Israeli official says Syria must not have chemical weapons

Israeli official says Syria must not have chemical weapons
File photo of Syrian President Bashar Assad. In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, Elazar Stern, Israel’s intelligence minister said Tuesday Syria cannot be allowed to obtain chemical weapons. (AP/File)
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Updated 14 December 2021

Israeli official says Syria must not have chemical weapons

Israeli official says Syria must not have chemical weapons
  • Stern, a retired military general, hinted that Israel could not accept such weapons in the hands of its enemy to the north
  • Israeli officials have declined to comment on the Washington Post report

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s intelligence minister said Tuesday that Syria cannot be allowed to obtain chemical weapons, after a report emerged that Israel targeted the country’s chemical weapons facilities.
In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, Elazar Stern would not directly comment on the report in the Washington Post that said that Israel struck Syria on two occasions — once this year and once last year — in a bid to block attempts to rebuild its chemical weapons stockpile. But Stern, a retired military general, hinted that Israel could not accept such weapons in the hands of its enemy to the north.
“We have a neighbor who has already proved that it doesn’t hesitate to use chemical weapons even against its own people,” he said. “(Syrian President Bashar) Assad must not have chemical weapons.”
Israeli officials have declined to comment on the Washington Post report.
Military affairs commentators in Israel, who often are briefed by top defense officials, said the timing of the report was not a coincidence and comes as negotiators are meeting with Iran in Vienna to try to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has close ties with Syria and has sent troops to back the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s decade-long civil war.
“It was a signal to all of the actors, Iran and the United States, that Israel is serious about acting against the development of non-conventional weapons by its enemies,” wrote Yossi Yehoshua in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
Israel has long opposed the 2015 nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, which granted Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Instead, it has called for an accord with even tighter safeguards on Iran’s nuclear program and addresses other Iranian military behavior, such as its missile program and support for anti-Israel militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel also supports a “credible” military threat against Iran as leverage.
Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon — a charge Iran denies.
One of the strikes cited by the Washington Post, on June 8, was reported by Syrian state media as an Israeli aerial attack near the Syrian capital Damascus and in the central province of Homs, that prompted a response from Syrian national air defenses. There was no mention in official media of what was targeted in the strikes, although loud explosions were heard in Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that closely monitors the war in Syria, reported Israeli planes struck military targets in the countryside of Homs and Damascus. It said the targeted sites included a scientific research center in the vicinity of the village of Khirbet Al-Tineh, northwest of Homs, in addition to an ammunition depot likely to belong to Hezbollah, south of Homs. The strikes killed 11 soldiers, including a colonel, it said.
Unconfirmed reports published by pro-Assad media at the time identified the colonel as a leading chemist at the Scientific Studies and Research Center, Gen. Ayham Sueleiman Ismail.
The center is a government agency described by the Syrians as a facility for the advancement of scientific research in the country but has been long described by Syria watchers as an outfit for the development of chemical, biological and other weapons.
Israel is believed to have struck facilities associated with the SSRC on numerous occasions in the past.
Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, pressed by Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack that the West blamed on Damascus. By August 2014, the Assad government declared that the destruction of its chemical weapons was completed, but its initial declaration of chemical stockpiles and production sites to the OPCW has remained in dispute. OPCW investigators have blamed three chemical attacks in 2017 on President Bashar Assad’s government.
Earlier this year, the UN’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the Security Council that Damascus’ declaration of its chemical stockpiles and chemical weapons production sites nearly eight years ago remains incomplete.


France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
Updated 05 July 2022

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
  • Minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings

PARIS: France has repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria where family members of suspected Daesh terrorists have been held, the foreign ministry said in Paris.
“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement said, adding that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings.


Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda
Updated 05 July 2022

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda
  • Yair Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid departed on his first foreign trip in office Tuesday to France, where he will ask for backing on a gas dispute with Lebanon that days ago saw Israel shoot down three Hezbollah drones.

Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government, which will see the country return to the polls in November for its fifth election in less than four years.

The new leader was confronted with his first test a day later, when Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement launched three drones toward an offshore gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking before his departure from Tel Aviv, Lapid said he will raise the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We will also discuss of course what has occurred recently off the coast of Lebanon,” Lapid said.

“There have been repeated attacks on Israeli gas rigs. Israel will not accept this type of attacks on its sovereignty.”

Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim that the Karish gas field lies within its territorial waters.

Israel and Lebanon resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, though the Karish site sits outside of the disputed area and is marked as Israeli on previous United Nations maps.

The US-backed talks have been stalled by Beirut’s demand that the UN maps must be modified.

Hezbollah’s backers Iran will also be on the agenda at the bilateral talks in Paris, as Israel stands firmly opposed to international efforts to revive a nuclear accord with Tehran.

“It’s important that our position against this agreement is heard,” Lapid said Tuesday.

Israeli officials fear that giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program could allow Tehran to boost funding to Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A senior Israeli official said the Lebanon gas issue will be high on agenda during talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

“We will ask France to intervene to secure the negotiations that we want to lead until the end of the gas issues,” the official told journalists traveling with the premier.

Lapid’s Paris visit comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, before flying to Saudi Arabia for energy talks.

Washington is seeking to stabilize the global energy market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led Moscow to cut its gas supplies to some European countries.

Israel and Egypt signed a deal last month to boost gas exports to the European Union, as the bloc attempts to end its dependency on Russian energy.

“The Lebanon issue is essential and Lapid will come back to the Israeli position, according to which Hezbollah is first and foremost a threat to the future of Lebanon,” said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war but agreed to talks aimed at delineating their maritime border to allow both countries to boost gas exploration.


Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council
Updated 04 July 2022

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to London to inaugurate the first partnership council between his country and the UK.

The council will be co-chaired by Shoukry and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. It will include political consultations and discussions on economic and trade issues, with the participation of British Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the launch of the council comes in light of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

While in London, Shoukry met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, to discuss bilateral relations.


Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
Updated 04 July 2022

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
  • The woman, who was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, was listed in fair condition.

AMMAN: A woman was stabbed by her husband in a public street in Karak in front of the Karak Sharia Court on Monday, according to a Jordanian security source.

The unidentified man pulled out a knife and stabbed his wife in the back, chest and right hand, according to a source at Al Karak Public Hospital.

She was rushed to the hospital shortly after and admitted to the intensive care unit. She was described as in fair condition.

The attacker has since been apprehended, and police are currently investigating the incident.

According to eyewitnesses, family disputes between the couple led them to review the case at Sharia court before the situation escalated and the husband attacked the victim.

Following the death of 18-year-old Iman Ersheid, who was shot dead on campus, public outrage in Jordan has fueled calls for the death penalty to be enforced in such cases.

Last week, the High Criminal Court in Jordan sentenced a 50-year-old to death for stabbing his ex-wife before the Northern "Rusaifa" Sharia Court in a similar incident.


US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

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The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.