will be the responsibility of the enigmatic Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to deliver.

Nasrallah is a polarising figure. For many, he possesses an undeniable reserve of charisma, despite his leading role in what several international bodies have classified as a terrorist organisation.

Born one of nine children, Nasrallahs early childhood in East Beirut is cloaked in political mythology. He is said to have been pious from an early age, often taking long walks to the city centre to find second-hand books on Islam. Nasrallah himself has described how his childhood free time was spent staring reverently at a portrait of the famous Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr  a pastime that foreshadowed his future concern with politics and Shia communities in Lebanon.

In 1974, Sadr founded an organisation – the Movement of the Deprived – that became the ideological kernel for the well-known Lebanese party and Hezbollah rival, Amal. Grown into a political heavyweight in the 1980s, Amal mined support from middle-class Shia who had grown frustrated with the sects historic marginalisation in Lebanon. Besides commandeering an anti-establishment message, Amal also provided stable income to many Shia families, unfurling a complex system of patronage across Lebanons south.

READ MORE: In the Arab World, sectarianism is real, sects are not

After the outbreak of civil war between Lebanons Christian Maronites and Muslims, Nasrallah joined Amal’s movement and fought with its militia. But as the conflict progressed, Amal adopted a staunchly unsympathetic stance towards the presence of Palestinian militias in Lebanon, and it was from opposition to this sentiment that Hezbollah emerged.

Nourished by a steady lifeline of Iranian military support, Hezbollahs revolutionary ideology attracted many Amal defectors, among them a young Nasrallah, fresh out of his stay at a Shia seminary in Iraq. By 1985, Hezbollah had crystallised its own dogma in a founding document, which addressed the downtrodden of Lebanon and named the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran as its one true leader.

Throughout the civil war, Hezbollah and Amal evolved in bitter tandem, often jostling with each other for support among Lebanons Shia constituents. As Norton notes in his book, political alliances in Lebanons Shia communities have never been rigid. Personal allegiances change over the course of a lifetime; families often become messy sites of overlap, with members of the same household supporting different groups. Indeed, Nasrallahs brother, Hussein, has been a lifelong member of Amal.

Championing the Palestinian cause as its own, Hezbollah expanded during the Lebanese civil war under a shadow of kidnappings, hijackings and violence. The group abducted dozens of foreigners and leveraged them in complex negotiations that muddled their interests with Irans. It drove bomb-laden trucks to US targets in Lebanon, and killed hundreds of people, both abroad and at home: Until 9/11, Hezbollah had taken more American lives than any other US-deemed terrorist groups.

By the 1990s, after numerous bloody clashes, Hezbollah had largely trumped Amal for prominence among Lebanons Shia supporters. Nasrallah became the groups third secretary-general during this peak, two years after the civil wars ceasefire in 1990.

After it had completely entered the fight in Syria, I do think the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities … that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way.

Sahar Atrache, International Crisis Group’s senior Lebanon analyst

Since his early career, Nasrallahs speeches have helped cement his persona as a wise, humble figure, deeply invested in the lives of everyday people – a leader who shuns formal Arabic in favour of the dialect spoken on the street, and who reportedly prefers to sleep, every night, on a simple foam mattress on the ground. Perhaps more than anything, the man is a masterful public speaker; as Sabaileh put it, His style of speech, his terminology, the persona of Hassan Nasrallah – [those are] his strongest winning cards. We know Nasrallah just by his speeches.

In the book The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, scholar Dina Matar describes how Nasrallahs words have fused political claims and religious imagery, creating speeches with high emotional voltage that transform Nasrallah intothe very embodiment of the group”.

Nasrallahs charisma is far-reaching; his elegies on the history of oppression in the Middle East have made him a moving figure across sects and nations. Certainly helping is Hezbollahs sprawling media apparatus, which makes use of TV, print news, and even musical theatre shows to spread its message. 

When Nasrallah took on the position of secretary-general, he was charged with easing Hezbollah into the melee of Lebanons post-war political scene. Hezbollah went from being a rogue actor, working outside the official enclosure of state politics, to become a national party asking for every citizens support. Presiding over this shift was Nasrallah, who put Hezbollah on the ballot for the first time in 1992 and appealed to the masses in rousing speeches. As he told Al Jazeera in 2006, We, Shia and Sunnis, are fighting together against Israel, adding that he did not fear any sedition, neither between Muslims and Christians, nor between Shia and Sunnis in Lebanon.

Today, however, the message seems to be changing. Nasrallahs rhetoric, once laden with anti-Israel and anti-West sentiment, has shifted since the groups involvement in Syria. Now that Hezbollah is no longer battling Israel, its message is less focused on Palestinian resistance, and has taken on a thicker sectarian gloss. Above all, Nasrallahs speeches seem to have found a new target in the region: Saudi Arabia.

In every speech of his, Hassan Nasrallah makes sure to attack Saudi Arabia or the al-Sauds themselves, said Atrache, noting that Nasrallah often does this by criticising Saudi Arabias role in Yemens worsening crisis. Since Hezbollahs entrance into Syria, Nasrallah has pointed to Saudi Arabia as an antagonist in the region – a line that fits with Hezbollahs larger claim to be defending Lebanon from Sunni “terrorists” in Syria.

After the war in 2006, Hezbollah reached the peak of its popularity. [It] had the consensus of people when it came to resistance, credibility and speaking the truth’

If Nasrallahs targeting of the Sunni Gulf power lends the group a rallying banner, his words may have the unintended consequence of throwing the partys Shia identity into sharp relief. As Iran and Saudi Arabia become further embroiled in a proxy war, Hezbollahs stances on regional conflicts may be seen as dictated solely by Shia interests and allegiances. In March 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and then the Arab League, labelled Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. Increasingly, Hezbollahs position in the Arab world seems to be drawn against sectarian lines.

Hezbollah is paying a price from within the Shia-Sunni conflict pervading the Arab world today. It cannot help but be presented or be seen as a Shia group, Sabaileh noted.

It has not always been like this. Under Nasrallah, Hezbollah once sought support from all religions; it beefed up the social services it provided to other communities in 2006,looping Christian families into the vast welfare programme that made the party so popular in Shia-dominated neighborhoods.                       

Syria and Iran … have both changed drastically in the past years. Without them, it would be difficult to imagine that Hezbollah can maintain its current status.

Amer Sabaileh, political analyst

According to its evolving logic, Hezbollah was not just a Lebanese party but also the countrys protector. Its soldiers claimed that they provided the first line of defence against Israeli aggression, and so were justified in retaining their arms in defiance of a UN Security Council Resolution. Again and again, Nasrallah assured the media that Hezbollah would never turn these weapons against Lebanons own people – a promise that unravelled in 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen forcibly took control of West Beirutafter the government tried to shut down the groups sprawling telecommunications network and fire an airport head of security for having Hezbollah ties.

Despite its faltering popularity abroad, Hezbollah enjoys extensive political power back home today, wielding alliances and effective veto power to direct legislature in parliament. Just recently, Lebanon elected a Hezbollah ally, Michel Aoun, as its first president in two years. A range of critics have blamed Hezbollah for introducing the political deadlock that kept the country from choosing a president in the first place (the government also collapsed in 2011, when Hezbollah walked out in protest over a UN investigation into the group’s involvement in the assassination of former President Rafiq al-Hariri). Yet even as its popularity drops across the region, Hezbollah has solidified support from communities that were staunch advocates of the group all along.

After it had completely entered the fight in Syria, I do think the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities – people who have already supported the party – that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way, Atrache said.

Popularity may not be Hezbollahs largest concern, as the war in Syria has proved to exact larger costs for the organisation. In addition to losing a founding ideology, Hezbollah has seen more than 1,000 of its soldiers killed in Syria, among them top commanders like Mustafa Badreddine.

Hezbollah is facing a very complex problem, said Sabaileh. In a way, it is draining its resources and draining its popularity at the same time.

Despite its political power in Lebanon, Hezbollah has always been dependent on the support it receives from Iran and Syria. But with one of its backers at war, and the other maybe reaching a detente with western powers, Hezbollah has to reckon with a changing geopolitical map.

Syria, in all cases, will not be the same after the war,” said Sabaileh. Syria and Iran … have both changed drastically in the past years. Without them, it would be difficult to imagine that Hezbollah can maintain its current status.

If we compare Hezbollah with Amal, I think Amal has more chances to survive in the future, he added. At the end its a political movement that has no weapons or army. It can bridge much more easily the diverse components in Lebanese society.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Israel to move Bethlehem-area checkpoint deeper into Palestinian territory


JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities plan to relocate a permanent Israeli military checkpoint between the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem and Jerusalem a few kilometers further into Palestinian territory, a move which would deprive Palestinian residents access to hundreds of acres of private Palestinian land, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.
The Hebrew language version of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the decision to move the checkpoint, located at the village of al-Walaja, was demanded by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, adding that the move would cut off the village’s residents from several hundred acres of their privately owned land located in the outskirts of the village.
Rights groups have pointed out that the decision is part of a larger plan to deny Palestinians access to a natural spring in al-Walaja, known as Ein al-Haniya. The spring is near land that has been planned as a visitors’ center for an Israeli national park expected to consume large tracts of Palestinian land in al-Walaja.
The place has long been a popular site for Palestinians, especially residents in the Bethlehem area, and has maintained an important religious significance to Christians, as Christian monks frequent the site and bathe in the freshwater spring.
Local Palestinian shepherds also rely on the fresh spring to refresh their sheep while herding in the area.
According to Haaretz, arguments have been ongoing in Israel over the past few weeks over how far into Palestinian territory authorities should move the checkpoint, with some Israeli officials saying that the checkpoint should be set up directly before Ein al-Haniya and others arguing that it should be relocated even further into Palestinian territory.
The checkpoint is currently 1.5 kilometers after Ein al-Haniya.Israeli authorities will also resume construction of the separation wall around al-Walaja that includes a section which would isolate the privately held land of Ein al-Haniya, making the site inaccessible to local residents, according to Haaretz.
A spokesperson for both the Israeli army and Israel’s Ministry of Defense was not immediately available to comment on the decision.
Residents of al-Walaja have lost over three-quarters of their land since Israel was established in 1948, when most of the village’s residents became refugees. During Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, 50 percent of al-Walaja’s lands were annexed to the Jerusalem municipality.
Israel’s separation wall will encircle al-Walaja upon completion, and swathes of land have been appropriated by the Israeli government for the construction and expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo, Har Gilo, and Givat Yael, while Israel’s checkpoints and separation wall has left a single entrance to al-Walaja connecting it to the rest of the West Bank.
The village’s council head Abd al-Rahman Abu al-Teen said during a press briefing in May that “If and when the wall is completed, it will turn the village into a prison.”
(Source / 20.12.2016)

KSA: ‘Crimes against Humanity Are Happening in Aleppo’

Evacuees from a rebel-held area of Aleppo arrive at insurgent-held al-Rashideen

Evacuees from a rebel-held area of Aleppo arrive at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 19, 2016

Riyadh-The Saudi Cabinet, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, condemned on Monday at al-Yamamah Palace the continuing brutal shelling of the city of Aleppo, exposing innocent people to killing, siege, starvation, displacement and violation of their basic human rights.

The Cabinet stressed the importance of the U.N. Security Council assuming its responsibilities stipulated in the U.N. Charter and its duties in maintaining international peace and security.

It reviewed various Arab and international efforts on the latest developments in the region, especially the heinous massacres being committed in Aleppo that are considered crimes against humanity.

It highlighted in this context, the numerous contacts recently made by the Kingdom with regional and international active parties in which it expressed its positions and underscored the importance of immediate action to stop the massacres.

The Cabinet expressed the Kingdom’s strong condemnation of the terrorist act in the city of Aden, the attack in Jordanian Karak and the bombing near the Turkish University of Erciyes, resulting in victims and injuries.

It also expressed extended condolences to the families of the victims and the governments and peoples of Yemen, Jordan and Turkey.

Moreover, the Cabinet appreciated the King’s order to take the necessary actions to correct the status of the Yemeni people residing in the Kingdom and holding “visitor’s identity” with an extension for another six months.

During the session, it reiterated the Kingdom’s unwavering stance on the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Following the Cabinet’s session, Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Adel Al-Turaifi said in a press statement for SPA that the Cabinet stressed the annual address of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in inaugurating the works of the first year of the seventh session of the Shoura Council and its fundamentals with respect to the Kingdom’s internal and external policies.

He explained the Cabinet’s aspirations for greater stability, prosperity and diversification of sources of income and raising the society’s productivity to achieve development, meet the needs of the people and preserve the rights of future generations.

He further noted that it called on pursuing the approach of cooperation with the international community to achieve world peace and promote interaction with peoples to consolidate the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

The Cabinet also reviewed scientific and cultural activities, emphasizing that the King’s patronage of the honoring ceremony of the winners of the King Khaled Award in its 6th version reflects continued support for this award to achieve its humanitarian and social developmental mission.

The Cabinet later approved a series of decisions that include a cooperation agreement between the Kingdom and Tajikistan in the area of fighting crime; a memorandum of understanding in civil defense with Tunisia; and a cooperation agreement between the Kingdom and Algeria in the area of maritime transport.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Lebanon’s New Government: “Elections” Mission And Unrepresentative Lineup

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (C) meets with Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 18, 2016

Beirut- After waiting for more than one and a half months to form the new cabinet, Lebanese were not surprised by the new cabinet lineup, which remained “an identical picture” of previous governments at several levels.

Some ministers were given portfolios that have nothing in common with their field of expertise. New ministries were created to please some political parties. Only one woman out of the 30-member cabinet was appointed minister despite all the slogans raised by politicians supporting women’s empowerment.

And what is clear to everyone is that the mission of the current government is almost restricted to preparing the upcoming parliamentary elections, expected to take place in around six months. Even several officials do not hide the fact that they do not rely on the achievements of the new ministers, whose majority aim to also run for the parliamentary elections.

Legal expert and head of the JUSTICIA nongovernmental institution Paul Morcos described the first government of President Michel Aoun as the “cabinet of anticipation” because it was formed in a way to serve the task of preparing for the parliamentary elections,” if parties agree on a new electoral law.

However, Environment Minister Tarek Khatib, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement and who is also running for the upcoming parliamentary elections told Asharq Al-Awsat: “A minister willing to work would reach a result whether in six days, six months or a year, and the opposite is true.”

Khatib said that although the current government has a mission to prepare for the next elections, ministers should also work on other issues to fulfill their tasks. The new environment minister admitted he has a difficult mission to treat the garbage crisis, but said: “Nothing is impossible.”

Khatib defended ministers who wish to also run for the upcoming elections: “A minister running for parliamentary elections does not contradict his mission if he fulfills his promises without expecting anything in return.”

However, Morcos said the current cabinet should have included experts who can manage the electoral process. He said the cabinet’s current loose form with its portfolios and representations place several question marks particularly on whether political forces want to extend its term by postponing the parliamentary elections or hold these elections based on a “pre-packed” electoral law.

Speaking at the constitutional level, Morcos said the new cabinet is formed by several ministries without portfolios, which means ministries lacking the human, financial and administrative factors that would allow them to function. Therefore, Morcos said those ministries without portfolios are nothing but “honorary” positions to please some political forces.

He said the current government lineup remains a blatant proof that ministerial appointments are based on sectarian, regional and clientelism factors, and not based on the expertise of ministers.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Israel to demolish slain Jerusalemite’s house within 48 hours


Israeli occupation authorities (IOA) gave the family of Misbah Abu Sbeih, who was killed by Israeli forces in October following an alleged shooting attack in occupied Jerusalem, 48 hours to evacuate their house before being demolished.

The family has earlier appealed against an Israeli court’s order to demolish Abu Sbeih’s house in occupied Jerusalem.

However, the court rejected on Monday the family’s appeal and gave them 48 hours to evacuate the house before its demolition under the pretext of “deterring attacks carried out by Palestinians”

Following the alleged shooting attack, the IOA closed Abu Sbeih’s store in al-Ram town, north of occupied Jerusalem.

Abu Sbeih, 39, was killed by Israeli police following an alleged shooting attack in the occupied Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Oct. 9, 2016.

Abu Sbeih’s body is still being held by Israeli authorities along with the bodies of 19 others.

Israel has dramatically increased its policy of punitive home demolitions since 2015 despite past recommendations by rights groups which considered the practice as “court-sanctioned revenge” carried out on family members who have not committed crimes, amounting to collective punishment.

(Source / 20.12.2016)

Fahd: Iran Cannot Be Trusted, Russia Has to Heed Syrians’ Demands

Secretary-General of the Syrian Coalition Abdul Ilah Fahd said that Russia cannot maintain its interests in Syria by continuing to kill Syrians, but by listening to the demands of the Syrian people. He stressed that Russia cannot continue to support a crumbling regime and the undisciplined Iranian-led militias who are unable to defend a small town such as Tadmur from ISIS.

Fahd called for a halt to all indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Syria, the protection of civilians, the lifting of the siege on Syrian towns and cities, and the release of detainees in line with international resolutions including those co-drafted and approved by Moscow.

The Syrian revolution is aimed at building a democratic, pluralistic state that has good relations with all the peoples of the region and the world, including Russia, Fahd said.

Fahd stressed that Iran cannot be trusted, pointing out that the Iranian-backed terrorist militias are obstructing the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Iran insists on pursuing a military solution in Syria, he added.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 20.12.2016)