Infant dies of apparent suffocation in Sidon

SIDON, Lebanon: A one-year-old infant died in a tragic incident in the coastal city of Sidon Tuesday after his mother, apparently rushing to her work, mistakenly left him in the car to suffocate.

Farah Saad, a mother of two children who works as a teacher at a school affiliated with the Al-Makassed Charitable Society in Sidon, everyday drops one kid at his school before taking the infant, Nasser, to a nursery.

After dropping the first kid, Saad, contrary to custom, forgot to take Nasser to the nursery and instead left him in his cart seat for long hours in her car, which was locked and parked in the school’s square.

At the end of the school’s teaching hours, Saad returned to the car to see her son in his cart seat motionless, a scene that shocked the mother and made her collapse.

Upon the mother’s screams, other teachers came and rushed the baby to a nearby hospital in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to save his life.

After being informed of the incident, the baby’s father came to hospital to see a group of stunned teachers in the corridor trying to soothe the shocked mother.

Speaking to police investigators who came to the hospital, the mother said she thought she had dropped her son at the nursery before coming to her school.

Sidon’s coroner Afif Khafaja examined the baby’s dead body before presenting a report to the General Prosecution.
By Mohammed Zaatari

The Daily Star

White House: Obama has not decided to release Israeli spy

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama has not made a decision to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and he is serving his sentence,” Carney said.

“I don’t have any other update to provide you on Mr. Pollard’s status. There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena and I am not going to get ahead of discussions that are under way,” he said.

(Reuters)

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

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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