Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP/ POOL / Ronen Zvulun )
Updated 19 June 2018
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Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

  • The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria
  • Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

JERUSALEM: Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.
The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Daesh group in Syria as well as Iraq.
But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.
“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.
The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.
Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.


Iraq exhumes bodies thought to be Kurds killed by Saddam

Updated 55 min 39 sec ago
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Iraq exhumes bodies thought to be Kurds killed by Saddam

  • “More than 70 bodies including women and children, ranging from newborns to 10 years old” have so far been exhumed
  • “The evidence collected indicates they were summarily executed in 1988,” said the head of Baghdad’s Medico-Legal Directorate

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Tuesday began exhuming the remains of dozens of victims, including children, likely killed during ex-dictator Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the country’s Kurds, a forensics official told AFP.
The mass grave was uncovered in Tal Al-Sheikhiya, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Baghdad, said Zaid Al-Youssef, the head of Baghdad’s Medico-Legal Directorate which is tasked with identifying the remains.
“More than 70 bodies including women and children, ranging from newborns to 10 years old” have so far been exhumed, Youssef said.
Those remains were recovered from the surface layer of the site, he said, but “there could be a second deeper layer” with additional bodies.
“The evidence collected indicates they were summarily executed in 1988,” said Youssef, which coincides with Saddam’s brutal “Anfal” campaign against Iraq’s Kurds.
The operation took place between 1987 and 1988 and saw nearly 180,000 Kurds killed and more than 3,000 villages destroyed.
“The female victims were blindfolded and killed by gunshots to the head, but also have traces on various parts of their bodies of bullets that were fired randomly,” Youssef said.
The grave lies in the southern province of Mutahanna, also home to the notorious Nigrat Salman prison camp.
Many Kurds and political opponents of the previous regime were held there, and survivors shared tales of humiliation, rape and detention of minors as part of Saddam’s 2006 trial.
Iraq has been hit by wave after wave of conflict in recent decades, culminating in the fight against the Daesh group which ended in late 2017.
Those years of conflict left grave sites all across the country where the remains of thousands of victims from Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities have been uncovered.
IS alone left behind an estimated 200 mass graves that could hold up to 12,000 bodies, the United Nations has said.
Authorities are testing remains from the most recent conflict as well as wars dating back three decades in an effort to identify the fates of missing Iraqis.
According to Iraqi authorities, Saddam’s regime forcefully disappeared more than one million people in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of their families are still trying to find out what happened to them.