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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

France: Hezbollah must disarm

France has aligned itself with the US and Israeli position that the Hezbollah terrorist organization, which has created a state within a state in southern Lebanon and is attempting to run the country, must disarm. Hezbollah, which lost hundreds of fighters in the Syrian civil war, is estimated to have 150,000 rockets in its arsenals in southern Lebanon.
In a daily briefing to journalists, a spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry said that "France's demands on Hezbollah are well known."
 
"In accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, we are waiting for Hezbollah to disarm and act as a party that respects the full sovereignty of the Lebanese state, and we believe that Lebanon's stability requires Hezbollah to distance itself from tensions in the region," the spokeswoman added.
 
She also said that the French government believes that "Hezbollah's involvement in the civil war in Syria is dangerous, and we note that security along the Blue Line on the Lebanon-Israel border is a top priority for us."
 
When asked what France is doing about this, she said: "At this sensitive stage, we are continuing the dialogue with all the Lebanese parties and encourage them to agree on the proper functioning of the state institutions, which is essential for the stability of Lebanon."

Lebanese President: Israel violating our sovereignty

Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday criticized Israel in an address to the nation on the eve of the country’s 74th Independence Day.
 
“Israel is squatting in the southern borders, and its history with Lebanon is full of hostilities and destructive wars," said Aoun, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
 
"Today, [Israel] is violating our sovereignty, in the air and the sea and on the ground, flouting the international resolutions and threatening us with new wars," he claimed.
Aoun stressed that Lebanon will not bow to any opinion, advice, or decision that pushes it towards internal strife.
 
This is not the first time the Lebanese president has threatened Israel. Earlier this month, he warned that if a war with Israel were to occur, all the citizens of his country are willing to battle Israel.
 
“All Lebanese are ready to resist. All the Lebanese are prepared to fight against Israel. Yes, we are a small country, but we have reestablished our national unity, and part of that is a united opposition to anyone who attacks our country,” said Aoun at the time.
 
In February, he warned that any Israeli attempt to violate Lebanon's sovereignty would be met with the "appropriate response".
 
Aoun’s remarks on Israel came as part of a general address on the crisis in Lebanon surrounding the recent resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
 
Hariri stepped down from his post in a televised address on November 4 from Saudi Arabia and then remained in Riyadh, where he spent two weeks before making brief trips to Abu Dhabi, Paris and Cairo. He returned to Beirut on Tuesday evening.
 
Aoun has yet to accept Hariri's resignation, insisting that he present it in person once back in the Lebanese capital.

Netanyahu and Putin discuss Syria ceasefire

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
The two discussed a recent ceasefire agreement in Syria between the U.S., Russia, and Jordan, which would leave Iranian-backed militias just three miles from the Israeli border.
 
The phone call lasted approximately 30 minutes, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Kremlin said that the phone call was held at Netanyahu’s initiative. In addition to the Syria ceasefire, the two also expressed a shared interest in expanding mutually beneficial cooperation, including contacts between special services, it said.
 
“I spoke this evening with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I reiterated our position and our firm opposition to Iran's military buildup in Syria,” Netanyahu tweeted later on Tuesday evening.
 
Netanyahu last week signaled that Israel would take military action in Syria when it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.
 
"I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria -- including in southern Syria -- according to our understanding and according to our security needs," Netanyahu told members of his Likud party last Monday.
 
"This is what is happening and this is what will continue to happen."
The phone call between Netanyahu and Putin followed a surprise visit by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Russia, where he met Putin in Sochi.
 
"Thanks to the Russian army, Syria has been saved as a state. Much has been done to stabilize the situation in Syria," Putin told Assad during that meeting, in comments released Tuesday and quoted by AFP.
 
"As for our joint work in the fight against terrorism in Syria, this military operation is coming to an end," he added.
 
Assad, for his part, said he wanted to advance negotiations for a political settlement with the Syrian opposition.
 
"We don't want to look back and we are ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement," Assad said in translated comments.
 
On Wednesday, Putin will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a trilateral summit which is expected to deal with the situation in Syria.

Saudis: ‘We Need Not to Concern Ourselves’ with Qatar

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister dismissed the Sunni kingdom’s dispute with Qatar as insignificant this week, saying it has bigger problems to address as the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) continues to implement dramatic reforms across the country.
Referring to threats Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir considers to be bigger challenges for the kingdom, he noted Iran’s growing strength and influence in the Middle East; war against terrorist organizations; the ongoing crisis neighboring Syria; Libya; Iran’s support for anti-Saudi Shiite Houthis in Yemen; and the ongoing implementation of historic reforms by MBS, reports Al Arabiya.
“We need not to concern ourselves with the Qatari subject,” emphasized Jubeir while speaking to Egyptian reporters on Sunday on the sidelines of the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, adding:
We only want the best for them, they must not interfere in the internal of countries or find platforms for people who justify suicide bombings. [They must not] host individuals involved in financing terrorists – and they continue to collect money and send it terrorists and [there shouldn’t be] terrorist elements operating in Qatar, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Considered the region’s most serious diplomatic crisis in years, the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt have severed their ties with Qatar over the country’s alleged support for terrorism, particularly Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran and jihadist groups linked to the Shiite Islamic Republic.
Qatar denies the allegations. READ MORE

Report: Iran-Backed Militias Persecuting Christians in Iraq

The Algemeiner reports: Iran-backed Shia paramilitary forces operating in northern Iraq have been accused by a Kurdish parliamentarian of engaging in “flagrant injustice” toward Christians in the region which until earlier this year was in the grip of ISIS terrorists.
Wahida Yaqo Hormuz — a Christian representative in the parliament of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) — said she had alerted the Vatican and international human rights groups to what she called the “Shia-ification” of the Nineveh Plains, where the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is located. Conquered by ISIS in 2014, Iraqi government forces retook the city in July.
“This is a flagrant injustice done to Christians,” Yaqo Hormuz said, commenting on reports that the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary, a coalition of armed Shia groups supported by Iran, was preventing the return of Christians who fled during the recent assault on KRG-controlled territories in northern Iraq.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Putin summons Assad to Sochi, takes charge of shaping post-war Syria

President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar Assad agreed in Sochi on Monday, Nov. 20, to start addressing Syria’s political situation now that the “terrorists” are defeated and the war is drawing to a close.

Putin insisted that diplomacy for a Syrian post-war settlement should go forward under UN aegis. Assad replied that he hoped for “Russia’s help in ensuring that the Syrians themselves lead the process, with help from outside, but not ‘interference.’”

 
The Syrian ruler would accept an external UN frame, but is clearly opposed to any outside attempts by the UN or anyone else to interfere in the country’s internal political dialogue or try to impose solutions on the parties.

That much is evident from the official accounts of the Sochi meeting. Its real content may be quite different. It stands to reason that Putin leaned hard on his guest to make sure that Assad toed the Moscow line.

 
The Russian president then announced he would be spending the next day in telephone consultations on Syria’s future with US President Donald Trump and a number of Middle East leaders. Word on what transpired at the Sochi interview and in those phone calls will most likely emerge in reports from Moscow and Damascus in the coming days.

Meanwhile, DEBKAfile’s Middle East and Russian sources fill in some of the context:
READ MORE

India cancels $500 million arms deal with Israel

The Indian government has announced it will not purchase nearly half a billion dollars in Israeli weapons, cancelling an arms deal reached last year.
 
India’s defense ministry had negotiated the purchase of anti-tank missile systems for infantry units from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems last year, settling on a price of $500 million.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Rafael would manufacture the Spike missile, a fourth-generation Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (MPATGM), together with India’s Kalyani Group at a factory outside of Hyderabad. The facility to be used for producing the missiles was opened in August.
 
According to The Indian Express, senior defense ministry sources said that the Israeli-Indian arms deal was scrapped for fear that reliance on imported weapons technology would reduce the prospects of India producing its own indigenous infantry-based anti-tank missile system. India has also turned down offers for similar missile systems from Raytheon-Lockheed Martin in the US.
 
One source told the Express that the ministry believes a comparable domestic equivalent can be produced within three to four years.
 
The ministry “is confident about providing the Army with an MPATGM of 3rd generation missile technology, at par with Spike, within three to four years. It won’t also need any transfer of technology.”
 
But Indian army officials have warned that the cancellation will setback procurement timetables for the Indian military, leaving it vulnerable in the interim.
 
The original tender for the missile purchase was issued in 2009, with testing conducted on the Israeli-built Spike missile system from 2011 to 2012, leading to initial agreement for the purchase in 2013, with full approval by the defense ministry in 2014.

UN envoy warns against 'devastating' conflict in Gaza

The UN envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, on Monday expressed support for the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, warning that conflict is likely to once again engulf Gaza if a deal on the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Hamas-controlled enclave fails.
 
Addressing the Security Council on the eve of talks in Cairo between Palestinian factions, Mladenov said, according to AFP, that the Egyptian-led "process must not be allowed to fail."
 
"If it does, it will most likely result in another devastating conflict," he warned.
"Whether it would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice, the result will be the same - devastation and suffering for all," said the UN envoy.
 
Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal last month, under which the Palestinian Authority (PA) is to resume full control of Hamas-controlled Gaza by December 1.
The PA has since assumed control of Gaza’s border crossings but there are still disagreements, particularly over the fate of Hamas's armed wing.
 
Leaders from 13 Palestinian Arab factions, including Hamas and Fatah, will meet Tuesday in Egypt to discuss how the PA can return to Gaza.
 
Over the weekend, the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza was reopened for three days, marking the first time it has opened since the PA took control of the crossing.
"Two million Palestinians in Gaza have high hopes that the government's return will improve their lives," Mladenov said Monday, according to AFP.
 
"After living in abject misery under Hamas control and locked in by the closures, their situation is close to exploding," he warned.
 
Israel has reacted coolly to the Hamas-Fatah deal, saying it will not negotiate with a government that includes Hamas if the group does not disarm and cut ties with Iran.
In his remarks Monday, Mladenov also expressed concern about a row between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over the PLO's office in Washington.
 
The State Department said on Saturday it would not renew the permission for the PLO office to operate in Washington unless the PA starts peace talks with Israel.
 
Addressing the dispute, Mladenov said, "Only through constructive dialogue can we hope to advance peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged."

LEBANON ARMY CHIEF ASKS TROOPS FOR READINESS AT ISRAEL BORDER

BEIRUT - Lebanon's army chief urged "full readiness" at the southern border to face the "threats of the Israeli enemy and its violations," the army said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Army Commander General Joseph Aoun called on soldiers to be ever vigilant for the "good implementation" of the UN resolution 1701 to "preserve stability" at the border with Israel.


The Lebanese army is responsible for security on its side of the border under the resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

His remarks came a day after Lebanese president Michel Aoun appeared to defend Hezbollah as necessary to resist Israel, after an Arab League statement accused the group of terrorism and noted it is part of Lebanon's coalition government.

"Israeli targeting still continues and it is the right of the Lebanese to resist it and foil its plans by all available means," the President's office quoted him as saying in a Tweet.

Saudi Arabia, a regional rival of Iran, opposes Hezbollah's role as a military force in Syria and has accused it of helping the Houthi group in Yemen and militants in Bahrain.

"It's nonsense," a senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters in response to Lebanon's army commander General Joseph Aoun urging "full readiness" at the southern border to face "threats of the Israeli enemy and its violations." READ MORE