Syrian refugee children work Beirut streets to support families

The Guardian reports: On a Friday night in Beirut, tiny figures weave in and out of the traffic between moving cars. They stand on tiptoes to peer through vehicle windows in an attempt to charm drivers out of a dollar or two.

The children are Syrian refugees, often the sole breadwinners for their families, working through the night selling flowers and shining shoes. They come from families stuck in limbo in Lebanon, and whose parents desperately want to go back to Syria.

A group of young boys between 11 and 19 seem to have marked their territory along the stretch of bars and restaurants between the Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael neighbourhoods in the north-eastern part of the Beirut.

One of them, Abdullah, smokes heavily but still sucks his thumb. He alternates between the two habits while tucking a plastic container of crumpled flowers under his arm. He says he is 13 but looks much younger as he recalls his first night selling flowers in Beirut, after fleeing his home in Aleppo with his family nearly five years ago. [Continue reading…]


Western superiority and Arab denial

Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel writes: Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.

This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing. [Continue reading…]


Palestinian refugees being sent by force back to Syria

Nina Strochlic writes: Ahmad is invisible. He uses a fake name, rarely ventures outside, and moves his family between apartments in Jordan’s capital of Amman frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice if he thinks his cover has been blown.

Ahmad is a refugee twice over. His family fled land that now belongs to Israel for refuge in Syria, where he grew up. Now, he’s hiding from his foster country’s civil war in Jordan. Meanwhile, residents of his former neighborhood in Damascus who couldn’t escape survive by eating grass.

Ahmad is one of the estimated 70,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria living undercover in Syria’s neighboring countries, all but one of which explicitly turn away Palestinians at the border. In Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, hundreds of people like Ahmad have been caught and deported back into Syria.

A mutual acquaintance took me to meet Ahmad on a Friday. The narrow streets of his neighborhood in eastern Amman were empty — I later learned our visit had been timed to coincide with Friday’s prayers, when a foreign visitor attracts less notice. We parked down the block and walked to his apartment, which was completely obscured behind a tall gate.

Tracking down this hidden demographic feels like making contact with a sleeper cell: phone calls come in from unknown numbers; fake names are used; middle men choose anonymous meeting spots. These people have everything to lose if they’re discovered, so they remain undercover, trusting their existence to only a few outsiders.

Palestinians refugees from Syria — known as PRS — are the shadow refugees of a four-year crisis with no end in sight. They are flat-out barred from entering any of Syria’s neighbors other than Turkey. If they do find a way in, they’re rejected by humanitarian organizations, banned from refugee camps, and face deportation back into Syria’s nightmare. [Continue reading…]


The Iranian project of regional expansion was from the start based on shaky ground

Basheer Nafi writes: In spite of mounting evidence that the Iranian influence was in decline, many concluded that the nuclear agreement would provide the Iranian expansionist project with what it needs to become an invincible power. So, where is the fault in the reading of the Iranian expansionist project, or in Tehran’s own assessment of its power?

This, first of all, is the Middle East, the post-World War I Middle East, where power equations do not last for long and where the underpinnings of power keep changing just like quick sand. It is true that the Iranian expansion coincided with American failings in the Middle East, followed by a relative American withdrawal, as well as a decline of the regional Egyptian and Saudi influence; but it has also coincided with an active Turkish return to the neighbouring Middle East.

Additionally, it is true that the fall of the Taliban and Saddam regimes was quite swift, but it is also true that the Iraqi resistance to the occupation did not wait long before emerging, and that the Taliban were soon to regroup and lead the resistance against the occupation and its allies in Kabul. The problem with the Iranian expansionist project, right from the start, was that it did not take into consideration the continuously changing nature of the map of power and influence in the region.

Secondly, the Iranians chose in most of their expansionist steps to stand by the minorities, whether political or sectarian, in the face of the majority, not only the majority in every single country but also the majority at the level of the region as a whole.

The peoples of the region were, for several decades, viewing Iran with admiration and sympathy, especially when Iranian policy was characterised with standing by the people and their aspirations. Yet, Iran was changing rapidly, where nationalistic and sectarian ambitions replaced the policies of pan-Islamic solidarity. Iran encouraged the emergence of a sectarian hegemonic regime in Iraq, and put its entire weight behind the continuation of the hegemony of a sectarian and political minority over Syria and its people.

It also supported the foolish Houthi plot to seize control of Yemen. Without a single exception, Iran’s regional policies were to generate civil wars and ethnic and sectarian cleansing, not to mention the tragic destruction of peoples and their resources. [Continue reading…]


Beirut’s youth tell the elite: You stink!

Joyce Karam writes: The absurdity of the scene in downtown Beirut yesterday is in portraying the protests to be just about the trash collection crisis, while in reality they are about everything else that led to the largest waste mismanagement scandal in Lebanon’s history.

Thousands are protesting and vowing to “topple the regime” not just because the garbage collection has run amok, but due to Lebanon’s political stagnation crippling the country in the last four years. Beirut is constantly in a crisis-mode, and right now Lebanon has had no President for over a year, its parliament has casually renewed its own term twice, and its government of “rivals” is excelling in shortsightedness, and promoting narrow interests at the expense of the public good. The country also has over a million Syrian refugee, and Hezbollah is fighting with more than 5000 members in Syria.

Self-infatuation and hubris are allover Lebanese politics. Parliamentarians and policymakers are frequently busy analyzing and commenting on larger global events while turning a blind eye to the day to day problems . Everyone is a nuclear expert when it comes to the Iran deal negotiations, or a counterterrorism one if it’s the rise of ISIS or the fate of the Syrian war, while rubbish consumes the capital, and traffic chaos is allover the country. Even Donald Trump is more likely to come up in a conversation than discussing a plan or a vision to explore Lebanon’s potential gas resources, traffic congestion or tackle the question of armed militias. Hezbollah’s weaponry is now forgotten while the presence of ISIS and Nusra in border towns is being accepted as a fait accompli. [Continue reading…]


Israel’s plan to depopulate southern Lebanon

IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reports: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has outlined a new strategy that will depopulate southern Lebanon if war breaks out with the Shia group Hizbullah, but this was likely to happen anyway without much Israeli encouragement.

A senior IDF source said on 3 June that the plan is to precipitate the evacuation of more than one million non-combatants from southern Lebanon if a full-scale conflict breaks out, thereby allowing the Israeli military to bring all its firepower to bear against Hizbullah without risking massive civilian casualties.

He said the evacuation policy would be implemented “if we have no choice” and added that the group has established rocket and missile launch bases in 240 south Lebanese villages and other built-up regions.

The source said the ensuing military operation would involve an unprecedented aerial campaign, which would hit thousands of targets every 24 hours, followed by a ground offensive. [Continue reading…]


‘We’ll die before they make us leave’: Lebanese Christians are ready to face ISIS on Syria’s border

Vice News reports: The distant thud of rockets can be heard in the Lebanese border town of Ras Baalbek. Local Christian residents here fear that the spread of militant Islamist groups, who are simultaneously fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebel groups in Syria, could eventually spill over into Lebanon.

Militant Sunni groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, have made impressive gains throughout the last year, often slaughtering minorities along the way — including Christians, Shia, Alawites, and others.

This fear has prompted locals in Ras Baalbek to start stockpiling weapons, and hundreds of them have launched an armed volunteer group to patrol at night. The Lebanese military has also significantly bulked up its presence here and in other border areas.

Khalil al-Arish, a resident of the village, brings 15 years of military knowhow to the volunteer patrol. Today, he is a member of the Resistance Brigades, a Hezbollah militia designed for non-Shia Lebanese who support the political organization’s efforts to defend Lebanon’s soil.

“We have between 600 and 700 members in the village who volunteer to work the patrol without financial compensation,” Arish told VICE News, adding that it includes members of Lebanese political parties from across the spectrum. “Each night, around 100 people go out on patrol.” [Continue reading…]


The death of Syrian intelligence chief Rustum Ghazaleh

Aron Lund writes: On April 24, the storied life of the head of Syria’s Political Security Directorate Rustum Ghazaleh seems to have come to an end. While the precise reasons and results of his demise are impossible to judge, this curious affair has been a rude shock to supporters of President Bashar al-Assad — and the mysteries of Ghazaleh’s death are sure to fuel speculation for years to come.

Rustum Ghazaleh was born in 1953 in Qarfa, a village north of the city of Daraa in the Houran region. This Sunni Arab tribal area was a stronghold of the Syrian Baath Party and the army when Ghazaleh came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, and Hourani officers and politicians were well-represented in the regime of former Syria president Hafez al-Assad. However, the region suffered from economic neglect from the 1990s onward, and relations with Damascus were further strained by Bashar al-Assad’s purges of several prominent old guard Baathists from Houran in the 2000s. In 2011, Daraa became the cradle of the Syrian uprising.

As a young man, Ghazaleh trained in armored warfare at the Homs Military Academy. Stationed in Lebanon during that country’s civil war as part of a Syrian expeditionary force that would eventually turn into an occupation army, he was transferred to military intelligence. After a brief spell under the powerful intelligence chief Ali Hammoud, he ended up under the patronage of Ghazi Kanaan, a military intelligence official who ran Lebanon from his headquarters in Anjar in the Bekaa Valley on behalf of Hafez al-Assad. By the 1990s, Ghazaleh had become a colonel and worked as Kanaan’s enforcer in Beirut, where he held court in the infamous Syrian intelligence headquarters at the Beau Rivage Hotel.

When Bashar al-Assad began to take over Syrian politics from his ailing father in the late 1990s, he stripped then vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam of the Lebanon file. In 2002, two years after becoming president, Bashar al-Assad recalled Kanaan to Damascus. This allowed Ghazaleh to step up to the top slot as head of military intelligence operations in Lebanon, which at the time was essentially Syria’s wealthiest and most politically volatile province—in other words, an enormously important job. Ghazaleh enjoyed strong support from the young president, who used him and other allies in the Syrian-Lebanese network that ran Beirut (as well as a considerable chunk of Syria’s economy) to edge out the old guard around Khaddam, Kanaan, and others. [Continue reading…]


Israel reportedly hits Hezbollah, Assad targets in Syria

The Times of Israel reports: Israel reportedly hit several targets belonging to Hezbollah and the Syrian army in a series of air attacks Saturday morning in the Kalamun area on the border between Syria and Lebanon.

According to a report in the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya, a first Israeli Air Force strike took place Wednesday, allegedly targeting two sites believed to have been Syrian army missile depots.

On Saturday, according to a report in al-Jazeera, the Syrian targets were divisions 155 and 65 of the Assad army, in charge of “strategic weapons.” Al-Arabiya reported that the targets were Scud missile depots housed in the military bases. [Continue reading…]


U.S. conducting military operations in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford reports: The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in support of Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) operations against Sunni militant groups dug into mountains along the country’s northeast border with Syria, several diplomatic and military sources have confirmed to IHS Jane’s.

Two Aerosonde Mk 4.7 UAVs are being flown out of the LAF’s Hamat Air Base on the coast, 45 km north of Beirut, the sources said.

The area of operational activity is in the northeast corner of the country, a region of arid mountainous terrain that spans the Lebanon-Syria border where militant groups such as the Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra are based.

“The LAF has been very aggressive in tasking Aerosonde [UAVs] to fly missions,” a diplomatic source told IHS Jane’s on condition of anonymity. [Continue reading…]


ISIS may soon declare Islamic emirate in Lebanon

Daily Star: ISIS is preparing military plans to declare an Islamic emirate in Lebanon very soon to serve as a geographical extension of the so-called “Islamic State” announced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq last year, security sources said.

ISIS fighters have demanded support from the militant group in northern Syria to achieve this goal, the sources said.

They added that the ISIS command has begun preparations to set up a military organizational committee tasked with running Lebanese affairs and considering Lebanon as part of its state.

However, ISIS is facing difficulties in choosing a Lebanese commander for this mission. The reported appointment of the fugitive preacher Ahmad al-Assir for this post was merely a trial balloon, the sources said.


Hezbollah’s sectarian loyalties outweigh its commitment to the Palestinian cause

The Associated Press reports: Hezbollah’s ambitions are spreading far beyond its Lebanon home as the militant Shiite movement appears increasingly bent on taking on Sunni foes across the Middle East. It has sent thousands of its fighters into Syria and senior military advisers to Iraq, helped Shiite rebels rise to power in Yemen and threatened Bahrain over its abuse of the Shiite majority.

But the regional aspirations also are taking a heavy toll and threatening to undermine Hezbollah’s support at home. The group has suffered significant casualties, there is talk of becoming overstretched, and judging by the events of recent days, even a vague sense that the appetite for fighting the Israelis is waning.

In the recent confrontation, Israel struck first, purportedly destroying a Hezbollah unit near the front line of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Among the seven dead on Jan. 18 were an Iranian general, a top Hezbollah commander and the son of another former commander in chief. A heavy Hezbollah retaliation appeared inevitable.

Yet when it came last Wednesday, Hezbollah’s revenge was relatively modest: two Israeli soldiers dead, seven wounded. The choice of location — a disputed piece of land excluded from a U.N. resolution that ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel — suggested to some that Hezbollah’s mind remains focused on more distant fronts. [Continue reading…]


After revelation about CIA-Mossad assassination, shadow war with Hezbollah may intensify

The Washington Post reports: The revelation that the CIA cooperated with Israel’s Mossad spy agency in the assassination of a top Hezbollah military commander in 2008 is poised to intensify a shadow war with the militant Lebanese group that could involve retaliation against U.S. interests around the world, analysts said.

In an exclusive story published online Friday night, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. intelligence agency coordinated with Mossad in carrying out a February 2008 car bombing in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed Imad Mughniyah.

The militant commander was implicated in killing hundreds of Americans in attacks that included the U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983 and assaults on American forces in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias, according to the Post’s report, which cited multiple former U.S. officials. The killing of Mughniyah, a key figure behind attacks on scores of Israelis, was approved by officials in the George W. Bush administration, according to the report.

The report said the operation required extensive planning and cooperation between the two agencies. One of official is quoted as saying that operatives detonated some 25 practice bombs at a CIA facility in North Carolina “to make sure we got it right,” killing Mughniyah while avoiding civilian causalities. The real bomb was triggered remotely in Tel Aviv by Mossad agents, according to the report, but CIA operatives in Damascus acted as spotters and could have called off the attack.

Samar Hajj, a Lebanese analyst who is close to Hezbollah, said the report reinforced the impression — true or not — among officials in the Iranian-backed group that covert Israeli operations are signed off in Washington. [Continue reading…]


Escalation would benefit neither Israel nor Hezbollah

The Daily Star reports: Within the space of a few hours, two Israeli soldiers were dead, and Wednesday had turned from just another weekday to the day that Lebanese started asking themselves: Are we about to see a repeat of 2006?

That year saw a full-on war with Israel develop following a deadly cross-border attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli patrol. The 2006 war, which ended up costing more than 1,000 lives and severely damaging infrastructure across the country, came after years of “tit-for-tat” incidents between the two sides as part of a carefully calibrated game for which both sides thought they knew the rules.

The name of the unit that attacked an Israeli convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms Wednesday, killing two and wounding seven others, was the Qunaitra Martyrs – a clear reference to the airstrike last week on a Hezbollah vehicle in Qunaitra, Syria.

That attack killed six party fighters, including the highly symbolic Jihad Mughniyeh – son of assassinated commander Imad – and a senior Iranian military figure. Everyone knew that Hezbollah would have to retaliate.

As a result, most have interpreted the Shebaa Farms incident as part of the contained mini-war between the two sides. But could Hezbollah have been looking for something more following such a bold and humiliating attack on its troops in Syria? Or could their response accidentally have paved the way for something bigger, as it did back in 2006, due to unpredictable internal Israeli factors?

“Never rule out war between these two antagonists,” said Bilal Saab, a senior fellow for Middle East security at the Atlantic Council. “But Hezbollah has already done what it wanted to do: a limited, deadly and precise attack.”

He pointed to the significance of Hezbollah’s decision to respond to the Qunaitra attack from the Shebaa Farms, a heavily disputed territory in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights that Lebanon claims as its own.

“The very choice of geography shows the organization does not want to escalate,” Saab said. “It’s cautious, the choice of Shebaa, it means we are back to the previous rules of engagement, which were stable until 2006, when everything broke down.”

“It didn’t attack inside Israel, or inside Syria in the Golan Heights. Hezbollah is not after major escalation, if it was, it could have done much, much more, and Israel understands this,” he added. [Continue reading…]

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Hezbollah’s “achievement” Wednesday was to shed the blood of Israeli soldiers. Even by Lebanese criteria, this is barely a tactical achievement. For Israel it is – and rightly so – hard to come to terms with the death and injury of its soldiers, but grief in itself does not justify a move that would cause tens and hundreds of deaths and injuries on the Israeli side if and when a third Lebanon war breaks out. This is a cold and cruel consideration – but someone has to do it.

Another consideration is the composition of the government and cabinet. After the dismissal of the Yesh Atid and Hatnua ministers, the security cabinet is purely rightwing; it is devoid of legitimacy and a balance that is vital to decisions on war and peace.

The final consideration concerns the upcoming elections. If the present government decides on a harsh response that would trigger a major escalation, it would almost immediately be accused of dragging Israel into a political war designed to serve the ends of Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. No rational arguments, strategic justifications and considerations of national pride would help Israel’s current political leadership. They would suffer a defeat at the polls.


Hezbollah ambush kills at least 2 Israeli soldiers

The Daily Star reports: Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy Wednesday in the occupied Shebaa Farms, in south Lebanon, killing at least two soldiers and wounding seven, in retaliation for Israel’s recent airstrike in the Golan Heights.

A U.N. Spanish peacekeeper was also killed in the heavy exchange of fire that followed the Hezbollah attack, as UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano urged “maximum restraint” from all parties to prevent escalation on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier.

Media reports had earlier said that four Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack.

A security source told The Daily Star that 30 shells were fired from the Israeli side across the Lebanese border following the 11:30 a.m. attack that struck a convoy, destroying at least two vehicles. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the attack destroyed 9 vehicles.

Hezbollah claimed the attack on the Israeli military convoy in a statement.

“At 11:25 [Wednesday morning] the Qunaitra Martyrs unit targeted with appropriate missile weapons an Israeli military convoy comprising several vehicles and [transporting] Zionist officers and soldiers causing the destruction of several vehicles and inflicting many casualties on the enemy,” the brief statement read.

According to Israeli media, a number of Israeli Army troops were being treated with “light-to-moderate wounds” at a hospital in Safed.

About two hours after the initial attack, Israeli warplanes carried out mock air raids over the scene of the attack as their soldiers lobbed shells into Shebaa Farms and the surrounding hills.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to make Hezbollah “pay” for the attack.

“Those behind the attack today will pay the full price,” Netanyahu said, after cutting a trip to Sderot short to visit the Defense Ministry for “consultations.” [Continue reading…]


Evidence points to continued existence of Syrian nuclear program

Der Spiegel reports: According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military, which turned out to be a necessary precaution. In the spring of 2013, the region around Qusayr saw heavy fighting. But the area surrounding the project in the mines was held, despite heavy losses suffered by elite Hezbollah units stationed there.

The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.

But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

The Hezbollah functionary mostly uses a codename for the facility: “Zamzam,” a word that almost all Muslims know. According to tradition, Zamzam is the well God created in the desert for Abraham’s wife and their son Ishmael. The well can be found in Mecca and is one of the sites visited by pilgrims making the Hajj. Those who don’t revere Zamzam are not considered to be true Muslims.

Work performed at the site by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is also mentioned in the intercepted conversations. The Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary organization under the direct control of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It controls a large part of the Iranian economy and also plays a significant role in Iran’s own nuclear activities. Not all of its missions abroad are cleared with the government of moderate President Hassan Rohani. The Revolutionary Guard is a state within a state.

Experts are also convinced that North Korea is involved in Zamzam as well. Already during the construction of the Kibar facility, Ibrahim Othman worked closely together with Chou Ji Bu, an engineer who built the nuclear reactor Yongbyon in North Korea.

Chou was long thought to have disappeared. Some thought that he had fallen victim to a purge back home. Now, though, Western intelligence experts believe that he went underground in Damascus. According to the theory, Othman never lost contact with his shady acquaintance. And experts believe that the new nuclear facility could never have been built without North Korean know-how. The workmanship exhibited by the fuel rods likewise hints at North Korean involvement.

What approach will now be taken to Zamzam? How will the West, Assad and Syria’s neighbors react to the revelations?

The discovery of the presumed nuclear facility will not likely be welcomed by any of the political actors. It is an embarrassment for everybody. [Continue reading…]


Lebanon detains wife of ISIS leader

Reuters reports: The Lebanese army detained a wife and daughter of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as they crossed from Syria nine days ago, security officials said on Tuesday, in a setback to the group as it comes under increased military pressure.

The woman was identified her as Saja al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi, by a senior Lebanese political source and security official.

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported she had been detained in coordination with “foreign intelligence”.

The arrest is a blow to Baghdadi and could be used as a bargaining chip against his group, which has captured many foreign, Iraqi and Syrian prisoners and declared a caliphate across territory it has seized in Syria and Iraq.

A senior Lebanese security official said Baghdadi’s wife had been travelling with one of their daughters, contradicting earlier reports that it was his son. DNA tests were conducted to verify it was Baghdadi’s child, the official said. [Continue reading…]


Probe into 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s Hariri to focus on Assad

The National reports: Prosecutors at a UN-backed tribunal have started presenting evidence that may point to Syrian complicity in the assassination of Lebanon’s top Sunni statesman.

The trial chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) decided this month to hear the testimony of more than a dozen political witnesses.

They include politicians, journalists and advisers close to Rafik Hariri who will speak about how relations broke down between the former premier and Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in the months before the assassination.

“Let us not be coy about it: the prosecutor now is putting his case on the basis of Syria being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri,” defence lawyer Iain Edwards told the court before the judges agreed to include the evidence. “Is Bashar Assad going to be formally named as a co-conspirator in the killing of Rafik Hariri? Rustom Ghazaleh? Are they going to be added to the indictment?” he asked, referring to Syria’s intelligence chief in Lebanon at the time of Hariri’s killing. “We are entitled to know.”

The tribunal is trying in absentia five members of Hizbollah accused of complicity in the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanon’s charismatic billionaire former prime minister.

The fresh focus on Syria comes after the investigation has for years stayed away from the involvement of Damascus in the attack that killed Hariri and 21 others. [Continue reading…]