Posts Tagged ‘Assad regime’

Russia, Syria blame opposition for using poison gas on civilians in Aleppo on Sunday

November 26, 2018

The Russian defense ministry also accused the Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, of having a part in the alleged attack.

Russian warplanes attacked opposition-held areas in northern Syria for the first time in weeks on Sunday, as Assad regime officials said more than 100 people were treated at hospitals for a suspected poison gas attack in the northern city of Aleppo that Damascus and Moscow blamed on opposition groups.

A Syrian boy receive treatment at a hospital in Aleppo on 24 November 2018

Dozens of people in Aleppo were treated with breathing difficulties overnight. AFP photo

The opposition, who have denied carrying out any poison gas attacks, accused the regime of trying to undermine a truce reached by Russia and Turkey in September during a summit in the Russian city of Sochi. The targeted area is opposition-held and home to extremist groups opposed to the truce such as the al-Qaida-linked Horas al-Din, which has described the deal as a “great conspiracy,” and the Ansar al-Din Front.

Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters in Moscow that Russian warplanes destroyed militant positions in northern Syria blaming them for the attack with poison gas on Aleppo.

The latest wave of shelling and airstrikes in northern Syria is the most serious violation of a truce reached by Russia and Turkey that brought relative calm to the country’s north for the past two months.

“The planes of Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces carried out strikes on the detected artillery positions of terrorists in the area, from where the shelling of Aleppo civilians with chemical munitions was conducted late” Saturday, Konashenkov said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa News Agency, an activist collective, said warplanes pounded opposition-held areas west and south of Aleppo city. The airstrikes were the first since the truce went into effect on Sept. 17.

Syria’s Arab News Agency, SANA, said regime troops pounded opposition positions near Aleppo “inflicting heavy losses among terrorists.”

SANA said the alleged chemical attack late Saturday was carried out by “terrorist groups positioned in Aleppo countryside” that fired shells containing toxic gases on three neighborhoods in Syria’s largest city.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Lama Fakih said “serious reports of suspected chemical weapon attacks should not be left without investigation.” She added that all parties, including the Assad regime and Russia, should facilitate an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the suspected attack in Aleppo.

Konashenkov said earlier that Russian chemical weapons specialists have been dispatched to Aleppo. Russia is a close ally of Bashar Assad and has intervened in recent years to turn the tide of the civil war in his favor.

“According to preliminary data, particularly the symptoms shown by the victims, the shells that bombarded residential areas of Aleppo were filled with chlorine gas,” Konashenkov said.

The Russian defense ministry also accused the Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, of having a part in the alleged attack.

Syria’s forensic medicine general director, Zaher Hajo, told The Associated Press that all but 15 of the 105 people who were treated have been discharged. He said two people who were in critical condition have improved.

The Observatory said 94 people were treated, with 31 remaining in hospitals.

Map showing control of Idlib province, Syria (3 September 2018)

Turkey’s defense ministry said in a statement Sunday that Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu about the recent developments in northern Syria. The statement said the two exchanged views on “recent provocations that have been evaluated as aimed to undermine the Sochi agreement may continue and the need to be ready.”

A joint team from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons accused Assad regime of using chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and the nerve agent sarin in an attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed about 100 people. The UN-OPCW team also accused the Daesh terrorist group of using mustard gas twice, in 2015 and 2016.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and contacts throughout Syria, said the airstrikes hit the Rashideen district on the western outskirts of Aleppo and the village of Khan Touman south of the city.

The truce brokered by Russia and Turkey has been repeatedly violated, but until Sunday there had been no airstrikes.

The opposition and Civil Defense had previously announced that the regime and Russia had a secret agenda of launching a campaign towards Idlib de-escalation zone and break the truce, hence they were preparing scenarios in which the opposition would be accused of chemical weapon usage.

Syrian state media meanwhile reported that opposition groups shelled the Christian village of Mahradeh in northwestern Syria, causing material damage but no casualties.

In Jordan, local media reported that troops opened fire on six people trying to infiltrate the border from Syria killing four and wounding two.

See also:

Syria war: Aleppo ‘gas attack’ sparks Russia strikes


Assad regime renews threat to attack Idlib after militants refuse to pull out

October 16, 2018

The Assad regime renewed its threat on Monday to launch an offensive in Idlib province in northwest Syria after militants defied a Russia-Turkey deal for them to pull out.

The fighters failed to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for them to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last opposition stronghold.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem said at a press conference in Damascus with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

A Syrian rebel-fighter from the National Liberation Front (NLF) walks in a street in the rebel-held al-Rashidin district of western Aleppo’s countryside near Idlib province on October 15, 2018. (AFP / Aaref Watad)

“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there are other options.”

Al-Moualem said it was now up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which averted a regime offensive last month, was being fulfilled. “We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” he said.

When Idlib was recaptured from the opposition, the regime would turn its attention to territory held by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the minister said. “After Idlib, our target is east of the Euphrates,” which must also return to Syrian sovereignty, he said.

Civilians in Idlib said they were concerned about an increase in violence if the Russian-Turkish accord collapsed. “We fear the deal’s sponsors will fail to implement all its points, and that the bombardment and battles will return,” one said.

The deal provides for a 15-20 km horseshoe-shaped buffer zone around opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

The dominant militant force in the region is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch. The group has signaled that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it has not explicitly said so.

“We value the efforts of all those striving — at home and abroad — to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Assad regime on Monday reopened a vital border post with Jordan and a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Two white jeeps crossed into Israeli-occupied territory during a low-key ceremony to mark the reopening of the Quneitra crossing in the Golan, four years after it was closed when Syrian opposition forces seized nearby territory.

In the south, and three years after it too was closed, a black metal border gate opened at the Nassib crossing into Jordan as police and customs officials stood nearby.

The Jordan crossing was previously a major trading route, while the remote Quneitra post is used primarily by a UN force that monitors a cease-fire line separating Israeli-occupied parts of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Syrian businessman Hisham Falyoun, who lives in Jordan with his wife and children, was the first person to cross the border in his black Mercedes SUV.

“I wanted to be the first person to cross to show everyone that Syria is safe, Syria is back,” said Falyoun, who was hoping to surprise his parents in Damascus.

Arab News

Israel Expresses Regret For Downed Russia Aircraft, Says Syria is Responsible

September 18, 2018

Expressing regret, Israel says responsibility of incident falls squarely with Syria as well as Iran and Hezbollah.

 SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 14:48

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20M

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20M . (photo credit: KIRILL NAUMENKO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis addressed the downing of the Russian plane in Syria on Tuesday after Moscow accused Israel of a hostile provocation and threatened to respond.

“Israel expresses its regret over the death of the crew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” read the statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”

Manelis confirmed that the IDF had struck a Syrian military facility from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel and posed an intolerable threat against it,” he said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

According to the preliminary investigation launched by the Israeli Air Force, the Russian Ilyushin military plane was not within the area of operation of Israeli jets, and when it was struck all Israeli jets which took part in the operation had already returned to Israeli territory.

“The Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” Manelis said, adding that “the extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft missile fire cause the Russian plane to be hit.”


An official from Russia’s Defense Ministry was quoted by TASS News that the plane went off the radar while four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

Moscow accused Israel Tuesday morning of using the IL-20 as cover to carry out the strikes and said Israel warned them of the operation only one minute before.

“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished,” TASS news agency quoted Russian defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov as saying. “This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”

Earlier on Tuesday the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on social media that the Israeli ambassador had been called into her ministry in connection with what had happened near Syria.

Manelis denied the reports, saying that the de-conflication mechanism implemented with Russia over Syria to coordinate their actions in order avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace “was in use tonight like it has been in use in the past.”

Israel said that it will share all relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts of the inquiry.

Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria but has publicly admitted to having struck over 200 targets in Syria over the past year and a half.

Germany’s Bundeswehr could soon take part in US, UK and French airstrikes on Syria

September 10, 2018

A report suggests Germany’s Bundeswehr could soon take part in US, UK and French airstrikes on Syria if another chemical attack should occur. The controversial move faces resistance in the government.

Bundeswehr tornado jet (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

The German Defense Ministry is reportedly in talks with its US counterpart to hammer out details for the Bundeswehr to join possible airstrikes by US, British and French forces on Syrian targets, Germany’s mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported on Monday.

The report suggests Germany’s conservative defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has responded to a US request, which was followed by a meeting of high-ranking ministry and military officials from both countries.

German tornado jets could take part in combat missions alongside their US, UK and French counterparts, according to the article. It would be the first time for German forces to drop bombs since the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, Bild says.

Only in case of a chemical attack

The Bundeswehr would only join air strikes in case of another chemical attack. In April, President Bashar Assad was blamed by Western powers for using chemical weapons in an attack on Douma,which killed more than 70 people.

In response, US, UK and French forces bombed three government sites in Syria ins response to the chemical attack in Douma. Russia rejected Western allegations that Assad’s regime was behind the attacks. The US-led airstrikes were seen as the most significant attack of the Allied powers in Syria’s civil war.

If Germany joined the alliance, it would risk direct confrontation with Russia, which supports Assad.

The move, which would have to be approved by the chancellery, would be an about-face for conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has previously said Germany would not take part in “military missions” in Syria.

Read moreIran, Russia, Turkey fail to agree on ceasefire for Syria’s Idlib

The report goes on to say that Bundeswehr forces could also join reconnaissance flights after a possible attack, also known as “battle damage assessment.”

The Bundeswehr is already active in Syria, but does not engage in combat missions.

Germans skeptical about combat missions

Many Germans are skeptical about theirarmed forces engaging in combat missions for historical reasons.

The Social Democrats’ (SPD) chair, Andrea Nahles, reacted to the report by saying that “the SPD will not approve Germany joining the war in Syria, neither in parliament nor in the government,” according to news agency dpa. The Social Democrats are in a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU party.

The foreign and defense ministries would not comment on the report, but told Bild that they were “in close contact with our US ally.” They also pointed out that it was important to avoid further escalation in Syria, particularly with regard to “the use of chemical weapons, which the Assad regime has used in the past.”

Netanyahu slated to meet Putin amid friction over Iranian foothold in Syria

July 11, 2018

Wednesday trip to Moscow comes as Israel says it will not tolerate Iran-backed fighters anywhere in country, despite Kremlin calling complete withdrawal ‘absolutely unrealistic’

Times of Israel
July 11, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, in the latest in a series of frequent summits between the two amid persistent tensions over the presence of Iran-backed fighters in Syria.

The meeting between the two comes days after Israel was blamed for an airstrike on a Syrian airbase near Homs thought to be used by Iranian militiamen and other Shiite fighters.

Jerusalem has also focused in recent days on keeping Syrian fighters out of a demilitarized zone on the Golan border as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and backed by Russian air power look to take over the last pockets of rebel resistance in southern Syria.

Netanyahu is slated to land in Moscow Wednesday afternoon and return to Israel early on Thursday. While in the Russian capital, he is expected to attend the World Cup semifinal match between England and Croatia.

Though Russia backs Assad and is allied with Iran, it has turned a mostly blind eye to frequent sorties attributed to Israel against Syrian and Iranian targets. Netanyahu has credited Russia’s willingness to tolerate Israeli air activity to his frequent consultations with Putin.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

The two most recently met in Moscow on June 15. Shortly after that meeting, an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel targeted an Iranian military base.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu met with Putin’s special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin in Jerusalem to discuss “regional developments,” according to the prime minister’s office.

During the meeting, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position that it would “not tolerate a military presence by Iran or its proxies anywhere in Syria and that Syria must strictly abide by the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement,” his office said.

Israel has repeatedly vowed it will not tolerate any Iranian military presence in Syria and has carried out strikes against Tehran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

Syrian government soldiers ride in an army truck near the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohamad Abazeed)

Russia has reportedly agreed to keep Iranian troops a certain distance from the Golan border, but has called a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country “absolutely unrealistic.”

Some Israeli analysts interpreted Sunday’s attack on the T-4 airbase, deep inside Syria, as a signal to Putin that Israel was sticking to its guns regarding any Iranian presence in the country.

“The very fact of Iranian presence in Syria is, in our view, unreasonable. We are not prepared to accept Iranian presence in any part of Syria and, as I’m sure you’ve heard more than once, we will act against Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” defense minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday during a tour of the border region.

While Russia does not seem to have accepted Israel’s demand for Iran to be completely removed from Syria, it has agreed to force the Islamic Republic’s forces and proxies to leave the areas closest to the border with Israel. According to some reports, pro-Iranian forces would be required to stay 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the border; others indicate that range would be set at 80 kilometers (50 miles).

Israeli soldiers at an army base in the Golan Heights look out across the border with Syria on July 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

“Regarding a retreat to 40 kilometers or 80 kilometers, it doesn’t matter. Therefore, the moment we see Iranian presence, we take action, and that is how it will continue,” Liberman said.

He also accused the Syrian regime of allowing Iran-backed terrorists to set up “infrastructure” near Israel’s border and threatened that “everyone will pay the price, including the regime.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman peers through binoculars on a hilltop overlooking the border with Syria as Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher gives him a briefing on developments in the area, on July 10, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“We are seeing efforts by figures associated with the [Iran-led] axis, with permission from the regime, to establish terrorist infrastructure here in the Syrian Golan Heights,” Liberman said.

Liberman threatened that Syrian troops who break the 1974 agreement to establish a buffer zone between the countries would be targeted.

“In our view, the entry of Syrian forces into the buffer zone — any Syrian soldier who finds himself in the buffer zone is endangering their life,” he said.

The buffer zone has become a de facto refugee safe zone with tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a Russian-backed offensive to take back the southern region in recent weeks.

The defense minister added that Israel was not dismissing out of hand the possibility for some kind of normalization with the Assad regime in the form of opening the Quneitra Crossing between the two countries.

“I believe that we are far from that, but I am not ruling anything out,” he said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.


Israel warns Iran, Hezbollah over forces in Syria

July 10, 2018

Israel will not allow Iranian forces to become entrenched in Syria, its defense minister warned on Monday, after Israeli jets carried out another raid on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps air base in Homs province.

Image result for Israeli jets, photos

Avigdor Lieberman spoke as Assad regime forces advanced toward the Golan Heights frontier zone that was demilitarised under a 44-year-old UN-monitored truce between Syria and Israel.

Regime troops backed by Russia have launched an offensive in the southern Daraa province and are widely expected to move on opposition-held Quneitra, which is within a part of the Syrian Golan covered by the armistice.

Israel fears Syrian President Bashar Assad could allow Iran and Hezbollah to move forces into the area, giving them a foothold near its border.

“We will sanctify the 1974 disengagement agreement, and … any violation will meet a harsh response,” Lieberman said.

“We will not allow Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and we will not allow Syrian soil to be turned into a vanguard against Israel.”

Israel launched air raids on Sunday night against the T4 air base in Homs, where seven Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel died in an Israeli attack on April 9.

Meanwhile, Assad regime forces laid siege on Monday to an opposition-held enclave in Daraa and were poised to gain complete control of the city where the uprising against Assad’s rule began.

The army was also consolidating its grip over the border area with Jordan to the east of Daraa city. Free Syrian Army fighters have mostly handed over the area along with their heavy weapons after a surrender agreement last Friday.

The Syrian army and its militias won a strategic victory in a 20-day offensive after they captured Nassib crossing, a vital trade route that insurgents held for three years.

Abu Shaima, a spokesman for the opposition in Daraa, said several thousand people were now encircled after the army pushed into a base west of the city without a fight.

“The army and its militias have besieged Daraa completely,” he said.

Syrian state media said the army was spreading along the border areas with Jordan. The return of Daraa to Assad’s complete control would deal a big psychological blow to the opposition.

The protests were violently crushed and paved the way for the civil war.

Arab News


Syrians ‘will never be safe under Assad’ — opposition

July 9, 2018

“We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation.”

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition.”

Syrian government soldiers burn an opposition flag at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 7, 2018. (AFP / Youssef Karwashan)

Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime, opposition leaders told Arab News on Sunday, as thousands returned to their homes after a cease-fire deal in the southern region of Daraa.

The regime offensive to retake Daraa from insurgents, which began on June 19, displaced about 330,000 people. Many headed to the border with Jordan, which refused to allow refugees to cross. Fighting ended on Friday under a Russian-mediated surrender deal.

© AFP | A Jordanian soldier keeps watch along the border with Syria on July 2, 2018

Anders Pedersen, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jordan, said on Sunday that only 150 to 200 Syrians remained near a key crossing point into Jordan, and “as far as we understand they are almost exclusively men.”

The cease-fire covered most of southern Syria but intense shelling and airstrikes on Sunday targeted the opposition-held village of Um Al-Mayadeen, just north of the Naseeb border crossing. Regime troops later captured the village after a battle with opposition fighters.

© AFP | With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs

“Despite the return of refugees to their homes, Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime’s rule and brutality,” Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.

“At the same time, this is not a victory for the regime since it is participating in name only. After the Russians and the Iranian militias finished their work, you would see Syrian regime officers coming in front of television cameras. This is what happens.”

Aleppo's Great  Umayyad Mosque, pictured on July 22, 2017.

Although the main opposition groups in the eastern parts of Daraa province have agreed to hand over their weapons as part of the surrender, some have vowed to continue fighting, mostly in western parts of Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region on the front with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“Those who have lost their families — and those parents whose children have been murdered by the regime — will not accept Assad and his regime’s existence, survival and power,” Bahia Mardini, a Syrian opposition activist and founder of Syrian House, which helps Syrians in the UK, told Arab News.

“Despite the lack of international desire for military action, as long as the regime clings on to power, I expect that military action will continue.”

“As long as there is terrorism and dictatorship, there will remain a Syrian opposition who seek democracy and human rights for the Syrian people. They will continue to find new mechanisms to work and succeed despite the difficulties.

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition. We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation,” she said.

“An internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

“Military cells will remain in Syria, some of them dormant, and despite the international silence, they will renew their military action if there is no democratic process that satisfies the rebellious people and all the parties. That is why an internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

Arab News

Image result for syria, urban, destruction, photos

“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” Assad has said.

Quitting Syria too soon would be a ‘blunder’: Mattis

June 9, 2018

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned Friday it would be a “strategic blunder” to pull out of Syria before UN-led peace efforts had made progress.

A US-led coalition is conducting military operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Mattis said they must not leave a “vacuum” that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could take advantage of.

© POOL/AFP | US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned that coalition forces leaving Syria could create a “vacuum”

Talks in Geneva led by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura have made little headway, but Mattis said they must be given the chance to succeed.

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover,” Mattis said at a meeting of coalition defence ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

IS seized parts of a town on the Syria-Iraq border on Friday in the latest in a string of attacks that comes as the continued presence of coalition forces in Syria is coming into question.

US President Donald Trump has vowed he would pull out his troops from Syria but Mattis has pleaded for a more patient approach.

“As the operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters,” Mattis said.


Russia, Israel and Iran are trapped in a deadly dance for the future of the Middle East

May 11, 2018

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his military intervention in Syria, Moscow has maintained an uneasy alliance with Iran — and Israel, Soon Putin will have to decide who his real friends are…

Iran protest

Iran has been expanding its influence in the Middle East CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Con Coughlan
The Telegraph

Putin needs to decide who his real friends are in Syria

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his military intervention in Syria, Moscow has maintained an uneasy alliance with Iran.

On one level, Russia and Iran have shared the same objective: keeping the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power. Indeed, Mr Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria in the summer of 2014 was only taken after he received a warning from Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, that the Assad regime was on the point of collapse.

This prospect had potentially serious consequences for the future of Russia’s military bases in Syria at Latakia and Tartus, which date back to the Cold War era and were established as part of Moscow’s long-standing strategic partnership with the Assad family.

Russia’s primary interest, therefore, in supporting the Assad regime was to protect and maintain its military operations in Syria.

Iran, on the other hand, sees its ties with Damascus as part of its attempts to strengthen its influence throughout the Arab world. Apart from keeping open vital supply lines across the Lebanese border to Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia militia, Iran has taken advantage of Syria’s long-running civil war to construct a network of permanent military bases.

Israel missile strike
Flames rise from the site of the recent Israeli missile strike  CREDIT: SANA/AP

Iran’s justification for expanding its military involvement in Syria has been to strengthen its ability to tackle the numerous rebel groups that are fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. But the fact that the Iranians have deployed thousands of medium and long range missiles in Syria suggests they have a more ominous objective – to threaten Israel.

Iran’s insistence on exploiting its alliance with Assad to establish a new front in its long-standing confrontation with the Jewish state has created tensions between Moscow and Tehran, as the Kremlin has no interest in provoking a conflict with Israel.

On the contrary,  Mr Putin is said to enjoy a good relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the extent that, in the past, Moscow has given Israel a green light to attack Iranian positions in Syria, even though Russia and Iran are supposed to be allies fighting common cause on behalf of the Assad regime.

It is now being reported that Israel gave Moscow advanced warning of its latest wave of air strikes against the Iranians, carried out on Wednesday after Iran was accused of firing a number of rockets at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from its Syrian bases.

This curious state of affairs helps to illustrate the underlying tensions between Russia and Iran, which date back to the previous decade. Then, the Russians accused Tehran of providing misleading information about the true extent of its nuclear enrichment programme.

Any alliance, then, between Russia and Iran is likely to be more of a marriage of convenience than a close strategic partnership. And a good way for the Russians to secure the future of their military bases in Syria would be to persuade Iran to cease its aggressive actions towards Israel.

Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria — Israel says it hit “all Iranian bases in Syria”

May 10, 2018

Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli army bases in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages against Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.

Image may contain: sky, night, cloud and outdoor

Syrian missile fire is seen in the night sky near Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. REUTERS-Omar Sanadiki


The attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, just past midnight, marked the first time Iranian forces have hit Israel from Syria, where they have deployed along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militias and Russian troops to support President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.

Dozens of Israeli missiles hit a radar station, Syrian air defense positions and an ammunition dump, Syrian state media said, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

“I hope we finished this chapter and everyone got the message,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at the Herzliya security conference, near Tel Aviv, on Thursday morning.

Israel said 20 Iranian Grad and Fajr rockets were shot down by its Iron Dome air defense system or fell short of the Golan targets. The Quds Force, an external arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, carried out the launch, Israel said.

“It was commanded and ordered by (Quds Force chief General) Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

Israel struck back by destroying dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, Conricus said, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes.

“We do not know yet the (Iranian) casualty count,” he said.

“But I can say that in terms of our purpose, we focused less on personnel and more on capabilities and hardware … to inflict long-term damage on the Iranian military establishment in Syria. We assess it will take substantial time to replenish.”

Israeli schools in the Golan Heights opened as usual on Thursday morning, after sirens had sent residents to shelters during the night.

This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday. (Syria News, via AP)

This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday. (Syria News, via AP)

“I do not reside on the border of New Zealand-Australia. We are located here facing Syria and Lebanon and this is the reality which we will overcome together, especially with the IDF (Israel Defence Forces),” said Alex Gudish, a Golan settler.

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)


The Israelis fear that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are turning Syria into a new front against them. Israel says its occasional strikes in Syria aim to foil that.

Iran vowed retaliation after a suspected Israeli air strike last month killed seven of its military personnel in a Syrian air base.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat, and has repeatedly targeted Iranian forces and allied militia in Syria.

Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. Hours later, Israeli rocket rockets targeted a military base in Kisweh, a commander in the pro-Syrian government regional alliance said.

That attack killed 15 people, including eight Iranians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, though the commander said there were no casualties. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

The Trump administration cast its hard line against the Iranian nuclear deal as a response, in part, to Tehran’s military interventions in the region.

The Golan flare-up with Israel “is just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted and another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)


The tensions worry Russia, which wants to stabilize Syria.

Thursday’s flare-up came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a visit to Moscow, where he discussed Syria concerns with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Conricus said Israel forewarned Russia of its strikes on Thursday, which Syrian state media first reported hit Baath City in Quneitra, near the border. Further waves of missiles followed. Syrian state media said Israeli missiles had been brought down over Damascus, Homs and Sueida.

“Air defenses confronted tens of Israeli rockets and some of them reached their target and destroyed one of the radar sites,” Syrian state news agency SANA reported, citing a military source. Another rocket hit an ammunition warehouse, it said.

Syrian state television broadcast footage of its air defenses firing, and playing patriotic songs. Damascus residents described explosions in the sky from air defense systems.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported Israeli jets circling over Lebanese territory early on Thursday before exiting.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Dahlia Nehme and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Grant McCool, Peter Cooney, Tom Perry and Larry King