Examiner Staff

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Kim Kardashian wades into Syria war debate

BEIRUT: Kim Kardashian has waded into Syria’s conflict, calling on fans through Twitter to save the ancient Armenian Christian village of Kassab, whose residents fled as rebels seized control of the hamlet in late March.

She appeared to have bolstered false claims by loyalists of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who said Syrian rebels desecrated the village’s churches and slaughtered residents. She used the #SaveKessab hashtag that was used to spread the false claims, causing its popularity to explode.

“If you don’t know what’s going on in Kessab please google it … As an Armenian, I grew up hearing so many painful stories,” Kardashian wrote in a March 30 tweet, using an alternate spelling of the village’s name. “Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide,” she wrote.

In doing so, the celebrity of Armenian descent underscored how Syria’s war, more than any other in history, has been waged on social media, with both supporters of President Bashar Assad and those opposing his rule using selectively chosen videos and photos, sometimes faked, recycled or altered, to support their grievances.

While wartime propaganda is as old as conflict itself, the Syrian conflict is a particularly unique case where all combatants heavily use social media, opening a window into a conflict that reporters can barely enter.

Kardashian’s use of the two hashtags side-by-side, “#SaveKessab” and “#ArmenianGenocide” also suggested she was also linking the flight of most of Kassab’s 2,000 residents to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces in the early 20th century.

The event is widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Kardashian’s publicist Ina Treciokas said Kardashian was “just voicing her support for Armenians” and said she had no additional comment.

Kassab’s residents fled after rebels seized their village on March 23, as part of a rebel offensive in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia, Assad’s ancestral heartland.

There are no credible reports that rebels killed any residents, or that they inflicted major damage on churches.

Kardashian appeared to have moved on since.

Her Kassab tweets were followed by a flurry of sultry selfies of her riding on a boat in a skimpy top and long skirt with hashtags like #WishYouWereHere and #WhatALife. She has been posting from Thailand in recent days, including one that shows her sitting at the entry of a temple featuring the Buddha.
Diaa Hadid

Associated Press

U.S. urges Lebanon not to drill for gas in disputed waters

BEIRUT: A senior U.S. official advised Lebanon not to drill in disputed waters off its coast until a deal on maritime boundaries is reached, adding that Washington was working on ways to resolve competing claims over the territory.

“I think the most advisable policy for choosing where to drill is to reach an agreement on the disputed zone so there isn’t a disputed zone. I think it would be good not to touch the disputed zone until there is a resolution for this dispute,” Amos J Hochstein, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for energy diplomacy, told The Daily Star in an interview.

He added that most oil companies were not willing to risk drilling in disputed zones, claiming that firms preferred to work in areas that were within the recognized Lebanese territorial waters.

“People need to understand that oil companies take lot of risks, more than any industry. They spend an enormous amount of money – over $100 million – to drill one well before knowing if there is gas there. And once they discover it, they spend more money to exploit it and it takes years to bring your money back,” Hochstein said.

The United Nations and Washington have been working to resolve the dispute between Lebanon and Israel over 850 square kilometers of water that both countries claim.

The zone is thought to contain abundant quantities of valuable natural gas, and Lebanon has been keen to demarcate the area in order to determine its share of the possible resources.

Hochstein said that the United States has been suggesting ways to resolve the dispute between Lebanon and Israel, but declined to give any details about the proposals.

“The maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel needs to be resolved. We [the United States] have gone to both sides on a number of occasions to share some ideas on how to solve this issue. The reason that it is critical to resolve this dispute between Lebanon and Israel is because in order to attract investments, there needs to be some kind of accommodation. There has to be certainty that the investments will be sound,” the official said.

He added that companies were eager to begin drilling in Lebanon, especially since nearby Israel and Cyprus have proven reserves.

But Hochstein warned that further delays in resolving the issue of the disputed waters could dampen investor appetite

“The longer you wait on resolving this dispute, the less likely it is that international oil companies will wholeheartedly invest in that area. For this reason, we have come up with certain ideas to solve this issue.”

He admitted that reaching an agreement would be difficult.

“These are not easy decisions to make,” he said.

“We hope that some of these ideas will stick and become attractive enough,” Hochstein said.

Despite the difficulties of reaching an agreement, he remained upbeat about the prospects of resolving the issue.

“The main goal here is to allow Lebanon to be in a position to attract foreign investors: come to the offshore of Lebanon and be part of the economic revival,” Hochstein explained.

He said the United States was coordinating with the United Nations in resolving the issue of the disputed zone.

Hochstein urged the Lebanese not to miss the opportunity to exploit their country’s gas and oil wealth.

“ Lebanon would be able to transform its economy if in fact there is gas. Before anyone plans what to do with the gas, first you have to find it, and seismic data is important but it’s not decisive. You have to drill a hole in the ground to find if there is gas.”

A 3-D seismic survey of part of Lebanon’s waters showed that Lebanon has an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet of gas off its coast.

Apart from the prospects of high revenues, the U.S. official emphasized that a major gas find would allow Lebanon to secure cheaper energy, which would be a major boost for the economy.

Hochstein said it was up to the Lebanese government to decide whether to auction off all 10 blocks off the coast or to begin with just three or four of them.

“Ultimately every country is a sovereign of its territory to make its own decision. I think for a country which has not done this before and the experience of going to a big round, it would be beneficial to argue this one at a time, or one or two or three at a time, and not by negotiating all [10 blocks],” he said.

Hochstein did not see a major problem if Lebanon delayed the April 10 auction date one more time in order to ensure political consensus.

“It’s always ideal to run things on time. But I think it’s better to delay than to launch it before its ready. If you launch something before there is political consensus then this will have risks too because if companies invest money and resources and later the political attitudes change then this is worse. I think it would be good for Lebanon to move quickly and at the same time it is better to move correctly,” Hochstein said.

By Osama Habib

The Daily Star

Army detains 43 in Tripoli as security plan launched

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Security forces Tuesday detained 43 suspects accused of involvement in Tripoli clashes part of the government-approved security plan to restore stability to the restive northern city, which has been plagued by fighting linked to the crisis in Syria.

Around 1,800 Lebanese Army and security forces personnel deployed in Tripoli in the early hours of the morning and conducted an estimated 40 raids in several neighborhood of the city, Lebanon’s second largest.

The raids included the residence of pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid in Jabal Mohsen, where soldiers confiscated two wireless devices and two surveillance cameras among other items, security sources said.

The Army also raided the house of militant Sheikh Omar Bakri, a Tripoli-based Islamist, in the Abu Samra neighborhood in an attempt to detain the preacher as well as the residence of Shadi Mawlawi but the two were not found, according to the sources.

The military detained 18 individuals in Al-Qibbeh, two in Jabal Mohsen and two others in Bab al-Ramel, the sources said.

Soldiers also stormed a pharmacy in al-Qibbeh as well as three arms depots in Jabal Mohsen.

The Army raided the neighborhood of Riva and detained militia leader Jihad Dandashi along with 10 other people including three Syrians. Nine other suspects were also detained in the same area.

Tripoli gunmen and fighters went into hiding in anticipation of the government’s security plan after the military prosecutor issued 200 warrants, including some for militia leaders in the city.

Judge Saqr Saqr issued warrants on charges related to armed clashes, car bombs, killings and attempted murder of civilians and Army soldiers, as well as kidnapping and forgery.

The judicial move indicated the government’s resolve to ensure the successful implementation of the security plan and grants security agencies the right to detain suspects and refer them to the judiciary.

Military and ISF set up 30 checkpoints throughout the city as two Army helicopters flew overhead for surveillance and protection purposes.

The Army began removing the barricades and sandbags erected during armed clashes as several shops and markets opened for business in an attempt to restore normalcy back to the city.

Internet services in Tripoli have been cut off to assist in the implementation of the plan, which was drafted by the Higher Defense Council and approved by the government last week.

President Michel Sleiman followed up on the ongoing security measures with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi separately at Baabda Palace.

According to his office, the president voiced relief over the measures and “sacrifices to restore stability and preserve the security of the nation and citizens.” He called for dealing firmly with violators of the peace and referring them to the judiciary.

An Army statement spoke briefly about the plan, saying the measures included checkpoints, patrols and raids for wanted people.

“A number of [suspects] have been arrested and handed over to the relevant authorities to take the required measures,” the statement added.

Tripoli has witnessed twenty rounds of Syria-linked clashes between the majority-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the predominantly-Alawite Jabal Mohsen.

At least 30 people were killed in the latest round of fighting between opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad. The clashes subsided last week after the government approved the defense council’s security plan to restore stability to Tripoli and the Akkar region.

MP Walid Jumblatt mocked Tripoli’s security plan, saying the government’s announcement last week gave militia leaders enough time to flee the city and evade detention.

“Given that the capabilities were magically made available by security and political figures, the security plan for Tripoli went into effect after the city was exhausted with 20 rounds of fighting led by militia leaders in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen,” Jumblatt said in a statement.

“The funniest thing about the security plan which we can only support … is that it warned in advance all militia leaders of its arrival and so now Rifaat Eid can continue its graduate studies at University of California at Berkeley,” he added


The Daily Star

AUB letter sheds little light on tuition issue

BEIRUT: A much-anticipated letter from the chairman of the AUB Board of Trustees sheds little light on the proposed tuition increases that have riled students and sparked protests.

Some students denounced the letter from Chairman Philip Khoury as vague and opaque. While it outlined topics discussed at last week’s meetings, it contained few hints about the proposed budget for next year.

“The budget presented to the Board for final approval in May … will strike an appropriate balance that is at once fiscally responsible and also sensitive to students and working families who are struggling in this difficult economy,” Khoury’s statement reads. “These dual concerns are of paramount importance.”

Students have expressed frustration with the administration’s handling of the budget, threatening to strike if the Board of Trustees approves proposed tuition increases.

Student leaders decried Khoury’s statement as vague and inconclusive. “It really doesn’t set any concrete conclusions,” said Tala Kammourieh, a member of the student government. “This letter is not enough.”

“It was really diplomatic and vague, and I don’t think this is enough for our situation,” agreed Jinane Abi Ramia, another student leader. “They didn’t give us answers. … We need more.”

With no word on whether tuition will in fact increase next year, student activists can do little but wait for the budget announcement in May.

The letter calls for cooperation between students, faculty and administration based on “mutual trust,” warning that “any other approach will lead to the most serious consequences.”

Students have also demanded transparency, an issue Khoury addressed. “The Board instructed the administration to continue efforts to bring further clarity to administrative issues. … We strongly encourage more timely and frequent dialogue with the university community.”

The lack of particulars in Khoury’s letter, however, has left students questioning whether the board is committed to transparency.

“It’s frustrating. The highest decision making board is being as opaque … as the administration itself,” Kammourieh told The Daily Star. “It’s somewhat disrespectful for us.”

In the statement, Khoury reiterated the board’s support for the university administration. “It is reassuring to the board that the institution’s leadership is so firmly committed to advancing AUB’s mission and values,” the statement said.

Peter Dorman, president of the university, has insisted that a tuition increase is necessary.

By Elise Knutsen The Daily Star

Efforts underway to keep election on schedule

Starting Tuesday, the spotlight will shift to the country’s newest concern, the presidential election, amid expectations that the two-month period for the process will expire without any agreement on a candidate to succeed President Michel Sleiman.

According to diplomatic sources, the international community has been keeping their eyes on developments related to the presidential election since the government was formed, partly in order to achieve their quest for a consensus, in view of the serious consequences of the government’s failure to run the country and face political, economic and security challenges.

There appears to be an understanding that this government is working to give the presidential file the same importance as its own formation by working on several points.

First, it is striving to hold the presidential election by its constitutional deadline – May 25 – and according to the principles of democracy, with all members of Parliament attending the relevant sessions.

Second, it is warning against a presidential vacuum in light of the importance of filling this traditionally Christian seat of power in order to stabilize the political and sectarian balance in Lebanon. This is particularly important in view of Sunni-Shiite discord in the country and across the region, as undermining the electoral process would risk the spread of further chaos.

Western countries are completely against any foreign intervention in the file this time, something manifested on the ground by key powers informing a group of active ambassadors in Lebanon to remain on the sidelines and urge Lebanese people to choose their own fate in the election.

The West does not intend to back anyone and, according to reports, simply wants a candidate who applies the Lebanese Constitution and maintains the country’s sovereignty.

It is rejecting any kind of outside intervention that would support one candidate at the expense of another.

According to diplomatic sources, Saudi Arabia will continue to grant Prince Bandar bin Sultan the responsibility for the Lebanese file, with reports of him stepping down to be replaced by Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayef completely unfounded.

Powers in Lebanon agree with the West’s desire for a successful presidential election, as fears of a lack of quorum begin to emerge. However, political sources have said Hezbollah desires to maintain the status quo following the end of Sleiman’s presidential term, with the current government taking over presidential powers. This would comfort the party because it would then be able to continue fighting in Syria.

According to information made available to The Daily Star, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is contacting Christian figures to try to reach a consensus and organize a meeting in Bkirki to discuss the presidential election. Despite previous failures on this front, Rai is set to continue trying on orders from the Vatican.

Sources close to Bkirki said: “What Patriarch Rai is doing is expressing his fixed stance so it will lead to a unifying role, and it is not the first time that Rai has called on Christian leaders to meet at the patriarchal seat, or provided space for a common dialogue.

“The meeting being discussed flies in the face of what is being said about it being aimed at supporting some candidates and excluding others, because the patriarch clings to the principle of being a father to all.”

By Antoine Ghattas Saab, The Daily Star

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