"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)



Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Syrian War Report – May 8, 2018: Rastan Pocket Deal, Ka-52 Crash- South Front

An evacuation of militants and their supporters has started in the Rastan pocket in northern Homs.
On May 7, 62 buses carrying out a batch of militants left the area towards the northern town of Jarabulus currently controlled by Turkey and its proxies. A second batch is set to leave the area on May 8. According to local sources, about 3,000 persons are set to be evacuated.
Prior to the start of the evacuation, local militants handed over 6 battle tanks, 3 BMP vehicles, two Shilka vehicles as well as mortars, anti-tank guided missiles, surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.
The evacuation process is expected to be finished within up to 7 days. Once this is done, government forces will re-establish full control of the Rastan pocket and re-open the strategic Homs-Hama highway.
In southern Damascus, government troops have captured the IT Secondary School and a number of buildings in the western part of the al-Hajar al-Aswad district from ISIS.

Syrian military to be in total control of 3 southern Damascus towns for first time since 2012- Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:30 P.M.) – The last rebel forces are preparing to leave the southern Damascus towns of Babila, Yalda, and Beit Sahm after being in control of them for more than six years.
According to a military report from this province, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has already entered the town of Yalda to take on the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists near the Hajar Al-Aswad and Yarmouk Camp axes.
However, the towns of Beit Sahm and Babila still do not have a military presence due to the ongoing evacuations that are scheduled to be conclude later this week.

A slain heavyweight, fraud claims: The election in surprises- Daily Star

BEIRUT: After nine years of waiting, Lebanon got a few surprises in its national elections Sunday. Hezbollah lost a seat everyone thought it would win, a longtime MP was dethroned in Batroun and the Lebanese Forces vaulted from eight to 14 seats, according to the latest results. The upsets, big and small, can be divided into two groups: the foreseen and the unforeseen. Here’s a quick roundup of noteworthy tidbits.
Experts had never put chances of the so-called civil society lists very high. It was thought they might get a seat or two in East Beirut and Chouf-Aley. Supporters of Kilna Watani (All for the Nation) and other civil society lists thought they’d get more – perhaps five, including a seat in Metn.
But when unofficial results started pouring in it looked like they’d get one seat for Joumana Haddad, then another for Paula Yacoubian. Then nothing else. While pessimists were surprised at the stronger-than-zero showing, activists were shocked at the poor result.
Then Monday, everyone woke up to the Free Patriotic Movement saying its candidate, Antoine Pano, had beaten Haddad. Fury ensued, with protesters marching on the Interior Ministry claiming the seat had been stolen by electoral fraud.
The protesters’ anger – and others’ suspicions – were only magnified when the Interior Ministry fail to give any results until more than 24 hours after polls were scheduled to close.
Everyone had been expecting results to pour in quickly, even Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who had less than a week before promised an “accelerated” process thanks to electronic vote counting.

Both Russian pilots killed in helicopter crash in eastern Syria- Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:20 A.M.) – The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed, tonight, that both crew members of the Ka-52 Alligator Helicopter were killed while flying a mission in eastern Syria.
“When carrying out a planned flight over the eastern regions of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Ka-52 helicopter crashed. Both pilots were killed,” the ministry revealed in a statement.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Berri, Hariri Slam Beirut 'Security Chaos' as Army Deploys- Naharnet

The army deployed Monday evening across the capital Beirut, after the Aisha Bakkar area and other neighborhoods witnessed post-elections security incidents.
The National News Agency said “gunmen on motorbikes raised partisan flags on the monument of Martyr Premier Rafik Hariri in the St. Georges area before moving to Aisha Bakkar, where they attacked a number of vehicles and opened fire without causing casualties.”
A video circulated on social media showed a fistfight that involved the use of batons near the Aisha Bakkar Mosque. The clash erupts after dozens of young men arrive in the area on motorbikes, carrying Hizbullah flags. The video shows them clashing with young men carrying al-Mustaqbal Movement flags.
A statement issued by Prime Minister Saad Hariri's office said the premier called Army chief General Joseph Aoun and Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Imad Othman to ask them to “contain the chaos in Beirut and take the necessary measures as soon as possible before things spiral out of control.”

Mashnouq Announces 'Final Yet Incomplete' Election Results- Naharnet

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq on Monday announced “final yet incomplete” results of the parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday, noting that the results of the Akkar district are yet to be officially released.
“These results are final but incomplete and unofficial seeing as the Akkar results have not been completed and they do not carry the signature of the relevant authority,” Mashnouq said at a press conference.
Commenting on controversy over the result of the minorities seat in Beirut's first district, Mashnouq confirmed the win of Antoine Bano of the Free Patriotic Movement and the loss of Joumana Haddad of the Koullouna Watani civil society coalition, after her campaign and rival campaigns had announced her victory overnight.
Mashnouq stressed that “no ballot boxes are missing” despite delay in the transfer of some boxes and records.
The minister also announced the win of the candidate Farid al-Bustani of the FPM in the Chouf-Aley district, after media reports had declared Naji al-Bustani of the Reconciliation List as the winner.
Below are the results as announced by Mashnouq:
- Beirut 1 district: Nicolas Sehnaoui, Jean Talouzian, Nadim Gemayel, Imad Wakim, Hagop Terzian, Paulette Yacoubian, Antoine Bano and Alexander Matousian
- Beirut 2 district: Amin Sherri, Saad Hariri, Adnan Traboulsi, Fouad Makhzoumi, Tammam Salam, Mohammed Khawaja, Roula al-Tabsh, Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Nazih Najm, Edgard Traboulsi and Faysal al-Sayegh

Syrian opposition elects new leadership- Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (2:50 A.M.) – The Turkish-backed Syrian National Coalition has elected new leader and secretary-general, the group’s statement claimed on Sunday.
According to the Syrian National Coalition’s statement, ‘Abdul-Rahman Mustafa was announced as the group’s new leader.
Furthermore, the new secretary-general for the Syrian National Coalition was announced as Nazir Al-Hakim, along with three vice presidents, including Dima Moussa, ‘Abdel-Basset Hamo, and Bader Jamous.

Lebanon Equals Hezbollah’: Israeli Security Cabinet Minister on Lebanese Vote- Sputnik News

The elections in Lebanese parliament were held for the first time since 2009. Over 3.6 million citizens over 21 years were included in the voting lists. Some 976 candidates have been tussling for 128 seats.
Israel's Security Minister said that Hezbollah's strong results in the Lebanese parliamentary election show that the state is indistinguishable from the Iranian-backed Shiite group and that Israel should not distinguish between them in any future war.

Unofficial Results Show Hizbullah Gains in Parliamentary Elections- Naharnet

Hizbullah was poised to seal a win in Lebanon Monday with results for the decade's first general election expected to confirm the Iran-backed party as the main winner.
The polls were also marked by a low turnout of 49.2 percent and the emergence of a civil society movement challenging Lebanon's oligarchs that could clinch a pair of seats in parliament. 
Lebanon's sectarian-based power-sharing politics mean no single alliance in the 128-seat parliament will enjoy a stable majority and analysts expect a fragile status quo to be preserved.
Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced the turnout figure at a news conference shortly after midnight and appeared to blame it on the new electoral law agreed last year.
"This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations," he said. "Voting operations were very slow."
As provisional estimates trickled in, some candidates' supporters started celebrating in the streets after a polling operation marred only by a few violations but no major incident.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Tensions Rising Between Syrian Army, Kurds Amid Creation of US Bases- Sputnik News

Tensions between Damascus and Kurdish militias in northern Syria have intensified amid reports of the creation of new US bases in Hasakah, along with reports of a possible deployment of troops from a Saudi-led 'Arab coalition'.
Kurdish forces' actions to fortify their positions in the region have increased the danger of a direct confrontation with Syrian Army forces deployed in the region, Fars News reports, citing the Al-Watan newspaper.

Elections Day: Machnouk speaks on elections outcomes- Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanon went to the polls Sunday to elect MPs for the first time in nine years, and Lebanese began celebrating the historic day around midnight after the country’s three key leaders – Prime Minister Saad Hariri, President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri – cast their ballots.
12:20 a.m.
The final results in Lebanon's election will be released around dawn Monday, Machnouk says as he concludes a media conference to discuss the day's voting.
12:06 a.m.
Final voter turnout hits 49.2% in 2018 parliamentary elections, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk says in a news conference, after polls close. He says the ministry received 7,300 voter complaints during the elections. He confirmed that one person had been wounded by celebratory gunfire connected with the election after reports that Moustafa A. was taken to hospital in Akkar with gunshot injuries.
12 a.m.
Party supporters began celebrating across Lebanon, with music, cheering and celebratory gunfire despite the elections results having not yet been announced.
11:50 p.m.
A man, identified as Moustafa A. was taken to a hospital in Akkar after he was hit by celebratory gunfire in the town of Halba.
9:00 p.m.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea says he is optimistic about the results after the polls closed and the counting process began. "The reality shows that those on the ground [voters] are still in favor of March 14," he says in televised remarks.
8:40 p.m.
Foreign Minister and candidate Gebran Bassil tells reporters that political parties have been trying to buy votes and that there is a "brutality" to it, which he describes as a "serious problem."
8:30 p.m.
Speaking to the media, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati says the reason for the low turnout in Tripoli is voters' rejection the new electoral law used in Sunday's elections.
8:00 p.m.
The process of counting votes starts at centers across the country as ballot boxes are transferred from polling centers. Meanwhile, the final voters still waiting inside polling stations cast their ballots.
7:35 p.m.
Voting turnout at 6 p.m. stands at 46.88 percent, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
7:00 p.m.
Voting centers for Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nine years closes doors.
6:45 p.m.
A source at Baabda Palace tells The Daily Star that the law doesn't permit extending official voting hours beyond 7 p.m. but notes that those within polling stations will continue to be allowed to vote.
6:20 p.m.
Scuffles break out in Choueifat. The Lebanese Army intervenes, captured on a video broadcast by Al-Jadeed TV station. The local Progressive Socialist Party representative criticizes the Internal Security Forces for not intervening first.
6:10 p.m.
The Lebanese Army pulls a man from his car after he tries to drive through a roadblock in Choueifat, Al-Jadeed TV reports.
6:05 p.m.
President Michel Aoun reiterates that voting will continue beyond 7 p.m. for those inside polling stations.
5:30 p.m.
An Interior Ministry source tells The Daily Star that they have no updated figures on the turnout as yet. The last update of statistics were given at 2 p.m. Polls are set to close nationwide at 7 p.m. although people waiting inside the centers at the deadline will still be allowed to cast their ballot.
5:20 p.m.
Popular Bloc leader Myriam Skaff holds news conference describing threats and physical assaults made against supporters and members of the group. She says Lebanese Forces supporters struck her car with bats and it reminded her of "their militia-like" antics of the past. "Shame on all of you," Skaff says during the conference. Skaff criticizes the Internal Security Forces for not intervening when her car was attacked while she was in it.
5:15 p.m.
A dispute within a polling station in the Aley city of Choueifat escalates to a scuffle in which an unidentified man smashes open the lid of a ballot box and throws the votes across the room. It is not immediately clear what sparked the dispute, captured on video and shown by Al-Jadeed TV station.
4:50 p.m.
Baalbeck-Hermel is given an additional 73 ballot boxes for multiple municipalities after the original allotted boxes filled up by 3:30 p.m.
4:35 p.m.
Hezbollah Deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem arrives in Zoqaq al-Blat to cast his ballot. He says Hezbollah is in contact with the Interior Ministry over extending voting hours beyond original 7 p.m. closing time.
3:36 p.m.
The European Union’s Election Observation says in a tweet that their evaluation has so far been positive, “in spite of some incidents that were swiftly resolved."
3:35 p.m.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) reports via its Twitter account that some voting booths across Lebanon are set up in a way that doesn't guarantee voter privacy.
3:22 p.m.
Statistics from the Interior Ministry say that as of 2 p.m. the voter turnout stands at 24.47 percent.
3:00 p.m.
Voters in Deir al-Ahmar and Baalbeck complain of lack of organization at the polling stations, saying the lines are long and the process is slow. Some fear they won't be able to cast their vote before the polls close at 7 p.m.
"I couldn't vote in Deir al-Ahmar. I waited in line for more than an hour and then couldn't stand it, so I left without voting. There are too many people combined with a very slow process," a disappointed voter told The Daily Star.
2:00 p.m.
Voter turnout as of noon is 20.28 percent, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
1:50 p.m.
Former General Security head and Hezbollah-Amal-backed candidate Jamil Sayyed arrives at a polling station in Baalbeck’s Taraya to cast his ballot.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk arrives to the Tripoli Serail.
1:45 p.m.
LADE reports via its Twitter account that polling station officials at one station in Beirut II's Ras al-Nabaa have halted voting, as the remaining package of ballots they received is for the North I district and not Beirut II.
1:30 p.m.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives at the polling station set up in the Omar Farrouj Secondary School in Beirut II as part of a tour of polling stations. Hariri cast his own ballot earlier in the day at a Beirut II station.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk is en route to Tripoli from Sidon, where he spoke to reporters about elections security and other electoral procedures.
The Electoral Supervisory Committee releases a statement denouncing violations of a government-ordered media blackout on electoral campaigns. "Despite releasing continued statements and warnings during its direct observation of the media, it appears that some outlets are still violating the electoral media blackout and are not adhering to Article 78 of the electoral law," the statement reads. Article 78 prevents news outlets from reporting on campaigns during Election Day.
1:10 p.m.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea casts his ballot in Bsharri.
"The voter is not obligated to wait [in long lines]," Geagea said after voting, adding that he hoped the Interior Ministry will find a solution for the long waiting lines outside the polling stations.
1:00 p.m.
Speaking at Zahrat al-Ihsan school in Achrafieh, Beirut, Chief Observer of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission Elena Valenciano says that the mission has a “very positive” impression of the voting process in 98 percent of cases observed.
“The management of the voting process is happening normally and professionally,” Valenciano says.
“We’ve observed the very important role of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who are deployed around the country, and are not just maintaining security but are also helping people who need help to go vote.”
Valenciano notes that over half of people with reduced mobility had difficulties accessing the polling stations.
She also says that there have been a few reports of political party representatives being too close to the polling stations, but at this stage it was “not serious.”
The mission has 131 observers deployed around the country.

Hariri Says No Fear over Security after Elections- Naharnet

Prime Minister Saad Hariri voted Sunday at the Shakib Arslan School in Verdun, Beirut, and reassured that he does not fear a security deterioration after the parliamentary elections.
While waiting for his turn, Hariri said in response to a question: “Order is nice.”
He added that he is committed to the principle of electoral silence.
Hariri however responded to questions from reporters after leaving the polling station.
“I performed my electoral duty and cast my vote like any Lebanese. I think that if we look at what is happening around us and how Lebanon is holding democratic elections, we see that the country is fine,” he said.

Aoun Casts Vote, Urges Lebanese to Practice 'National Right Out of Conviction'- Naharnet

President Michel Aoun cast his vote on Sunday in the country’s parliamentary elections and voiced calls on all Lebanese citizens to practice their “national, democratic right out of conviction.”
“Today the Lebanese are practicing one of the important national political operations where they get to choose MPs who will represent them for the next four years. They must not relinquish their duty to hold lawmakers accountable for their performance,” Aoun told reporters after casting his ballot at a polling station in Haret Hreik.
The President encouraged Lebanese to act out of conviction without “outside influences.”
“It is a sacred right of yours that you should not abandon,” he added.

Overview Of Syrian Army’s Operation In Southern Damascus On May 6, 2018- South Front

Syrian government forces are developing their operation against ISIS in southern Damascus.
Following the liberation of the southern part of the al-Hajar al-Aswad district in southern Damascus on May 5, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies started storming the northern part of al-Hajar al-Aswad where they captured the Jerusalem School and a local power station.
Separately, clashes continued in the district of at-Taqaddom, but government forces have not been able to achieve any breaktrough in the area so far.
According to local sources, Syrian Air Force aircraft have carried about 50 strikes on ISIS positions in al-Hajar al-Aswad, at-Taqaddom and the Yarmouk Refugee Camp.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Jaysh al-Islam Leader Steals Tens Of Millions Of Dollars And Resigns- South Front

Mohammed Alloush has stolen a sum of $47m from Jaysh al-Islam before resignation from his position as the group’s political leader, the Iranian news agency Fars reported on May 5.
The report said that Alloush is currently using the stolen money to run trade activities in Turkey, where he has been living for the past few years.
Alloush announced his resignation from Jaysh al-Islam on May 3 claiming that he had taken this decision to give the youth of the opposition a chance to lead the “revolutionary and political action.” However, most Syrian opposition activists were not convinced by Alloush’s claim.
Many Syrian pro-government activists believe that Alloush’s decision is a result of the humiliating defeat of Jaysh al-Islam in the Eastern Ghouta region battle. One of the main results of the defeat was the end of the financial support for Jaysh al-Islam, which could be the real motive behind Alloush’s decision.

Lebanon election likely to reaffirm status quo in country riven by dysfunction- The Guardian

Law change was meant to make room for political plurality but old traditions of patronage are hard to break down.

Nine years and two collapsed governments since the last election, Lebanon goes to the polls on Sunday with leaders touting a new beginning for a country bedevilled by debt and dysfunction, but voters fearing more of the same.
The long-awaited parliamentary election had been hailed as a potential turning point for a state beset by decades of war, a turbulent domestic scene and a neighbouring crisis that has posed new threats.
As polling day has drawn nearer, however, it has become increasingly likely that the result will reaffirm the status quo of a powerful, elite-run patronage network with entrenched channels of influence.
For opponents of prime minister Saad Hariri’s government, this spells trouble. “The country is going through serious social, economic and political challenges that will translate into disastrous consequences if the same elite runs the country, with the same mindset that it did the last 30 years,” said Gilbert Doumit, a candidate in Beirut for a new list, Kulna Watani.

Tight Security Ahead of Parliamentary Elections- Naharnet

At 7:00 am Sunday Lebanon will launch its first legislative elections in nine years under “tight security measures,” ensuring a calm electoral process.
1,800 ballot boxes in 7,000 polling stations will open Sunday around various Lebanese districts. Some 21,000 security personnel from the Internal Security Forces, the State Security and General Security will be in charge inside polling stations. Meanwhile, the army will maintain security around the centers and roads leading to it, al-Joumhouria daily said Saturday.
Army units carried out their deployment yesterday in all areas of Lebanon according to a security plan in which additional units were allocated to areas considered “exceptional.” They were marked with "red" to prevent any security repercussions as the result of “atmosphere of electoral tension” in areas of “heated” electoral confrontations at the political and sectarian levels, added the daily.

Members of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed from East Deraa Countryside- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Previous writings have explored the lives of a number of deceased and living members of the Islamic State affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed that is located in the Yarmouk Basin. So far, those profiles have not documented individuals with origins from the east Deraa countryside (i.e. the area of rebel-held territory in Deraa province east of the strip of government-controlled territory running down the centre of the province). This post looks into two individuals of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed from an east Deraa countryside town called al-Karak al-Sharqi: Abu Hussein al-Karaki and Abu Yahya al-Karaki. As far as is known, they are the only two people from the town who joined the group.
The main families in al-Karak al-Sharqi are:
- al-Sakri
- al-Rashidat
- al-Nu'ama
- al-Shanur
- al-Khalayafa
- al-Asafira

Of these families, the al-Asafira have affiliations with the al-Nu'aim tribe, while the al-Sakris have affiliations with the al-Rabaya'a tribe.
The main factions in the town are:
- Liwa A'isha Umm al-Mu'mineen, which declared in July 2017 that it joined Jaysh al-Islam's southern sector.

There is also a more minor presence for the faction Jund al-Malahem.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Hariri Tours Beirut, Defends 'Moderation' on Eve of 'Crucial' Vote- Naharnet

Prime Minister and al-Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri on Friday visited Dar al-Fatwa, the seat of Lebanon's highest Sunni Muslim religious authority, as he toured several Beirut neighborhoods two days ahead of the May 6 parliamentary elections.
Hariri was received at Dar al-Fatwa by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan, who was meeting with a group of scholars and clerics.
Daryan welcomed Hariri and said: "By coming here today, you reminded me of the great martyr of Lebanon, PM Rafik Hariri, who used to come to Dar al-Fatwa in the essential periods of the history of Lebanon.”
“The good relationship between Dar al-Fatwa and the Premiership must remain strong and solid, because in the end the Mufti of the Republic and the Prime Minister protect the sect and the nation,” the Mufti added.

Taimur Jumblat: Walid Jumblat's Will Shall Not be Defeated- Naharnet

Taimur Jumblat, the son and heir apparent of Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat, announced Friday that the Chouf-Aley 'Reconciliation List' will work on “building the state of law and institutions.”
“We stand before the teacher Kamal Jumblat who founded our path and we salute all the martyrs who offered their blood to protect this path,” Jumblat said at an electoral rally in Baakline on the eve of the electoral silence period.