Israel’s cellphone coverage disrupted by fighting in Sinai
Israel’s cellphone coverage disrupted by fighting in Sinai
Communications Minister Ayoob Kara told Army Radio on Wednesday that defense and military officials held a “very important meeting” with their counterparts “over the border” to resolve the “crisis” and that cellular reception will soon be restored after a more than weeklong disruption. Army Radio identified the foreign officials as Egyptian.
Egypt’s military did not immediately comment.
Cairo launched a major sweep of Sinai militants loyal to Daesh on Feb. 9. Israeli officials said that on Feb. 21 Egyptian forces began jamming a range of cellphone frequencies in Sinai, disrupting reception in Israel and Gaza.
“We’ve never seen anything this intensive or protracted. Even the Palestinians have been coming to us, appealing to make it stop,” one Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Phones had been disrupted as far away as Jerusalem and northern Israel, depending on weather, the official said.
An Egyptian official who also asked not to be identified confirmed electronic warfare was being waged in the Sinai. “Obviously, we want to stop terrorists from communicating,” he told Reuters.
The official denied that Israel was the intended target of the jamming, but he said some Sinai insurgents were suspected of using smuggled Israeli SIM cards, close enough to the border to link up with Israeli cellphone reception, “which means that we may need to work against a wide range of frequencies.”
Several Palestinian residents of Gaza, the densely populated enclave on the Egyptian border, told Reuters they had been experiencing problems with phone service.
A source at one of the two Palestinian mobile phone companies said its services were disrupted for a day in the past week in southern Gaza but that the problem had been resolved.
Israeli cellphone provider Partner said several hundred of its customers had complained about reception problems, but that its 4G network was working well. Other leading Israeli providers, Cellcom and Pelephone, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gadi Yarkoni, a mayor representing Israeli communities near Gaza, criticised the Communications Ministry and threatened to sue the phone companies, saying the failure to fix disruptions “shows disrespect for the residents of the Gaza periphery.”
The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an international body set up under the Israel-Egypt peace agreement to monitor the Sinai, declined to comment.
First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms
- Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
- Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year
BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.
Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.
“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.