‘More Israeli strikes against Iranian positions likely as Tehran seeks to destabilize region,’ says analyst

Fragments of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile found in Alonei Abba, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from where the remains of a crashed F-16 Israeli warplane were found, at the village of Alonei Abba, Israel February 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 11 February 2018
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‘More Israeli strikes against Iranian positions likely as Tehran seeks to destabilize region,’ says analyst

JEDDAH: Saturday’s sudden military escalation between Israel and the Assad regime may be a harbinger of what lies ahead as the Syrian fighting winds down and an emboldened Iran establishes a military presence that Israel vows it will never accept, analysts told Arab News.
“We can expect more Israeli strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah positions on Syrian soil in the future as Tehran seeks to further destabilize the region,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.
The escalation also shows that “Iran is at the helm of what remains of Assad’s military, and has supplanted any semblance of Syrian sovereignty,” he said.
“The Assad regime’s military suffered a major blow as a result of Iran’s military incursion. The Israeli airforce counterattack destroyed a significant portion of Assad’s long range SA-5 integrated air defense network outside Damascus.”
Gerald Feierstein, the US Ambassador to Yemen and director for Gulf affairs at the Middle East Institute, said: “Even though both sides are indicating that they don’t seek an escalation, the heightened tensions and the proximity of all of these forces are a clear threat.
“These kind of incidents can spin out of control with unintended consequences. The possibility that Russia and the US could be pulled into a confrontation between Israel, Syria and Iran should make everyone very worried.”
In Washington, the Pentagon said: “We share the concerns of many throughout the region over Iran’s destabilizing activities that threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran’s malign activities.”
Other analysts said they did not expect further escalation for now, but suggested the heavy anti-aircraft fire showed Syria was more emboldened to stop Israel’s strikes.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group said Russia should mediate since “it is the only stakeholder which has strong relations with all sides today.
“This incident signals a new phase … of the war in Syria,” he said.


Daesh releases six of 27 Druze hostages held in southern Syria: monitor

Updated 20 October 2018
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Daesh releases six of 27 Druze hostages held in southern Syria: monitor

  • Two women and four children were released by Daesh in the province of Sweida
  • Negotiations between the government’s Russian ally and the militants for the release of the captives had stalled

BEIRUT: Daesh has released six of 27 Druze hostages it seized during a deadly July attack in Syria’s Sweida province in exchange for a prisoner swap and a $27 million ransom, a monitor said Saturday.

The extremist group abducted around 30 people -- mostly women and children -- from Sweida in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria’s Druze community of the seven-year civil war.

Families of the hostages led a series of protests outside government offices in Sweida earlier this month to demand more be done to secure their release.

“Two women and four children from the province of Sweida were released last night,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

He added that the releases were the “first wave” and part of an agreement sealed with the Syrian government to exchange all the hostages for “60 Daesh prisoners held by the regime and a ransom of $27 million.”

Further hostage releases were expected “in the next few days or hours,” he added.

During the coordinated assaults on July 25, Daesh carried out suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings that left more than 250 people dead across the southwestern province, most of them civilians.

Sweida province is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, which made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population -- or around 700,000 people.

Daesh executed a 19-year-old male student among the captives in August and then a 25-year-old female captive in early October. The group said a 65-year-old female captive also died from illness.

Negotiations between the government’s Russian ally and the extremists for the release of the captives had stalled. But the latest round of talks appeared to have paid off -- albeit it with a stiff price.

The Observatory said Daesh had demanded $1 million per hostage, the release of some extremists’ wives and the halting of an offensive against them in Sweida.

Government forces have battled Daesh in the volcanic plateau of Tulul al-Safa in the east of the province since the July attack.

Abdel Rahman said the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance that controls swathes of the north and northeast with the support of a US-led coalition, “should also release some Daesh detainees” but he did not specify the number.

There was no immediate comment from the SDF, which has been taking heavy casualties fighting Daesh in its last pocket of control in eastern Syria around the Euphrates valley town of Hajin.

On September 10, the group launched a major assault on the pocket where they estimate some 3,000 extremists are holed up. Hundreds of extremists have been killed, but at the cost of scores of SDF fighters.

Syria’s grinding civil war has claimed more than 360,000 lives since it erupted with the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

A caliphate which Daesh proclaimed across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014 has crumbled in the face of multiple offensives against the extremists but they remain a potent force.