US-led coalition jets strike Syria militia threatening US-backed forces

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A man checks the damage at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria, on Thursday. A US airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces for the first time, hitting a convoy in the desert near the border with Jordan, US officials and Syrian activists said, an apparent signal to President Bashar Assad to keep his forces out of a zone where US-backed rebels are fighting the Daesh group. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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A formation of US Navy F-18E Super Hornets are seen over northern Iraq as part of US led coalition airstrikes on the Daesh group and other targets in Syria in this file photo. US jets on Thursday attacked a convoy of Syrian government-supported militia in southern Syria (AP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2017

US-led coalition jets strike Syria militia threatening US-backed forces

JEDDAH: US-led coalition jets carried out an airstrike on Thursday against a militia supported by the Syrian regime that ignored warnings and posed a threat to US-backed fighters in the country’s south, said the spokesman of the coalition.

“The coalition warned pro-regime forces advancing in a de-escalation zone near At Tanf. Even Russia tried to dissuade the militia from advancing toward At Tanf,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) being carried out by the coalition. “The coalition forces have been operating in the At Tanf area for many months, training and advising vetted partner forces,” Dillon added.

One US official said the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer. Another official said the strikes followed warning shots by US aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing any further.

Jordanian political analyst Faisal Malkawi told Arab News that the US base in At Tanf was established to thwart Iran’s plans to keep an open route for its forces in Iraq to sustain logistical support to its militias in Syria.

“Furthermore, with the military operations against Daesh in Iraq nearing the end, the coalition is reinforcing its presence on the ground in Syria to stop the terrorist group from entering Syria,” Malkawi said.

He said Jordan has repeatedly issued warnings against the pro-Syrian regime militias and Iranian forces coming near its border. “Jordan has warned it will take action if those forces pose any serious threat to its security.”

He added: “For the past two years, Jordan has been securing both sides of its borders with Syria by training tribal and moderate forces from Syria to counter the terrorist groups and prevent them from coming near the border. However, as part of the US-led coalition, the Jordanian air force has also been conducting sorties and strikes on several targets in Syria.”

Muzahem Al-Saloum from the Maghawir Al-Thawra group told Reuters that the jets struck after some opposition forces clashed with Syrian and Iranian militias after they had advanced to about 27 km from the base.

“We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian Army and Iranians at this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy,” Al-Saloum said.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Since they appeared defensive in nature, Thursday’s strikes did not suggest a shift in the US military’s focus in Syria, which has been on battling Daesh militants.

Still, the strikes would be the first against fighters aligned with Syria’s regime since the US waged cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base in April.

The April strikes were ordered in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on Damascus, and were described as a one-off measure to deter any future chemical weapons use.

By May 17, the US and coalition forces had conducted a total of 21,495 strikes (12,689 in Iraq, 8,806 in Syria), according to figures released by the US Department of Defense.

The US conducted 17,099 strikes in Iraq and Syria (8,690 in Iraq and 8,409 in Syria) while the rest of the coalition conducted 4,396 strikes (3,999 in Iraq and 397 in Syria).

Videos: Iran protesters confront police at parliament

Updated 8 min 27 sec ago

Videos: Iran protesters confront police at parliament

DUBAI: Protesters angered by Iran’s cratering economy confronted police in front of parliament on Monday, with security forces firing tear gas at them, according to online videos, the first such confrontation after similar demonstrations rocked the country at the start of the year.
The unplanned demonstration came a day after protests forced two major shopping centers for mobile phones and electronics to close in Tehran and after demonstrators earlier closed its Grand Bazaar.
It signaled widespread unease in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and restore sanctions on the country.
It wasn’t immediately clear who led the protests. Iran’s semi-official news agencies, Fars, ISNA and Tasnim, described the protests at the Grand Bazaar as erupting after the Iranian rial dropped to 90,000 to the dollar on the country’s black market, despite government attempts to control the currency rate.
Videos posted to social media showed protesters at the bazaar heckling shopkeepers who refused to close, shouting in Farsi: “Coward!“
A short time later, about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from the Grand Bazaar, videos shared by Iranians on social media appeared to show a crowd confronting police at parliament. The videos show tear gas in the air and protesters screaming, “They attacked us with tear gas!” Another man is heard shouting: “Come back!“
Other videos appeared to show police charging into the crowd.
State media in Iran did not immediately report the Grand Bazaar demonstration. Only Fars reported on the parliament protest, which it described only as shopkeepers asking lawmakers to “stop rising prices.”
The head of Iran’s Chamber of Guilds, Ali Fazeli, later was quoted by Tasnim as saying the situation at the bazaar is calm.
“Their demands are delivered through the chamber to the government, and these are being pursued by us,” he said.
Tehran’s sprawling Grand Bazaar has long been a center of conservatism in Iranian politics and remains an economic force within the country — despite the construction of massive malls around the city. Bazaar families opposed the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution that replaced him with a Shiite theocracy and elected officials.
At the end of last year, similar economic protests roiled Iran and spread to some 75 cities and towns, becoming the largest demonstrations in the country since its 2009 disputed presidential election. The protests in late December and early January saw at least 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 arrested.
However, those protests largely struck Iran’s provinces as opposed to Tehran itself. Analysts believe hard-liners likely encouraged the first protest that took place in Mashhad to try to weaken President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. The protests then spiraled out of control, with people openly criticizing both Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rouhani’s government has struggled with the economic problems, including high unemployment. A government-set exchange rate of 42,000 rials to $1 has generated a vibrant black market. On Monday, state television quoted Iranian Central Bank chief Valiollah Seif as saying the government plans to create a parallel market next week to combat the black market.
Meanwhile, some hard-liners have called for new elections or for Rouhani’s civilian government to be replaced by a military-led one. The Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, made a point Monday to publish an article from the Sobh-e No daily newspaper describing the government as being ready to “bow down to foreign threats and sit at the negotiation table.”
Eshaq Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice president, was quoted Monday as saying “we’re on the verge of an economic war by an economic terrorist,” referring to the United States.
“Conditions will get worse in future,” Jahangiri said, according to the pro-reform Etemad daily newspaper. “Even our friends and neighbors like Russia, China and Europeans can’t help us today.”