Trump, Hariri pledge solidarity in fighting terrorism

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that supporting Syrian refugees as close to their home as possible is the best way to help them.

Trump commented during an appearance with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose country is burdened by an influx of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and who is counting on continued U.S. assistance to help manage that burden.

During Hariri’s first visit to the Trump White House, the leaders also pledged continued solidary against terrorism from the Islamic State group and other militant groups.

“Our approach supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible is the best way to help most people,” said Trump, standing alongside Hariri in the Rose Garden after their talks.

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to help supply displaced and other Syrians with clean water, food, shelter and health care since the civil war broke out in early 2011.

Hariri said Syrian refugees account for about 1.5 million, or one quarter, of Lebanon’s population of about 6 million people. The prime minister was expected to seek additional U.S. assistance to cope with the refugee influx.

RELATED: Trump budget slashes aid to Lebanon by 80 percent

In brief remarks to open one of their meetings, Hariri said he hoped the anti-terrorism partnership between the U.S. and Lebanon would continue until all terrorists are defeated.

“We will do that,” replied Trump, who also praised the Lebanese army for keeping IS and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold in the country. “Ultimately you will win … we have great confidence in you.”

Continued U.S. support for the Lebanese military, financial assistance for Syrian refugees and U.S. plans to tighten sanctions on the militant group Hezbollah were the key items on Hariri’s agenda going into the meeting with Trump.

The Lebanese army in recent years has been battling Islamic extremists near its border with Syria and the country has suffered recurrent bouts of insecurity and spillover from the civil war raging next door.

U.S. security assistance for the Lebanese army has exceeded $1 billion in the past decade, but concern is mounting that the aid could be cut under Trump’s plan to slash the State Department budget.

But Hariri has a tough balancing act. Potentially embarrassing for him is the current offensive to clear Sunni militants along the Lebanon-Syria border, which is being spearheaded by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, with the Lebanese military serving largely as a bystander.

Trump has slammed the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, and Congress recently introduced legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on the powerful group. Hariri, whose fragile governing coalition includes members of Hezbollah, is worried that U.S. efforts to widen sanctions on Hezbollah could negatively impact the banking industry in Lebanon.

At the same time, he has warned that Lebanon is close to a breaking point due to the strain of hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

When asked, Trump declined to offer a position on possible tighter sanctions against Hezbollah.

WATCH: TRUMP, HARIRI MEET IN THE OVAL OFFICE

Trump budget slashes aid to Lebanon by 80 percent

The Trump administration is seeking to slash military aid to Lebanon by 82 percent next year, according to the State Department’s 2018 budget plan.

Last year, the U.S. provided $103 million in military aid – weapons, equipment and training – to Beirut. The 2018 budget projects about $19 million in anticipated aid.

According to the State Department, the cuts would include the cessation of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which amounted to about $86 million in 2016.

The move signals a potentially stronger stance by the Trump administration against Lebanon, and a change of direction in the unofficial U.S-Lebanon partnership against ISIS.

The Lebanese military has been a key force against ISIS in northeastern Lebanon, and an ally to the U.S. in the fight against militants.

Lebanese Army officials are positioned strategically to closely monitor ISIS movements in the remote mountains of Arsal, where an estimated 500 militants are masked between the Lebanon-Syria border.

Much of Lebanon’s ability to confront ISIS, analysts say, is owed to the support of foreign countries, including the United States. Since 2005, the U.S. has provided more than $1.4 billion in military aid to the country.

But the assistance could soon be slashed, according to the Trump administration’s latest budget plan. Some Middle East analysts believe the Lebanese Army’s ties to Hezbollah may have played a role in 2018 funding plans.

President Trump has pledged to get tough on Iran and its proxies throughout the region.

Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, told the Christian Science Monitor that the U.S. has good reason “to worry about the army’s ties to Hezbollah.”

“There are still some people out there who buy the argument of Lebanon as a good partner – especially at [the Pentagon] – and some are still convinced by the obsolete notion of the Lebanese standing up to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” he told CS Monitor.

Besides military cuts, the Trump administration is also proposing about 23 percent of cuts to economic and developmental aid to Lebanon.

Last year, Lebanon received $110 million in economic assistance. The 2018 budget projects about $85 million.

The budget cuts would also hit several other vulnerable countries, including Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen.

President Trump and Prime Minister Saad Hariri are expected to discuss these proposed cuts during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

READ: Department of State Budget Plan.

Donald Trump to host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

President Donald Trump will host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Washington on Tuesday, the White House announced.

The leaders are expected to discuss the fight against terrorism, Lebanon’s national economy and the refugee crisis, according to a White House statement.

Analysts also believe the pair will discuss U.S. aid to the Lebanese military, which is expected to be slashed by more than 80 percent in the State Department’s 2018 fiscal budget.

“President Donald J. Trump will host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House on July 25. The two leaders will discuss issues of mutual concern, including the fight against terrorism, the economy, and refugees. This meeting will serve as an important opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relationship and will encourage other international and regional partners to support Lebanon as it faces a wide range of challenges.”

RELATED: Hariri meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in DC (2015)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2015. (State Department Photo/Public Domain)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2015. (State Department Photo/Public Domain)

 

AUB professor denied entry into U.S. because of “extreme vetting”

An engineering professor at the American University of Beirut says he was wrongfully denied entry into the U.S. because of new “extreme vetting” measures.

George Saad, 35, an associate professor at the Beirut campus, was traveling to the U.S. for the Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference in San Diego.

He says the Department of Homeland Security turned him away at Los Angeles International Airport without explanation, and he missed his conference as a result.

According to The New York Post, Homeland Security officials detained him and interrogated him for four hours. He says his phone was confiscated, his laptop was seized and officials photographed him and took fingerprints.

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“I belong to the American University of Beirut — the leading academic institution in Lebanon and the Middle East, chartered in New York and considered an American territory in Lebanon,” Saad told The Post. “I felt so small, so unappreciated and consider being treated in demeaning and humiliating ways.”

Saad says his visa was revoked and he was sent back to Beirut without an opportunity to contact an attorney or his family.

According to The Post, Saad has traveled to the U.S. about 15 times without any issue. In 2015 and 2015, he attended similar engineering conferences in California.

Saad graduated from John Hopkins University, and holds his doctorate from the University of Southern California. He says his family is Christian, and he has no criminal record.

The alleged incident happened amid President Trump’s push to enhance screening measures at American points of entry. Although the courts have blocked the president’s travel ban, his administration has been pushing for stepped up questioning of visa applicants and more intense vetting.

Saad says he already filed a complaint with Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, but he still lost about $2,500 in travel costs.

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Officials at the American University of Beirut say they stand by their professor.

“While we understand and respect security measures, we are surprised and concerned at the treatment our faculty member received, including his long interrogation followed by denial of his entry into the US,” the university said in a statement to The Post.

Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

4 things you didn’t know about Beirut-born NBA coach Steve Kerr

Legendary NBA coach Steve Kerr has not had an easy life. He’ll be the first to tell you.

The Beirut-born six-time NBA champion spent most of his childhood in Lebanon until his father was shot and killed in 1984. He was devastated.

As millions watch Game 4 of the NBA finals, most fans will be thinking of Steve Kerr as the former professional basketball player and the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Little do they know, Kerr’s life story starts in Beirut.

He spent much of his childhood in Lebanon.

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Steve was born in Beirut “Stephen Douglas Kerr” to proud parents Dr. Malcolm and Ann Kerr. His father — also Beirut-born — was an American academic who specialized in the Middle East.

Steve attended Cairo American College in Egypt, the American Community School in Beirut and Palisades High School in Los Angeles.

His father was the former president of AUB.

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Dr. Malcolm Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut, where his parents taught for over 40 years.

Following his doctorate work at John Hopkins University in Washington D.C., Dr. Kerr returned to Beirut to teach at the American University of Beirut’s Department of Political Science.

He became president of the university in 1982. He served as president for 17 months.

His grandfather volunteered with the Near East Relief.

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Steve’s grandfather, Stanley Kerr, was a well-respected American humanitarian, who spent many years volunteering with the Near East Relief after the Armenian Genocide.

Stanley and his wife Elsa Reckman Kerr met while rescuing women and orphans in Marash.

They later joined the staff of a Near East Relief orphanage in Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon.

Stanley earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to Beirut where he became chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the American University of Beirut.

His father was killed in 1984.

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Steve’s father was shot and killed on January 18, 1984 by two gunmen outside of Beirut office. He was 52.

A possible motive regarding his assassin are still unclear, although The New York Times reports a male caller telephoned the Beirut office of Agence France-Presse shortly after his murder and said the slaying was the work of Islamic Holy War.

At the time, former President Ronald Reagan issued a statement saying in part, “Dr. Kerr’s untimely and tragic death at the hands of these despicable assassins must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists. Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of the lives, actions, or future of ourselves and our friends.”

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Steve said his father’s unlikely assassination left him speechless. The Kerr family later sued the Iranian government under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

While warming up for a game at Arizona State in 1988, Kerr had to deal with a number of fans in the crowd chanting “PLO” and “your father’s history.”

Kerr said his difficult life has made him a stronger person, and a stronger coach.

Michigan man arrested for alleged involvement with Hezbollah

A Michigan man is facing terrorism charges stemming from his alleged involvement with Hezbollah, the U.S. government announced.

Samer El Debek, 37, was arrested in Livonia, Mich. on June 1 following an FBI raid conducted at his Dearborn home.

According to the criminal complaint, El Debek allegedly received military-style training in Lebanon, which included rocket-propelled and machine gun training.

“El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.

A New York man, Ali Kourani, 32, was also arrested in the Bronx on terrorism charges. He is accused of providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah, among other charges.

David Gelios, special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, said the arrests pose no threat to the metro Detroit area.

“Last week’s arrest related to alleged illegal activity did not occur in Michigan,” Gelios said a statement. “FBI Detroit has no credible information to suggest any terrorism threat to the (area).”

El Debek is accused by the U.S. government of the following:

  • Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah.
  • Receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah.
  • Use of weapons in connection with a crime of violence that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and machine guns.
  • Violating and conspiring to violate IEEPA.

El Debek was presented these charges on June 5, before Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan federal court.

From the U.S. Government on Samer El Debek:

El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008, began to receive a salary from Hizballah shortly thereafter, and was paid by Hizballah through approximately 2015.

In July 2006, shortly before he was recruited by Hizballah, el Debek expressed by email his support for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah.

El Debek received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon on several occasions, from approximately 2008 through approximately 2014. El Debek received training in basic military tactics, the handling of various weapons, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices.

Based on information el Debek provided to the FBI, FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hizballah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing, a bombing that el Debek reported was carried out by a relative of his.

El Debek received by email in 2010 a list of raw materials that could be sent from Syria or Dubai, including items often used in explosives and improvised explosive devices. El Debek also conducted missions for Hizballah in Thailand and Panama.

In May 2009, el Debek traveled from Lebanon, through Malaysia, to Thailand, where his mission was to clean up explosive precursors in a house in Bangkok that others had left because they were under surveillance.

El Debek used his U.S. passport to enter and leave Thailand, consistent with his instructions from Hizballah to use his U.S. passport so he could travel from Malaysia to Thailand without obtaining a visa.

El Debek first traveled to Panama for Hizballah in 2011, where his operational tasks included locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased.

Shortly before traveling to Panama, el Debek updated his status on Facebook with a post that read, in part, “Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people.”

In early 2012, el Debek again traveled to Panama for Hizballah, passing through New York and New Jersey, and was asked to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.

Upon his return from Panama, el Debek’s IJO handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy there and details about its security procedures.

El Debek has told the FBI that he was detained by Hizballah from December 2015 to April 2016 and falsely accused of spying for the U.S.

Between November 2014 and February 2017, el Debek, who received religious training from Hizballah, has conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as “martyrs of the holy defense,” “martyrs of Islamic resistance,” “Hizballah martyrs,” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”

Rare Lebanese cheese on verge of disappearing, report says

A traditional Lebanese practice of using clay jars to make one of the world’s rarest and oldest cheeses is slowly disappearing, according to a report by BBC News.

Ambarees, an iconic product of the Bekaa Valley, is made of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars. The cheese develops into a creamy texture with an acidic flavor. Lebanese call it “Labnet el Jarra.”

According to BBC, some Baalbeck residents say it’s becoming harder to find the traditional clay pot needed for cheese production. The practice is also not being passed down to newer generations, the report adds.

How It’s Made

Making the delicacy begins with filling the clay jar with milk and covering it with a cloth. The milk is left until the water begins to separate and drain out.

Then, for several months, salt and milk are added to the recipe at least twice per week until it begins to dry. The cheese stays fresh for at least one year using this method.

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Ambarees is made from raw goat milk poured at room temperature into the jar. The key to its production involves its fermentation, and the cheese reaching the perfect acidity.

The delicacy is commonly enjoyed during winter months on hot pieces of Markouk or Saj breads. Ambarees is highly dense and can be preserved for up to one year, making it ideal for winter enjoyment.

Why It’s Disappearing

According to BBC, markets in Beirut say most vendors don’t have time to make the homemade cheese anymore.

“Ambarees is one of the oldest cheeses in the world; it’s maybe 2,000 years old,” says one vendor. “People like it, but making it is quite hard and no one has time anymore.”

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Some Lebanese fear the cheese could soon disappear if newer generations don’t learn the recipe and pass it on.

Families in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley — where it’s called ‘ambaress’ — and in the Shouf area — where it is called serdeleh — are hoping to keep the tradition alive.

WATCH: Lost Cheese of the Lebanese Mountain:

Lebanese leaders react to London Bridge terror attack

Lebanese political leaders submitted their reactions to the Lebanese National News Agency Sunday in response to the terror attack at the London Bridge.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday night that killed 7 people and injured at least 48 others. At least 21 people are in critical condition at the hospital, officials said.

London security officials said 12 people have been arrested in connection with the attack. Police are also executing raids in parts of London as of Sunday night.

READ: Statements from Lebanese political leaders:

President Michel Aoun

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“Targeting Britain repeatedly with brutal attacks indicates that it still stands in the face of dark and inhuman ideologies represented by terrorism, which is desperately trying to circulate them as an alternative culture to the dialogue of civilizations and religions. The Lebanese stand in solidarity with Britain in fending off all kinds of terrorism.”

Speaker Nabih Berri

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“We reaffirm our strong condemnation of the terrorist acts that targeted London Bridge and Boro Market, which resulted in the death and injury of a large number of innocent civilians.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri

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“There are always attempts to link Islam to terrorism. Islam is innocent of these terrorist acts.”

MP Walid Jumblatt

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“I hope the foundations of Western democracy would remain firm and strong, since it reflects the values of freedom and human rights regardless of its positions vis-à-vis various issues. I deplore this terrorist act and extend my condolences and sympathy to the British Government, the British people and the victims’ families.

We will update statements as they become available.

‘Wonder Woman’ banned in Lebanon because of Israeli actress

The movie “Wonder Woman” is banned in Lebanon because the lead actress Gal Gadot is Israeli, Lebanese officials announced.

The Ministry of Economy and Trade made the decision Wednesday to institute the ban before “Wonder Woman” hit the silver screen this weekend.

A group called “Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel” has been working to urge the Lebanese government to block the film due to lead actress Gal Gadot’s ethnicity.

Gadot served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, the national military service mandatory for Israeli citizens over 18. The group said Gadot “boasted about the army training for Hollywood.”

“We refuse to normalize relations with an enemy state,” said Rania Masri, a member of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon. “We’re not talking about a political disagreement, were talking about resistance against occupation.”

One of Lebanon’s largest theater chains, Grand Cinemas, officially announced the ban on Twitter. “#WonderWoman has been banned in #Lebanon,” the tweet said.

The Ministry of Economy of Trade said in a statement the government has “taken all necessary action” to ban the film.

A counter-petition titled “Release Wonder Woman in Lebanon” has been published to challenge the ban. Organizers argue that previous films starring Gal Gadot, such as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Furious 7,” have successfully screened in Lebanon.

“Gal Gadot may be an Israeli, but we want to watch a movie about the amazing character of Wonder Woman,” the petition said.

The petition also argued that “Wonder Woman” was made by production companies in the U.S. and China.

What do you think? Should Lebanon ban “Wonder Woman” from its theaters? Share your thoughts on the Lebanese Examiner Facebook page.

WATCH: ‘Wonder Woman’ Banned in Lebanon:

Brazil’s Lebanese president faces calls for impeachment

Brazil’s Lebanese president Michel Temer is facing calls for impeachment after allegations of corruption and cover-up were exposed by a Brazilian newspaper.

Temer is accused of offering hush-money to jailed associate in exchange of his silence in the country’s biggest-ever graft probe.

Brazilian “O Globo” newspaper said it obtained recordings which showed Temer discussing payments to silence the jailed former Speaker Eduardo Cunha.

Cunha was sentenced to a 15-year prison term in March for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, as part of an investigation into corruption at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

Cunha led the impeachment process against former President Dilma Rousseff, who Temer replaced in August 2016.

According to the “O Globo” article, Temer is heard on audio tapes discussing hush-payments with Chairman Joesley Batista of meat giant JBS SA. Temer’s office acknowledged the meeting with the businessman, but denied any part in alleged efforts to offer a payment.

“That clandestine recording was manipulated and doctored with bad intentions,” Temer said at a news conference on Saturday. “I will not resign.”

Temer said he had filed a petition with Brazil’s supreme federal tribunal to suspend the corruption investigation until audio experts can analyze the recordings.

WATCH: