05/18/2013 - #Syria - The Times: “Israel says Assad must stay”
Syria will “respond immediately” to any new Israeli attack against its territory, its deputy foreign minister told AFP on Thursday, after two reported Israeli strikes on military targets last week.
“The instruction has been made to respond immediately to any new Israeli attack without [additional] instruction from any higher leadership, and our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel,” Faisal Muqdad said.
He spoke in an interview with AFP in the Syrian capital.
Senior Israeli sources said the strikes targeted weapons bound for the powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, a close ally of Damascus.
Muqdad denied that.
“They absolutely did not achieve their objective and they lied when they said they are targeting Hezbollah,” he said.
There is “no way Syria will allow this to happen again,” he added.
Israel reportedly targeted military sites near the capital Damascus early on Friday morning and again early on Sunday morning, with at least 42 soldiers reported dead in the second strike.
The Jewish state has repeatedly warned it will intervene to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, with which it fought the devastating 2006 Summer War.
The strikes last week were the third time Israel is thought to have hit sites inside Syria since the beginning of an uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. That first was in January of this year.
The uprising, which began with peaceful protests, has devolved into a bloody conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people, according to the UN, and displaced millions of Syrians.
AFP - 05/09/2013
Israel will maintain close tabs on its border with Syria and only let people to cross in “exceptional circumstances,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday after seven injured Syrians were let in.
“We will continue to watch over the border and prevent anyone from crossing it and entering Israel, except in a few isolated and exceptional circumstances — each of which will be weighed on its own merit,” Netanyahu told his outgoing cabinet.
Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday allowed in seven people who were wounded in clashes on the Syrian side of the strategic plateau to cross the armistice line, taking them for treatment at a hospital in the northern town of Safed.
One person was in critical condition while the other six were moderately wounded, a spokesman for Ziv hospital told AFP, saying all of them had been operated on.
Neither the army nor the hospital would provide details on the nature of the injuries, or whether they were members of the Syrian military or the opposition forces.
Netanyahu said the tensions along Israel’s frontier with Syria would be a key element of his talks with US President Barack Obama when he makes his first visit to Israel as president next month.
On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe told Channel 2 TV that letting in the wounded Syrians was “an isolated incident” on humanitarian grounds, and a military source told public radio Israel had prepared designated areas along the frontier to receive Syrian refugees under the auspices of the United Nations.
There have been several instances of mortars or gunfire inadvertently landing on the Israeli side of the plateau, prompting troops in November to respond with artillery in the first such instance of Israeli fire towards the Syrian military since the 1973 war.
Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community.
It is currently upgrading its security fence along its armistice line with the work expected to be finished by the end of the year.
An Israeli air raid in Syria this week struck surface-to-air missiles and a nearby military complex on the outskirts of Damascus, as Israel feared the weapons would be transferred to Hezbollah, a US official said Friday.
Earlier reports had suggested Israeli warplanes may have targeted two separate locations in Wednesday’s raid in Syria: a military site outside of the capital and a weapons convoy near the Lebanese border.
But the US official said the strike was confined to one location.
“It was in the suburbs of Damascus,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
“There were surface-to-air missiles on vehicles” that were targeted by the Israel aircraft, he said, adding that they were believed to be Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.
The planes also bombed an adjacent military complex of buildings suspected of housing chemical agents, the official said.
The Israelis suspected the weapons would be transferred to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, he said.
The Syrian regime has accused Israel of launching a dawn strike Wednesday on a military research center in Jamraya, near Damascus, and threatened to retaliate.
But the Israeli government has maintained a public silence on the strike.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, which is an ally of the Damascus regime, or other militant organizations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel would erect a new security fence along its armistice line with Syria in order to protect the Jewish state from “infiltrations and terror.”
Speaking at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu noted that a new, fortified barrier along Israel’s border with Egypt, replacing an older one, was nearly complete.
“We intend to stretch an identical fence, with some necessary changes due to the different conditions, along the Golan Heights,” he said in remarks relayed by his office, referring to the occupied Syrian plateau.
“We know that on the other side of our border with Syria today, the Syrian army has backed off, and global jihad operatives have taken its place,” he said.
“We must therefore protect this border from infiltrations and terror, as we have successfully been doing along the Sinai border.”
Netanyahu added that “the question of chemical weapons here concerns us. We are coordinating our intelligence and evaluations with the United States and others, to be prepared for any scenario and possible developments.”
A security official told AFP that the new fence in the Golan Heights would be along the outline of the old one. The official noted that Israel had already completed some 10 kilometers of the new Golan fence, and had “about 60 kilometers to go.”
The official said he believed the work would be completed during 2013.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community.
Israel voiced doubt on Tuesday about the accuracy of Syrian activists’ reports that chemical weapons had been used against rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
“We have seen reports from the opposition. It is not the first time. The opposition has an interest in drawing in international military intervention,” Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Army Radio.
“As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that (chemical weapons) have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gathered activist accounts on Sunday of what they said was a poison gas attack in the city of Homs. The reports are difficult to verify, as the government restricts media access inSyria.
The Observatory, a British-based group with a network of activists across Syria, said those accounts spoke of six rebel fighters who died after inhaling smoke on the front line of Homs’s urban battleground. It said it could not confirm that poison gas had been used and called for an investigation.
Syria has said it would never use chemical weapons against its citizens.
Asked about images purported to show patients being treated for possible gas poisoning, Yaalon said: “I’m not sure that what we’re seeing in the photos is the result of the use of chemical weapons.
“It could be other things,” he said, without elaborating.
On Sunday, senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said Syria’s chemical weapons were still secure despite the fact that Assad had lost control of parts of the country.
As Syria’s southern neighbor, Israel has been concerned about chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants or Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, cautioning it could intervene to stop such developments.
Tue Dec 25, 2012 6:36am EST
Israel has deployed special forces units in Syria to track the regime’s movement of chemical weapons amid growing international fears that the government might use its stockpile against rebels, British daily The Sunday Times reported on Sunday.
“For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” an Israeli source told the paper.
“But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”
The paper added that operation “is part of a secret war to trail Syria’s non-conventional armaments and sabotage their development.”
Syria warned on Saturday that rebels could use chemical weapons in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but insisted the regime will never unleash such arms on its own people.
However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was evidence the Damascus government could actually employ chemical weapons stocks in the conflict that a rights group says has killed at least 42,000 people in nearly 21 months.
Global concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles have grown after US officials privately said this week that the regime had begun mixing precursor chemicals that could be used for the lethal nerve agent sarin.
Some media reports said the substance had been loaded into bombs for warplanes.
By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s civil war spilled over into neighboring Lebanon once again on Sunday, with gun battles in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad’s regime that left four dead.
Nine Syrian judges and prosecutors also defected to the opposition. It was the latest setback for the regime which in recent weeks has seen a tough rebel challenge in its seat of power, Damascus, and has lost two airbases to opposition fighters.
In Lebanon, fighting between pro-and anti-Assad gunmen flared as bodies of three Lebanese who fought in Syria’s civil war were brought back home for burial, the state-run National News Agency said.
Four people were killed and 12 were wounded in the gunfights, the agency said.
Syria civil war has often spilled into neighboring countries including Turkey, Lebanon and Israel, raising concerns of a wider war in the volatile region.
Lebanon, which Syria dominated for decades, is particularly vulnerable to getting sucked into the crisis. The two countries share a porous border and a complex web of political and sectarian ties.
Syria’s opposition is dominated by members of the Sunni Muslim minority. Assad’s regime is predominantly Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Tripoli has been the scene of frequent sectarian clashes between the Alawite and Sunni Muslim communities. Last week, the Lebanese army sent additional troops to Tripoli to try to prevent clashes that broke out over reports that 17 Lebanese men were killed after entering Syria to fight alongside the rebels.
In Syria, fighting between opposition fighters and regime troops was concentrated in northern Idlib province, in the Damascus suburbs and in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, according to the Britain-based opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 21 people were killed in fighting Sunday, said the group, which relies on reports from activists on the ground.
The defecting judges posted a joint statement online urging others to join them and break ranks with Assad’s regime. There have been a series of high-level defections over the past year, including Assad’s former prime minister.
The Observatory said the latest defectors came from the northern city of Idlib.
Associated Press Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Fierce battle between Bashar Al-Assad regime and opposition fighters near Damascus where at least 32 people killed
Syrian troops battled rebels near Damascus on Saturday and launched air strikes on opposition strongholds in the south of the capital and on its northeastern outskirts, a watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave an initial toll of 49 people killed nationwide, including 16 civilians and 16 rebels killed in Damascus province alone.
To the northeast of the capital, seven civilians including a child were killed in heavy army shelling on the town of Misraba.
Nearby, warplanes bombarded the town of Douma and areas between Harasta and Irbin, said the watchdog, adding that 10 rebels were killed in fierce clashes with troops in the area.
The Observatory also reported three rebels and two civilians killed in shelling on southern areas of the capital, including in Daraya, where troops had launched a major military operation to try and seize control of the town.
For several days, the army has pounded rebel strongholds on the capital’s outskirts, where the fighters have set up their rear bases, raising fears of a looming ground assault.
Abu Kinan, an activist in Daraya, said that clashes had broken out between the rebel Free Syrian Army and government troops to the east and west of Daraya.
“The army is getting reinforcements and has arrested more than 80 displaced people who were living in the surrounding areas, just because they are from Daraya,” he told AFP via Skype.
He said that the army had not yet succeeded in entering the town, the scene in August of the single deadliest massacre of the 21-month conflict.
State television reported that the army had “destroyed a number of vehicles and motorcycles used by terrorists” in Harasta and Daraya.
The Observatory said that the army mounted attacks on rebel positions near the borders with Turkey and Israel.
Air strikes struck the northern town of Tal Abyad near Turkey, the Britain-based watchdog said, while shells fell on the villages of Bir Ajam and Al-Buraykah in the Syrian side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, four men were killed in air strikes on the village of Kfar Lateh, and warplanes also bombed Maaret al-Numan and the nearby village of Has, killing two men and leaving 15 others wounded.
In Aleppo province in the north, warplanes pounded the towns of Aazaz and Jarablus, and targeted rebel positions around the Meng military airport which is ringed by several battalions.
More than 42,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics on the ground.
by Reza Kahlili
Hours after NATO agreed on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to Turkey because of the crisis in Syria, Russia delivered its first shipment of Iskander missiles to Syria.
The superior Iskander can travel at hypersonic speed of over 1.3 miles per second (Mach 6-7) and has a range of over 280 miles with pinpoint accuracy of destroying targets with its 1,500-pound warhead, a nightmare for any missile defense system.
According to Mashregh, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard media outlet, Russia had warned Turkey not to escalate the situation, but with Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles, it delivered its first shipment of Iskanders to Syria.
Reporting today, Mashregh said the handover occurred when Russian naval logistic vessels docked at Tartus in Syria.
The Iskandar is a surface-to-surface missile that no missile defense system can trace or destroy, Mashregh said. Russia had earlier threatened that should America put its missile defense system in Poland, it would retaliate by placing its Iskander missiles at Kaliningrad, its Baltic Sea port.
Russia’s delivery of Iskanders to Bashar Assad’s embattled regime clearly shows that the security and stability of Syria remains Russia’s red line, Mashregh said. It is unknown how many of these missiles have been delivered but the numbers given are sufficient to destroy any Patriot missiles in Turkey, it said.
The delivery of the missile not only threatens the security of Turkey but also Israel, which would have to recalculate its strategy with its defensive and offensive capabilities.
As reported in a WND exclusive on Dec. 5, Iran’s Islamic regime also sees the toppling of the Assad regime as its red line and has 170 ballistic missiles targeting Tel Aviv in underground missile silos, some with biological warheads.
In August, a commentary in Mashregh, representing the regime’s views, warned America and Israel that further instability in Syria would spark a pre-emptive attack on Israel in which the use of weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical and even nuclear bombs – won’t be off the table. It stated that certain groups (proxies, such as Hezbollah) have been armed with WMDs and that Israel will be their target.
The Mashregh commentary charged that Israel is one of the conspirators behind the Syrian crisis in order to strategically change the geopolitics of the region and defeat one of the main players in the Islamic world’s “resistance front” (Iran, Syria and Hezbollah). It warned Israel that with the direction it has chosen, “There is a dead end, and the threat of mass killing awaits.”
The Islamic regime in Iran for its part continues to ship arms to Syria via Iraq both by air and ground while its Quds Forces help the Assad regime in killing its own people. To date, over 40,000 people, including many women and children, have died since the Syrian uprising began in March of 2011.
Reports indicate that Assad has decided to use chemical weapons on his own people as a last attempt to save his rule. Speaking in Prague on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line, indicating that America would retaliate.
Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered the Guards and its Quds Forces to use all of their capabilities to protect Assad and has threatened war against those helping the rebels in Syria, primarily Saudi Arabia and Turkey, according to a source who had served in the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit but who has since defected.
The source added that the recent Gaza conflict was a warning to America and Israel that the Islamic regime in Iran can destabilize the region further should the push in Syria continue to topple Assad. The region will witness terrorist attacks, assassinations and incitement for uprisings in countries allied with America as the situation in Syria further deteriorates, the regime has promised, according to the source.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is accusing the Syrian government of serious violations of the 1974 agreement that separated Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights and is calling on both countries to halt firing across the cease-fire line.
Ban urged Syria to stop deploying troops and military equipment in the disputed zone.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Monday, Ban said recent incidents across the cease-fire line have shown the potential to escalate Israeli-Syrian tensions, and jeopardize the agreement and the region’s stability.
The report recommends a six-month extension of the 1,036-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights monitoring the 1974 agreement until June 30. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in 1967, and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.
Anxiety is increasing about the prospect of a desperate Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his rapidly proliferating enemies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Assad that such chemical weapons use would cross a U.S. red line: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
This new level of anxiety was prompted by reports that Assad’s forces have been moving chemical weapons, according to David Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The Times. They report that one American official told them that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” though the official “declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.”
The U.S. is not the only country worried about the possible use of chemical weapons. Intelligence officials in two countries told me recently that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites. According to these two officials, Israel has been seeking Jordan’s “permission” to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.
Of course, Israel can attack these sites without Jordanian approval (in 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor), but one official told me that the Israelis are concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack on Jordan. “A number of sites are not far from the border,” he said, further explaining: “The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack.” Intelligence sources told me that Israeli drones are patrolling the skies over the Jordan-Syria border, and that both American and Israeli drones are keeping watch over suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites.
He went on to provide context of the Israeli request: “You know the Israelis — sometimes they want to bomb right away. But they were told that from the Jordanian perspective, the time was not right.” The Israeli requests were made in the last two months, communicated by Mossad intermediaries dispatched by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, according to these sources. (I asked the Israeli embassy in Washington for comment on this, but received no answer.)
Jordan and Israel closely cooperate on security matters, and Jordan itself has become a hub of anti-Assad activity. Sources told me that the U.S., Jordan and their Arab Gulf allies have established a “war room” coordinated by the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID), which is organizing efforts to screen Syrian militants for jihadist sympathies, and to provide those without jihadist connections or proclivities with training and equipment. The “war room” was established in part to counter the influence of Turkish and Qatari supporters of more religiously militant anti-Assad fighters. Jordanian intelligence is also concerned about the Syrian regime infiltrating sleeper agents into the main Syrian refugee camp in Jordan near Zaatari, and into Jordanian cities, which are already temporary home to tens of thousands of refugees.
Occupied Jerusalem: Gunfire from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight close to an Israeli military vehicle monitoring the ceasefire line but causing no injuries, the occupation military said on Monday.
“There was gunfire near an Israeli military vehicle which was driving along the security fence,” a military spokeswoman said, adding the incident had occurred late on Sunday.
But she said troops in the area had not returned fire as they have done on previous occasions.
Such incidents have occurred with increasing frequency in the past few weeks as violence from the civil war in Syria spills across the ceasefire line.
Earlier this month, Israeli troops fired warning shots and tank shells across the UN-monitored ceasefire line in response to Syrian fire, in the first instance of Israeli fire directed at the Syrian military in the Golan Heights since their 1973 war.
Fears of a spillover of the conflict which has ravaged Syria for the past 20 months and left more than 40,000 dead, have widened as violence has spread to Syria’s borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Israeli artillery flew into Syria early Sunday after rounds coming from Syria struck an Israeli army patrol in the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The IDF reported no deaths or injuries, but said one military vehicle was damaged.
Israel said it did not know whether Syrian government or rebel forces fired the rounds that landed in the Golan Heights.
As of Sunday morning, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency had not reported on such back-and-forth firing.