Eleven Syrian regime fighters killed in Israeli attack on Homs

A missile intercepted over Damascus International Airport in Syria. (File/ SANA/AP)
A missile intercepted over Damascus International Airport in Syria. (File/ SANA/AP)
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Updated 09 June 2021

Eleven Syrian regime fighters killed in Israeli attack on Homs

Eleven Syrian regime fighters killed in Israeli attack on Homs
  • Syrian air defenses intercepted an Israeli missile strike over Damascus
  • Earlier, state media said large explosions were heard

DAMASCUS/AMMAN: Eleven Syrian regime fighters were killed in Israeli air strikes on Homs province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria’s air defense system had been activated against an “Israeli aggression” within Syria, state news agency Sana said late Tuesday.

Israeli planes flew through Lebanese air space, the report added.

The Britain-based war monitor, reported “violent explosions felt in Damascus and around the city, followed by Israeli strikes on military positions” of the Syrian army.


“Air strikes also took place in the south of Homs province and in the border zone between Homs and Tartus,” Observatory chief Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
The target of the reported Israeli attacks were not immediately clear. The attacks are the first reported since the re-election of Syrian President Bashar Assad for a fourth seven-year term.
The Israeli army, which rarely acknowledges its strikes in Syria, told AFP it would not comment on “information coming from abroad.”
Since the start of the war in neighboring Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory, targeting regime positions as well as Iranian forces and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Western intelligence sources said Israel’s stepped-up strikes on Syria since last year are part of a shadow war approved by the United States.
The intelligence sources said that Israel has over the past year expanded its targets across Syria, where thousands of Iranian-backed militias have been involved in regaining much of the territory lost by Assad to insurgents in a nearly decade-old civil war.
The reported attacks are also the first after a fragile truce between Israel and Hamas’ militant rulers in the Gaza Strip following an 11-day conflict that killed more than 250 people, most of them Palestinian.
(With AFP, AP and Reuters)


FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
Updated 49 min 31 sec ago

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
  • Questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate was left unsafely stored in the capital for years
  • The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people

WASHINGTON: The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.
As the first anniversary approaches on Aug. 4, major questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate — which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs — was left unsafely stored in a capital city for years.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, estimates around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, much less than the 2,754 tons that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain says he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo.
The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
The FBI report said “an approximate amount reaching around 552 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in warehouse 12.”
It noted the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 ton shipment, which was stored in one-ton bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion.”


Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
Updated 54 min 3 sec ago

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
  • Parliamentarian Yassin Ayari’s wife said security arrested him for criticizing Tunisian President on Facebook

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces arrested a member of parliament at his home on Friday, his wife said, after he criticised President Kais Saied on Facebook and called his seizure of governing powers a coup.
Yassin Ayari, who represents a small party in parliament, has previously expressed frequent criticism of Saied, who on Sunday dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament for a month and said he was taking over executive authority.
Neither the security forces nor the judiciary were immediately available for comment on his arrest.
Ayari's wife, Cyrine Fitouri, said by phone that about 20 men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as members of a presidential security unit had raided their home earlier on Friday and used violence as they detained him.
"They took him forcefully while his mother was shouting," she said, adding that they had told the family not to film them as they took him away.
Saied on Thursday said he would uphold freedoms and rights of Tunisians as the United States urged him to return the country to "the democratic path" and key civil society groups said he must uphold the constitution.
His actions appear to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated this year by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.
When he announced his seizure of governing powers on Sunday he also said he would take over public prosecutions and lifted the immunity of parliament members.
The judiciary, which has declared its political independence, said this week it had previously opened investigations into three political parties that have opposed Saied, and has now started investigations into several lawmakers.


Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
Updated 30 July 2021

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
  • Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 starts Monday
  • Over 20 per cent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot

NICOSIA: Cyprus decided Friday to expand its Covid-19 vaccination rollout to cover children aged 12 to 15, as authorities tackle a fourth wave of coronavirus.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 would start Monday.
“The vaccination will be voluntary and with the necessary consent of the parents or legal guardians,” he said.
“Already several European Union countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and Greece, vaccinate children aged 12-15 to achieve greater protection of the population,” he told reporters.
Children will be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).
Over 20 percent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot.
“The only way to stop new aggressive Covid-19 variants is to vaccinate,” said Hadjipantelas.
Cyprus is experiencing a new surge in cases, peaking at 1,152 on 15 July.
The surge is blamed on the more potent Delta variant and a low vaccination rate among the under 30s.
In a bid to contain the spike, the cabinet decided Friday that unvaccinated visitors and tourists staying longer than seven days will need to take a PCR test after a week’s stay.
Currently, there are no restrictions on vaccinated tourists entering the country.
The island has endured three national lockdowns in the past 16 months, and the government is trying to avoid another one to save the economy.
Hospitals have postponed all non-emergency operations as Covid wards reach capacity.
The health ministry said Cyprus has inoculated 73 percent of the eligible population with a first jab, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
The target is to reach “herd immunity” of 80 percent by the end of August.
Government-controlled southern Cyprus has registered over 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 416 deaths since the pandemic reached its shores in March 2020.
Wearing face masks and social distancing are compulsory.


Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
Updated 30 July 2021

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
  • Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the country’s public prosecutor on Friday he was ready to give a statement about last year’s port blast in the capital Beirut if needed.
“No one is above the law no matter how high up, and justice can only be achieved through the specialized judicial branches that provide guarantees,” Aoun told prosecutor Ghassan Ouidat during a meeting, according to a statement released by the president’s office.
The Aug. 4 explosion at the port, caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely for years, killed over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.
A probe into the blast led by judge Tarek Bitar has been hindered over the past month as requests sent to parliament and the government to lift immunity and enable questioning of several top officials were either declined or stalled.
Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible.
Influential parliament speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday the legislature was ready to lift the immunity of its members to allow for questioning but did not detail when or how this would be done.


Israel’s president gets third COVID-19 shot, urges boosters for over-60s

Israel’s president gets third COVID-19 shot, urges boosters for over-60s
Updated 30 July 2021

Israel’s president gets third COVID-19 shot, urges boosters for over-60s

Israel’s president gets third COVID-19 shot, urges boosters for over-60s
  • Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, and around 57 percent of the 9.3 million population has been double-vaccinated

JERUSALEM: Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a third shot of coronavirus vaccine on Friday, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to people aged over 60 as part of efforts to slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Herzog, 60, received a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. He said he was proud to launch the booster vaccination initiative “which is so vital to enable normal circumstances of life as much as possible in this very challenging pandemic.”
The president was accompanied by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who urged the importance of booster shots in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and pledged that Israel would share all the information it gleaned from the initiative.
“Israel is a pioneer in going ahead with the third dose for older people of the age of 60 and above. The fight against the COVID pandemic is a global fight. The only way we can defeat COVID is together,” Bennett said.
The booster campaign, with shots administered by health maintenance organizations, will effectively turn Israel into a testing ground for a third dose before approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
On the eve of the booster rollout Bennett said Israel had already given 2,000 immunosuppressed people a third dose with no severe adverse events.
His government hopes that stepped up inoculation efforts will help avoid further costly lockdowns.
Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, and around 57 percent of the 9.3 million population has been double-vaccinated. Many seniors got their first shots in December, January and February as they were regarded as the most vulnerable sector of the population.
But since the emergence of the Delta variant, the health ministry has twice reported a drop in the vaccine’s efficacy against infection and a slight decrease in its protection against severe disease.
Daily new infections have spiked to more than 2,000, up from a handful of cases per day a few months ago and about 160 people are currently hospitalized with severe symptoms.