Israel blamed for missile strike in Syria; 14 reported dead

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An image grab from a video released by the Douma City Coordination Committee shows unidentified volunteers spraying a man with water at a makeshift hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma on Saturday. AFP
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The Russian military said on Monday that two Israeli F-15 war planes had carried out strikes on a Syrian air base. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2018
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Israel blamed for missile strike in Syria; 14 reported dead

  • Syria, Russia accuse Israel over strike on Syrian air base
  • Russia said two Israeli aircraft targeted the T4 air base in Homs province, firing eight missiles
AMMAN: Syria and its main ally Russia blamed Israel for carrying out an attack on a Syrian air base near Homs on Monday which followed reports of a poison gas attack by President Bashar Assad’s forces on a rebel-held town.
Israel, which has struck Syrian army locations many times in the course of its neighbor’s seven-year-old civil war, has not confirmed nor denied mounting the raid.
But Israeli officials said the Tiyas, or T-4, air base was being used by troops from Iran and that Israel would not accept such a presence in Syria by its arch foe.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor, said at least 14 people were killed including some fighters of various nationalities, a reference to Iranian-backed Shiite militia members, mostly from Iraq, Lebanon and Iran fighting alongside the Syrian army.
The attack demonstrated the multi-faceted nature of the Syria conflict, which started in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad and now involves several countries and various insurgent groups in a web of alliances.
It took place hours after US President Donald Trump warned of a “big price to pay” following the reports of a poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma which killed dozens of people, including children.
Trump referred in a Tweet to “Animal Assad” and criticized Russia and Iran for backing the Syrian leader, directly naming Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Damascus denied its forces had launched any chemical assault and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said such allegations were false and a provocation. Lavrov also said the strike on the T-4 base was a dangerous development.
Syrian state TV initially said the US was suspected of carrying out the attack on T-4. Washington denied this, and France, which in February had said it would strike in the event of a chemical weapon attack on civilians by Syrian government forces, also said its forces were not involved.
The Russian military, whose support for Assad has turned the war in his favor, said two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out the strike. Interfax news agency cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying Syrian air defense systems had shot down five of eight missiles fired.
Syrian state media, citing a military source, carried a similar report. “The Israeli aggression on the T4 airport was carried out with F-15 planes that fired several missiles from above Lebanese land,” state news agency SANA said.
Red lines
The Israeli government had no immediate comment.
Israel has accused Damascus of allowing Iran to set up a complex at the T-4 base to supply arms to its ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and in the past its forces have hit convoys and bases of Iranian-backed militias that fight alongside Assad’s troops.
Defense analysts say a number of Russian troops are also based there and jets fly regular sorties from T-4.
Israeli opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid told Army Radio: “Israel will not accept an Iranian military presence in Syria and will not accept Iran’s creeping entrenchment in Syria and this has costs.”
Housing Minister Yoav Galant, while also not confirming that Israel had carried out the attack, said: “We have clear interests in Syria. We laid down red lines there, which said that we would not allow Syrian land to be a springboard for game-changing weaponry to Lebanon, we would not allow the building of an Iranian army in Syria and we would not allow the opening of another front on the Golan Heights.
“In this context we are taking action with all means, over time.”
As international officials worked to try to confirm Saturday’s chemical attack on Douma, a Syria medical relief group said at least 60 people had been killed there and more than 1,000 injured in several sites.
Foam at the mouth
The Syrian American Medical Society and the civil defense service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had been killed in the suspected gas attack. The Syrian opposition blamed the suspected chemical attack on government forces, who launched an air and ground assault on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta district, on Friday.
One video shared by activists showed bodies of about a dozen children, women and men, some with foam at the mouth.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
The US launched a missile strike on a Syrian air base a year ago in response to the killing of dozens of civilians in a sarin gas attack in an opposition-held town in northwest Syria. The gas attack was blamed on Assad.
US government sources said Washington’s assessment of Saturday’s attack was that chemical weapons were used. The EU also said evidence pointed to the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces.


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 23 min 59 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.