Israel bombs Iranian targets in Syria

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

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?”


Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 1 min 37 sec ago

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.