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The masks fall: Israel and terrorists fighting in the same trench

By Pierre Khalaf

The masks have fallen in Syria. The Israeli army has directly entered the battle alongside terrorist groups after they had failed in the mission assigned to them by the alliance composed of NATO, the Gulf monarchies and Israel, under the leadership of United States.

Israeli aircraft bombed violently Sunday at dawn, several civilians and military objectives, leaving dozens dead. Russian TV Russia Today has reported 300 dead, including many soldiers in the attacks that targeted warehouses, military barracks and of the anti-air defense positions in the outskirts of Damascus. According to reliable information, nearly 40 aircrafts participated in the raids which constitute a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of an independent state.

Israeli raids took place after strategic defeat were inflicted to terrorist groups in the regions of Damascus and Homs. Their command and control structures, built the last 15 months with billion $ from the Gulf states and thousands of tons of weapons from warehouses of NATO, Libya and Croatia, collapsed within weeks. The hopes to overthrow the Syrian regime vanished.

Therefore, Israel had no choice but to jump straight into battle, using futile pretexts as the "need to prevent chemical weapons from falling into "unsafe hands", fighting against the supply of weapons to Hezbollah..." All these arguments have been advanced to justify Sunday aggression. But the real explanation lies elsewhere: for weeks, Israeli officials have multiplied statements, calling the West to take urgent action to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, especially since his army regained the military initiative.

Coordination between the Israelis and the terrorist groups is clearly manifested during the raids of Sunday. As soon as the Israeli planes had dropped their bombs and missiles, hundreds of terrorists tried to attack the army checkpoints to enter Damascus. They are, however, crushed by the Syrian army. The participation of the Syrian president to a public ceremony on Saturday, for the second time in three days, illustrates this strategic change on the ground. The Syrian leader was welcomed as a national hero at the University of Damascus by thousands of students, during the inauguration of a monument erected in the memory of dozens of students killed by terrorists in Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere.

Despite pressure from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, Barack Obama is not enthusiastic about launching a new war on behalf of Israel, when he just left the Iraqi swamp and is preparing to evacuate the Afghan quagmire. He clearly stated on Saturday in Costa Rica, that he does not plan to send U.S. ground troops to Syria if it were proved that the regime had used chemical weapons. "I could not imagine a scenario in which U.S. troops on Syrian soil would be good for the United States, and even good for Syria," said Obama. Polls show that Americans are mostly hostile to the intervention of the United States in Syria. 10% believe that Washington should intervene in the fighting. Sixty-one percent are opposed to any intervention. But Obama has given the green light to Tel Aviv mulling the eternal refrain of "Israel’s right to defend itself."

Given the gravity of the Israeli aggression, the Syrian political and military leadership held an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss how to respond, while Arab countries and their League kept a n dead silence. Only Iran responded by strongly condemning the Israeli aggression, saying that Syria "is not and will not be left alone to face the Israeli aggression."

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Moqdad, called the raids a "declaration of war", saying that Syria reserves the right to retaliate "at the right moment and the right place."

Despite the Israeli aid that came from the air, terrorists have continued to retreat on all fronts. South of Aleppo, regular troops took the village of Hreibil. In the province of Homs, they entered the southern neighborhoods of the city of Qoussair, last place where terrorists are still present after being driven from the whole region. According to initial reports, many terrorists of various nationalities were killed or arrested.

The West against the Christian of the East

By Ghaleb Kandil

The Christian consensus on a fair, equitable and representative election, contrary to the rules applied since the 1992, is a qualitative political change.

It became clear through the statements and actions of the ambassador of the United States, that America and the West, including France, to meet the Christian claim expressed by the Church Maronite, with the support of the main political forces under the auspices of Cardinal Bechara Rai. Washington’s commitment to 1960 electoral law is due to the fear of new balance of power in Lebanon that might emerged from the orthodox law or the introduction of proportional voting, to the detriment of Western influence. This influence, which was crystallized by haririsme, is today represented by the centrist block.

Americans link their view of the situation in Lebanon to the evolution of their war against Syria. Attempt to hit the resistance in Lebanon and the region is at the heart of the US-Zionist plan and their local auxiliaries. For two and a half years, the West, Israel and their instruments, expect dramatic developments on the battlefield in Syria, which would allow them to impose a new balance of power in Lebanon, paving the way for an Israeli invasion to liquidate the resistance. That’s why the United States and the West prefer, for the moment, to maintain existing equations, rather than adopting a new law giving Christians their rights and allowing patriotic currents within the Sunni and Druze communities to be better represented. Realities that emerge from a fair electoral law would impose new political realities that would create a national safety net around the resistance.

The current attitude of western countries vis-à-vis the Christians of Lebanon denies an illusion that prevailed for centuries that the West is the protector of Christians. It is clear that the new Western options are built on an alliance with the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, based on the protection of Israel and support for takfiris terrorist groups undermining the Syrian state. This plan is a threat for the Christian presence in the East, who have demonstrated their commitment to their land and national constants through leaders like Michel Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh, with the blessing of Patriarch Bechara Rai.

As well informed sources revealed, former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, proposed to Patriarch Rai a surprising solution to protect the Christians of the takfiri danger: to organize the their emigration to the West. Sarkozy was surprised by the attachment of Raï to his oriental roots and his rejection of the aggression against the only secular state in the Levant: Syria.


STATEMENTS

HASAN NASRALLAH, Hezbollah leader

«Syria as real friends in the region and the world that will not let Syria fall in the hands of America, Israel or Takfiri groups. They will not let this happen. How will this happen? Details will come later. I say this based on information...rather than wishful thinking. We tell you that you [rebels] are unable to topple the regime through military means. After two years and based on facts on the field ... you have no ability to do so. This is the case when you are now only fighting the Syrian army and the popular forces loyal to the [government]. Up to this moment there are no Iranian forces in Syria. What if dangerous developments occur, forcing states or resistance groups to step in the field in Syria? Whoever wants to save Syria feels sad for the daily bloodshed in Syria and does not want the Palestinian cause to be lost should push for dialogue and a political compromise. The Lebanese state could not fulfill its duty of defending Lebanese populations in Syrian border towns. We are helping Lebanese residents of a string of Syrian villages in rural al-Qusair in defending themselves against attacks by Syrian rebels. What can the [Lebanese] state do? Let us be objective, can it send the Army to Syrian border towns that are inhabited by Lebanese? the Lebanese state, given its nature and structure cannot do so. The most that the Lebanese state can do is to file a complaint to the Arab League. But the Arab League is arming, funding, inciting rebels and managing this battle. This is a moral and humane issue. We are not talking about Lebanese from a specific sect but about all Lebanese living in rural villages of al-Qusair. We clearly will not let the Lebanese in rural al-Qusair be subjected to attacks from armed groups and we will not hesitate to offer this help to whoever wants to stay in his village. In Lebanon over the past two years all those who could issue fatwas, stir incitement, send fighters and arms [to Syria], not only through Lebanese borders but also through Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, all that they could have done to Syria from Lebanon they have done. Blowing up or demolishing this the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab by Takfiri groups will have very dangerous repercussions, things will spin out of control. There are people who are dying as martyrs defending this spot. These fighters are preventing sectarian strife rather than opening the door for it. Do they want a ransom, money, or to release them in exchange for prisoners in Syria? If you want money, say it. Where do you want things to go? Demonstrations and sit-ins here and there could not solve the problem. The state’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and other states have led nowhere so far. Do you imagine that we can stand by idly seeing women and children moving from one street to another and allow this tragedy to continue? But I want to tell everybody that what is happening in Syria concerns all of us ... the Lebanese people, Muslims and Christians, the state and the government, all who have ties with Arab and foreign states should tell them: the war should stop in Syria

BARAK OBAMA, American president

«As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as commander in chief, because circumstances change. Having said that I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria would be good for America but would also be good for Syria. In terms of any additional steps we take, it’s going to be based number one on the facts on the ground, number two what’s in the interest of the American people and our national security. As president of the United States, I am going to make those decisions based on the best evidence and after careful consultation. Because when we rush into things, when we leap before we look, then not only do we pay a price, but we often also see unintended consequences on the ground. It’s important for us to do it right and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now

BISHARA RAI, Maronite patriarch of Antioch and all the Easl

«The Lebanese are people of peace and not of war. Lebanon is a small country but its message is largest in the world. The Lebanese are committed to coexistence and national unity. Crimes against humanity committed in Syria are intolerable. Enough war, murder and emigration in this country. The international community must release the two bishops who were held hostage»

WALID JUMBLATT, Lebanese druze leader

«Whatever support it receives from Iran, the oppressor cannot stay in power. The Iranians are just delaying the inevitable. Instead of supporting the oppressor, the Islamic Republic should rather support the weak and the Palestinian cause it claims to defend. It is very disappointing that Sayyed Nasrallah has chosen to support the regime and it is even more disappointing that his arms, which were directed against Israel, are now at the service of a dying regime.»

ADNANE MANSOUR, Lebanese Caretaker Foreign Minister

«Military operations which are being conducted by Israel, especially the flights over Lebanese territory, are a threat and an aggressive act… and Lebanon will file a complaint to the UNSC if the situation remains the same. The international community which keeps reminding us and telling us how keen it is on the UNSC Resolution 1701, should remind Israel and pressure it into respecting it, because Israel is the one violating it, not Lebanon.»


EVENTS

• An Afghan army soldier has killed two international service members. Earlier in the day, five US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, ending a bloody day for NATO-led troops in Afghanistan. "Two International Security Assistance Force service members were killed when an Afghan National Army soldier turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force troops in western Afghanistan today," the ISAF said in a statement. Details of the soldiers’ nationalities were not disclosed, but the ISAF reported that the shooting was under investigation. Earlier on Saturday, five soldiers with the US-led military coalition were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The attack came just days after the country’s president acknowledged his government received secret US funding. In a statement NATO confirmed the deaths from Saturday’s attack, but would not comment on the exact location where the bombing took place. Though NATO would not elaborate on the nationalities of those killed until families of the deceased had been notified, Kandahar police chief Abdul Razaiq told the news agency DPA that the "five soldiers killed in the bombing in Maiwand district were US citizens." US, British and Canadian soldiers make up the majority of NATO troops stationed in the region.

• Lebanon’s former Internal Security Forces Director General Ashraf Rifi warned of the possibility of security flare ups caused by the intensification of sectarian strife, the National News Agency reported. “I am afraid the Shiite-Sunni conflict will intensify due to Hezbollah’s participation in the military battle in Syria,” Rifi said after meeting with Future Movement officials in Australia on Saturday. He also described Hezbollah’s participation in Syria as a “major sin,” adding that “there are international guarantees that the situation in Lebanon will not explode.”

• The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that the director of an "unproductive" Lebanese security service asked one of the units under his department to collect information about the telecommunication network of the Resistance. Officers of this service were surprised by these orders, wondering if their commander was unaware of the 2008 events caused by this issue. They also asked themselves on behalf of whom these information are collected.


PRESS REVIEW

AS SAFIR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, MAY 1, 2013)

ELIE FERZLI

The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) General Michel Aoun, said that all the laws that have been presented until now where another facet of the 1960 Act. There is little doubt that this position is likely to bail out the 1960 law. Hezbollah and Amal consider until to now that the elections will not take place on the basis of the 1960 law. They even mourn repeatedly that text. However, they never said they would boycott the election it they were organized on the basis of the current law.

AN NAHAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)

ROSANNA BOU MOUNCEF (MAY 1, 2013)

President Michel Sleiman mentioned "positive elements" concerning the government formation process. According to him, "the need for a blocking group is no longer necessary since the declaration of Baabda and the dialogue table that examines the national defense strategy." The president reiterated his opposition to any extension of the Parliament term. If it were to take place, he announced his intention to appeal to the Constitutional Council for invalidating. He said that "extension of constitutional deadlines would undermine confidence in Lebanon and the Lebanese confidence in their country and, therefore, would undermine economic stability." Sleiman however, is not opposed to an extension of the Parliament mandate "for technical reasons," provided that it is limited and used to elaborate a new electoral law. The Head of State reiterated its opposition to the Orthodox electoral draft. He said would fight the law "that encourages extremism in communities", by promoting candidates throughout the Lebanese territory.

AL AKHBAR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO THE RESISTANCE, MAY 3, 2013)

AFIF DIAB, RAMEH HAMIEH

At long last, Hussein al-Hujairi has been apprehended. The alleged mastermind of the March 2011 kidnapping of seven Estonian tourists was arrested by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), in the hills near the village of Ras Baalbek. After long eluding the authorities, Hujairi surrendered without firing a single shot.

After a two-year pursuit, Hussein al-Hujairi, also known as Hussein al-Hallaq (the Barber), has finally been captured. The man is believed to have launched the recent wave of kidnappings for ransom that began with the abduction of the Estonian cyclists in the Bekaa. The 30-year-old Hujairi, who hails from the Bekaa Valley town of Ersal, is the only participant in the Estonians’ kidnapping that hasn’t been arrested or killed.

Several days ago, a unit from the ISF Information Branch arrested Hujairi after luring him from the Syrian village of Flita with the help of people from Ersal. The security services had earlier been alerted to Hujairi’s movements in and out of Lebanon through the mountainous areas surrounding his hometown.

A security official told Al-Akhbar that the sting took place in “complete secrecy” from the very outset, as Hujairi is known to be “extremely cautious and dangerous.”

Indeed, all previous attempts to trap him had failed. In September 2011, an Information Branch unit engaged Hujairi in Ersal. He was wounded in the ensuing firefight, but managed to escape.

According to preliminary investigations, Hujairi is believed to have ordered the kidnapping of the Estonian cyclists at the behest of an al-Qaeda commander in the radical group’s Iraqi wing. The investigations also indicate that Hujairi may be the person responsible for the kidnapping of Hussein Kamel Jaafar near Ersal.

Jaafar was taken across the border to Flita and held for more than 20 days. His abduction provoked tension and a series of tit-for-tat kidnappings in the Northern Bekaa between Jaafar’s clan and Ersal’s residents.

An ISF statement said that Hujairi is also responsible for abducting three BBC reporters a few months ago and stealing their passports, which he returned for a large sum of money.

According to his friends and acquaintances in his hometown of Ersal, Hujairi is not a simple man. Born in 1983 to a father from Ersal and a mother from Baalbek, he spent his childhood in Baalbeck, where he was influenced by Hezbollah. Hujairi is married to one of his relatives from Ersal and has two children, a 3-year-old boy and 18-month-old girl.

Later on, he would return to Ersal where he opened a barbershop. Two and a half years later, Hujairi decided to work in the quarries in his hometown until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The Barber” and other young men from the town subsequently went to Baghdad, where they took part in battles against the US army near the capital’s international airport. Hujairi returned to Ersal after the fall of Baghdad, where his friend Ismail Hujairi was killed. Ismail’s death left Hussein with a deep scar.

Upon his return from Iraq, Hujairi became a “freedom fighting” symbol in Ersal, earning the respect of his peers. He was no longer the simple young man whom the townspeople once knew.

Soon, however, his friends in the town discovered that the man who fought the US occupation of Iraq, despite his young age and political illiteracy, was someone with a vivid imagination who possessed dreams bigger than Ersal.

Many people were put off by Hujairi’s recklessness and would keep their distance. Some would accuse him of being capricious, acting only according to his whim and fancy. That is, until the Estonian tourists were kidnapped, and people started taking Hujairi more seriously.

Initially, Hujairi was not a religious and observant Muslim. He was also known to enjoy folk dance (Hanjala) in the presence of alcohol, which is shunned by Islam.

Hujairi was incarcerated in Roumieh in 2008 after being charged with membership in an armed gang. During his nearly two-year sentence, he met and befriended Islamist prisoners who facilitated his radicalization. When he left prison, as one of his friends told Al-Akhbar, he emerged as a “quasi-cleric.”

Hujairi’s friend said that his experience in prison changed his life on many levels. After Roumieh, he returned to Ersal, and resumed his job as truck driver until the abduction of the seven Estonians. After his run-in with the Information Branch, Hujairi suffered severe injuries and was taken for treatment in Syria before disappearing there.

After the Estonian hostages were freed, there were signs that Hujairi had suddenly come into money. He finished building his house and bought a new truck, right before becoming a fugitive.

Hujairi is now behind bars once again. His arrest was welcome news for the residents of Ersal, as many saw this as the end of the town’s recent spate of bitter troubles with the government. Ultimately, Hujairi was not a hero in the eyes of his peers, and had become the object of their scorn.

AL AKHBAR (MAY 2, 2013)

YAHYA DBOUK

On Tuesday, April 30, the Israeli army launched a major drill in the north, simulating a massive military confrontation with Hezbollah. According to a high-level military source, the exercise is taking place to test the army’s ability to respond in a timely manner to any escalation from the Lebanese side.

The drill was widely publicized in Israeli media, all while stressing that the exercise was not planned in advance. According to Ynet, the English-language website of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon and the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had not been informed of the surprise drill.

The military correspondent for Israel’s Channel Ten reported that 2,000 reservists were called up to take part in the exercise, which is set to continue until Thursday.

The correspondent said that Israel has not seen a drill of this scale in years, and reckoned that it was staged in light of the sharp tensions along the northern borders, with both Syria and Hezbollah.

The war games sparked rumors in Israel about a possible military strike against Syrian chemical weapons facilities. This prompted the Israeli army to reach out to military correspondents, and told them that though sudden, the exercise was still part of its annual training program.

A high-ranking officer in Israel’s Northern Command told reporters on Tuesday that the drill is meant to simulate a rapid escalation in the field, where forces have to mobilize and deploy within 48 hours. He said the scenario being simulated involved sudden security deterioration on the Lebanese front, which would later on require a ground-based incursion into Lebanon.

In response to a question about possible links between the sudden exercise and the downing of a drone off the coast of Haifa, the officer said that Israel must prepare for all scenarios, including deploying quickly to the Syrian front.

IsraelDefense.com, an Israeli website dedicated to military and intelligence issues, reported that Israeli infantry units specialized in guerrilla warfare will soon undergo exercises simulating combat in complex battlefields, including urban areas and fortified buildings.

Another senior officer in the Operations Division in the Israeli army claimed that Hezbollah has built tunnels and fortifications beneath villages in Lebanon. The officer said that such threats have grown dramatically in recent years, and that there is a huge difference between the underground structures Israel encountered in the July 2006 War and those that exist today.

Meanwhile, sources in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized remarks by former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who alleged that chemical weapons had already made their way into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

According to the Army Radio, the office of Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon refused to comment on Ben-Eliezer’s statements. If the former minister’s claims are correct, the radio asked, has Hezbollah crossed a red line? And will Tel Aviv have to make a tough decision and take action?

AD DIYAR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO MARCH-8 COALITION, MAY 3, 2013)

The information transmitted to the Speaker Nabih Berry, warning him against an assassination plan, came from French intelligence services. These services have arrested in France a Tunisian extremist who travelled to Beirut several times. He confessed to work with a group based in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilwe refugees camp, preparing plans to assassinate Berry on the road to the South during one of his travels between his home in Ain el-Tine in Beirut and Msayleh. The French would not give details of the parties involved in this plot. But some sources suggest that Israel is working to hit the moderate Shiites in Lebanon, particularly given the role played by Berry.

THE GUARDIAN (BRITISH DAILY, MAY 1, 2013)

IAN BLACK

It is one of the enduring features of the Syrian crisis that Bachar al-Assad has proved far more resilient than many imagined. Journalists and commentators have spent the past two years negotiating a landscape strewn with propaganda, illusions and substantial doses of wishful thinking, finally to grasp that he has real staying power.

The president still has loyal, powerful allies, as Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, made cleat on Tuesday. He pledged, would stand by its fellow stalwart of the "axis of resistance". Russia and Iran – "real friends" – would not let Assad fall.

Syria illustrates a sort of Middle Eastern Murphy’s law – anything that can make things worse invariably happens: massacres, refugees fleeing to Jordan, tensions in Lebanon and Iraq, the use of chemical weapons, the risk of conflict with Israel. Most days see scores or more dead so that a revision of the UN’s estimate of 70000 fatalities seems long overdue. Diplomacy is non-existent. No one believes in a negotiated solution. Syria is being destroyed.

It would be wrong to describe the mood in Damascus as upbeat – it is a tense and frightened city that resounds constantly to the noise of war. But there is a sense in Syrian government circles that their arguments are starting to hit home.

Assad insisted from the start that he faced not a popular uprising for democracy and freedom – the template of the early days of the Arab spring – but "armed terrorist gangs" financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and supposedly allied with the US, Turkey and Israel.

Like all successful propaganda, some parts of this pitch were true, others blatantly false. Arab enmity is real enough. But the Islamist character of the uprising has been exaggerated. The US has done little more than co-ordinate arms deliveries by the Gulf states – with Barack Obama stamping on more proactive proposals by the CIA and Pentagon.

The fact that Syria’s fractured opposition is so scathing about Washington has barely dented the grand conspiracy theory. Israel preferred the devil it knew in Damascus – and a Golan front that had been peaceful for 40 years – to the uncertainties of post-Assad chaos. Weapons supplied to Hezbollah by Iran are far superior to anything yet given to the Syrian rebels.

Now Assad says that the enemy is al-Qaida and that Syria and the west should be on the same side. There is certainly alarm as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) loses ground to the jihadi Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus the vetting of FSA men being trained in Jordan to fight on a new "southern front" centred on Daraa. But Jordan frets too about Syrian threats and the risk of blowback.

Following the flurry over chemical weapons, leaving the impression that US "red lines" can be surprisingly flexible, the latest signal from Washington is that Obama is considering "lethal" aid to the rebels if Russia fails to change tack and pressure Assad. Opposition expectations of the US, however, remain low.

Foreign friends apart, regime resilience is still part of the big picture. Military gains have been made in counter-attacks near Idlib and Damascus and rebel supply lines hit hard. Academic Thomas Pierret emphasizes the "kin-based/sectarian character of the military" and the absence, still, of significant defections from the Alawite hard core of the army and security forces.

Syrians point out that the Assad family prepared for this crisis for decades, internally and externally. The president and his men talk of fighting to save the country and of elections in May 2014: that’s another fearful year away with little prospect of immediate change and a reasonable expectation of still worse yet to come.

RIA NOVOSTI (RUSSIAN PRESS AGENCY, MAY 4, 2013)

Iran will soon put into service a new mine-sweeping system in the Persian Gulf, Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said on Saturday, the Fars news agency reported. The admiral’s remarks come shortly after the United States announced plans to conduct allied mine sweeping exercises in the region. "As Americans have declared, they plan to carry out joint mine sweeping drills with some 30 countries,” he said, adding that those measures were part of their “Iranophobia”.

"This week we will bring into operation a mine-sweeping system that we are now working on so that if trans-regional enemies make a [hostile] move in the region we would be able to sweep the seabed," the Navy commander was quoted by Fars as saying.

Last month, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said Tehran is ready to share its mine-sweeping expertise with other countries in conducting mine-sweeping operations following “the excessive use of mines and cluster bombs by Saddam’s military forces” during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Source
New Orient News