Pompeo calls Hezbollah risk to Middle East stability

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2019

Pompeo calls Hezbollah risk to Middle East stability

  • Pompeo, who has been on a regional tour to promote the Trump administration’s hard tack against Iran

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Hezbollah on Wednesday as a risk to Middle East stability and conferred with Israel about the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Lebanese group ahead of a trip to Beirut.

Pompeo, who has been on a regional tour to promote the Trump administration’s hard tack against Iran, received a warning from Israel which worries it may again be in the sights of Hezbollah forces winding down their intervention in Syria’s war.

Meeting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, Pompeo listed Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis — all recipients of Iranian support — as “entities that present risks to Middle East stability and to Israel.”

“They are determined to wipe this country off the face of the planet and we have a moral obligation and a political one to prevent that from happening. You should know that the United States is prepared to do that,” Pompeo said in public remarks at the meeting.

For its part, Israel has carried out repeated airstrikes on Hezbollah in Syria, where the Shiite militia — along with Russian air power — helped President Bashar Assad turn the tables against rebels and militants.

In a speech broadcast on the Persian new year on Thursday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic Republic had successfully resisted “unprecedented, strong” US sanctions.

Iran has faced economic hardship since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sanctions.

Pompeo’s visit to Jerusalem was widely seen in Israel as a boost for Netanyahu, who enjoys a close relationship with Trump, just three weeks before closely contested Israeli election.

In a further signal of solidarity with Israel, Pompeo was later scheduled, accompanied by Netanyahu, to visit Judaism’s Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In May 2017, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the wall, but did not ask Netanyahu to join him.
Seven months later, Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy and recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, incensing Palestinians who claim the city's eastern sector as the capital of a future state they seek.
Last May, Washington moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pompeo also visited the embassy on Thursday.


Syria regime forces on edge of key rebel-held town

Updated 26 min 15 sec ago

Syria regime forces on edge of key rebel-held town

  • Maaret Al-Numan is one of the largest urban centers in the northwestern province of Idlib
  • The regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment against the militant-dominated region since December

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces have reached the outskirts of a key city on the edge of the country’s last rebel-held stronghold, a monitor and a pro-government newspaper said Sunday.
The mainly deserted city of Maaret Al-Numan is a strategic prize lying on the M5 linking Damascus to Syria’s second city Aleppo, a main highway coveted by the regime as it seeks to regain control of the entire country.
It is one of the largest urban centers in the beleaguered northwestern province of Idlib, the last stronghold of anti-regime forces and currently home to some three million people — half of them displaced by violence in other areas.
The regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment against the militant-dominated region since December, carrying out hundreds of air strikes in southern Idlib and the west of neighboring Aleppo province.
Over the past 24 hours, government ground forces have seized seven villages on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Numan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Sunday.
They have now reached “the edges of the city and are... within gunfire range of part of the highway,” it said.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan reported that loyalist forces were “just around the corner” from the city, whose “doors are wide open.”
Idlib and nearby areas of Hama, Aleppo and Latakiya provinces are dominated by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) militant group, led by members of the country’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
The regime of President Bashar Assad has repeatedly vowed to reassert control over the whole of Syria, despite several cease-fire agreements.
An AFP correspondent says Maaret Al-Numan has become a ghost town.
Assad’s forces, which are also battling HTS militants in western Aleppo province, are backed on both fronts by Syrian and Russian air strikes.
The fighting has left dozens of fighters dead on both sides.
Since 1 December, some 358,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority of them women and children, according to the United Nations.
A cease-fire announced by Moscow earlier this month was supposed to protect Idlib from further attacks, but the truce never took hold.
Aid agencies and relief groups have warned that further violence could fuel what may potentially become the largest wave of displacement seen during Syria’s nine-year-old civil war.
Syrian government forces now control around 70 percent of the country and Assad has repeatedly vowed to retake Idlib.