Iran’s Raisi praises Assad ‘victory’ on landmark Syria visit

Update Syria’s President Bashar Assad (R) and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi shake hands after signing a memoranda of understanding on “long-term strategic cooperation” in Damascus on May 3, 2023. (AFP)
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Syria’s President Bashar Assad (R) and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi shake hands after signing a memoranda of understanding on “long-term strategic cooperation” in Damascus on May 3, 2023. (AFP)
Update Iran’s Raisi praises Assad ‘victory’ on landmark Syria visit
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Above, a billboard with pictures of Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi, left, and Syrian President Bashar Assad on the road in Damascus on May 3, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 03 May 2023
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Iran’s Raisi praises Assad ‘victory’ on landmark Syria visit

Iran’s Raisi praises Assad ‘victory’ on landmark Syria visit
  • Tehran has been a main backer of President Bashar Assad’s government since an uprising turned into a full-blown war in March 2011

DAMASCUS: Visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday hailed Syria’s Bashar Assad for overcoming sanctions and achieving “victory” in the country’s 12-year-long civil war, in which Tehran has been a major ally.
The Syria conflict has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry. While the front lines have mostly quietened in recent years, large parts of the country’s north remain outside government control.
“Syria’s government and people have gone through great difficulties, and today we can say that you have overcome all these problems and achieved victory despite the threats and sanctions imposed on you,” Raisi told Assad, according to a statement from the Syrian presidency and Iran’s IRNA news agency.
Tehran has provided economic, political and military support to Syria, helping Damascus claw back most of the territory it lost at the start of the conflict and positioning itself in a leading role as Assad seeks to focus on reconstruction.
Both countries remain under heavy Western sanctions.
Assad told Raisi that Syria-Iran ties “were stable and steady during difficult times despite heavy political and security storms that struck the Middle East,” according to the statement.
Iran “did not hesitate to provide political and economic support (to Syria), and even offered blood,” Assad added.
Raisi’s visit is the first by an Iranian president to Syria since the war broke out, and comes at a time when more regional capitals are re-engaging with the internationally isolated government in Damascus.
The large Iranian delegation includes the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, oil, roads and urban development as well as telecommunications.
Assad and Raisi signed memoranda of understanding on “long-term strategic cooperation,” covering fields including in oil, aviation, railways and agriculture, SANA said.
“Just as the Islamic republic stood by the Syrian government and nation in the fight against terrorism, it will also stand by its Syrian brothers in the field of development and progress,” Raisi said, according to the Iranian presidency website.
The visit comes just weeks after Iran’s landmark, Chinese-brokered agreement to restore ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia, which has sparked a flurry of diplomacy in the Middle East.
Security forces were heavily deployed in key parts of the Syrian capital, while billboards with portraits of the two presidents reading “welcome” in Arabic and Persian lined the airport road.
Syrian and Iranian flags also flew along the road to the Sayyida Zeinab mausoleum south of Damascus, a pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims which Raisi visited later Wednesday.
At the height of Syria’s war the revered shrine, which holds the grave of a venerated granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, became a symbol of a bloody sectarian fault line, targeted by Sunni jihadists and used as a rallying call by Shiite armed groups.
The connection between Iran and Syria “is not just a political and diplomatic relationship, but also a relationship of the heart, between two nations, and a strategic relationship between two governments,” Raisi told a large crowd seated in the shrine’s courtyard.
“Syria resisted for 12 years and has won, and today we celebrate the victory together,” he added.
The last Iranian president to visit Damascus was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2010.
Assad has officially visited Tehran twice since the war broke out, the last time in May 2022.
The regional atmosphere following the Saudi-Iran rapprochement has made Raisi’s visit “more appropriate,” said Damascus-based analyst Osama Danura.
Assad is hoping full normalization of ties with wealthy Gulf monarchies and other Arab states will also help finance reconstruction.
In April, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan made the first visit to Damascus by a Saudi official since the start of the war.
On the ground, Iran-backed groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah continue to bolster Assad’s forces, while Iran says it only deploys military advisers in Syria at the invitation of Damascus.
Iran’s arch-foe Israel continues to launch air strikes on Syrian territory, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters as well as Syrian army positions.
Israeli strikes have killed several Iranian officers in Syria over the years.
Tehran also has been part of four-way talks with Damascus, Moscow and Ankara seeking to repair Syria-Turkiye ties, which were severed at the start of the conflict.


 UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders

 UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders
Updated 45 min 54 sec ago
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 UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders

 UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders
  • The UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar emphasized the imperative of preventing further regional escalation

UAE President, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, held telephone discussions on Monday with regional leaders, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, and King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

They addressed pressing regional issues, particularly the escalating crisis in the Gaza Strip, and the urgency of achieving a ceasefire and safeguarding civilian lives in accordance with international humanitarian laws.

They emphasized the imperative of preventing further regional escalation, they reiterated support for a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace through a two-state solution, crucial for ensuring stability and security across the region.

Coordination among Arab nations and concerted international efforts were highlighted as essential steps toward resolving conflicts and advancing peace initiatives.


Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike against Israel
  • Washington says did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance

WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi officials said on Sunday that Iran gave wide notice days before its drone and missile attack on Israel, but US officials said Tehran did not warn Washington and that it was aiming to cause significant damage.
Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria.
Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory, though a young girl was critically injured and there were widespread concerns of further escalation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that Iran gave neighboring countries and Israel’s ally the United States 72 hours’ notice it would launch the strikes.
Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry said it had spoken to both Washington and Tehran before the attack, adding it had conveyed messages as an intermediary to be sure reactions were proportionate.
“Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” said a Turkish diplomatic source.
One senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration denied Amirabdollahian’s statement, saying Washington did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance.
“That is absolutely not true,” the official said. “They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of ... ‘these will be the targets, so evacuate them.’“
Tehran sent the United States a message only after the strikes began and the intent was to be “highly destructive” said the official, adding that Iran’s claim of a widespread warning may be an attempt to compensate for the lack of any major damage from the attack.
“We received a message from the Iranians as this was ongoing, through the Swiss. This was basically suggesting that they were finished after this, but it was still an ongoing attack. So that was (their) message to us,” the US official said.
Iraqi, Turkish and Jordanian officials each said Iran had provided early warning of the attack last week, including some details.
The attack with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles risked causing major casualties and escalating the conflict.
US officials said on Friday and Saturday they expected an imminent attack and urged Iran against one, with Biden tersely saying his only message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

ESCALATION
Two Iraqi sources, including a government security adviser and a security official, said Iran had used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack at least three days before it happened.
The exact timing of the attack was not disclosed at that point, but was passed to Iraqi security and military authorities hours before the strikes, allowing Baghdad to close its airspace and avoid fatal accidents.
“The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.
A senior Jordanian official said Iran had summoned Arab envoys in Tehran on Wednesday to inform them of their intention to carry out an attack, though it did not specify the timing.
Asked if Iran had also given details about the targets and kind of weapons to be used, the Jordanian source did not respond directly but indicated that that was the case.
An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response.
How far escalation can be avoided remains in question. Biden has told Israel the United States will not join any Israeli retaliation, the US official said.
However, Israel is still weighing its response and will “exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” Israeli minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.