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loss of life, Israel denied wrongdoing and blamed what it called wanton Syrian anti-aircraft fire after its jets had withdrawn back over the border.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.


Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

Updated 44 min 38 sec ago
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Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

  • The recovery of businesses will depend on whether people will return to Syria or not
  • Most of the shop owners travelled to Turkey and Egypt

ALEPPO: In the old khan, a stone courtyard off Aleppo’s medieval souk, most of the 41 cloth shops are deserted. Many of the owners moved elsewhere or went abroad to escape fighting in the historic Syrian city, a major economic center before the war.
“Some started new work outside Syria and won’t return. Some who stayed opened new shops in other parts of the country,” said Mohammed Abu Zeid, one of two cloth merchants still operating.
Syria’s economy has been upturned by eight years of war that partitioned the country between rival forces and displaced millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of workers were conscripted into the army or joined rebel groups and Western powers have imposed sweeping sanctions.
Any recovery will largely depend on whether people return home, including local business owners. The empty stores in Khan Khair Bek show that most have stayed away and it may be some time before business resumes.
Although parts of western Aleppo, which was held by the government through the war, still have busy shopping areas, the city’s factories and wholesale trading businesses have been devastated by war damage and the departure of traders.
Textiles were a mainstay of Aleppo business until the start of the war in 2011. The khan in the Souk Al-Zarb section of the battered Old City was a textile hub. Merchants kept their wares and conducted wholesale business in the shops. When Reuters first visited in early 2017, weeks after the fighting ended, the khan was closed and the domed entranceway was waist-deep in debris including bullet casings and the tail fin of a mortar bomb.
Thirteen shop owners moved abroad, mostly to Egypt or Turkey. Of those still in Syria, six moved to Damascus or other cities, and started new businesses. Another seven who remained in Aleppo have also stopped dealing in cloth, Abu Zeid said.
Ten others are working in the cloth trade from market stalls or rented shops in other parts of Aleppo. Just two, Abu Zeid and Zakariya Azizeh, reopened in the khan earlier this year. They did not know the whereabouts of several other neighbors.
About half Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million were uprooted during the conflict, with more than 5 million seeking refuge abroad.
Some refugees have started returning, but most are unwilling to go back yet, citing a fear of reprisals, the danger of renewed conflict, economic hardship and problems with paperwork.
Economic troubles
Azizeh said he was trying to persuade his former neighbors to come back.
“We cannot export and we have banking problems from sanctions. The system depends on credit, but I haven’t any money,” he said.
President Bashar Assad said Syria now faces an economic war waged through Western sanctions. They make any movement of money in or out of Syria very difficult, paralysing trade even with close allies such as Russia and Iran and making any return to Syria less attractive for business owners.
Abu Zeid believes most of the those who left the khan will eventually return. Many still own their premises.
“This is the best khan for import-export. The others, they tell us ‘one month, two months, we will come back’,” he said.
His cousin, Ahmed Abu Zeid, 63, a cousin of Mohammed Abu Zeid, has continued doing some business from home as it would cost several thousand dollars to replace stock and repair his war-damaged shop, near a mulberry tree.
“We all worked here from when we were children. I used to climb this tree and so did my son,” he said. He hopes his grandson Ahmed, 8, will one day work there too.
Damage
The two main centers of Aleppan business — the Old City souk and the industrial zones on the city’s outskirts — were on the front lines and suffered from heavy shellfire and looting.
Shops and warehouses were stripped of their inventories, factories and workshops of their equipment and machinery. Many are pocked with bullet or shell holes and filled with rubble.
Aleppo’s power plant was destroyed and electricity supplies from other parts of government-held Syria are limited. Water provision is patchy. One of the main industrial zones, Belleramoun, is near a front line and has been repeatedly shelled by rebels.
In the souk outside the khan, a group had gathered to chat on plastic chairs. They recited lists of friends and neighbors who had left.
“Some of them have come back to see what the situation is like. When they see it, they go away again,” said Mohammed Fadel, dressed in a suit and waving a lit cigarette as he spoke.
He had two shops in the souk, both now closed, and a textile workshop with four machines and 400 workers running round the clock and exporting across the Middle East, Fadel said.
He now plans to leave Syria and go to live in the Netherlands, where his son is.
“What can I do? I sit here all day doing nothing,” he said.