Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions
A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on June 12, 2022 shows damage at the Damascus International Airport following an Israeli strike. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions
  • The strikes further ratchet up tensions in the confrontation between Israel on one side and Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah on the other
  • Iran has accused Israel of assassinating several high-ranking Revolutionary Guard members

BEIRUT: Israel marked a major escalation in its years-long campaign of airstrikes in Syria, carrying out an attack last week that shut down the country’s main civilian airport in Damascus as Israel steps up efforts to stop Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah.
Commercial flights were still halted at Damascus International Airport five days after Friday’s pre-dawn airstrikes smashed into its runways, leaving multiple craters, and damaged the air control tower and other buildings.
The strikes further ratchet up tensions in the confrontation between Israel on one side and Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah on the other. Iran has accused Israel of assassinating several high-ranking Revolutionary Guard members, while Hezbollah has threatened to strike a gas rig Israel is setting up in Mediterranean Sea area that Lebanon also claims as its waters.
The escalation comes as Russia, the top ally of Iran and Syria, is preoccupied with its war in Ukraine. Russia has naval and air bases in Syria and troops deployed there, backing Damascus in Syria’s long civil war.
For years, Israel has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria, saying it is determined to prevent Iran’s entrenchment near its northern border and the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, which is funded and armed by Tehran. The strikes have largely hit bases of Iranian-allied militias, including Hezbollah, as well as convoys said to be carrying arms to Hezbollah.
Friday’s strikes were the most extensive against a civilian target and, by shutting the airport down, had the widest impact. As in the past, Israel did not claim responsibility for the strikes.
The airport had remained operational even during the worst days of Syria’s 11-year civil war. It has both a civilian and a military section and satellite photos showed the runways on both sides with at least three craters each.
Along with the runways, the strikes hit or damaged airport halls and a radar tower and an arms shipment that was in the civilian side of the airport, said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.
Military positions south of Damascus were also hit.
Despite the escalation, Syria and Hezbollah both remained relatively muted about the attack. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes wounded one person and caused “significant” damage to infrastructure and rendered the main civilian runway unserviceable until further notice. Flights were rerouted to Aleppo’s airport while repairs were underway.
Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous visited the airport Sunday to inspect repairs. Photos posted by SANA showed a bulldozer working on what appeared to be the runway while another showed damage inside one of the airport’s rooms with glass blown out, chairs unhinged from their place and electric cables dangling from the ceiling.
Israeli media reported that the aim of the latest attack was to prevent the flow of equipment used in precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah.
Military affairs analyst Yossi Yehoshua wrote in Israel’s daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the Iranians have tried to ramp up aerial operations, first using cargo planes and hiding the weapons in hangars at Damascus International Airport. He claimed that now Iran and Hezbollah were using civilian flights to Damascus and Beirut to smuggle advanced military materiel to Hezbollah.
“Materiel consists of relatively small parts that look innocuous enough” and are easy to hide inside checked baggage on a civilian flight, Yehoshua wrote.
Amos Harel, senior military correspondent for Israel’s daily Haaretz, wrote that Iran has sought ways around Israeli disruptions and recently some of the best systems have been smuggled in hand luggage on commercial flights.
He added that the action suggests Israel perhaps feels it can take far-reaching military steps now, while international attention is focused on Ukraine.
Past Israeli strikes have largely gone without retaliation from the Syrians. Israeli airstrikes in Syria are usually coordinated with Moscow through a “deconfliction mechanism” to avoid direct confrontation with Russian forces in Syria.
In a rare public rebuke, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denounced Friday’s airstrikes as “provocative” and a “violation of the basic norms of international law.”
A Lebanese journalist who covers Arab-Israeli affairs, Sateh Noureddine, wrote that Israel’s move to knock out Damascus’ airport signals “a plan to impose a complete air blockade on Iran while also striking at Hezbollah, depriving it of a vital air link with its only military supply center.”
The strikes could be a first step toward a possible Israel-Hezbollah war, Noureddine warned, writing in the Lebanese news site Al-Modon, where he is editor-in-chief.
Hezbollah and Israel have had a series of confrontations, including a full-scale war in 2006. Tensions between the two enemies have been escalating over a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatening last week to strike the Israeli gas rig being set up.
In February, Nasrallah said the group has been manufacturing military drones in Lebanon and has the technology to turn thousands of missiles in their possession into precision-guided munitions.
A Lebanese military analyst who closely follows affairs in Syria and Lebanon said Syrian officials have been unusually “tightlipped” since the strike, given its significance.
“There is silence in Syria at all levels and the real scope of the strike is unknown,” he said, asking that his name not be made public in order to discuss the Syrian reaction.
“The timing of the strike and link with to regional developments is puzzling,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
Updated 59 min 50 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
  • Blaze ripped through Coptic church in Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry expressed “great sadness and sorrow” following a huge fire which engulfed the Abu Sefein Church in Cairo on Sunday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The fire ripped through the Coptic church in the Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

The ministry offered its deepest and sincere condolences to the government and people of Egypt, wishing the injured a speedy recovery, and security and safety for  Egypt and its people.

Also on Sunday, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Hissein Brahim Taha, expressed his condolences and sympathy.

Taha offered his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery for the injured.

He also stressed the support and solidarity of the OIC for Egypt in the tragic circumstances.


People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
Updated 14 August 2022

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
  • Hadi Matar’s father, who is separated from his mother, refuses to receive anyone in wake of New York stabbing
  • “I have never seen him in this town,” says Yaroun town Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa

BEIRUT: The father of Hadi Matar, the man who stabbed novelist Salman Rushdie in the US on Friday, is refusing to talk to anyone. Since hearing about his 24-year-old son’s crime, he has not received any visitors at his home in the southern Lebanese town of Yaroun — not even the town’s mayor.

Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa told Arab News: “Matar’s parents have been separated for 10 years. The father returned to Yaroun while his family stayed in the US. He revived the family’s old business of raising livestock and has been taking care of a small herd. He has little to no social life and does not talk to anyone.”

Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. (Arab News)

Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. It is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock.

Yaroun is a border town that was abandoned by many residents during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1970s. Some also emigrated before then, leaving only about 500 residents. This number increases with the temporary return of expatriates during the summer and other holidays, with records showing that 9,000 people originate from the town.

Both Christians and Muslims live in Yaroun, the mayor explained, while noting that the majority of emigrants have gone to Australia and North and South America.

Samer Wehbe, a journalist from the area, said: “When the expatriates gradually returned, they built beautiful houses that resembled the homes in which they lived abroad, giving the town a wealthy appearance. The majority of townspeople do not live there permanently; only when they come back to Lebanon on holidays and special occasions. Political affiliations remain vague, although the town is located in a pro-Hezbollah area, as it is adjacent to Maroun Al-Ras, in which Hezbollah scored major victories against the Israeli occupation.”

Yaroun is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock. (Arab News)

Mayor Tuhfa said that Matar was born and raised in the US. “I have been the mayor for six years and have never seen him in town,” he said.

Tuhfa explained: “Matar’s mother is also from Yaroun, but she is not related to her husband. Her name is Silvana Firdaus. Matar has one sister who also lives with her mother in the US.”

He added: “The news of Matar’s crime raised questions in the town, which mainly focused on ‘why did he do that?’ His act was even condemned, bearing in mind that no one knows him (Matar) on a personal level.”

Activists’ reactions on social media platforms were mixed. One considered that Matar is “only an American of Lebanese descent, who apparently suffers a deep identity crisis.”

Hadi Matar, 24, center, listens to his public defense attorney Nathaniel Barone, left, addresses the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, NY., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP)

Hezbollah refrained from commenting on the attack on Rushdie. According to Reuters, an official said the group “had no additional information on the stabbing attack against novelist Salman Rushdie.” The official added: “We don’t know anything about this subject so we will not comment.”

Nevertheless, in recent days, an old video of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah inciting his supporters to kill Rushdie has circulated on social media platforms.


Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution
Updated 14 August 2022

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution
  • The Ministry of Interior urged caution on the roads as visibility dropped below one kilometer in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Sunday
  • UAE authorities said they have developed an action plan to deal with expected heavy rain and high winds

DUBAI: Thick clouds of dust blanketed most parts of the UAE, as authorities braced for adverse weather conditions expected in the days ahead.

The Ministry of Interior urged caution on the roads as visibility dropped below one kilometer in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Sunday.

 

Abu Dhabi’s official media office urged motorists to “avoid driving unless absolutely necessary” and red weather alert has been issued different parts of the country.

Earlier this week, UAE authorities said they have developed an action plan to deal with expected heavy rain and high winds over the coming days.

“All local and national teams are highly prepared to ensure an effective and proper response to any risks that may arise as a result of the condition,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) said in a statement posted on the state news agency (WAM).

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior said it is “fully prepared to deal with any emergency situation”.

Last month, seven people died after heavy floods hit the northern and eastern parts of the UAE.


Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire
Updated 14 August 2022

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire
  • Dozens taken to local hospitals with fatalities expected to rise
  • President El-Sisi telephones Pope Tawadros II to express condolences, pledge support

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health announced that 55 people had been taken to hospital after a fire broke out at the Abu Sefein Church in the north of Giza on Sunday.

In a statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church said that a large fire broke out during the Divine Liturgy, and that a number of worshipers were transferred from the scene to Imbaba General Hospital and Agouza Hospital.

The statement added that, according to sources from the Ministry of Health, the number of deaths has so far reached 41 people with a further 14 injured.

These numbers are unconfirmed, with the tally expected to change.

 

Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, the official spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that 30 ambulances were dispatched to the church, and people taken to the two local hospitals.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi made a phone call to Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences to the victims of the accident.

During the call, El-Sisi stressed that all state institutions would provide the necessary support to contain the effects of the fire.

Abdel Ghaffar said the state of readiness at hospitals in Giza and Cairo had been raised, and that all blood types and emergency medicines are available at the facilities receiving the injured.

The General Administration of Civil Protection in Giza sent firefighters and vehicles to fight the blaze, which was swiftly brought under control.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly sent his sincere condolences to and expressed sympathy for the families of the victims.

Forensics and other authorities, meanwhile, are on the scene to determine the cause of the fire.

Public Prosecutor Hamada Al-Sawy issued a statement that an investigation team had been formed, and that the Public Prosecution would announce its results in due course.

The preliminary examination of the forensic evidence suggests the fire broke out in the air-conditioning system on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms, as a result of an electrical fault.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia expressed “great sadness and sorrow” over the fire and offered its deepest and sincere condolences to the government and people of Egypt, wishing the injured a speedy recovery, and security and safety for Egypt and its people, Saudi Press Agency reported.


Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media
Updated 14 August 2022

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media
  • Mostafa Tajzadeh was arrested in 2009 and again this year
  • He was previously convicted of harming national security and spreading propaganda against the state

TEHRAN: Iran has put on trial the reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was previously jailed and arrested again last month on charges of undermining state security, local media reported.
The 65-year-old — who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as a reformist and “political prisoner for seven years” — went on trial in Tehran on Saturday, said the judicial authority’s news agency Mizan Online.
“Mostafa Tajzadeh’s hearing was held at Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court” before judge Abolghassem Salavati, it said.
Tajzadeh had served as deputy interior minister during the 1997-2005 tenure of reformist former president Mohammad Khatami.
He was arrested in 2009 during protests disputing the re-election of then president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which was contested by an opposition backing unsuccessful reformist candidates Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Tajzadeh was convicted the following year of harming national security and speading propaganda against the state, and released in 2016 after serving his sentence.
Since his release, Tajzadeh has often called on authorities to free Mousavi and Karoubi, who have been under house arrest for more than a decade over the protests.
He submitted his candidacy in May 2021, having long campaigned for democratic and “structural changes” in the Islamic republic.
He was again arrested on July 8 this year at his home and also faces accusations of “publishing lies to disturb public opinion,” the Mehr news agency has reported.
According to Mizan, Tajzadeh in court faced “three counts, including conspiracy against national security.”
The defendant declined to speak in court, the report added.
His lawyer, Houshang Pourbabai, was quoted as telling the reformist newspaper Etemad that “three days ago, I went to Evin prison to meet my client with the permission of the court.”
“My client refused to meet me because he could not talk to me face to face,” he said, adding that Tajzadeh had also announced that he “would not appear in court.”
Etemad quoted Tajzadeh’s wife as saying the activist “was forced to appear in court against his will.”
Mizan said that, “given Tajzadeh’s refusal to answer questions, the judge announced that he would give his verdict within the legal time limit.”