Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ in Syria
Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ in Syria
The F-16 jet was hit over northern Israel on Saturday as it returned from a raid on a Syrian position blamed for launching an Iranian-made drone across the border. Iran is supporting President Bashar Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.
“Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised, because it thought this war — this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years — had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sussan said.
“God willing, they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.
The downed F-16 was the first warplane Israel has lost to enemy fire since its 1982 Lebanon war. Its two-man crew survived, with injuries, after bailing out of the stricken jet.
Israel retaliated by destroying around half of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries, according to an initial assessment shared with Reuters by an Israeli official who requested anonymity.
Israel has said it will press ahead with missions in Syria, where it has launched scores of sorties against suspected arms transfers to Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
“There are no limitations, and nor do we accept any limitations,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters during a tour of Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon.
“We will continue to defend our vital security and other interests. And I would like to paraphrase the well-known saying: ‘This is not the time to bark, this is the time to bite.’“
Tehran’s involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel. It has also has accused Iran of building precision-guided missile factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Syria and Hezbollah celebrated the F-16 shoot-down as a blow to Israeli military superiority. Israel’s Army Radio said on Tuesday that investigators believed pilot error — rather than Syrian capabilities — were mainly at fault for the F-16’s failure to evade what was probably an aged SA-5 missile.
Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on that report, saying the investigation was ongoing.
Saturday’s incident stirred up further questions in Israel about the effectiveness of a coordination mechanism set up with Russia, which has also been reinforcing and arming Assad’s army.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the flare-up by urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid escalation in Syria. Moscow said on Monday it did not have information to support Israel’s allegation about an Iranian military presence in the site bombed for launching the drone.
Zeev Elkin, a Russian-speaking Israeli cabinet minister who serves as Netanyahu’s interpreter in the talks with Putin, defended the coordination mechanism on Tuesday as granting Israel “freedom of action in the skies above Lebanon and Syria.”
“I don’t think the Russians ever pledged that they would take military action against the Iranians and the Syrians for us,” Elkin told Israel Radio.
“We are going one-on-one against the Syrians. We don’t need assistance from the Russians. We know how to deal with Syrian anti-aircraft fire, as everyone ultimately saw.”
Israeli forces wound 77 Palestinians at protest near Gaza Strip border
- Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948
GAZA: Israeli soldiers shot and wounded 77 Palestinians during protests near the Gaza Strip border on Friday, the enclave’s Health Ministry said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said about 10,000 demonstrators massed at the border and that some threw burning tires, grenades and explosive devices at the troops across the fence. About 30 Palestinians suffered tear gas inhalation, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
But the protest was relatively small — some of the previous gatherings included about 30,000 people, a sign that tensions that have built up in the past few days may be easing.
On Thursday, Israel had ramped up armored forces along the Gaza border, a day after a rocket fired from the enclave destroyed a home in southern Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed “very strong action” if attacks continued. A Palestinian official said Egyptian security officials had held separate meetings in the past few days with Israeli counterparts and with leaders of the Palestinian Hamas group that rules Gaza in an effort to prevent an escalation in violence.
Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948. About 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests started, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. Pale stinians have launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and on occasion breached the Israeli frontier fence. More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel pulled troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.
Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Mideast peace envoy, earlier urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint ahead of the protests. Mosque loudspeakers in the Palestinian enclave urged Gazans to attend Friday’s demonstrations, despite statements by Gaza’s leaders that Hamas seeks to rein in the protests. “In light of today’s planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. “The UN is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation.”
Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas and Israeli officials on Thursday in efforts to broker a cease-fire and ease months of deadly border protests. Egypt and the UN have attempted to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas for weeks in a bid to ease tensions in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Hamas has organized weekly protests since March that seek, in part, to secure an easing of the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 in an armed coup.
At least 156 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at the protests, and an Israeli solider was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
The protests have intensified in recent weeks as Egyptian and UN cease-fire negotiations have faltered, and cross-border violence earlier this week has brought tensions to a simmer.
On Wednesday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip destroyed a house in the Israeli city of Beersheba in the worst bout of violence in recent weeks. Israel retaliated with airstrikes and has beefed up its military forces along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet resolved to retaliate more severely to cross-border attacks, but has thus far refrained from further action, suggesting it was giving the Egyptians a chance to restore calm.