News Round Up (15 February 2010)

France intends to sell Syria ATR-72 planes for short flights –

After French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to persuade the Americans to accept the sale to Syria of Airbuses, which include some US-made parts……. the ATR-72 sale does not need US approval. Sarkozy will seal the deal in his upcoming visit to Damascus, scheduled for next week. “friday-lunch-club”

Syria approves US ambassador

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government has approved a request by the United States to re-appoint an ambassador in Damascus after a five year break, a pro-government Syrian newspaper said on Thursday.

‘A disaster! Right in New York!’
by Max Blumenthal on February 11, 2010 · at Mondoweiss

On February 9, Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate on the resolution: “The US should step back from its special relationship with Israel.” Debating in favor of the resolution were Roger Cohen and Rashid Khalidi; against it were former US Ambassador to the European Union Stuart Eizenstat and former Israeli Ambassador to the US and ex Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich. I was among the overflow crowd of several hundred people that packed New York University’s student union for the event…..

Tens of thousands of Lebanese rallied in Beirut Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. He and 22 other people were killed in a truck bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.  …

Daily Star

Mariam Makfout, 20, said she had come to Downtown Beirut with her friends from Tripoli to show her support for freedom of speech in Lebanon.

“We are here to note that we are against killing in this way,” she said, in reference to the former premier’s assassination. “[Hariri] wanted prosperity for Lebanon and elected leaders.  “We want freedom of speech and it is not acceptable to kill someone because of what they wrote in a newspaper or if they said something in a certain way.”

As the political addresses continued, partisans of Premier Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces leader head Geagea waited for their respective leaders to speak. “It is not really a cocktail of Lebanese society here; it is mostly the Sunni community with a little bit of March 14,” said a 54-year-old taxi driver from Beirut, who gave his name as Khaled T. “But Rafik Hariri has managed to unite Lebanon, or at least he got people to agree not to disagree. Now Saad [Hariri] is following in his father’s footsteps, but needs a Ferrari to catch up.”

As midday came around, the sea of flags continued to swell. Toddlers with painted faces, packs of teenagers with flag bandanas and elderly men and women brandishing placards – everyone on Martyrs Square Sunday displayed their political affiliation with pride.

“We need to tell everyone that we want to be free. No matter how much others pressure or threaten us, we are going to come [to Martyrs Square] every year because we want to be free,” said Fadi Mohammad, 22.  “This is a day for all of Lebanon. Politicians did not make [March 14], the people did. This movement is unique in Lebanon, it is made up of people who want to be free and that is the most important thing.”

Some used the day as an opportunity to protest a range of issues, including Hizbullah’s continued possession of arms.

Despite the perfect weather, Sunday’s crowd was noticeably smaller in size compared with previous February 14 rallies. “I think it’s normal that there are less people than the years before,” said a 29-year-old Beiruti who declined to be identified. “Every year it is a little less exciting. It is also a sign the situation in Lebanon is getting better. I hope it stays that way.”

Jerusalem Post: Olmert: ‘I was very close to meeting Syrian foreign minister’

At a speech given at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said that during his premiership he was “a matter of hours” from meeting Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem. According to Olmert, the meeting was canceled following the decision to implement Operation Cast Lead. Also during his speech, the former prime minister addressed Turkey’s role as mediator in negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus, saying that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted himself in a fair, and responsible manner.

“Who is This Angry Arab?” Or so asks Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jailer of Palestinians

Goldberg asked this question on his blog yesterday, but I don’t have to ask who this Jeffrey Goldberg is. I mean, this is a man who relocated to Israel to serve in its occupation army and to serve as a jailer of the Palestinians–the natives to the land. This American took it upon himself to go and live in Israel to lock Palestinians up, in their own land, in their own homeland. But this is a man who is so hostile to the truth, that he can’t even quote anything accurately, not even something I wrote only the other day. Look how he summarizes my points: he claims that I said that he is the worst Middle East reporter. I never said such a thing. I said that he is the worst writer on the Middle East. The difference is rather huge. In fact, a writer is a title that Goldberg does not even deserve: he is a babbler and propagandist, whose own trail of babble is the best refutation of his own work. Reporter? And what qualifies you to write on the Middle East, anyway? You consider your training in the Israeli occupation army, and your stint as a jailer in a prison where human rights violations were commonplace, as qualification to write about the Middle East? That made you a Middle East expert when you have not underwent any serious academic study of the Middle East? Or did you study the Middle East when you were part of an Israeli occupation prison where Palestinians were tortured? And notice that when I stated my goal as the “liberation of Palestine”, he changed it into wanting that “Israel be destroyed.” This is a typical ploy by Zionist propagandists in the US. But let me tell you something, O Israeli jailer–your real and only title. I am not one of those Arabs in the US who can be intimidated into a defensive stance: I am not one to protest and say: oh, no. I recognize the state of Israel. Oh, no: I want two states side by side, because I don’t. I don’t recognize Israel and will never recognize it. I am one of those Arabs who still believe in the 3 No’s of Khartum, and still believe in the first charter of the PLO, and not the Zionist amended version of the charter. I want one state only, where Zionism does not exist. Only then, can Jews, Muslims, and Christians and atheists live together in peace. ….. [He goes on. Worth the read]

Flynt and Hillary Leverett, who have been offering important analysis on Iran, are also being attacked scurrilously by Jeff Goldberg, with an assist by Lee Smith. Read their good reply here. They are on their way to Beirut, Damascus and Tehran soon, which has the neocons in a lather. If anyone has missed

Clinton Pushes Saudis to Pay for Getting China on Board Iranian Sanctions
Laura Rosen, Politico via FLC

“…. What’s on Clinton’s Saudi agenda? Getting Saudi leaders to offer the Chinese energy supply guarantees in exchange for Beijing’s nod for Iran sanctions, AFP’s Lachlan Carmichael posits:

Clinton’s aides neither confirmed nor denied suggestions that they would ask Saudi leaders to offer China, which imports much of its oil from Iran, supply guarantees in return for Beijing’s support for new UN sanctions.
“Saudi Arabia has an important trading relationship with China already,” Jeffrey Feltman, Clinton’s top assistant for the Middle East, told reporters en route to Doha, via Shannon, Ireland.
Feltman noted that there have been a number of recent visits between the Gulf and China.

“We would expect them (the Saudis) to use these visits, to use their relationship in ways that can help increase the pressure that Iran feels,” said Feltman …

State’s Bill Burns heading to Syria, Lebanon
Laura Rosen, Politico

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns is heading to Lebanon and Syria, amid growing tensions between Israel and Lebanon and the U.S. considering returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
A former senior U.S. official aware of the trip described its purpose as “Iran, what else?” Among other issues, that includes U.S. pressure on Syria to stop supplying Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Officials aware of Burns’ travel didn’t discuss his agenda, and his exact itinerary is unclear.

But the visit of the top career U.S. diplomat comes as Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said Israeli planes are crossing daily into Lebanon and described the threat of another Israeli-Lebanese war as escalating. “We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out,” Hariri said in an interview with the BBC …..”I think they’re (Israelis) betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us,” Hariri said. “There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel. We will stand with our own people.”

Washington is also considering returning a U.S. ambassador to Syria. … But the White House has not yet announced the Damascus ambassador nominee. One reason is the White House seeks to use such an announcement and the stepped up diplomatic engagement with Syria it would represent as a way to further signal Iran of its diplomatic isolation.

If Resistance Is Attacked, Iran Will Target American Interests: Article in Syrian Gov’t Daily: translated by MEMRI

Syria Must Be A Top Priority

By Prof Alon Ben Meir
Recently Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman caused yet another blunder for Israel’s foreign image in a series of hawkish comments and threats toward Syria. Following the diplomatic breech with Turkey by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israel has allowed its foreign policy to be poorly misrepresented by ideologues that differ greatly from the majority of Israelis who want peace. As the US finally announced that it is reinstating an ambassador to Syria, Israel needs to consider some gestures to ease the negative attention it has received and start looking to the North to resolve its own disputes with Syria.

…… Israel must seize the opportunity to enter into negotiations with Syria not only because it can now negotiate from strength but also because of the collective Arab will to make peace as enunciated time and again by the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel cannot make the claim that it seeks peace but then fail to seize the opportunity when one is presented. President Bashar al-Assad, like his father, has prioritized peace with Israel as a strategic option. He has expressed time and again his desire to conclude a deal in exchange for the Golan Heights and a healthy relationship with the US. Israel must make a choice. It cannot continue trying to justify the occupation in the name of security when the whole Arab world is extending its hand to achieve a genuine peace. Israel must choose between territory and real security; as long as Syria has territorial claims against Israel, Israel will never be secure on its northern borders. If Syria offers peace, normalization of relations, and meets Israel’s legitimate security concerns and Israel still refuses, the Golan will become a national liability rather than national security asset….

Hard Mideast Truths
By ROGER COHEN, Op-Ed Columnist
NYTimes, February 11, 2010

NEW YORK — For over a century now, Zionism and Arab nationalism have failed to find an accommodation in the Holy Land. Both movements attempted to fill the space left by collapsed empire, and it has been left to the quasi-empire, the United States, to try to coax them to peaceful coexistence. The attempt has failed.

President Barack Obama came to office more than a year ago promising new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. But nice speeches have given way to sullen stalemate. I am told Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have a zero-chemistry relationship.

Domestic U.S. politics constrain innovative thought — even open debate — on the process without end that is the peace search. As Aaron David Miller, who long labored in the trenches of that process, once observed, the United States ends up as “Israel’s lawyer” rather than an honest broker. The upside for an American congressman in speaking out for Palestine is nonexistent.

I don’t see these constraints shifting much, but the need for Obama to honor his election promise grows. The conflict gnaws at U.S. security, eats away at whatever remote possibility of a two-state solution is left, clouds Israel’s future, scatters Palestinians and devours every attempt to bridge the West and Islam.

Here’s what I believe. Centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust created a moral imperative for a Jewish homeland, Israel, and demand of America that it safeguard that nation in the breach.

But past persecution of the Jews cannot be a license to subjugate another people, the Palestinians. Nor can the solemn U.S. promise to stand by Israel be a blank check to the Jewish state when its policies undermine stated American aims.

One such Israeli policy is the relentless settlement of the West Bank. Two decades ago, James Baker, then secretary of state, declared, “Forswear annexation; stop settlement activity.” Fast-forward 20 years to Barack Obama in Cairo: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” In the interim the number of settlers almost quadrupled from about 78,000 in 1990 to around 300,000 last year.

Since Obama spoke, Netanyahu, while promising an almost-freeze, has been planting saplings in settlements and declaring them part of Israel for “eternity.” In a normal relationship between allies — of the kind I think America and Israel should have — there would be consequences for such defiance. In the special relationship between the United States and Israel there are none.

The U.S. objective is a two-state peace. But day by day, square meter by square meter, the physical space for the second state, Palestine, is disappearing. Can the Gaza sardine can and fractured labyrinth of the West Bank now be seen as anything but a grotesque caricature of a putative state? America has allowed this self-defeating process to advance to near irreversibility.

In fact, it has helped fund it. The settlements are expensive, as is the security fence (hated “separation wall” to the Palestinians) that is itself an annexation mechanism. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, U.S. aid to Israel totaled $28.9 billion over the past decade, a sum that dwarfs aid to any other nation and amounts to four times the total gross domestic product of Haiti.

It makes sense for America to assure Israel’s security. It does not make sense for America to bankroll Israeli policies that undermine U.S. strategic objectives.

This, too, I believe: Through violence, anti-Semitic incitation, and annihilationist threats, Palestinian factions have contributed mightily to the absence of peace and made it harder for America to adopt the balance required. But the impressive recent work of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank shows that Palestinian responsibility is no oxymoron and demands of Israel a response less abject than creeping annexation.

And this: the “existential threat” to Israel is overplayed. It is no feeble David facing an Arab (or Arab-Persian) Goliath. Armed with a formidable nuclear deterrent, Israel is by far the strongest state in the region. Room exists for America to step back and apply pressure without compromising Israeli security.

And this: Obama needs to work harder on overcoming Palestinian division, a prerequisite for peace, rather than playing the no-credible-interlocutor Israeli game. The Hamas charter is vile. But the breakthrough Oslo accords were negotiated in 1993, three years before the Palestine Liberation Organization revoked the annihilationist clauses in its charter. When Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, that destroy-Israel charter was intact. Things change through negotiation, not otherwise. If there are Taliban elements worth engaging, are there really no such elements in the broad movements that are Hamas and Hezbollah?

If there are not two states there will be one state between the river and the sea and very soon there will be more Palestinian Arabs in it than Jews. What then will become of the Zionist dream?

It’s time for Obama to ask such tough questions in public and demand of Israel that it work in practice to share the land rather than divide and rule it.

ISRAEL: Double talk to Syria, and tax benefits to Golan
February 11, 2010 | 12:57 pm

A previous post here discussed the recent exchange of threats between Israel and Syria and the chances of regional war. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that attacking Israel would cost him his regime. Although there is speculation that Lieberman’s words were really aimed at officials in the political system who support talks with Syria, this didn’t help. It also enraged the political system. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a reassuring statement — and orders that ministers stay off the topic.
Good advice. Next thing you know, Israel’s pushing legislation for tax benefits to some 30 Israeli communities in the Golan Heights. Most Israelis do not view the Golan as occupied territory or even controversial. Israel annexed the land in 1981, captured from Syria in 1967. The move was not internationally recognized.

Does this reassure Syria? Hardly. This is proof that Israel does not want peace, Syrian officials said Wednesday. But it does reassure Israelis opposed to a peace treaty with Syria that would cost Israel the Golan. Lawmaker Carmel Shama of the Likud Party, who chairs the parliament’s Golan lobby, said the bill makes a clear statement about the future of the Golan. He also said the vote heralds the disintegration of the main opposition party, Kadima.

ANALYSIS-Syria again holds upper hand in Lebanon10 Feb 2010, Reuters
By Alistair Lyon
* Syria regains strength in Lebanon, without troop presence
* Hezbollah key ally for Syria after Hariri assassination
* Saudi, Western rapprochement with Syria sealed new reality

BEIRUT, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Slowly but surely, Syria has regained influence in Lebanon, but wields it more diplomatically than in the era before the slaying of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri five years ago led to a humiliating Syrian troop exit.

A Lebanese, Arab and Western outcry over the Sunni Muslim leader’s assassination on Feb. 14, 2005 forced Syria to relax its grip on its weaker neighbour. But it kept powerful friends there, notably the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement.

Just as Syria has rebuilt its sway in Lebanon, with a green light from Hariri’s regional ally Saudi Arabia, it has recovered its standing abroad, shrugging off Western efforts to isolate it and developing strong new ties with Turkey, a former enemy. Even the United States, which had led efforts to ostracise Syria, is about to send an ambassador to Damascus for the first time since withdrawing its envoy after Hariri’s death.

Yet the days when a Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon gave peremptory orders to local politicians are over for now. “There was not even the pretence of diplomacy and dignity,” recalled Karim Makdisi, who teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut, referring to Syrian behaviour in the years after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

“It’s not so much that Lebanon is now a sovereign country,” he said, but a more normal relationship had been restored. Symbols of this change abound. Syria and Lebanon have opened embassies in each other’s capitals for the first time — Damascus had been ambivalent about Lebanon’s independence since the 1940s.

Even more striking was a visit to Damascus in December by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who had previously said Syria was behind his father’s assassination and several later killings of Lebanese foes of Syrian influence. Despite the bad blood, his talks with President Bashar al-Assad were apparently cordial.

The younger Hariri became prime minister after his Western- and Saudi-backed coalition narrowly won a June election against Hezbollah and other Syrian allies. But he heads a national unity government in which the minority enjoys significant power.


Lebanese politicians who had hoped the United States, France and Saudi Arabia would block any Syrian interference after the last Syrian troops left in April 2005 have trimmed their sails. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, once one of Syria’s fieriest critics, left the Hariri-led coalition last year to take a more centrist stance — and is expected to visit Damascus soon.

For Marwan Hamadeh, a Jumblatt aide who survived an attempt on his life in October 2004, the new relationship with Syria stops short of genuine reconciliation and cannot obstruct an international tribunal formed to prosecute Hariri’s killers. “I wouldn’t say the Syrians are back,” he told Reuters. “In political and intelligence terms they never left. Syria’s overt hegemony has faded, but finds a subtler form via the veto power its allies hold in the Beirut cabinet. That effective veto was enshrined in a Lebanese political deal struck in Qatar after pro-Hezbollah fighters briefly seized much of Beirut in May 2008 in a decisive show of force.

Saudi Arabia then buried its quarrel with Syria, hoping to stabilise Lebanon, calm regional Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, restore a semblance of Arab harmony and loosen Syria’s bonds with Iran. Most Lebanese politicians now clear their lines with Syria. President Michel Suleiman, a former army commander, holds a weekly call with Assad. Hariri has spoken by telephone to the Syrian leader several times since his trip to Damascus.


“Once the Syrians and Saudis got together, local politicians would always have to dance to their music,” said Makdisi. Anti-Syrian politicians had to compromise because they had realised that Lebanon was “not the centre of the universe” and Western leaders would not come to their rescue, he added. Syria sees its influence in Lebanon as a trump card in any negotiations with the West and Israel, Hamadeh said.

The West still wanted to keep Lebanon from coming under Syria’s thumb again. “But everything in this world is now relative, especially independence and sovereignty,” he shrugged. The Syrians may seek to avoid the high-handedness of the past — even Assad acknowledged last year in an interview with Beirut’s as-Safir newspaper that “mistakes” had been made. But progress could be slow on measures that Hariri sees as vital to reinforce a normal state-to-state relationship.

These include demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border, removal of Palestinian guerrilla bases that straddle it, reform of bilateral treaties and information about missing Lebanese said to have fallen foul of the Syrians during the civil war. Hariri no longer publicly accuses Syria of orchestrating the huge seafront bomb blast that killed his father and 22 others, saying he will await the outcome of the U.N.-backed tribunal.

Investigators initially implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials, but the tribunal has yet to indict any suspects and critics say it appears to have lost momentum. Lebanese commentator Michael Young said the United States and France, both hostile to Syria at the time, had spearheaded efforts to set up the tribunal, but now had other priorities. “Today there is no critical mass to see the tribunal accuse Syria or anybody else. For many in the international community, the tribunal is more a headache than anything else,” he argued.

Makdisi, the academic, said the tribunal had a life of its own, but might never uncover the truth behind Hariri’s killing. Citing the multitude of unpunished killings committed during and after Lebanon’s civil war, he said: “You can most likely put this down as yet another unsolved murder.”

Netanyahu heading to war
PM knows that rejection of peace with Syria will lead to terrible war
Eyal Megged, Ynetnews, 02.08.10, 11:38 / Israel Opinion

Enough has been said about the war mongers, ranging from Yossi Peled to Avigdor Lieberman. These are honest and transparent people. However, at this time we must raise a hue and cry vis-à-vis the peace imposers. We must scream in the prime minister’s face: You are not heading towards peace, so stop talking nonsense. You are heading towards war with Syria.

You know it, even if you do not desire it. If you were seeking peace, you would be sitting down with Syrian President Assad and secure it. You know the price.

You also know where all the rejections and refusals, masks and costumes lead to. Ranging from Golda to Olmert, they have led to war, blood, and needless victims. Ariel Sharon told Assad to go to hell when the latter was at the door like a poor man begging to be rescued. The excuse was that Assad is too weak, so what’s the point. The result was that we missed out on peace with Syria on the most convenient terms possible.

It’s not too late

Sharon’s successor, Olmert, also ignored Assad’s pleas, because the Americans ordered him to do so. The price was a miserable and cursed war in Lebanon. The Left, for some reason, also does not rush to give up the Golan Heights for peace, so the media silence – with the exception of a few crazy souls committed to the cause like this writer – is guaranteed.

Netanyahu’s excuse is real: He does not believe in this peace, period. He will prevent it as long as he does not have the American sword at his throat. As his predecessors, he represses the incredibly clear knowledge that the death throes of peace will be followed by war. He also knows how terrible it will be.

Netanyahu most certainly knows that in the wake of that war he will be made to sit down and sign the same peace treaty he is presented with now, plus the needless victims. But hey, will he survive in power for another year? He will. That’s the most important thing. He will be coming up with an excuse to clear his conscience, and his speeches at military cemeteries, as a man who had known bereavement personally, will be better than his predecessors’ speeches.

Yet it’s not too late. We can still be salvaged.

a production syrienne de pétrole quasi stable en 2009
La Syrie a produit en moyenne 376 920 barils de brut par jour en 2009, selon les chiffres publiés par le ministère syrien du Pétrole.

Ce résultat marque une progression de 0,1 % par rapport à 2008 qui avait enregistré une production moyenne quotidienne de 376 525 barils….

En parallèle, la production syrienne de gaz naturel s’est établie à 22,3 millions de mètres cubes en moyenne par jour en 2009. Ce résultat reflète une croissance de 7,4 % en comparaison avec la production quotidienne moyenne de 20,75 mètres cubes enregistrée en 2008.

Jumblat: I Won’t Visit Syria … I Will Participate in Commemorating Feb. 14
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Wednesday said he will participate alongside PM Saad Hariri in the mass rally to commemorate ex-PM Rafik Hariri’s 5th assassination anniversary on February 14 but without delivering a speech.
“I will perform my duty, and I will participate as a citizen, and akin to all of the Lebanese. In the end, Rafik Hariri belongs to all of the Lebanese,” said Jumblat after his meeting with Hariri at the Grand Serail.

Answering a question on whether he would visit Syria before February 14, Jumblat said: “I won’t visit Syria, and I have already stated what I believe to be clear remarks: When the Syrian leadership decides that it is appropriate to visit Damascus, I won’t have any objection, but there’s nothing within the next few days.”

Dear Josh,

Damascus authorities anger academics when they cancel conference on Secularism hosted by the Danish Institute in Damascus at the last minute.

“Syria: Annulment of conference on secularism in Damascus”

On February 12, the Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the
following report by Kamel Sakr.

“One day before it was to be held, the second conference on secularism in the Arab Levant entitled “The Secular State and the Issue of Religion” was cancelled. The activities of the conference should have started on Friday and lasted until Saturday in one of the halls of Damascus University in Syria, but the organizers of the conference said that Damascus University informed them there was something wrong with the sound installation in the hall that was to have witnessed the activities of the conference, i.e. the famous Rida Sa’id Hall.

“In an official statement issued by the Petra and Atlas publishing houses partaking in the organization of the conference along with the Danish Cultural Institute – a copy of which was delivered to Al-Quds al-Arabi – the publishing houses said that after they were informed by Damascus University that it could not host the conference due to a technical problem affecting the sound installation, the Culture Ministry was contacted to change the location of the event. However, the decision of the Culture Minister was very stringent, since he recommended the non-staging of the conference in any public location and the discontinuation of the public invitation in all its forms… Therefore, the organizers were forced to annul the conference and the statement read: “Our discontent is not only due to the nature of the positions of these official sides, but also to the timing of their decision which came lightly and at the wrong time.”

“The conference which should have been held was to be attended by intellectuals from Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Denmark… What is noteworthy this year is that the conference was going to address the Turkish secular experience as a model for the state, whether or not “the religious state is a popular demand and the secular state an elitist obligation,” and the “extent of the acceptance of secular living by the Muslim populations and communities.” The conference should then have concluded its sessions by addressing the “possible creation of an Islamic secularism.”

“For his part, author Lu’ay Hussein who is the director of a publishing house and one of the organizers of the conference, said to Al-Quds al-Arabi: “The organizers received the authorizations of the Damascus University and the Syrian Ministry of Culture, and have extended invitations to the Ministry of Endowments and the Syrian Dar al-Iftaa to attend the conference. It is a cultural event which will address secularism. The first conference was held in Damascus in 2007 with the participation of a number of Christian and Muslim clerics.” On the other hand, the Syrian Ministry of Culture assured there was no ideological or intellectual problem preventing the
staging of the conference and that the only problem was a technical one in the hall which should have hosted the conference.

“Najm al-Samman, the director of the press office at the Ministry of Culture said that the Ministry “received a letter from the Danish Cultural Institute about the conference as an organizing side along with two publishing houses. However, it was unable to provide an alternative hall since all the others were booked for artistic and cultural events. It thus suggested that the conference be held at the Danish centre itself whose hall only fits 70 or 80 people, which would have limited the number of invitees.” He then denied to Al-Quds al-Arabi that the conference was cancelled or that the Ministry tried to transfer it to a smaller hall to give it a private rather than a
public character. It was said in this context that the Ministry of Culture tried to prevent the conference under pressures from religious sides which did not approve of it. “However, Al-Samman denied these claims and said that the problem was technical, adding that the organizers earned the proper authorizations and that had there been an intention to prevent the conference, these authorizations would never have been issued.” – Al-Quds al-Arabi, United Kingdom

Comments (20)

Yossi said:


You have included the piece by Eyal Megged twice. You’re not trying to hit a words-per-post quote aren’t you 🙂

February 15th, 2010, 6:46 am


Yossi said:

I voted “no” on war this year, following the lead of pundits who claim that, on the topic of Iran, 2009 has been the year of dialog, 2010 is the year of sanctions and 2011 will be the year of war. There’s a protocol to follow…

February 15th, 2010, 8:15 am


offended said:

“There were no signs of protests Monday as 22nd-ranked Peer scored an upset win.”

Well, I don’t fancy getting deported, thus I didn’t protest.

It’s unfortunate that we try to mobilize globally to intensify the BDS movement only to get screwed by our own. Shame.

February 15th, 2010, 12:03 pm


Akbar Palace said:

3 Nos for Peace

Professor Josh posts an article from “Angry Arab” who states:

I am one of those Arabs who still believe in the 3 No’s of Khartum, and still believe in the first charter of the PLO, and not the Zionist amended version of the charter.

And Angry Arab still has the “chutzpa” to say it is the Israelis who don’t want peace.

Go figure…

February 15th, 2010, 1:54 pm


Ghat Albird said:


3 Nos for Peace.

Why not four?

AP would do the exchanges a plus if he were to answer the question of ; “how did some 600,000 Palestenians ended up and still live in shacks in Lebanon”?

Could this be due to Israeli peaceful activities? Or would that be a “socalled chutspha” statement?

February 15th, 2010, 3:03 pm


norman said:

Group sees Syria as a stepping stone
Published: February 15 2010 15:45 | Last updated: February 15 2010 15:46

It is hardly surprising that it took some time and plenty of cajoling before Haysam Jazairi convinced his bosses that a move to Syria would be worth it.

Syria frets over drought’s harsh harvest – Feb-03In pictures: Syria agriculture – Feb-04US seeks to restore Damascus envoy – Feb-03UN warns over Syria drought ‘disaster’ – Oct-08Saudi-Syrian meeting aims to heal rift – Oct-07Israeli official rules out Golan withdrawal – Jul-11No doubt his superiors at Halcrow, a leading British design and planning consultant, looked at the Arab nation and thought of a maverick state accused of backing Islamist extremists – more international pariah than business destination.

Yet Mr Jazairi, a Syrian based in the UK for 30 years, believed there was potential. He convinced Halcrow that things were slowly changing in Syria as reformers within the government have tentatively pushed to open up the struggling economy and shift it away from a socialist legacy which has seriously stymied growth and development.

In 2006, after two years of market studies and visits by senior management, Halcrow took the plunge, opening an office on the outskirts of Damascus, initially with just a handful of staff. It is a decision which appears to have paid off.

Today, Halcrow is the biggest private consultant operating in Syria and boasts some 250 engineers and administrators in the country. And while Halcrow’s Middle East headquarters in debt-stricken Dubai has been laying off staff, with its personnel dropping from around 335 to 240 in the wake of that emirate’s economic crisis, the Syrian office has continued to grow.

It has hired around 60 people over the past 18 months and expects to continue to expand its Syria operation.

“We saw evidence of changes, of the policies and openness, and we saw a need for our company on the engineering side,” says Mr Jazairi, general manager of the Damascus office. “There is enough work here, probably for 30 years.”

Driving the business is government spending on infrastructure – water, roads, bridges, sewerage treatment plans and water projects – as well as increasing private sector activity. Being relatively isolated from the international economy has also meant that the country has been less affected by the global financial crisis than neighbouring states.

For Halcrow, building up its presence in the domestic market is only a first step, with the company looking to take advantage of operating costs that are about half of those in Gulf states and using its Damascus office as a base to offer design and production services for other markets in the Middle East.

“It’s one of the region’s growth areas and in the future it will not just serve the Syrian market but we will also be able to deliver work back here to the UAE,” says Jim Fyvie, Middle East executive director at Halcrow. Increased interest in Syria’s under-developed market has coincided with a tentative improvement in Damascus’s relations with the west and important regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia.

A British trade official says interest from UK companies has increased by around 70 per cent over the past year, albeit from a tiny base.

“The number of companies visiting the market has gone up markedly – a couple of years ago we would see around two or three new companies. This year we have had over 50, usually as part of [trade] missions,” the British official says.

British exports to Syria rose to £76.7m ($120.4m) between January and July 2009, up from £44.2m over the same period in the previous year.

French companies have also shown renewed interest with Lafarge building a cement plant with capacity of 2.75m tons a year.

However, Syria remains under US sanctions which can cause problems for businesses requiring US parts or software. And while the reform process has had some successes, most noticeably in the financial services sector, experts say far tougher challenges lie ahead.

A three-year drought has highlighted Syria’s dependence on agriculture and its vulnerabilities to nature, while its oil resources, which provide 20 per cent of the government’s revenues and about 40 per cent of its export receipts, have been in decline for some time.

The country is also burdened with a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy. Reformers, meanwhile, face stiff resistance to change from hardliners and vested interests in a country where corruption is rampant and a cabal of powerful businessmen close to the ruling regime hold great sway.

Just how committed the government is to moving ahead with tougher reforms to further open and develop the economy remains to be seen.

“The question we have is: what is the next stage of reform and how do we get to the next stage? From what we hear, there are divisions about how far we should open the economy,” says Bassel Hamwi, general manager of Bank Audi. “I believe that gradual opening is also a high-risk approach. The longer we wait, the more potential burden we are giving ourselves, or the next generation.”
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February 15th, 2010, 5:44 pm


Averroes said:

Abdelrahman Al-Rashid in Dismay following latest 14M turnout

This Fox News wanna be, sworn enemy of Syrian policy is back to his old poisonous ways. His dismay is evident and his accusational tone of Syria is still there. As usual, he will not make a statement that you can him to court with, but nevertheless will use every cognitive convolution possible to paint the picture that it was Syria that carried out the Hariri and other killings.

He is all for the tribunal when Syria is under the gun, but when all the evidence turn out to be fabricated BS, then he does not believe in the system anymore. He just wants to see Syria nailed and it does not matter if there’s no evidence. He just “knows” that Syria did it.

Another neocon in reduced circumstances.

February 15th, 2010, 6:43 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The only ones who have something to gain from an Israeli (with or without
the US) war against Iran, are the Arab juntas and Arab ridiculous monarchs.

I hope that the Israeli leadership realizes it, and will not go to an unwinnable war.

If Iran needs the bomb, then it is as a protection from Sunni Pakistan,
and the rest of it’s nuclear neighbors, and not to destroy Israel.

February 15th, 2010, 7:01 pm


Averroes said:

Iran needs the nuclear technology for electric power. It wants to enter the field of heavy industry which requires huge amounts of power that conventional fossil fuel generated power cannot provide. It also wants to sell its oil for cash.

The yield on nuclear weapons is much less effective than that of advanced conventional weapons, and the consequences of using nuclear weapons would be devastating for Iran. Iran is not stupid not to be aware of that.

The irony, I think, is the the US and Europe know the real (peaceful) goals of the Iranian nuclear programs, and it is arguable that those industrial goals are precisely the reason the West wants to stop the Iranian program.

February 15th, 2010, 8:02 pm


Alex said:


Abdul Rahman rashed is not the only one … Michael Young wrote the same thing in the New York Times

He can not imagine that perhaps because Mehlis relied on clearly false testimony (Al-Siddiq’s) that his successor, the Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, and his other successor, Daniel Bellemare of Canada, decided to go back to square one.

And to prove his point that Brammerts is a loser, Michael young quotes none other than .. Mehlis! .. and to make his point even more unquestionable … he then quotes …. “Two senior Lebanese government officials”

Could they be close to .. Jumblatt and Geagea for example?

And the New York Times published Young’s opinion!

February 15th, 2010, 9:15 pm


offended said:

Dubai Police issues a compilation of CCTV footage of the assassins of Al Mabhouh. 11 suspects are named.

February 15th, 2010, 11:38 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Mr. Mabhoh came from Syria, they the criminals arrived to Dbai in few hours,there must be spies in Syria, Syria must do investigations there ,too.

February 16th, 2010, 3:44 am


offended said:


The assassins were already lying in wait for him at Dubai airport when he arrived. But they followed him to the hotel, so it was likely they knew his flight number but not where he was staying.

February 16th, 2010, 5:23 am


offended said:

Better footage here.

Note how one of the suspects arrived at the airport with a ‘suspicious bag’….that never got inspected. 3:55

February 16th, 2010, 9:16 am


Shami said:

here are the faces of the wanted murderers.

February 16th, 2010, 7:35 pm


Off the Wall said:

I really like the way Dubai is handling this crime. Treat assassins as they should be treated, bunch of cowardly murderers. But I would also add the tag “Terrorists” to their job description.

Let us now see what the interpol will do and what the governments of the assassins will do.

February 16th, 2010, 7:46 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Netanyahu in Moscow: Israel not planning war

About Dubai, I’m sure it’s not the Mossad. The Mossad can afford a better wig for Mrs. Gail, rather than the Halloween style wig, you buy at wall-mart for $4.99.

February 16th, 2010, 7:51 pm


Gabriel Dalexandro said:

For online newspapers, internet radio, and live tv from Syria and the rest of the world:

February 17th, 2010, 3:40 am


offended said:

Yes, Amir. It’s really not the Mossad, and this is why the Israeli press is starting to demand the resignation of the head of the ‘intelligence’ (what an oxymoron) body :

“Following alleged Dubai mess, the Mossad chief must go”

It’s really not nice when your fellow citizen go to bed with pneumonia and wakes up a murderer. But hey, it’s all in the wig! the proof is in the pudding!

February 17th, 2010, 7:45 am


offended said:

Yeah, yeah, Amir. It’s not the Mossad or assassins hired by the Israeli government. And this is why the press in Israel is demanding the head of the ‘intelligence’ (what an oxymoron) body’s head:

“Following alleged Dubai mess, the Mossad chief must go”

But hey, it’s all about the wig. Look over the AJ reporter’s shoulder, the proof is in the pudding.

February 17th, 2010, 8:46 am


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