Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Lebanese army launches offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria

August 19, 2017

Reuters

© STRINGER / AFP | A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-19

The Lebanese army launched an offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria, a Lebanese security source said on Saturday, as Hezbollah and the Syrian army announced an assault from the Syrian side of the border.

The Lebanese army was targeting Islamic State positions near the town of Ras Baalbek with rockets, artillery and helicopters,the source said. The area is the last part of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier under insurgent control. “We started advancing at 5 a.m. (0200 GMT),” the Lebanese source said.

The operation by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese group, was targeting Islamic State militants in the western Qalamoun region of Syria, the
Hezbollah-run al-Manar television station reported, an area across the frontier from Ras Baalbek.

Last month, Hezbollah forced Nusra Front militants and Syrian rebels to leave nearby border strongholds in a jointoperation with the Syrian army.

The Lebanese army, a major recipient of U.S. military aid, did not take part in the July operation, but it has been gearingup to assault the Islamic State pocket in the same mountainous region. A military source said around 500 IS fighters were holed up in the enclave.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was following the army operation, called “Jroud Dawn”. “Jroud” refers to the barren,mountainous border area between Lebanon and Syria.

Lebanese security sources have previously said the army intends to fight Islamic State in Lebanese territory on its own,in response to suggestions Hezbollah or the Syrian army may help it.

(REUTERS)

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Lebanon army says to begin offensive against IS on Syria border

August 19, 2017

AFP

© Hezbollah media office/AFP/File | Smoke billows in Lebanon’s Jurud Arsal, a mountainous region bordering with Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Lebanese army announced Saturday the start of an offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group close to the Syrian border in the east of the country, where jihadists have been operating for several years.

“In the name of Lebanon, in the name of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, in the name of martyrs of the army, I announce that operation ‘Dawn of Jurud’ has started,” army chief General Joseph Aoun said, referring to the mountainous Jurud Arsal border region.

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General Joseph Aoun

Hezbollah, which provides military support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, launched last month an offensive to eliminate Syrian rebels as well as all jihadists formerly linked to Al-Qaeda from the region.

After six days of fighting, a ceasefire deal between Hezbollah and fighters from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, was announced.

Nearly 8,000 refugees and jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch were bused back to Syria following the deal and on Monday the last Syrian rebels were evacuated from the region.

The army is now launching an offensive against the IS fighters still operating in the area.

Jurud Arsal had been used for years as a hideout by Syrian anti-regime militants but was also home to an unknown number of refugees seeking shelter from Syria’s six-year war.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that IS holds around 296 square kilometres (115 square miles) on both sides of the border, of which around 140 square kilometres are in eastern Lebanon.

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Lebanese Army Finds Surface-To-Air Missile in Nusra Front Arms Cache

August 18, 2017

BEIRUT — The Lebanese army found a surface-to-air missile (SAM) in a weapons cache left by Nusra Front militants after it took over some of the jihadists’ positions in northeast Lebanon, a Lebanese security source said on Friday.

The cache also included U.S.-made so-called TOW anti-tank missiles, the source said. Photographs of the cache sent by the security source showed large numbers of shells and rockets.

There have been sporadic reports throughout Syria’s six-year-old civil war of rebel groups gaining access to SAMs. Last year the Syrian government said rebels had used one to shoot down a jet, but insurgents said they had downed it with anti-aircraft guns.

The Nusra Front was the official branch of al Qaeda in Syria until it changed its name a year ago and broke formal allegiance to the global jihadist network.

It held a pocket of territory straddling the border between Syria and Lebanon until a Hezbollah offensive last month that forced it to accept evacuation to a rebel-held part of Syria.

Lebanon’s army has taken over the positions that Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite group allied to the Syrian government, took from the Nusra fighters last month.

The Lebanese army is also preparing for an offensive against the last militant presence in the mountainous border area, an Islamic State pocket near to the one previously held by Nusra.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

August 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Backed by Russian warplanes and pro-government militias, the Syrian army has made considerable progress in its months-long offensive to retake the Badiya
BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian regime troops have seized more territory from the Islamic State jihadist group in a central desert region, almost entirely surrounding its fighters there, a monitor said Friday.

Backed by Russian warplanes and pro-government militias, the Syrian army has made considerable progress in its months-long offensive to retake the Badiya.

The vast desert region, which stretches from the country’s centre to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, has been held by IS since 2014.

“The regime managed to encircle the area of Okayrbat and the surrounding 44 hamlets, straddling the central provinces of Hama and Homs,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria’s official SANA news agency also reported that Okayrbat had been surrounded.

Russia’s defence ministry said the Syrian army had taken control of the last supply route for arms, ammunition and equipment in the area.

It said the jihadists were seeking to flee towards their stronghold of Deir Ezzor to the east.

“The Russian air force is continuously conducting reconnaissance drone flights drones to find and destroy armoured vehicles, pickup trucks with heavy weapons and cars used by the terrorists,” it added.

Regime troops have also seized four gas fields in the central desert, the British-based Observatory said.

Victory over IS in the region is seen as key to the army’s hopes of retaking Deir Ezzor, the last Syrian province that remains nearly completely under IS control.

Assad’s March East Compounds West’s Syria Dilemma

August 17, 2017

BEIRUT/AMMAN — Syria’s war has entered a new phase as President Bashar al-Assad extends his grip in areas being captured from Islamic State, using firepower freed by Russian-backed truces in western Syria.

Backed by Russia and Iran, the government hopes to steal a march on U.S.-backed militias in the attack on Islamic State’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir al-Zor region that extends to the Iraqi border. Damascus hailed the capture of the town of al-Sukhna on Saturday as a big step in that direction.

The eastward march to Deir al-Zor, unthinkable two years ago when Assad seemed in danger, has underlined his ever more confident position and the dilemma facing Western governments that still want him to leave power in a negotiated transition.

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The war for western Syria, long Assad’s priority, has shifted down several gears thanks to the ceasefires, including one organised by Moscow and Washington in the southwest.

But there is no sign of these truces leading to a revival of peace talks aimed at putting Syria back together through a negotiated deal that would satisfy Assad’s opponents and help resolve a refugee crisis of historic proportions.

Instead, Assad’s face has been printed on Syrian banknotes for the first time, and his quest for outright victory suggests he may retrain his guns on rebel pockets in the west once his goals in the east are accomplished. Attacks on the last rebel stronghold near Damascus have escalated this month.

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to end CIA support to rebels further weakened the insurgency in western Syria, while also depriving Western policymakers of one of their few levers of pressure.

They can only watch as Iranian influence increases through a multitude of Shi’ite militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that have been crucial to Assad’s gains and seem likely to remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, sealing Tehran’s ascendancy.

Assad’s opponents now hope his Russian allies will conclude he must be removed from power as the burden of stabilizing the country weighs and the West withholds reconstruction support.

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With hundreds of thousands of people killed and militias controlling swathes of the country, Assad’s opponents say Syria can never be stable again with him in power.

“There is little doubt that the Russians would like a political solution to the war. The war is costly for them, and the longer it lasts, the less it will appear to be a success for Putin,” said Rolf Holmboe, Research Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and former Danish Ambassador to Syria.

“But the Russians want a solution on their terms, which is one where Assad stays in power,” he said.

“The ceasefires do two things. They allow the Russians to take control of the political negotiations and look good internationally. But more importantly, they allow Assad and the Iranian-backed militias to free troops to grab the territory that Islamic State is about to lose.”

THE WAR FOR DEIR AL-ZOR

The eastwards advance has on occasion brought government forces and their Iranian-backed allies into conflict with the U.S. military and the forces it is backing in a separate campaign against Islamic State.

But the rival campaigns have mostly stayed out of each other’s way. Government forces have skirted the area where Kurdish-led militias supported by Washington are fighting Islamic State in Raqqa. The U.S.-led coalition has stressed it is not seeking war with Assad.

Bisected by the Euphrates River, Deir al-Zor and its oil resources are critical to the Syrian state. The province is entirely in the hands of IS except for a government stronghold in Deir al-Zor city and a nearby air base. It is also in the crosshairs of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters on Wednesday there would be an SDF campaign towards Deir al-Zor “in the near future”, though the SDF was still deciding whether it would be delayed until Raqqa was fully captured from Islamic State.

But questions remain over whether the government and its allies, or the U.S.-backed militias, have the required manpower. IS has rebased many of its fighters and leaders in Deir al-Zor. The Syrian army is drawing on the support of local tribal militias in its advances, local tribal figures say.

A Western-backed Syrian rebel with detailed knowledge of the area said Deir al-Zor would be a tough prospect. “Deir al-Zor tribes are more intertwined with those of Iraq,” the rebel said, describing them as religious hardliners.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank, said Assad hoped to regain international legitimacy through the campaign against IS.

“They believe that by doing so they can get reconstruction money, and they believe that things are going to go back to the way they were before. That’s just not going to happen,” he said.

There has been no sign that Western states are ready to rehabilitate Assad, accused by Washington of repeatedly using chemical weapons during the war, most recently in April. Syria denies using chemical weapons.

RULING “ATOP RUINS”

The April attack triggered a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian airbase. But the U.S. response was calibrated to avoid confrontation with Moscow, and has not resulted in further such action.

Trump’s decision to shut down the CIA programme of support meanwhile played to Assad’s advantage and came as a blow to the opposition. Rebel sources say the programme will be phased out towards the end of the year.

Damascus has been pressing ahead with its strategy for pacifying western Syria, pursuing local agreements with rebellious areas that have resulted in thousands of rebel fighters being sent to insurgent areas of the north.

But significant areas of western Syria remain in rebel hands, notably Idlib province in the northwest, a corner of the southwest, an area north of Homs, and the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus.

In the southwestern province of Deraa, one of the areas in the U.S.-Russian truce, the government is seeking investment in reconstruction, the provincial governor told al-Watan newspaper, saying the “shelling phase” was over.

Shunned by the West, the government hopes China will be a major player in the reconstruction. Seeking to project an image of recovery, Damascus this week will host a trade fair.

“The regime is quite keen to imply by signals that it doesn’t care, that ‘we are fine, we are really utterly prepared just to sit atop ruins, and to speak to friends who will help us with our project’,” said a Western diplomat.

Mohanad Hage Ali, director of communications at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the Assads have been “masters of the waiting game”. Time is on their side, he said. “But they have two challenges: political normalisation with the world, and the economic challenge, which is significant.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Giles Elgood)

Turkey Warns Kurdish Referendum Can Lead to ‘Civil War’

August 16, 2017

ISTANBUL — Turkey says Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region should reverse its decision to hold a referendum on independence, warning that the vote could lead to a civil war.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that the referendum, slated for Sept. 25, would worsen the situation in a country “that is undergoing so many problems.”

He told state-run TRT television: “God forbid, it could lead to civil war.”

Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, announced in June that the vote would determine whether the region would secede from Iraq.

Turkey — which has a large Kurdish population and is battling Kurdish rebels — has close ties with Iraq’s autonomous region but is strongly opposed to an independent Kurdish state.

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Iraqi Kurdish Independence Referendum Will Fuel Instability, Turkey Says

August 15, 2017

ANKARA — Next month’s referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence violates Iraq’s constitution and will further destabilize the region, a Turkish government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Iraq’s Kurds have said they will go ahead with the referendum on independence on Sept. 25 despite concerns from Iraq’s neighbors who have Kurdish minorities within their borders, and a U.S. request to postpone it.

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“The referendum would contribute to instability in the region,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, adding the decision to go ahead with the vote “violates the constitution of Iraq”.

Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organization by Ankara, the European Union and United States, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

In Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s government has lost control of large parts of the country, Kurdish YPG fighters hold territory along the border with Turkey and the  plans local elections next month – a move Damascus has rejected as a “joke”.

The U.S. State Department has said it is concerned that the referendum in northern Iraq will distract from “more urgent priorities” such as the defeat of Islamic State militants.

Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak said last week the referendum would harm energy cooperation with northern Iraq’s Kurdish regional authority, which pumps hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day to Turkey’s Ceyhan export terminal.

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(Reporting by Dirimcan Barut; Editing by Dominic Evans and Janet Lawrence)

A BULLET and the Kurdistan flag are seen on a Peshmerga fighter’s vest during a battle with ISIS.

A BULLET and the Kurdistan flag are seen on a Peshmerga fighter’s vest during a battle with ISIS near Bashiqa, Iraq, last year.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israel says “attack by Hezbollah would be considered a declaration of war by the Lebanese state”

August 14, 2017

JERUSALEM — Israel’s education minister is warning Lebanon following threats by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Naftali Bennett, a member of Israel’s security cabinet, says any future attack by Hezbollah would be considered a “declaration of war by the Lebanese state” as a whole. He says Israel won’t operate “surgically” in the next war with the Shiite militia.

Bennett’s remarks to Army Radio on Monday follow Nasrallah’s threat Sunday to crush any Israeli force that enters Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006. Hezbollah fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli communities, while Israel bombed targets in southern Lebanon. About 1,200 Lebanese died, most of them civilians, as well as 44 Israeli civilians and 121 soldiers.

Today, the two neighboring countries remain technically at war.

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Hezbollah Pushing Lebanon to Normalise Relations with Syria — “The dissociation policy is finished”

August 14, 2017

Reuters
August 13, 2017

Beirut: Hezbollah and its allies are pressing the Lebanese state to normalise relations with President Bashar Al Assad’s government in Syria, testing Lebanon’s policy of “dissociation” from the Syrian conflict and igniting a political row.

Calls for closer ties with the Syrian government, including on refugee returns and military operations on the Lebanon-Syria border, come as Al Assad regains control of more territory from rebels and seeks to recover his international standing.

The Lebanese policy of “dissociation”, agreed in 2012, has aimed to keep the deeply divided state out of regional conflicts such as Syria even as Iran-backed Hezbollah became heavily involved there, sending fighters to help Al Assad, who is also allied to Iran.

The policy has helped rival groups to coexist in governments bringing together Hezbollah, classified as a terrorist group by the United States, with politicians allied to Iran’s foe Saudi Arabia, underpinning a degree of political entente amid the regional turmoil.

While Lebanon never severed diplomatic or trade ties with Syria, the government has avoided dealing with the Syrian government in an official capacity and the collapse of the policy would be a boost a political boost to Al Assad.

It would also underline Iran’s meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs—a complaint continuously voiced by Lebanese and Gulf officials alike. Al Assad’s powerful Lebanese Shiite allies want the government to cooperate with Syria on issues such as the fight against rebels at their shared border and securing the return of the 1.5 million Syrians currently taking refuge in Lebanon.

“Everybody recognises (the dissociation policy) as a farce to some extent, but at least it contained the conflict and prevented Lebanon from being dragged even further into what is going on in Syria,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.

“(A normalisation of relations) would be viewed as a victory, if using sectarian terms, of Shiites versus the Sunnis and will just inflame tensions even more.”

Lebanon’s relationship with Syria has for decades set rival Lebanese against each other. Syria dominated its smaller neighbour from the end of its 1975-90 civil war until 2005.

A row erupted last week because of plans by government ministers from Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal party to visit Damascus this week.

Although the government has refused to sanction the visit as official business—citing the dissociation policy—Industry Minister Hussain Hajj Hassan, a Hezbollah member, has insisted they will be in Damascus as government representatives.

“We will meet Syrian ministers in our ministerial capacity, we will hold talks over some economic issues in our ministerial capacity, and we will return in our ministerial capacity to follow up on these matters,” Hassan told Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV.

Samir Geagea, a leading Lebanese Christian politician and longstanding opponent of Hezbollah and Syrian influence in Lebanon, has said the visit to Syria will “shake Lebanon’s political stability and put Lebanon in the Iranian camp”.

A senior Lebanese official allied to Damascus described the row as “part of the political struggle in the region”.

The influence of Iran’s allies in Lebanon was shown last year by the selection of a longtime ally of Hezbollah, Christian politician Michel Aoun, as head of state in a political deal that also installed Saudi-allied Sunni Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri.

Hezbollah has recently stepped up calls for the Lebanese government to engage directly with Damascus over the return of Syrian refugees, who now account for one in four of the people in Lebanon and are overwhelmingly Sunni.

The issue is of enormous political sensitivity in Lebanon, although all politicians agree they must return to Syria due to strains on Lebanon’s resources and risks to its sectarian balance.

Hariri has said Lebanon will only coordinate refugee returns with the United Nations, which says there can be no forced return of people who fled the conflict, many of whom fear returning to a Syria governed by Al Assad.

But one branch of the Lebanese state, the powerful internal security agency General Security, recently held talks with the Syrian authorities to secure the return of several thousand Syrians into Syria following a military campaign by Hezbollah in the northeast border region.

General Security says the refugee returns have been voluntary. The United Nations has had no role in the talks.

An expected Lebanese army assault on Daesh militants at the border with Syria has been another focal point for the debate over cooperation with Damascus. The army, a recipient of US aid, has said it will lead the battle alone in Lebanese territory, and does not need to coordinate with other parties.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said his group and the Syrian army will mount a simultaneous assault against Daesh from the Syrian side of the frontier, however.

“Practically speaking, the dissociation policy is finished,” said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist with the Lebanese newspaper Al Nahar.

But he warned of the political ramifications in Lebanon, saying “political score settling” by one party against another would create “a big problem” in the country.

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah Talks Against Israel and the United States — Calls the Second Lebanon War “A Divine Victory.”

August 14, 2017
BY YASSER OKBI/ MAARIV HASHAVUA, JPOST.COM STAFF
 AUGUST 14, 2017 07:59

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke out against Israel and the United States.

Hassan Nasrallah

On Sunday Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech to mark the 11th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. He called to the Israeli leadership not to stop at the closure of the Haifa ammonia tank – which was ordered closed due to health hazards – but to continue and move the nuclear research center in Dimona. He also referred to the Second Lebanon War as “a divine victory.”

“One example of the respect and recognition Israel gives the ‘resistance’ is the closure of the ammonia tank in Haifa,” he said. “We hope that they will look into moving the nuclear reactor in Dimona as it is more dangerous and needs extra care.”

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Nasrallah warned Israel against future military operations in Lebanon. He said that “any Israeli unit that enters Lebanon will be defeated,” adding, “Israel’s goal in the war was to crush Hezbollah, but since [the war], our strength only increased and the Israelis know it. When Israelis speak about the capacities of Hezbollah growing they recognize their defeat in the war.”

“The age in which Israelis would threaten and act is over, because Hezbollah is part of the resistance that brought down the project of greater Israel, ” said Nasrallah. “As the enemy knows, a military action can’t reach the goal of eliminating the resistance… they use other means. ”

America and Israel, two “terrorist states.”

The Hezbollah leader addressed the US as well, claiming that “the US and Israel are crying because the terrorist groups have failed in Syria.”

A few hours before the speech Nasrallah met five Hezbollah fighters who returned from Syria where they were held captive by the Al Nusra front, a salafist jihadist terrorist group. The group traded the five Hezbollah fighters in exchange for five of their own fighters that were captured by Hezbollah.

The returned fighters were labeled ” heroes” by Nasrallah.

He went on to say that “Israel is hopeful that the administration of President Donald Trump will use pressure to achieve this goal [of weakening Hezbollah using non-military options]” and that he hoped no one in Lebanon will cooperate with the American pressure, including economic sanctions.

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http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Hezbollah-leader-Perhaps-Israel-should-move-nuclear-research-facility-502356