Posts Tagged ‘missiles’

Pompeo to head to North Korea as doubts mount over denuclearization

July 3, 2018

Intelligence reports suggest Pyongyang may be boosting production of fuel for nuclear weapons

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens while appearing at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pompeo is due to travel to North Korea later this week. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday, seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearization despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head from Pyongyang to Tokyo on Saturday, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons.

U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

‘Great momentum’

The U.S. goal remained “the final, fully verified denuclearization of [North Korea], as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokesperson said.

A U.S. delegation led by U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and … the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

U.S. intelligence reports

An NBC News report on Friday quoted officials saying U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with the United States.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the conclusion of their meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. A leaked U.S. intelligence report and an analysis of satellite data suggest the North may be continuing its nuclear and missile activities. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, issued a report on Monday saying recent satellite imagery showed North Korea was completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing plant for solid-fuel missiles.

The images showed North Korea finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim was meeting with Trump, the report said.

Last week, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project affiliated with Washington’s Stimson Center think-tank, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Seeking a ‘road map’

Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters but said the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Centre for a New American Security, said U.S. and South Korea officials had told him Pompeo would be seeking to agree to “a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a road map.”

He said that if progress was made, the U.S. was open to expanded future engagement with North Korea, including a possible visit by Kim to the UN General Assembly in New York in September and a second summit with Trump.

North Korea has consistently refused in past rounds of failed negotiations to provide an inventory of its weapons program and U.S. intelligence remains uncertain of how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.

The Defence Intelligence Agency has a high-end estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, including smaller tactical nuclear weapons, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

Related:

See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/asia/north-korea-factory-intl/index.html

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Pompeo to head to North Korea as doubts mount

July 3, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearization, despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, people sitting and suit
KCNA | Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this May 9, 2018 photo released on May 10, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head on Saturday from Pyongyang to Tokyo, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons. U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

The U.S. goal remained “the final, fully-verified denuclearization of (North Korea), as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

A U.S. delegation led by U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and … the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made on Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

INTELLIGENCE REPORTS

An NBC News report on Friday quoted U.S. officials saying U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with the United States.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has.

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, issued a report on Monday saying recent satellite imagery showed North Korea was completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing plant for solid-fuel missiles.

The images showed North Korea finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim was meeting with Trump, the report said.

Last week, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project affiliated with Washington’s Stimson Center think tank, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Bolton also refused to comment on intelligence matters, but said the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said U.S. and South Korea officials had told him Pompeo would be seeking to agree to “a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a roadmap.”

He said that if progress was made, the U.S. was open to expanded future engagement with North Korea, including a possible visit by Kim to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September and a second summit with Trump.

North Korea has consistently refused in past rounds of failed negotiations to provide an inventory of its weapons program, and U.S. intelligence remains uncertain of how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has a high end estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, including smaller tactical nuclear weapons, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

US intel agency believes Kim won’t fully denuclearize

July 3, 2018

The Defense Intelligence Agency believes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of engaging in a full denuclearization program, at least for now, according to an administration official familiar with the agency’s finding.

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A second official tells CNN the Trump administration plans to present the North Koreans with a detailed list of tasks they must undertake to begin a denuclearization process.
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The analysis is currently being circulated among other US intelligence agencies to see if they concur, the first official said. While the official would not detail the precise intelligence that has led to this conclusion, the agency utilizes satellite imagery, electronic intercepts and human intelligence gained from operatives.
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CNN
By Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, CNN

Updated 6:25 PM ET, Mon July 2, 2018

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A North Korean missile production facility in the city of Hamhung is seen from a satellite image taken on June 29. (Planet Labs Inc./Reuters)

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A third official told CNN that the agency believes Kim may publicly agree to denuclearization to some extent, but that he will in reality hide weapons and infrastructure from the US.
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A photograph released by North Korean state media last year showing Kim inspecting an artist's rendition of the purported facility.

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The current view on Kim directly addresses his intentions rather than the overall capabilities of his weapons programs. If other elements of the US intelligence community agree with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s analysis, it could then become a so-called “finished intelligence product,” or report that would be briefed to the highest levels of the administration. It’s not known how much of the DIA finding the White House may be aware of.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return to North Korea on July 5 to meet with Kim and his team, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at Monday’s press briefing.
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A foreign intelligence source told CNN that the intelligence community’s analytic judgment has stayed the same for years, which is that they are skeptical of Kim’s willingness to denuclearize.
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This source said that they are unaware of any new projects the North Koreans may be working on, but reiterated that “they have given nothing up.”
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Former UN weapons inspector David Albright told CNN on Monday that his firm has new information about a secret North Korean facility producing highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium. The information, Albright says, comes from Western intelligence sources.
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“At Kangsong they’re using gas centrifuges,” Albright told CNN’s Brian Todd. Pointing to a photo, Albright identified the rotor assembly. “They’re producing weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons,” Albright said. “And the site may have up to 6,000 or more of these centrifuges.”
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The Pentagon declined to address intelligence reports on North Korea’s nuclear capability when asked on Monday, saying only that the US military remains postured to “deal with any and all threats on the peninsula” with the goal of allowing “diplomats the space and the time to hopefully make progress coming out of the summit.”
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Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning also said that Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea “will not impact the capabilities and readiness of our combined forces on the peninsula in order to deal with North Korea.”
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The Defense Department has long been skeptical of North Korea moving quickly to denuclearize. Recent commercial satellite imagery has shown some continuing activity at various nuclear fuel and missile sites.
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The Washington Post earlier reported on US intelligence officials’ doubt that North Korea intends to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile.
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Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in a signed agreement after his Singapore summit with President Donald Trump. In the statement, Kim also said that his country would commit “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
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But Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized the nature of his deal with Kim, insisting last month that the North Korean dictator had agreed to begin “total denuclearization” right away.
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While Kim has consistently said he’s willing to denuclearize, long-time North Korea watchers worry that Pyongyang and Washington have very different definitions of the term denuclearization.
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“Kim has never offered to disarm. Not once,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director for the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “He’s arming, not disarming.”
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White House national security adviser John Bolton would not comment on the Washington Post report Sunday, but did say on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal could be dismantled in a year if Pyongyang cooperates, adding that the program would require “full disclosure of all (of North Korea’s) chemical and biological, nuclear programs, ballistic missile sites.”
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“We have developed a program. I am sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their (weapons of mass destruction])and ballistic missile programs in a year,” Bolton said. “If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they are cooperative, we can move very quickly. And it is to North Korea’s advantage to dismantle very quickly. Then the elimination of sanctions, aid by South Korea and Japan and others can all begin to flower.”
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Bolton disclosed that the plan has not been put into action yet.
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“It has not. Physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year,” Bolton said.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
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Pompeo told CNN last week he would not put a timeline on negotiations with North Korea, but said the Trump administration will regularly assess the regime’s seriousness about abandoning its nuclear program as the US moves toward normalizing relations with Pyongyang.
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He also played it coy when asked by lawmakers last week about specific conditions the administration has set for North Korea to achieve denuclearization and secure economic concessions.
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“I’m not prepared to talk about the details of the discussions that are taking place,” he said, “I think it would be inappropriate and, frankly, counterproductive to achieving the end state that we’re hoping to achieve.”
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A team of US officials led by envoy Sung Kim met with North Korean officials Sunday at Panmunjom, the border village between North and South Korea in the demilitarized zone, in the first face-to-face conversations between the two countries since the summit last month according senior State Department officials.
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The foreign intelligence source who spoke to CNN said it would be worrisome if the administration does not have a timeline by September.
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Bolton also said Sunday on CBS that during the US-North Korea summit in Singapore, Kim was “very emphatic several times” about turning over the arsenal, which was a change from previous regimes.
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“Now, we’ll let their actions speak for themselves,” Bolton added.
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“There’s nobody involved in this discussion with North Korea in the administration who is overburdened by naïveté. We’ve seen how the North Koreans have behaved before,” Bolton said.
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“The President’s been very clear,” Bolton said. “He is not going to make mistakes of prior administrations. We are going to pursue this, and we will see what happens.”
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However, one former member of the US National Security Council told CNN that the leak of this intelligence assessment could indicate there is internal frustration over the administration’s apparent trust in Kim’s sincerity moving forward.
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US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
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“The (intelligence community) doesn’t assess that Kim Jong Un is acting in good faith … they’re probably fed up with the fact that (Trump) and Pompeo keep publicly touting their trust in one of the most definitively untrustworthy regimes the US has ever negotiated with,” the source said.
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But the decision to leak this information also has a risk factor, according to the same source, who said the information could diminish the likelihood Kim will cooperate “if he thinks that, no matter what he does, the US has already prejudged him to be untrustworthy.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/politics/north-korea-denuclearization/index.html

Related:

See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/asia/north-korea-factory-intl/index.html

Trump’s big North Korea deal is already turning out to be a sham

July 2, 2018

Do they give out Nobel Peace Prizes for praising and appeasing brutal dictators who threaten nuclear war — without getting anything in return?

President Trump claimed he would use his world-class dealmaking skills to convince North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, to surrender his nuclear weapons. Instead, Trump got played. Kim, who pledged in wishy-washy language to “denuclearize,” is now accelerating his nuclear program. The nuclear threat from North Korea — and the risk of a preemptive war launched by Trump — are both growing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to North Korea this week hoping to contain the fallout.

Twenty days ago, Trump shook hands with Kim in Singapore. At the summit, Trump played the role of apologist in chief for Kim’s human rights abuses while praising Kim as a “very talented” person because he can “run it tough.” In North Korea, “running it tough” means executing dissidents, torturing political prisoners in gulags and threatening to wipe a few U.S. cities off the map with a nuclear blast.

OPINION
By July 2 at 2:11 PM
The Washington Post


A North Korean missile production facility in the city of Hamhung is seen from a satellite image taken on June 29. (Planet Labs Inc./Reuters)

The White House and Trump’s surrogates insisted that the unsavory handshake would be vindicated. They claimed we were witnessing a history-making deal from a history-making dealmaker. Former presidents, guided by experts who understood every intricacy of North Korean politics, had failed. All it would take from Trump, they claimed, was a one-on-one handshake, a photo-op and some touting of North Korea’s prospects for developing beachfront resorts. Hit by that sophisticated diplomatic approach, Kim would trade missiles for condos. Then, the president’s cheerleaders argued, Trump could accept his well-deserved invitation to Oslo.

It was risible then. Now it is being revealed as fatally naive.

Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that North Korea is rapidly completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing facility for missiles — missiles that can strike American allies, American military bases in those allied countries and, yes, the mainland United States.

North Korea watchers also used recent satellite images to conclude that “improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace.”

NBC News and The Post also reported this weekend that “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months.”

To anyone with even a basic understanding of North Korea, this comes as no surprise. “The [North Koreans’] insistence on vague language in the Singapore declaration was almost certainly so that they could continue accelerated development of nuclear facilities,” Robert E. Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University, told me on Monday. “It is a mark of how poorly President Trump prepared for Singapore that he did not anticipate this and demand sharper language and a timeline in exchange for the valuable concession of a presidential summit.”

It is becoming alarmingly clear that Trump’s “win” was a major loss for international security. But it is also a major loss for those who believe in using diplomacy rather than war to neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat.

Perhaps that’s by design. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has long argued (before his current stint in the White House) that the United States should preemptively attack North Korea. In February, he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed, providing the legal justification for preemptive strikes to topple Kim’s regime and take out their nuclear program — a strategy that most analysts agree could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths.

In March, Bolton argued on Fox News that a Trump-Kim summit would be a positive development because it would “foreshorten the amount of time that we’re going to waste on negotiations.” In Bolton’s view, meeting with Kim would expose the North Korean regime as untrustworthy scoundrels who could not be swayed by diplomatic olive branches. Once president-to-chairman diplomacy inevitably failed, it would pave the way for Bolton’s favored choice: deadly force.

Trump hired Bolton as his new national security adviser exactly one month after that interview.

Bolton may soon be proved right that the time on negotiations was “wasted” — not because diplomacy is doomed to fail, but because the amateur and childishly naive approach that Trump took was always doomed to fail.

As Kim marches closer to his dynasty’s long-standing dream of having an arsenal of nuclear weapons that can reliably hit U.S. cities within an hour, Trump looks like a gullible fool. And while he decides how to respond to being duped, Trump will have a mustachioed warmonger whispering in his ear, a man who has already told the world that he wants diplomacy to fail because it will lead to war.

There is still the possibility that real progress can be made if Trump stays out of the spotlight and lets the real diplomatic work get done behind the scenes. But if you believe Trump’s tweet that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” or that there is “no longer” the risk of war with North Korea,  then you, I’m sorry to say, are also a gullible fool.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/07/02/trumps-big-north-korea-deal-is-already-turning-out-to-be-a-sham/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.70df99fa15fe

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: North Korea is taking advantage of Trump

George F. Will: Trump can’t ask North Korea and Iran to become vegetarians

Reports: Israeli aircraft fires missile at Palestinians launching kites from Gaza

July 2, 2018

No injuries reported among group in Shuja’iyya

Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Mahmud Hams)

Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Mahmud Hams)

Palestinian media reported Sunday that an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip about to launch burning kites towards Israel.

According to the Palestinian media there were no injuries from the shot which targeted a group in Shuja’iyya, in the east of Gaza City.

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Last week Israeli leaders warned Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other terror groups in the Strip, that the military was prepared to take more intense offensive action as well.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks, and forests.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argued that it would be a step too far.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/reports-israeli-aircraft-fire-missiles-at-gazans-launching-kites/

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Philippines boosts sea deterrent with first ever navy missiles

May 2, 2018

The Philippine has completed the purchase of its first-ever ship-borne missile systems, boosting its maritime deterrent as part of a military modernization program, defense and navy officials said on Wednesday.

The Israeli-made Spike ER missiles were fitted on locally manufactured gunboats, known as multi-purpose attack craft, said Arsenio Andolong, defense ministry spokesman. It is unclear when the short-range surface-to-surface, surface-to-air missile systems will become operational.

A senior naval commander said the Philippines would now be more of a force in patrolling the South China Sea and its pirate-plagued southern waters.

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Israeli-made Spike ER missiles

“It will be a deterrent because, this time, we have a credible armament that can strike a punch whether the target is a small or large ship,” said the commander, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The missiles have a maximum range of eight km (5 miles).

The Philippines is paying $11.6 million in total for the system and the missiles will be installed on three boats from its fleet of small, fast gunboats.

Its warships, which include two South Korean-made frigates, will be armed with advanced, longer-range missiles.

The Philippines has allocated 125 billion peso ($2.41 billion) over the next five years to acquire frigates, fighter jets, helicopters, surveillance planes, drones and radar systems.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel

Reuters

Syrian air defenses shoot down missiles over two air bases: state TV, Hezbollah

April 17, 2018

AFP

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian anti-aircraft defenses shot down missiles fired at the Syrian air base of Shayrat in Homs province late on Monday and another base northeast of the capital, Damascus, Syria’s state television and pro-Iranian Hezbollah media said.

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State television showed pictures of a missile that was shot in the air above the air base only days after a U.S., British and French attack on Syrian targets in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on the city of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus.

State television did not mention three missiles that were fired at Dumair military airport, northeast of Damascus, that pro-Iranian Hezbollah’s media service reported were intercepted by Syrian air defenses.

Opposition sources say Dumair airport is a major air base used in a large-scale military campaign waged by the Syrian army with Russian firepower that regained eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus.

A Pentagon spokesman said there was no U.S. military activity in that area at this time.

Asked about the missile attack, an Israeli military spokesman said: “We don’t comment on such reports.”

Shayrat air base was targeted last year in a U.S. cruise missile attack in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 70 people, including children, on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Israel has struck Syrian army locations many times in the course of the conflict, hitting convoys and bases of Iranian-backed militias that fight alongside Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s forces.

Israel has long said Iran was expanding its influence in a belt of territory that stretches from the Iraqi border to the Lebanese border, where Israel says Iran supplies Hezbollah with arms.

Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias have a large military presence in Syria and are well entrenched in central and eastern areas near the Iraqi border.

Deputy Hezbollah leader Sheikh Naim Qassem told pro-Syrian government television channel al Maydeen he expected a reaction to the death of at least seven Iranian military personnel during a missile strike earlier this month on the T-4 airfield near Homs, which Iran blamed on Israel

“The deliberate Israeli slaying of Iranians in the T4 base will have a response but we don’t know its nature or its details,” Qassem said in the television interview.

The heavily armed and Tehran-backed Shi’ite movement has been a vital military ally of President Bashar al-Assad in the seven-year-old Syrian war.

Hezbollah, which last fought a major war with Israel in 2006, has however said it would not open a new front against its arch-foe from Lebanon.

Qassem said the powerful militia did not fight in all the main battles in Syria but was present in any area that was needed. He did not elaborate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the U.S., British, and French strikes in Syria his country will continue “to move against Iran in Syria.”

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdullah in Cairo, Yara Bayoumy in Washington and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Leslie Adler, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry

Satellite Images of Iranian Missile Base in Syria May Signal an Israeli Strike

March 1, 2018

Haaretz

The Fox News report evokes the BBC report from December on a military base for pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Syria. The base was bombed from the air a few weeks later

.Israeli satellite images reveal: Iran builds military base near Damascus
Israeli satellite images reveal: Iran builds military base near Damascus.: Imagesat International (ISI)

Judging by historic precedent, the report Fox News aired Wednesday on the new Iranian military base in Syria is like cocking a gun: it’s the warning before the blast. The same happened in December. A few weeks after the BBC reported based on “Western intelligence” sources, on a base for pro-Iranian Shiite in Syria, the base was bombed from the air. Foreign media attributed the attack to Israel, though Israel as usual declined to comment.

The last week has brought more reports about Iran’s establishment in Syria – the deployment of Shiite militias, the presence of military experts, soldiers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as plans to build bases and weapons factories. First The New York Times published a detailed map showing the Iranian reinforcement, now Fox News reports that the new base near Damascus includes big hangars, that could house missiles capable of hitting anywhere in Israel.

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Israeli satellite images reveal: Iran builds military base near Damascus
Israeli satellite images reveal: Iran builds military base near Damascus.Imagesat International (ISI)

Fox News, like the BBC before it, broadcast satellite images of the suspect site. The conservative news network quoted the same opaque Western sources. One may assume that definition is a relatively flexible one, and that it’s perfectly accurate if one reads that as sources located somewhere west of Iran.

These reports follow a number of other developments, one being Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusual speech last week at the International Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 18. There for the first time he threatened a direct hit on Iran and military action against the Assad regime. Another is Netanyahu’s anticipated meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington next month; and when a group of senators returned home from visiting Israel, they stated that the new threats by Iran require the administration to reconsider giving Israel more military aid.

Speaking to the Voice of Israel radio on Wednesday morning, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would not accept Iranian establishment in Lebanon, and certainly not let it position long-range missiles there. The minister however repeated that Israel is not looking for war up north.

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Iranian presence in Syria

Most of the Syrian medium- and long-range missiles were used up or destroyed during the seven-year civil war. Iran’s attempts have centered so far mainly on arming Hezbollah and, lately, it’s been trying to improve the accuracy of the Lebanese organization’s guided rockets.

Yet assuming that Iran is preparing for future war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it makes sense, as far as it’s concerned, to prepare a second front deep inside Syria. That would force the Israeli air force to stretch its aggressive capacities over a wider area, enabling the Iranians and their partners to launch missiles at Israel from a greater distance, even if the Israeli army embarks on a broad ground campaign in Lebanon.

The new threat against Iran was issued two and a half weeks after the day of Israeli-Syrian-Iranian fighting on February 10. That day the Israeli army shot down an Iranian drone that had penetrated Israeli territory by Beit She’an; in retaliation, Israel attacked an Iranian command bunker by Tadmor (Palmyra) in central Syria, and the Syrian aerial defense downed an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.

Despite the price the parties paid (including Syria, after Israeli jets bombed its antiaircraft batteries in response), the latest report seems to show the parties are continuing to follow their own original plans. Iran continues to increase its assets in Syria, which Israel may target again. The foreign press hasn’t reported any more Israeli bombing raids on Syria since February 10, but senior Israeli sources have already spelled out that the policy of deterrence in the north will continue.

In other words, in light of the Fox News report, it’s fair to assume that the countdown has started for another aerial clash in the Syrian skies. Even with the parties stating that they do not want war, it will take extraordinary navigational skills to prevent matters from spiraling out of control.

Rescuers say cannot keep up with air strikes battering Syria’s Ghouta

February 24, 2018

Reuters

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People inspect missile remains in the besieged town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Rescuers in Syria’s eastern Ghouta said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.

Warplanes pounded the rebel enclave on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.

Residents holed up in basements and medical charities decried attacks on a dozen hospitals, as the United Nations pleaded for a truce in Ghouta, the only big rebel bastion near the capital.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

The Damascus government and Russia, its ally, say they only target militants. They have said they seek to stop rebel mortar attacks on the capital and accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.

A surge of rocket fire, shelling and air strikes has killed nearly 500 people since Sunday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included more than 120 children.

The Britain-based monitor said raids hit Douma, Hammouriyeh and other towns there on Saturday, killing 24 people.

Civil defence help an unconscious woman from a shelter in the besieged town of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

First responders rushed to search for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma and Harasta, the Civil Defence in eastern Ghouta said. The rescue service, which operates in rebel territory, said it had documented at least 350 deaths in four days earlier this week.

A wounded girl is seen in a hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

“Maybe there are many more,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a civil defense spokesman in the suburbs. “We weren’t able to count the martyrs yesterday or the day before because the warplanes are touring the skies.”

As the bombs rain down, some hitting emergency centers and vehicles, the rescuers have struggled to pull people from the rubble, Mahmoud said. “But if we have to go out running on our legs and dig with our hands to rescue the people, we will still be here.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

A witness in Douma said he woke up in the early hours on Saturday to the sound of jets bombing nearby. The streets have mostly remained empty.

The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday delayed voting on a draft resolution that demands a 30-day ceasefire across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuations.

The 15-member council is to vote on the resolution, which Sweden and Kuwait drafted, on Saturday. The delay followed a flurry of last-minute talks on the text after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had proposed new amendments.

Syrian state media said Ghouta factions fired mortars at the Old City of Damascus on Saturday. Insurgent shelling killed one person and injured 60 more a day earlier, it said, and the army pounded militant targets in the suburbs in response.

Several previous ceasefire attempts have quickly unraveled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and forced 11 million people out of their homes.

Reporting by Ellen Francis and Dahlia Nehme; Editing by Janet Lawrence

UN urged to act against Iran over Houthi missiles

December 24, 2017

ARAB NEWS | 

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Photo: Iran built ballistic missile is lanched by Houthis in Yemen. Still image from a video released by the Houthi

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JEDDAH/NEW YORK: The UN was urged on Saturday to take action against Iran for breaking an arms embargo by illegally supplying missiles to Houthi militias in Yemen.

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The calls followed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution late on Friday that condemned “in the strongest possible terms” last week’s Houthi ballistic missile attack targeting Al-Yamamah Royal Palace in Riyadh.

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All 15 council members “expressed alarm at the stated intention of the Houthis to continue these attacks against Saudi Arabia, as well as to launch additional attacks against other states in the region.”

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The council urged all UN member states to fully implement the arms embargo against Houthi militias as required by the relevant Security Council resolutions, and expressed its grave concern about continuing violations of the embargo.

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It called again for all parties to engage constructively in the peace efforts of Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Yemen.

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The condemnation was fully merited but the Security Council should have gone farther, analysts and experts told Arab News.

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“In addition to expressing grave concern, the UN should take action against Iran, the country that has provided the Houthis with the missiles that targeted Riyadh. Iran is the only country that continues to violate the arms embargo imposed by the UNSC Resolution 2216, which was issued under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,” said Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, the assistant secretary-general for political and negotiation affairs at the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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“Instead of merely expressing generic concern at the continued non‑implementation of previous Security Council resolutions, it should have named the party that has refused so far to come back to the negotiating table. That party is the Iranian-allied Houthi militias.

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“The government of Yemen has ‘engaged constructively’ with the UN special envoy, but the Houthis have failed to return to negotiations toward reaching a final and comprehensive agreement to end the conflict.”

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The council’s statement “reaffirms the international community’s commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” Fahad Nazer, a fellow at the National Council on US-Arab Relations, told Arab News.

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“It also makes clear that the Houthis have not only alienated their fellow Yemeni citizens by trying to impose their will on the rest of Yemeni society but they have also been widely condemned by the international community.

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“Their callous disregard for the safety and security of the people of Yemen and their continuing violations of international resolutions and laws by targeting civilians and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has made them international pariahs.”

Houthi desperation

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“As the Houthis lose territory and the scant support they have left in Yemen, they have attempted to broaden and further complicate the conflict by increasing their attacks against Saudi Arabia and by threatening to attack the UAE. These tactics are indicative of their desperation, as they find themselves isolated at home and abroad.”

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Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, called for serious measures to prevent the Iran-backed militias from threatening regional peace. The Security Council should take action to halt Iranian aggression, which posed a threat to many Arab countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, he said.

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The international community should focus on ways of stopping Iran from supporting terrorism, Al-Shehri said. “If they don’t want to punish Iran now, at least stop these militias.”

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Experts also urged the UN to ensure that Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah, which is occupied by the Houthis, was not used as a supply route for Iranian missiles and other arms.

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The Saudi-led Arab Coalition in Yemen closed the port last month after a Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh on Nov. 4. It later reopened to receive shipments of humanitarian aid and relief supplies, and remains operational despite last Tuesday’s further missile attack on the Saudi capital, and evidence that both missiles were supplied by Iran.

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“While the UN Security Council is no doubt very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, it should take action by deploying UN staff to supervise the port of Hodeidah to make sure that it is used solely for civilian purposes and not as a conduit for Iranian weapons,” Aluwaisheg told Arab News.

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Medical and food aid

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Aid delivered through the ports of Hodeidah and Salif is also being misappropriated by the Houthi militias, the Coalition said on Saturday. Its spokesman, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, accused the Houthis of hampering the distribution of vaccines and stealing medical and food aid.

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The theft of vaccines is particularly serious, after the International Committee of the Red Cross said there were now one million cases of cholera in Yemen and they expect another serious outbreak next March and April.

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The King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid has established more than 250 projects in Yemen at a cost of $895 million, its general supervisor, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, said on Saturday.

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The projects are operated with local partners and specialized UN agencies, and cover health, sanitation and programs for women and children.

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http://www.arabnews.com/node/1213746/middle-east

Related:

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley briefs the media in front of remains of Iranian “Qiam” ballistic missile provided by Pentagon at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. (Reuters)