Israel bombs Iranian targets in Syria

The bombardment hit Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Israel bombs Iranian targets in Syria

  • The bombardment hit Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus
  • At least 11 fighters including two Syrians were killed in the raid

JEDDAH: Israel launched a wave of cruise missile and guided bomb attacks early on Monday against sites in Syria operated by Hezbollah and the Quds Force, the foreign unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The targets included munitions storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp. Israeli jets then targeted Syrian defense batteries after coming under fire. The Russian military said 30 cruise missiles had been shot down.

Eleven people were killed in the pre-dawn strikes, which lasted for nearly an hour and were the most intense Israeli attacks since May, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

Russia said four Syrian troops were among those killed in the airstrikes, which also damaged infrastructure at Damascus airport.

The attacks followed a previous night of cross-border fire, which began when Iranian troops fired an Iranian-made surface-to-surface missile from an area near Damascus at a ski resort in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the missile had been smuggled into Syria specifically for that purpose. It was of a type that had not been used in the Syrian was and had “no business” being in Syria, he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “pounded” the Iranian sites in response to the missile attack. “We don’t allow such acts of aggression to go unanswered as Iran attempts to establish itself militarily in Syria,” he said. “Whoever tries to harm us, we will harm them.”

An official from the so-called “Axis of Resistance” — led by Iran and made up of Syria, Iraqi Shiite militias, Hezbollah and other groups — said: “The conditions are getting closer to war every day and a war might break out on several fronts.”

Israeli political and military leaders had previously refused to confirming attacks, and have only recently acknowledged hundreds of strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria in recent years.

Monday’s announcement went a step further, reporting the strikes in real time and detailing the targets. There is speculation in Israel that the new openness may be linked to domestic politics before elections in April.

Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon said the military had no choice but to comment on the strikes after Netanyahu took public credit. Yaalon said he supported the strikes but not the “chatter” around them, and he accused Netanyahu of playing politics with Israel’s security.

“Unfortunately ... everything is connected to his political survival,” Yaalon said. “What does the publication give us? Can someone tell me what the benefit is, besides politics?”


Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

Updated 19 February 2019
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Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

  • The UN statement said both sides ‘made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeidah agreement.’
  • Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil.

NEW YORK: Yemen’s government and the Houthi militias have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeidah under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.

“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.

Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, where battles raged before a cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 18.

The Houthis occupy Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while Yemeni government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.

The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hodeidah province.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.

“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.

The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km from the port.

Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors in Yemen.

Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeidah to the Houthi-occupied capital Sanaa and in Yemen’s third city of Taiz, said a UN source.

They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Program grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.

The Hodeidah truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city’s edges.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.