Patriarch Raï in Damascus for a historical visit
By Pierre Khalaf
The Patriarch of the Maronite Church, Bechara Rai, has definitely turned the page of a decades-old dispute with Syria, by heading to Damascus to attend the inauguration of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Yuhanna Yazigi. This religious and pastoral visit has an undeniable political dimension and it would not have happened without the encouragement of the Vatican that recommended to the heads of both Churches, Maronite and Greek Catholic, to attend the ceremony of Damascus in solidarity with the Christians of Syria, who are going through difficult times due to the rise of Islamic extremism supported by Wahhabi Gulf states. This visit helps to reposition strategically and historically the Eastern Christians who, abandoned by the West, have no other choice but to reconsider their alliances in the region. According to the Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory Laham, 1000 Christians have been killed by terrorists in Syria since the crisis began and 200,000 were displaced from their homes.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said on Saturday that he supports the visit of Patriarch Rai. "The Maronite Patriarch is the guardian of the rights of Christians in the East and I support his visit to Syria, he knows what he’s doing," said Sleiman.
Damascus has therefore become during this enthronement the capital of all Eastern Christians. The ceremony at the Church of the Holy Cross, in the heart of Damascus, required exceptional security measures. Snipers on roofs, no parking nearby, and magnetic portals were placed.
A representative of President Bashar al-Assad, the Minister Mansour Azzam, the Refugees minister, Joseph Soueid, the Minister of Information, Mahmoud el-Zohbi, the minister of "Wakfs", Abdel Sattar al-Sayyed, Muslim religious leaders attended the ceremony, along with many diplomats, including the Apostolic Nuncio and the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. Outside the church, a huge crowd followed the ceremony on a giant screen.
In his speech at the ceremony, Patriarch Yuhanna X said that "Syria will find the way of salvation through dialogue and shall recover."
The head of the Maronite Church has in turn delivered a speech in which he addressed the new patriarch: "We are here today in Syria to express our solidarity with our wounded and suffering people.
Saturday, Cardinal Rai, called for reforms in Syria and called for dialogue. Responding to criticism, Cardinal Rai said he had come to "meet all Christians especially the 60,000 Maronites". He stressed that the church "is always against the war and prefers dialogue."
In the first official reaction to the Syrian Patriarch Rai to visit Damascus, Vice Foreign Minister Faisal Mokdad said that the Lebanese and Syrian people are one people, adding that Patriarch Rai is now at "home ".
In Lebanon, the visit of Rai has generated enthusiasm of the majority of Christians who believe their fate is tied to the Christians in Syria. But some voices amongst the 14-March criticized the decision of the prelate, such as the Secretary-General of that coalition Fares Souhaid. Saleh Machnouk, the son of the member of the Future Movement, Nouhad Machnouk, has qualified as a "Satanic Mass" the religious ceremony celebrated by Patriarch Rai in Damascus. His words caused a vigorous campaign of protest on social networks.
The Tendency in Syria
The terrorists crushed around Damascus
The fifth offensive announced by the extremists groups against Damascus turned into a disaster for them. Information on discussions between al-Nosra quaïdiste Front and other armed groups to coordinate an attack against Damascus had reached the Syrian intelligence services. 20,000 combatants, including many foreign jihadists, were sent to the outskirts of Damascus.
The plan was to move from two axes: Jobar-Zamalka to take control of the Abbasids Place, which would have pushed the military to strip the front of Daraya to send reinforcements to the new combat zone. At this time, another phase of the offensive would start in Daraya towards the military airport of Mazze and the center of the capital. Informed of the details of this plan, the Syrian Arab Army units withdrew its first lines before launching unprecedented shelling against rebel lines. Hundreds of militiamen were killed as soon as the assault began.
Meanwhile in the north-western Syria, at least four incidents opposed in less than a week the inhabitants to the quaïdistes of the Front al-Nosra.
These altercations, one of which almost degenerated into armed confrontation took place in the region of Atme in Idleb.
In the town of Ad Dana, inhabitants and jihadists, members of a group affiliated with al-Nosra Front, came to blow in a mosque where again, a Kuwaiti sheikh wanted to speak instead of the local imam.
"Every day that passes now, there is this kind of incident with those people who want to impose their way of being. They start problem for us," commented one notable from Atme.
NAJIB MIKATI, Lebanese Prime Minister
«There is no until now an accusation against Hezbollah. Bulgarian Prime Minister on a visit to Paris recently has reiterated that the investigation was still ongoing. Lebanon received as an official document a statement of the Bulgarian Interior Minister, of a single page, which refers to two persons suspected of belonging to "the military wing of Hezbollah." For the time being, two foreign-sounding names have been put forward (...) After the incident of Ersal, I called the commander of the army. I went to Yarzé and I sent a clear message demanding the arrest of the persons responsible on the attack. I even asked the army to deal with the case with strength and wisdom. At the council of Ministers, I gave full support to the army. I am the only Prime Minister who have made two visits to the Ministry of Defense and I gave a speech to 500 officers. There is no misunderstanding between me and the supreme commander of the army. Nevertheless, we try to present things as if the Sunni prime minister is against the army. Individuals attacked the army and they must be punished. But this does not mean that all Muslims or all Sunnis are against the army. As for the Islamist reality in Lebanon, it is not new. It has existed for years, we saw cells in Nahr el-Bared and previously in Denniye. But my goal is to absorb the crisis and to contain the situation to avoid dramatic consequences. Al-Qaeda is a generic title, this is not a structured organization. In other words, fundamentalists are present in Lebanon, but that does not mean they are affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and so far, I do not think there is a real Islamist danger in Lebanon.»
MICHEL AOUN, Leader of the Free Patriotic Movement
«The agreement between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah has become a real alliance, which is an important and historic event that changed the course of events, not only in Lebanon but also in the Middle East. We are proud of this alliance and we wish that all Lebanese join it. At the time of this agreement, we have called on other parties to join us and we are ready to modify the terms of the document. Unfortunately, we have been misunderstood and some newspapers have seen in it a Maronite-Shiite agreement against Sunni, an approach that has led the country to the current divisions that we are facing today. But our alliance will ultimately triumph because it is based on good intentions far from any feeling of hatred.»
JEAN KAHWAJI, Commander in chief of the Lebanese Army
«The operation of Ersal was 100% military and did not involve anyone other than the army. Therefore, Any response was not justified. Ultimately, the military have suffered an attack while they performed their mission, they fell into an ambush. The army will not keep quiet and will not show any complacency. We are only claiming justice and the rights of the military institution. The command of the army will not compromise and will not revenge. The military is always in compliance with the law and justice.»
WALID JUMBLAT, Lebanese Druze leader
«The aggression against the army in Ersal is against the guardian of the independence and sovereignty. What happened requires open and transparent inquiry, to stop the attackers. The incident was an attempt to destabilize the region, and involve it in a conflict against the army.»
WALID SUKKARIYE, MP member of the Hezbollah parliamentary group
«All Lebanese parties have agreed to adopt the policy of dissociation towards the Syrian crisis, with the blessing of international powers. But this policy was confined to the ruling circles and has not been applied to the grassroots. Some in Lebanon sympathize with the Syrian opposition and others receive money from Gulf countries to deal with refugees. The Lebanese border from north Damascus to Homs countryside is Baalbeck-Hermel. A single locality Supports the Syrian revolution: Ersal. The armed opposition expelled from the region of Zabadani, moved into the area of the Lebanese-Syrian border. It uses the Lebanese territory for its activities. The Syrian opposition has failed to establish a secure base on the border with Lebanon. Ersal turned into a supply base for the rebels.»
FARID KHAZEN, MP member of the Free Patriotic Movement
«The Bulgarian accusation concerning the involvement of Hezbollah in the assassination of Burgas is unclear. It is a political accusation doubted by European states. The file must be serious and formal and should not be under speculation, for Lebanon to take it seriously. Hezbollah is a strong party, which faces the Israeli aggression.»
➢ According to the Lebanese Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel, the leader of the kidnappers of Lebanese hostages in Syria, Omar al-Dadikhi, better known as Abu Ibrahim, died in a Turkish hospital from injuries received during Mannah airport battle, near Aleppo. The nine remaining hostages are now in the hands of another armed group. New captors sent mediators who activated discreetly new conditions. They demanded the release of Syrian detainees in Lebanon and Syria in exchange for the release of their hostages, who were kidnapped May 22, 2012 while returning from a visit to the Shiite holy sites in Iraq.
➢ The Lebanese daily Al Akhbar reported that a banner in praise of al-Qaeda was hung at "Al-Nejmeh Place " in Tripoli, the same place where stood a giant picture of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Moreover, the prominent media district chief, Hussam Sabbagh, close to Al-Qaeda, announced that a banner bearing the slogan "Islamic emirate" hanged in the souk was removed. This banner bore the inscription: "We no longer will we be silent when the blood of Sunnis is paid ... our souls and our blood belong to you, Ersal lions."
➢ According to the Lebanese daily Ad Diyar, the head of French intelligence came to Lebanon to inquire about what is happening in Syria and the position of the Lebanese security services in this regard. The visit was surrounded by a big secret.
➢ The Supreme Leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected the offer of the United States to enter into bilateral talks on its nuclear program while Washington imposed economic sanctions on Iran, according to its website Official internet. "You want to negotiate when you point a gun at Iran. The Iranian nation will not be intimidated by such act, "he said in a speech to the command of the Air Force
AS SAFIR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, FEBRUARY 8, 2013)
A Western diplomatic report says that after the latest developments in Mali, the French political position towards the Syrian crisis has evolved.
The report mentions a securitary recommendation which was submitted to the Elysée, advising President Nicolas Sarkozy at the beginning of the outbreak of popular movements in the Arab world, not to put the regime of Bashar el Assad under pressure, as the demographic composition of the Syrian population could degenerate into sectarian destructive conflict. This recommendation also took into account the security coordination that existed between France and Syria, which provided important information to safeguard the interests of France, whether within the country, in Europe or in the Arab world. The report indicated that the same current recommendation is addressed to the administration of François Hollande calling to reopen the channels of communication between the intelligence services of the two countries.
The report makes the link between this recommendation and the presence of fighters of the Al-Nosra Front and members of Al-Qaeda in some Syrian regions, especially in the north. It is stated as well, in the report, that the Elysée has given the French intelligence services the green light to resume contact with the Syrian intelligence services as "the enemy is common and deadly threat is the same, coming from Al-Qaeda and all similar groups."
The report underlines in this context, as a result of the intervention of France in Mali, President François Hollande had called the president of the Syrian National Coalition Moaz El Khatib and other coalition leaders to Elysée where a stormy meeting away from the spotlight was held, during which the French leader has shown firmness towards his interlocutors accusing them of welcoming "terrorists" within their ranks. Hollande asked, according to the report, to purge the terrorists coalition from al-Nosra Front. A French official who attended the meeting reported that France and its allies will not allow the Syrian opposition to transform Syria into a breeding ground for terrorism, promoting the expansion of Talibanism and Al-Qaeda in the Middle East.
The report also mentions that Holland sent to Qatar following messages: immediately stop the financial and military support to armed takfiris groups in the Syrian opposition.
AS SAFIR (FEBRUARY 8, 2013)
MOHAMMAD BALLUT, PARIS
No French officials seems to be inclined to turn into a crisis the discontent of France against Qatar’s positions in Mali. Qatari large investments in France, the network of relationships woven by Qatar in institutions, political parties and French economic cartels have led to the Franco-Qatari safe from unexpected shocks.
Probably, the French Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who will begin a visit to Qatar, will carry several issues related to the information relayed by the French security services accusing Qatar of carrying out activities in Mali before or during the intervention of France in North Africa.
A source close to the French security services say that the Qataris have stabbed
their French allies during Operation Serval. Above source reports that two Qatari military transport planes had take off from the airport of Gao, a few hours before the intervention of French troops. According to the same source, they have transported weapons, surface-to-ground and ground-to-air missiles, three air-transportable surgical antennas and active fighting units in the region, to an airport near the capital of southern Libya, 1000 km from Tripoli. The French intelligence services were ordered not to disclose this information.
A high-level meeting was held at the Quai d’Orsay with experts in the affairs of the Gulf Emirates to discuss reports that have been published to distinguish between propaganda and undeniable truths establishing Qatar support to jihadist groups that are active against French interests in Africa.
AS SAFIR (FEBRUARY 7, 2013)
Well-informed diplomatic sources in Brussels reported that some European countries, including France, are strongly opposed to the inclusion of Hezbollah on the EU list of terrorist organizations. In contrast, several other European countries are now favorable due to American and Israeli pressure. These include, according to the above sources, Great Britain and Italy. To explain the French position, these sources report that France was not convinced by the accusations against Hezbollah. The French have other concerns relating to their presence in UNIFIL in an environment known for his political allegiance to Hezbollah. The same sources also claim not recognize the imprint of Hezbollah in the assassination of Bourgas.
AN NAHAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)
(FEBRUARY 7, 2013)
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is extremely troubled by the details he has received on the incident Ersal and the lack of solidarity among the parties of the majority and the opposition with the Army, "which bleeding and offer sacrifice." He said he was horrified by the images of aggression against members of the army patrol he was able to view before the Lebanese. Mr. Berry said that the word crime is not enough to describe what happened in Ersal.
Very busy these days by the electoral law proposals, the latest being that of the Future Movement, Mr. Berry insists that "the army is a red line." He was satisfied that all the parties said that the attackers, residents of Ersal or Syrians, should be punished, underlining the encouraging words of Saad Hariri in this direction. But he stressed, however, that the statement of the Future Movement about the incident of Ersal was not in harmony with the opinions expressed by its leader Saad Hariri, as several of its members tried to insert the name Hezbollah in the incident despite the denials by the higth command of the army which ensured that the party had nothing to do.
AL AKHBAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, FEBRUARY 7, 2013)
“More than ever, this is your time.” This verse, sang by Lebanese singer Khaled al-Haber, could apply to the Muslim Brotherhood, the rising stars of the Arab world. You may differ with them politically and ideologically, but without a doubt, this is their time.
The president of Egypt hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Tunisian chapter of the group rules Tunisia. In Libya, the Brotherhood may not be at the helm, but it has a strong presence. As for Syria, the Brotherhood dominates the opposition Syrian National Coalition.
It was only natural that the rise of the Islamist group in the Arab world has drawn attention to their Lebanon chapter: al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, meaning the Islamic Group in Arabic.
In the Beirut neighborhood of Aicha Bakkar, the group’s green banners can be seen everywhere. Behind a huge glass building, the followers of Hassan al-Banna, the late founder of the Brotherhood in Egypt, are busy preparing celebrations for the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.
Religious songs permeate the air, but they do not quite succeed in drowning out the noises from the building, now a hive of activity.
On the fourth floor, Omar al-Masri, the head of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s Beirut division, sits in a somewhat modest office. Omar is the son of the group’s secretary general, Sheikh Ibrahim Masri.
Two scarves hang on the door, one in the colors of the Syrian opposition flag, the other of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya. On the table in front of him, Masri displays a saying from the Prophet, which translates loosely as: “Fear God wherever you are; if you follow an evil deed with a good one you will obliterate it; and deal with people with a good disposition."
Based on this dictum, Masri fielded Al-Akhbar’s questions with some measure of diplomacy: How is his group’s relationship with the Future Movement and Hezbollah? How does it see the rise of Salafi groups?
Masri did not deny that the group’s relations with Hezbollah “have cooled.” Their relationship with Hezbollah deteriorated against a backdrop of the latter obtaining a monopoly over resistance activities, according to Masri. Yet this did not stop the two sides from safeguarding their ties, which until 2005 remained “very good.”
That year, Masri said, relations were strained when Hezbollah “became involved in internal issues, to the extent of accusing a segment of the Lebanese people and its leaders of treason. As a result, signs of a Sunni-Shia crisis began to emerge, culminating in the events of 7 May.”
At the time, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya came to believe that Hezbollah had used its weapons internally. This, however, did not stop them from meeting and holding discussions regularly on topics of concern.
“The first issue is the Arab-Israeli conflict and the resistance, regardless of who is carrying the torch,” said Masri. “The second [is] the Sunni-Shia strife because we believe that the West and the US are seeking to ignite it.”
“These two issues continue to bring us together, despite Hezbollah’s support for the murderous regime in Syria, and its renunciation of a popular revolution which, although it was exploited in the global game, is a real revolution on par with those that took place in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain,” said Masri.
Masri said the last meeting between Hezbollah and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya was about two months ago. Relations are still best classified as lukewarm – there’s a joint coordination committee whose function is to prevent clashes between their supporters on the ground.
Revolutionary Momentum Wasted?
With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Lebanon has had to cope with additional burdens. For one thing, Masri said, “The way politicians look at and deal with us has changed.”
“The Arab Spring will leave a mark on the group, something that we need to translate on the ground,” he added. For this reason, the group has held internal conferences to take advantage of the Arab revolutions’ momentum.
It seems that this momentum has stopped at the doorstep of the Islamic Group. Some of its supporters believe that the recent internal elections are at odds with the spirit of the democratic uprisings: the same leaders keep on getting re-elected.
When asked whether al-Jamaa al-Islamiya intends to continue to align itself with the political attitudes of the Future Movement, he replied, “It is an exaggeration to say that the group has been subservient to the Future Movement. We have been keen on maintaining relations with all sides in Lebanon.”
Masri also said, “There is a shared vision [with the Future Movement] when it comes to issues like the authority of the state, the Resistance and its weapons, and their use internally.”
Regarding al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s stance on the dispute between the Future Movement and Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, Masri said, “We had hoped that these differences do not come out in the open. We are all for safeguarding the status and immunity of the Mufti’s post.”
Masri went further, and affirmed, “We are not against appointments, but if we were able to hold elections for the Islamic Council, then let us also hold elections for regional muftis.” Concerning religious extremism and the Sunni youths’ thrust towards Salafism – as opposed to the “moderation” of the Islamic Group, in Masri’s words – it is a “natural reaction to the prevalent sectarian tension.”
Politicians are partly to blame for this shift, said Masri. “When the issue of detained Islamists is kept on the shelf, while collaborators with Israel and assailants who try to set media outlets on fire are set free,” said Masri, “it is only natural for these sensitivities to come out in the open.”
AL AKHBAR (FEBRUARY 6, 2013)
The US and Israel are using the accusations leveled against Hezbollah in the 2012 Burgas bus bombing to pressure the EU into including the resistance group on its terrorist list. But the Bulgarian opposition is crying foul.
Israeli and US pressure on Bulgarian authorities to formally accuse Hezbollah as the organization behind the 18 June 2012 bus bombing in the city of Burgas – in which six people, including five Israelis, were killed – has not been entirely successful.
They have succeeded in pressuring the Bulgarian investigators probing the bombing to link the attack to Hezbollah. This has been done in such a way as to strike a compromise between the hardline stances of Israel and the US, and the cautious position of European countries, who do not see it in their interest to up the ante against Hezbollah.
Bulgarian Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced on 5 February 2013, that two people believed to have been connected to Hezbollah were involved in Burgas bombing.
Speaking after a special meeting of the country’s Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the investigation’s findings, Tsvetanov said the pair were part of a group of three who carried out the attack. The two had traveled on Australian and Canadian passports, and lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010, respectively.
The minister went on to say that "there is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects,” and that investigators had “a well-founded assumption that they belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah.”
The wording of his remarks was significant. It could foil longstanding Israeli and US efforts to pressure the EU to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, as opposed to merely its “military wing.” Tsvetanov also said that the Lebanese authorities had been asked for assistance in the probe.
The announcement was quickly challenged by Sergei Stanishev, leader of Bulgaria’s parliamentary opposition and the head of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, who charged that finger-pointing against Hezbollah was unfounded and politically motivated.
“It is obvious that Bulgaria’s government has chosen a political approach and is only repeating the interpretation alleged by Israel on the very next day following the attack, when the investigation had not even started,” he said, as quoted by the Sofia News Agency. “The investigation is currently underway, and there is no way one can be talking about decisive evidence regarding the direct perpetrators, much less regarding the organization that is behind this tragic event,” Stanishev added.
The Agency quoted sources at the Bulgarian foreign ministry as saying that security had been stepped up at the country’s embassy in Beirut as a precaution against possible attacks.
The Bulgarian opposition’s skepticism over the Hezbollah accusation has made no impression on the Lebanese opposition. Members of the March 14 coalition seized on the news, and some predicted it would lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, of which Hezbollah is a member.
Senior sources in the Future Movement told Al-Akhbar that it had already been agreed that Mikati would step down once a new election law is in place, “but now we have been unexpectedly given the Bulgarian accusation.”
The sources said Future Movement MPs discussed the issue, but decided not to discuss the Bulgarian charge against Hezbollah in the media for the time being.
Nevertheless, a prominent Future Movement MP remarked to Al-Akhbar: “How can a partnership be established in this country on the basis of terrorism?” He added that in demanding that the government quit, “we are not speaking from a position of hostility or score-settling,” but “out of concern for the country and its interests.”
Sources close to the prime minister denied that the government had any intention of stepping down in the wake of the Bulgarian minister’s announcement. The source attributed the suggestion to “the wishful thinking of the March 14 camp.”
In his public reaction to the announcement, Mikati reiterated Lebanon’s readiness to cooperate with the Bulgarian authorities “to shed light on the circumstances” of the incident, while stressing its condemnation of all such attacks in any European or Arab country.
Lebanese official sources said Beirut had been informed earlier that four members of Hezbollah would be accused of complicity in the bombing. It also knew in advance that the Bulgarians would draw a distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing and Hezbollah itself in order to avoid its placement on the EU terrorist list.
Yet no Lebanese officials were informed of the suspects’ identities, the sources said. The only request for assistance received from Bulgarian investigators by Lebanese judicial authorities was a request to search for an individual’s fingerprints in Lebanese records.
While Hezbollah remained silent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to seize on the news to demand that the EU designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and not distinguish between its military and political wings.
In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu thanked the Bulgarian government for its “thorough and professional investigation” and elaborated on how Iran and Hezbollah were “orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror,” as well as supporting “the murderous Assad regime in Syria.”
The Israeli prime minister’s words were parroted almost verbatim by US President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, who urged EU states to ”take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks.”
The EU itself seemed less eager than the US and Israel to put Hezbollah on its terrorism list. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton merely took note of the results of the Bulgarian probe and stressed the need to “reflect on the consequences.” She said that “the EU and member states will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators.”
Israeli media had reported in advance of the Bulgarian announcement that Israel’s contribution to the probe had enabled investigators to link the Burgas bombing to Hezbollah. Israeli reports over the past two months had anticipated that Hezbollah and Iran – Hezbollah as an organization and the Iranian state – would be accused of funding and implementing the attack.
AL AKHBAR (FEBRUARY 4, 2013)
AMAL KHALIL AND QASSEM QASSEM
The presence of the notorious al-Nusra Front is no longer exclusive to Syria. In the southern Lebanese city of Saida, a group of Islamist factions based out of the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp are unifying in the hope of forming a Lebanese version of the Front.
The proposed coalition will include: the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham, and some former members of Usbat al-Ansar, and the Islamic Jihad Movement.
Ain al-Hilweh security officials confirmed that armament and the fortification of security points in the Taware neighborhood continue at an escalating rate. The Islamists are in control of “50 percent of the camp area, while all the other factions control the remaining 50 percent.”
Lately, supporters of the front have been conducting military training in the Basatin area of the camp in broad daylight and without the customary masks.
The anticipated formation will include Islamists who split from Usbat al-Ansar and the Islamic Jihad Movement. These factions objected to their groups’ “moderation” and accused them of apostasy.
A meeting of the planned unified front was held a few days ago with several known Islamist activists in attendance: Haytham and Mohammed al-Saadi, Bilal Badr, Tawfic Taha, Usama al-Shehabi, and Majed al-Majed, as well as a Saudi national and two Syrians. The goal of the meeting was to set a suitable time for the front’s launch. They issued an internal statement to its members confirming the “apostasy” ruling.
Usbat al-Ansar and the Islamic Jihad Movement continue to face problems, as several members of both Islamist groups defected to join the anticipated new faction. However, a prominent Islamist official in the camp maintained that the above is merely “speculation.”
Nevertheless, the last few months have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of Islamist leaders born from the Syrian crisis. Young men are now leading groups of even younger men. They hail from completely different ideological and political backgrounds, but seek to join what could be viewed as the remnants of Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham. Their star player is Bilal Badr, who has been mentioned in the media lately for his “activities” related to avenging eight camp residents killed in Syria, including the nephew of sheikh Jamal Suleiman, and several who were injured, including Badr’s “deputy” Mohammed al-Afandi.
Badr and his assistant, Nidal Abdul-Rahman, decided to remove the pro-Syrian factions from the Ain al-Hilweh camp, attacking the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) and al-Saiqa with machineguns. They removed pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and asked the occupants to leave the premises. Badr supporters attacked a Fatah checkpoint, disarmed its guard, and refused to hand him to the Palestinian National Security force.
According to Palestinian security sources, several neighborhoods of the camp are now under the control of Badr and his colleagues, namely the neighborhood of Tiri where he lives. The Taware neighborhood is no longer controlled by National Security or the Lebanese army and has been transformed into a den of Salafi groups following the influx of weapons and fighters from Syria.
Attempts to contact Badr were unsuccessful. He is difficult to track down. The only intermediary to reach him is one of his relatives, an official in the Popular Committees and the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), who described Badr as a “21 year old who has yet to grow a beard.”
This relative adds that Badr himself was a member of the PLF and that “the name Bilal was after one of the martyrs of the Lebanese Resistance Brigades [Amal].” He refused to let us contact Badr because “he wakes up late in the day and stays awake all night.”
Does he stay awake for military training or security courses? “No. He is at home like anyone else.” So, is everything that is said about him lies and rumors? The relative retained some mystery, admitting that “bold Bilal” belongs to the Islamist current, but is not involved in military activities. As for a future meeting, the relative relayed Badr’s greetings along with a promise to be interviewed “at the right time.”
An informed Palestinian source told Al-Akhbar that claims against Badr are exaggerated, despite him being “a tool to carry out operations inside the camp in the last months.” Although Badr leads a group of more than 20 young men, he takes his orders from the godfather Taha and the mastermind Shehabi, who move freely around the camp. There are five or six other groups similar to Badr’s that are linked to Shehabi, Taha, Haitham, and Mohammed al-Shaabi.
Once announced, this new unified front will be an extension of al-Nusra in Syria. Lebanese territories will become “the land of salvation” for its “jihadis” who will be trained in Ain al-Hilweh to fight in Syria. Of course, the front will not be limited to Ain al-Hilweh. Other sources indicate that there is interest in creating another branch in the Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp in Dahiyeh, or Beirut’s southern suburbs. Palestinian sources indicate that the reason for the Burj al-Barajneh headquarters is its proximity to the airport road.
L’ORIENT-LE JOUR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)
SCARLETT HADDAD, (FEBRUARY 5, 2013)
According to the chief of military intelligence, General Edmond Fadel, Khaled Hmayed, alias Abou Chahine Koutayba or Adam, is wanted for a long time. He participated in the kidnapping of Estonians and put away another activist fugitive from justice, Abdel Ghani Jawhar, who had attacked army bus in the North.
Khaled also participated in an attack on a "Fouhoud" checkpoint and used tp cooperate closely with the groups "Ziad Jarrah and Abdallah Azzam", close to Al-Qaeda organization. He also had connections in the camp of Ain al-Helweh and Jabhat al-Nosra in Syria. In short, he was a dangerous man, capable of mobilizing the masses in the interest of Fatah al-Islam, Jabhat al-Nosra and other groups allied to them.
In reality, Khaled Hmayed divides his time between Lebanon and Syria . And when he was in his native town Ersal he avoided using mobile phones not to be identified. The intelligence of the army, however, had managed to locate his home in the southern part of the town. A unit of ten soldiers divided into two Humvee was sent to arrest him. At this point in the story, General Fadel said that there were no members of Hezbollah with the soldiers.
FIDES (VATICAN MISSIONARY AGENCY, FEBRUARY 4, 2013)
In the province of Jazira, in the Sirian upper Mesopotamia, the exponential increase in kidnappings - side effect of the Syrian conflict - continues to flog the civilian population even in areas not affected by the fighting between rebels and government troops. The last person kidnapped is a Christian pharmacist last Sunday, and an extortion of a million Syrian pounds (almost 11 thousand euro) has been asked. "For the bandits of all species - refers to Fides Agency the Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy of Hassaké-Nisibis - this is a good time to make money." On Friday, dozens of Christians improvised a roadblock burning tires at an intersection in the city of Hassaké to protest against the kidnapping of the rector of the State University of Al-Furat, the Christian Jack Mardini, who was kidnapped in broad daylight by gunmen and released after two hours. In his case, behind the kidnapping there was not an extortion attempt, but issues related to the functioning of the University. A warning that now one resorts to criminal practice of kidnapping to resolve conflicts with the abuse of personal and social interest.
In recent weeks, in the city of Hassaké there were fifty kidnappings, and almost half against Christians. "Many of them are doctors, lawyers and professionals – stresses Mgr. Hindo - but now the poor are beginning to be kidnapped. " Nevertheless, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop denies that the practice of kidnapping has Christians as a privileged target: "In recent days - said Mgr. Hindo - some kidnapped Muslims tried to draw the kidnappers to a sense of pity, by talking about the pilgrimage made to Mecca. The bandits, in response, began to blaspheme the name of Allah and cursing the Prophet Mohammad, saying that their only interest is money."
New Orient News