Putin's Syria gambit puts US on back foot at UN

Updated 28 September 2015
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Putin's Syria gambit puts US on back foot at UN

NEW TORK: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched a new coalition to battle the Daesh in Syria on Sunday, as he prepared to confront US rival Barack Obama at the United Nations.
The dramatic diplomatic gambit underlined the speed with which Russia has seized the initiative on Syria, even as US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet his counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Putin and Obama are to make duelling speeches on Monday before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and will come face-to-face in a private meeting at a time of high drama.
But even as the diplomatic playing pieces are coming into place, the facts on the ground are shifting, with Iraq confirming that it is to share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria.
The United States has built its own coalition of mainly Sunni Arab and Western countries to fight the Daesh or Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but Russia is taking another course.
Washington has demanded that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad step down, but Putin’s rival alliance with Shiite-led states will instead shore up the beleaguered government in Damascus.

Assad's crime
Western powers say Assad’s military is responsible for the vast majority of the 240,000 deaths in the four-year war, but Putin said there is only “one legitimate conventional army” in Syria.
“We have proposed to cooperate with the countries in the region. We are trying to establish some kind of coordinated framework,” Putin said in an interview with CBS News “60 Minutes.”
“We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists,” he said, in excerpts released Sunday.
Stressing the need to work with Assad to defeat the jihadist threat, Putin mocked the United States’ $500-million effort to train Syrian anti-Daesh fighters.
“As few as 4 or 5 people actually carry weapons, the rest of them have deserted with the American weapons to join ISIS,” he said.
The Pentagon has confirmed that some US-trained rebels surrendered some of their equipment to an Al-Qaeda linked militia, apparently in return for safe passage.
Washington and its allies counter that Assad triggered the civil war that has given jihadist factions room to grow, and continues to make a political settlement impossible.
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told ABC News on Sunday that Assad gases and bombs his own people and “we haven’t seen a dictator like him in a very long time.
“Put that all to one side. The other challenge is he hasn’t been at all effective fighting ISIL. In fact, the presence of Assad has attracted foreign terrorist fighters,” she argued.
“We are targeting them. We are having good success, particularly in the northern part of the country. Actually blunting ISIL’s progress and rolling them back.”

Reluctant allies
Washington and its allies refuse to put boots on the ground in Syria, despite the extraordinary chaos after four years of intense bloodshed, but Russia is ramping up its presence.
Moscow already has a powerful military detachment on a Syrian airbase in government-held territory, equipped with warplanes and tanks, and will now work more closely with neighboring Iraq.
Saad Al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s office, told AFP that officers from Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq would work together in Baghdad.
“It’s a committee coordinating between the four countries, with representatives of each country, in the field of military intelligence,” he said.
Iraq will continue to work with the US-led anti-IS coalition, but the new Russian presence in the capital captured by US forces in 2003 and occupied for a decade sends a powerful signal.
Obama and Kerry are hoping to use the week of the UN General Assembly to strengthen the resolve of their own coalition and build momentum for the fight against jihadist violence.
The US president will address the crisis in his own address and hold a parallel summit on violent extremism, while Kerry and US allies rally support for the anti-IS battle.
But all eyes will now be on Obama’s face-off with Putin, who suggested that Washington’s support for “moderate” Sunni rebels in Syria was illegal and a source of much of the violence.
“We have been providing assistance to legitimate government entities only,” Putin said, adding that he had personally briefed his Turkish, Saudi and Jordanian counterparts on the plan.
“We informed the United States too,” he said. “We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists.”


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.