Israel to improve coordination with Moscow over Syria after plane crash

In this photo taken on Saturday, March 4, 2017, a Il-20 electronic intelligence plane of the Russian air force flays near Kubinka airport, outside Moscow, Russia. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Israel to improve coordination with Moscow over Syria after plane crash

  • Fifteen Russian crew were killed when the IL-20 surveillance plane crashed near Latakia in northern Syria on Monday
  • Russia has said Syria shot the plane down shortly after Israeli jets hit the area

JERUSALEM: Israel said on Thursday it would not halt strikes on Syria but would do more to "deconflict" them with Russian forces, after Moscow accused it of "irresponsible and unfriendly actions" that led to Syrian ground fire mistakenly downing a Russian plane.
Fifteen Russian crew were killed when the IL-20 surveillance plane crashed near Latakia in northern Syria on Monday. Russia has said Syria shot the plane down shortly after Israeli jets hit the area, and accused Israel of creating the dangerous conditions by failing to give sufficient advance notice.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin initially described the downing as "tragic chance", Moscow has made its anger clear.
"Moscow views as irresponsible and unfriendly actions of Israeli Air Force, which exposed Russian Il-20 aircraft to danger and led to death of 15 servicemen," the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said on Twitter in English, adding that Russia would "take all necessary measures to eliminate threat to life and security of our military fighting against terrorism".

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Israel must provide Moscow with more information about the downing of the military aircraft near the Syrian coast, the Interfax news agency reported.

Israel has struck Syria scores of times during its seven-year civil war to prevent what it says are transfers of weapons to Hezbollah fighters and other Iranian allies. Russia has largely overlooked the sorties, which the Israelis say pose no direct threat to Moscow's ally, President Bashar Al-Assad.
Israel dispatched its air force chief to brief Moscow about the incident on Thursday. Expressing regret at the loss of life, Israel denied wrongdoing and blamed what it called wanton Syrian anti-aircraft fire after its jets had withdrawn back over the border.
Speaking to Army Radio, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman made clear that Israel would not halt attacks in Syria.
"We will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the security of Israel's citizens ... and we will not hold these discussions over the airwaves," he said.
But when pressed during the interview, Lieberman avoided asserting Israeli "freedom of action" over Syria, a term he has used in the past.
Naftali Bennett, another member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, said "deconfliction mechanisms" would be improved, referring to a Russian-Israeli hotline designed to avoid inadvertent clashes with forces Moscow sent to Syria as part of a military intervention mounted in 2015.
"We will of course strengthen these mechanisms. We will do everything so as not to harm anyone we do not intend to, God forbid," Bennett told Army Radio in a separate interview.
Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran Israeli military commentator, predicted a more patient air force approach in future strikes.
"It is possible that, next time, they will say, 'Okay let's wait until the (Russian) plane goes back to its base, and then we will carry out the attack,'" Ben-Yishai told Ynet TV.
Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, who like their patron Iran have been helping Assad militarily in Syria, said Israeli strikes there would not prevent them getting advanced weaponry.
"No matter what you do to cut the route, the matter is over and the resistance possesses precision and non-precision rockets and weapons capabilities," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech.


Daesh destruction of rural Iraq hinders residents’ return: Amnesty

Updated 7 min 50 sec ago
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Daesh destruction of rural Iraq hinders residents’ return: Amnesty

  • Amnesty reported Daesh fighters burnt or chopped down orchards, sabotaged wells and stole or destroyed vital farming equipment
  • The extremists seized control of much of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014

BAGHDAD: The Daesh group’s deliberate destruction of agriculture in northern Iraq has hindered the return of hundreds of thousands of residents, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.
The New York-based rights group said Daesh fighters burnt or chopped down orchards and sabotaged wells by filling them with rubble, oil or other materials. The militants also stole or destroyed pumps, cables, generators, transformers and vital electricity lines.
Amnesty called on the Iraqi government to repair rural infrastructure and compensate the displaced so they can return to their homes.
Daesh seized control of much of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014. US-backed Iraqi forces gradually drove the militants from all the territory under their control, declaring victory a year ago after a costly campaign that destroyed entire neighborhoods and towns.
“The damage to Iraq’s countryside is as far-reaching as the urban destruction, but the consequences of the conflict on Iraq’s rural residents are being largely forgotten,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty.
He said the report focuses on the “deliberate, wanton destruction” around the area of Sinjar, where the extremists massacred and enslaved thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority. About half of Sinjar’s residents have returned, with many others saying they have nothing to go back to.
Beyond Sinjar, Amnesty’s report gave sobering figures for all of Iraq.
“The conflict against IS eviscerated Iraq’s agricultural production, now an estimated 40 percent lower than 2014 levels,” it said. “Before IS, around two-thirds of Iraq’s farmers had access to irrigation — only three years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Around 75 percent of livestock was lost, spiking to 95 percent in some areas.”
Syrian and Iraqi forces have gradually driven Daesh out of nearly all the territory it once held. But the group still maintains a presence in the Syrian desert and remote areas along the border. Many have warned it could stage a comeback if economic grievances are not addressed.
“Unless there is urgent government assistance, the long-term damage inflicted on Iraq’s rural environment will reverberate for years to come,” Pearshouse said. “When IS tore through Iraq in 2014, it thrived off rural poverty and resentments, so Iraq’s government should be concerned that something similar could happen again.”