Syria downs ‘hostile targets’ in suspected Israeli attack

(AFP)
Updated 30 November 2018
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Syria downs ‘hostile targets’ in suspected Israeli attack

  • Syrian state media said air defenses shot down “hostile targets” flying over the town of Kiswah
  • Among the targets struck were two Syrian army brigades where Lebanon’s Hezbollah group is embedded

AMMAN/JERUSALEM: Syrian air defenses shot down “hostile targets” on Thursday, state media said, in an area regional intelligence sources said contains Iran-backed assets, while Russian media said no Israeli jet had been downed as earlier reported.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing a Syrian security source, had reported that air defenses had shot down an Israeli war plane and four missiles, but the same source later denied this and Israel’s military said the report was “bogus.”
Syrian state media said air defenses shot down “hostile targets” flying over the town of Kiswah, south of the capital Damascus, and “were able to foil its goals” despite the “intensity of the aggression.
State media quoted a military source but did not specify what the target was or where it came from.
The area where the incident is said to have occurred is where Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran, has its communications and logistics hub for southern Syria near the Israeli border, according to two senior regional intelligence sources.
Among the targets struck were two Syrian army brigades where Lebanon’s Hezbollah group is embedded alongside a rocket depot close to its bases near the border with Lebanon, another Syrian army defector in touch with military personnel said.
Unlike previous occasions, the Syrian authorities did not blame Israel.
Israel is concerned that Iran’s growing presence in Syria poses a threat to its own security and has struck dozens of Iranian and Iran-backed positions in Syria over the course of the country’s seven-year conflict.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on Twitter: “In the course of Syrian ground-to-air missile fire, (Israel’s) air defenses sighted a single trajectory toward an open area of the Golan Heights.”
“At this stage it remains unclear whether there was indeed an impact in our territory. Our forces are scouring the area. Furthermore, the report about a strike on an Israeli aircraft or an Israeli aerial target are bogus,” said the statement.
A Syrian opposition figure familiar with the area where the incident occured said its proximity to the Syrian Golan Heights made it a hub for the recruitment of Iran-backed militias and their deployment across the strategic border area with Israel.
“Israel has targeted this area because the Syrian army barracks there have become a recruiting ground for Hezbollah and their militias to deploy in Quneitra,” Said Seif told Reuters.
Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and supports a number of militias that have fought alongside the Syrian army and its allies.
Tehran has in recent months expanded its military presence in southern Syria after insurgents were driven out, with Hezbollah, by far the biggest of the Iranian-backed militias expanding its foothold there, according to regional security sources.
Opposition sources say Hezbollah now plays a commanding role in the Quneitra province that neighbors the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where it is believed to be training allied militias and hundreds of former rebels.
The sources said this was the first major attack since Israel scaled down its attacks in Syria after the accidental shooting down of a Russian surveillance plane over two months ago.
The Sept. 17 downing by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, after Israeli jets attacked a suspected Iranian arms shipment to Syria, caused a diplomatic rift between Israel and Russia, and Moscow blamed Israel for the incident.


Italy’s Salvini says France has no interest in stabilising Libya

Italy's Interior Minister and deputy PM Matteo Salvini said France has no interest in stabilising the situation in Libya. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Italy’s Salvini says France has no interest in stabilising Libya

  • The French say accusation is baseless and reiterated their efforts in Libya
  • Relations between Italy and France, traditionally close allies, have grown frosty since the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition

ROME: Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, continuing a war of words between Rome and Paris, said on Tuesday that France was not looking to bring calm to violence-ravaged Libya because its energy interests there rivalled those of Italy.
Relations between Italy and France, traditionally close allies, have grown frosty since the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition last year and took aim at pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron.
France’s Foreign Ministry and the French president’s office declined to respond immediately.
On Monday France summoned Italy’s ambassador after Salvini’s fellow deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa and generating mass migration to Europe.
Salvini backed up Di Maio, saying France was looking to extract wealth from Africa rather than helping countries develop their own economies, and pointed particularly to Libya, which has been in turmoil since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
“In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy,” Salvini told Canale 5 TV station.
A French diplomatic source said it was not the first time that Salvini had made such comments and that it was probably because he felt he had been upstaged by Di Maio.
The source added that the accusation was baseless and reiterated that French efforts in Libya were aimed at stabilising the country, preventing the spread of terrorism and curbing the migration flows.
Italy’s Eni and France’s Total have separate joint ventures in Libya, but Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi denied in a newspaper interview last year that there was any conflict between the two firms in the north African state.
Salvini is head of the League, while Di Maio leads 5-Star. Both are campaigning hard for European parliamentary elections in May and are eager to show they have broken with the consensual politics of center-left and center-right parties.
The two men have repeatedly targeted neighboring France and accused Macron of doing nothing to help handle the hundreds of thousands of mainly African migrants who have reached Italy from Libya in recent years.
Asked about the latest diplomatic spat with Paris, Salvini said on Tuesday: “France has no reason to get upset because it pushed away tens of thousands of migrants (at the French border), abandoning them there as though they were beasts. We won’t take any lessons on humanity from Macron.”