Israel in Syria chemical arms claim as Hagel visits
Israel in Syria chemical arms claim as Hagel visits
The remarks were made by a top official in Israel’s military intelligence as Hagel met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly before departing for a brief visit to Jordan.
“To the best of our professional understanding, the regime (of Syrian President Bashar Assad) has made use of deadly chemical weapons against the rebels in a number of incidents in the last few months,” said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of the research and analysis division of military intelligence.
Speaking to delegates at a Tel Aviv security conference, he cited an incident on March 19 in Aleppo province in which 31 people were killed, pointing to the physical symptoms suffered by those in the area at the time.
“The reduced pupils, the foam coming out of the mouth and other additional signs provide evidence that deadly chemical weapons have been used,” he said, indicating the symptoms were observed in photographs taken of the affected area.
“Which chemical weapons? Apparently sarin. The regime is also using chemical weapons that neutralize and are not fatal,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from Hagel’s entourage on the claim, which was made shortly before the delegation took off for a brief stop of several hours in Jordan ahead of a visit to Riyadh.
Washington has said the use of chemical agents in Syria would be a “game changer” but it has yet to reach a definitive conclusion on the issue, Hagel said on Monday.
“Currently our intelligence agencies are assessing what happened and what did not happen,” he said, refusing to discuss “contingency options” if the use of chemical agents was confirmed.
Developed as a pesticide in Germany in 1938, sarin is a deadly and volatile nerve agent that is colorless and odourless.
Hagel landed in Amman shortly before 1030 GMT and the war in Syria was likely to be a central element of his talks with army chief General Masbal Al-Zaben.
Last week, the Pentagon chief revealed that some 150 US military specialists had been deployed in Jordan since last year and that he had ordered a US military team to bolster the mission, bringing their total to more than 200 troops.
Their aim is to help secure chemical weapons that many fear could fall into the hands of Islamist militants fighting the Assad regime, and to prepare for a possible spillover of the syrian conflict.
Ahead of his morning meeting with Hagel, the Israeli leader alluded to the Iranian-backed transfer of advanced arms from Syria into militant hands, and stressed that the Jewish state would do whatever it takes to defend itself.
“Nowhere are these (shared US-Israeli) values and interests challenged more than by the arming of the terrorist groups by Iran with sophisticated weapons, and equally Iran’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
“This is a challenge that Israel cannot accept, and as you and President (Barack) Obama have repeatedly said, Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
Hagel was quick to agree. “This is a difficult and dangerous time, this is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever,” he told the Israeli leader.
Netanyahu’s remarks came a day after Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon implicitly confirmed Israeli involvement in a January strike on a weapons convoy in Syria which was understood to be heading to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, saying Israel had “acted” to stop advanced weaponry reaching militants.
The Shiite militia group and the Syrian regime of Assad are both close allies of Iran and avowed enemies of Israel.
Addressing the January 30 strike, the Israeli military intelligence analyst said the target of the strike was Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles which were en route to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“The SA-17 missile launchers that were bombed in Syria were going to be transferred to Hezbollah,” Brun said, his remarks published on Haaretz’s website.
After his brief stopover in Jordan, Hagel will continue on to Riyadh, Cairo and Abu Dhabi.
One of the main objectives of his trip is to the finishing touches on a multi-billion dollar arms deal which will see the sale of advanced US missiles, radar and aircraft to Israel, missiles to Saudi Arabia and F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
Libya’s coast guard recovers five bodies from migrant boat
- Since January, some 10,760 migrants have crossed from Libya to Italy, more than 80 percent less than during the same period last year
- Since last summer, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under Italian pressure
TRIPOLI: Libyan coast guards said on Monday they had recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked 191 survivors off the coast west of the capital Tripoli.
Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe by the sea, though the number of crossings has dropped sharply since last July.
The five dead migrants were brought back to port in Tripoli on Monday along with 115 survivors from various sub-Saharan African and Arab countries, coast guard officials said.
Their boat was intercepted off Mellitah on Sunday after being damaged by rough seas, according to Ayoub Qassem, a coast guard spokesman.
Another group of 76 migrants was intercepted on Sunday off Zawiya, just west of Tripoli.
Since last summer, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under Italian pressure and Libya’s EU-backed coast guard has stepped up interceptions, returning more than 7,000 migrants to Libya so far this year.
Since January, some 10,760 migrants have crossed from Libya to Italy, more than 80 percent less than during the same period last year, according to statistics from Italy’s interior ministry.
Last week, crossings in the central Mediterranean were thrown into further uncertainty when Italy’s new government closed its ports to a rescue ship operated by humanitarian organizations that was loaded with more than 600 migrants.
It eventually docked in Spain.