Netanyahu meets Putin amid new round of Syria strikes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed Israel’s obligation to defend itself against Iranian aggression, when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Reuters)
Updated 10 May 2018
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Netanyahu meets Putin amid new round of Syria strikes

  • Netanyahu viewed a parade celebrating the anniversary of the World War II victory over the Nazis and then met with the Russian president at the Kremlin for consultations.
  • Tensions between Israel and Iran are high over Iran’s efforts to expand its military presence in Syria.

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and discuss military coordination amid new strikes in Syria blamed on Israel.
Together with Putin, Netanyahu toured a parade celebrating the anniversary of the World War II victory over the Nazis and then met the Russian president at the Kremlin for consultations. Netanyahu he said he was eager to discuss ways of “solving crises and removing threats in a thoughtful and responsible manner.”
After 10 hours together, Netanyahu said he conveyed Israel’s obligation to defend itself against Iranian aggression.
“I think that matters were presented in a direct and forthright manner, and this is important. These matters are very important to Israel’s security at all times and especially at this time,” he said.
Syrian state media said Israel struck a military outpost on Tuesday near the capital of Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missiles targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belonged to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard in Kisweh, killing at least 15 people, eight of them Iranians.
Tensions between Israel and Iran are high over Iran’s efforts to expand its military presence in Syria, where it is a key ally of President Bashar Assad. Repeated airstrikes attributed to Israel have killed Iranian fighters and prompted threats of reprisal from Tehran. President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday that the US would withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran has triggered uncertainty and threatened to spark more unrest in the Middle East.
“The meetings between us are always important and this one is especially so,” Netanyahu said ahead of his departure. “In light of what is currently happening in Syria, it is necessary to ensure the continued coordination” between the two militaries. Netanyahu made no mention of the overnight strikes.
The Israeli and Russian militaries have been in contact throughout much of Russia’s intervention in Syria, where Moscow has waged an air campaign in support of Assad’s forces since 2015. Russia also considers Iran a strategic ally.
Israel views Iran as its archenemy, citing Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction, support for militant groups across the region and growing military activity in neighboring Syria. Israel has warned that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
Israel’s military went on high alert Tuesday and bomb shelters were ordered open in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights following reports of “irregular activity of Iranian forces in Syria.” After an uneventful night, the military on Wednesday called on residents to return to “full civilian routine,” meaning studies and excursions would continue as usual, although the shelters would remain open.
Israel, which almost never confirms or denies airstrikes in Syria, did not comment on Tuesday’s attack. Such strikes have become more frequent recently. The Syrian Observatory said the casualty number from Tuesday’s strike is likely to go up because of a large number of people who were wounded and a number of people who are missing.
Iran has vowed to retaliate to recent Israeli strikes in Syria targeting Iranian outposts, including an attack last month on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs province that killed seven Iranian military personnel. On April 30, Israel was said to have struck government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.
Amos Gilead, a retired senior Israeli defense official, told a security conference in the coastal town of Herzliya that Iran’s intentions in Syria meant a wider conflagration may only be a matter of time.
“They want to build a second Hezbollah-stan,” he said, referring to the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group that last fought a war with Israel in 2006. “They are determined to do it and we are determined to prevent it. It means we are on a collision course.”


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.