Syria rebels seize iconic Aleppo mosque: watchdog

Updated 28 February 2013
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Syria rebels seize iconic Aleppo mosque: watchdog

BEIRUT: Rebels seized control of the Umayyad Mosque in Syria’s second city of Aleppo on Thursday after days of fierce clashes that damaged the historic building, a watchdog reported.
Regime troops were forced to withdraw at dawn, taking up positions in buildings around the landmark structure, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The mosque’s museum caught fire during the battle, causing its ceiling to collapse, adding to damage done in October when antique furnishings and one of its intricately sculpted colonnades were charred amid clashes.
The site has been a place of Muslim worship since the 8th century, but the original building was razed by the Mongols in the 13th century, from when the current structure dates.
Elsewhere in Aleppo’s UNESCO-listed Old City on Thursday, fighting raged around the Justice Palace and in Sabaa Baharat Square.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said that if the rebels gain control of the palace, they would be able to cut off army reinforcements to Aleppo’s citadel.
The fortress, which in ancient times could shelter a garrison of 10,000 men, is currently held by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Rebel fighters who are trying to encircle it claim the army has only one supply route left.
While rebels have taken over large swathes of territory and a number of key military garrisons in the northern province of Aleppo, fighting in the city has been at a stalemate for months.


Russia says ‘misled’ by Israel in plane downing over Syria

Updated 24 September 2018
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Russia says ‘misled’ by Israel in plane downing over Syria

MOSCOW: Russia’s military Sunday blamed “misleading” information from the Israeli airforce for the downing of one of its planes in Syria last week, and denounced the “adventurism” of Israeli pilots.
Israel strongly disputed the assertion and vowed it will continue to act against Iranian targets in neighboring Syria.
A Syrian air defense missile downed the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 military plane on September 17, killing all 15 soldiers aboard and threatening to damage relations between Russia and Israel, which three years ago set up a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to seek to move past the incident in spite of strong statements from the Russian military.
On Sunday, military spokesman Igor Konashenkov presented the results of an investigation.
Moscow has accused Israel’s fighter pilots of using the bigger Ilyushin as cover, causing Syria’s Soviet-era S-200 air defense system to interpret the Russian plane as a target.
Israel denied this version of events and its air force commander flew to Moscow following the incident, which Putin called the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
It was the deadliest known case of friendly fire between Syria and key backer Russia since Moscow’s game-changing 2015 military intervention.
Konashenkov said the Russian military received a call from Israeli command at 1839 GMT on the day of the incident to warn that Israel would be striking “north of Syria,” where the Il-20 surveillance aircraft was monitoring the Idlib de-escalation zone.
Russia ordered its plane back to base. Then, “one minute” after Israel’s call, its F-16 planes struck targets in Latakia in western Syria, he said.
“The misleading (information) by the Israeli officer regarding the location of the strikes made it impossible to guide the Il-20 to a safe location,” said Konashenkov.
As the Il-20 was landing near Latakia, one of the F-16 planes “began maneuvers” at 1859 GMT “getting closer to the Il-20,” which was interpreted as a repeat attack by the Syrian air defense and resulted in it being shot down, he said.
“Monitoring the Il-20, the Israeli fighters used it as cover from the anti-aircraft missiles” and continued to patrol the area long after the Russian plane was shot down, he said.
The Israeli pilots’ actions “either speak of their unprofessionalism or criminal negligence at the very least,” Konashenkov said, reiterating the Israeli airforce was fully responsible for the downing of the plane.
The “adventurism” of the Israeli military could have endangered civilian planes which use the same airspace to land at the nearby Hmeimim aerodrome, the officer said.
“This is a very ungrateful response to everything Russia has done for Israel.”
Israel’s military said in a statement its jets “did not hide behind any aircraft and that the Israeli aircraft were in Israeli airspace at the time of the downing of the Russian plane.”
It again offered condolences to Russia.
Israel says it was targeting a Syrian military facility where weapons manufacturing systems were “about to be transferred on behalf of Iran” to Lebanese group Hezbollah.
It has pledged to stop Iran, its main enemy, from entrenching itself militarily in the neighboring country and has carried out dozens of attacks on Iranian targets there.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah is also an enemy of Israel, which has carried out strikes in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to the group.