Netanyahu says Israel will not tolerate Iranians on northern border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In New York, Netanyahu says Israel will not tolerate Iranians on northern border

Prime minister indicates main message of upcoming UN speech will focus on Tehran’s efforts to establish base in Syria

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a presser with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (out of frame), at the Los Pinos Residence in Mexico City, on September 14, 2017. (AFP/ Alfredo ESTRELLA)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a presser with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (out of frame), at the Los Pinos Residence in Mexico City, on September 14, 2017. (AFP/ Alfredo ESTRELLA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the main message of his upcoming speech at the United Nations for the annual gathering of world leaders at the 72nd session of the General Assembly would be that Israel would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its northern border with Syria, now in its seventh year of a brutal civil war.

Speaking to reporters from his hotel in New York on Friday, after wrapping up a historic trip to Latin America, Netanyahu said that the central message will be that “Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on our northern borders. An [Iranian] military presence endangers not just us, but also our Arab neighbors.”

He added that Israel was “obligated to act against this.” These days, he added — in an apparent reference to previous Israeli military intervention in Syria and Lebanon — “Israel, and what it says, is taken seriously. That’s how it should be.”

Netanyahu hosted Shabbat dinner at the hotel.

He is due to address the UN on September 19 and meet with US President Donald Trump a day earlier.

The meeting will be the two leaders’ fourth together since Trump assumed office. The two met once in February when the Israeli premier visited the White House, and twice in May when the American president traveled to the region, which included a two-day stop in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Trump too is slated to address UNGA on September 19.

Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran came a day after a senior Israeli official denied reports that Russia rebuffed Jerusalem’s demand to ensure that Iranian forces and Iran-backed Shiite militants not be allowed to operate within 60-80 kilometers of the Syrian frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights.

The demand was initially raised by Israel in July, when negotiations were underway for a ceasefire deal in southern Syria between President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels, under the auspices of Washington and Moscow.

Last month, Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the entrenchment of Iran and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and to present Israel’s position.

“Israel is satisfied with the talks in Sochi,” the official said Thursday, insisting on anonymity.

According to reports Thursday on Israel’s Channel 2 television and the Haaretz newspaper, Russia rejected Netanyahu’s plea. Instead, the reports claimed, Moscow committed only to keeping Iranian forces five kilometers from the Golan Heights frontier.

Israel had wanted a buffer zone of between 60 and 80 kilometers from the border on the Golan Heights, and has been repeatedly warning against Iran’s military ambitions in the area, Tehran’s bid to establish a territorial “corridor” all the way to the Mediterranean, and an increased Iranian presence on Israel’s northern border, according to the reports.

Netanyahu opposed the ceasefire deal, putting him publicly at odds with US President Donald Trump, since it did not sufficiently address Israel’s security needs.

Israeli intelligence expects the Iranians to try to establish a military and intelligence presence closer to the border to allow for the opening of a second front against Israel in the event of another conflagration between the Jewish state and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon, Haaretz said.

It said Iran plows around $800 million per year into Hezbollah and additional hundreds of millions into the Assad regime in Syria, Shi’ite militias fighting in Syria and Iraq, and Shi’ite Houthi insurgents in Yemen. (It also supports the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in the Gaza Strip to the tune of $70 million annually.)

Israel sees attempts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to improve the latter’s missile accuracy as a major threat.

A week ago, Israeli warplanes allegedly struck the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility near Masyaf, in the northwestern Hama province, damaging several buildings and killing two Syrian soldiers.

Western officials have long associated the CERS facility with the production of precision missiles, as well as chemical weapons.

Satellite image of a CERS facility near Masyaf reportedly hit by an Israeli airstrike overnight Wednesday, September 7, 2017 (screen capture: Google Earth)

Over the past five years, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes within Syria, hitting convoys of weapons bound for Hezbollah, as well as weapons storage facilities.

It rarely acknowledges specific attacks. Last week’s operation was reported by foreign media.

On his trip to Latin America, Netanyahu has stressed the dangers posed by Iran through its quest for nuclear weapons, its involvement in conflicts across the region, and support for terrorism.

The Iranians “have a terror machine that encompasses the entire world, operating terror cells in many continents,” he said in Argentina on Tuesday. “In the case of Iran, it’s not only merely terror but the quest for nuclear weapons that concerns us and should concern the entire international community. We understand the danger of a rogue nation having atomic bombs.”

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Kurdish MPs say yes to independence referendum

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Kurdish MPs say yes to independence referendum

Iraqi Kurds in Irbil (13/09/17)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe vote has left Iraq’s neighbours nervous

The Iraqi Kurdish parliament has voted to back an independence referendum in the face of opposition from across the globe.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, sitting for the first time in two years, backed the 25 September vote on Friday.

Iraq’s central government rejected the referendum as unconstitutional on Tuesday.

Iran, Turkey and the US also object to the vote, fearing further instability.

The White House issued a statement hours after the vote, asking the Kurdistan Regional Government to call off the referendum and “enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad”.

The statement warned the independence vote could “distract from efforts to defeat” the Islamic State militant group (IS).

There was a feeling of jubilation amongst those who back the referendum.

“We’ve been waiting more than 100 years for this,” Omed Khoshnaw, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDR), told Reuters news agency.

Of the 111 MPs who sit in the regional parliament, 65 voted to go ahead with the plan.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq on 4 September 2017

However, more than 40 did not attend the sitting, according to local media. A number of opposition MPs had said they were planning to abstain.

Iraq’s government has also authorised the prime minister to “take all measures” to preserve national unity.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Iran and Turkey – which both have Kurdish populations – fear a Yes vote will bolster separatism movements in their countries.

The US had suggested unspecified “alternatives” to the referendum ahead of Friday’s meeting.


A move provoking division

Sally Nabil, BBC News, Irbil

The parliamentary decision to hold the referendum on independence has been met with wide celebrations in the Kurdish capital of Irbil. People took to the streets raising the Kurdish flags and chanting patriotic songs.

Some of them told me they feel proud because their long overdue dream of independence is finally coming true. They believe the parliamentary move legitimises the referendum, which is seen by the central government in Baghdad as unconstitutional.

International, as well as regional, powers like Turkey and Iran have also been very critical of the upcoming voting process, warning of serious repercussions. Both countries have relatively large Kurdish communities and they are afraid of the domino effect that such a referendum could have.

Even among Iraqi Kurds there are divisions. The Change Movement, the main opposition party, has boycotted the parliament session, saying it believes in independence but rejects holding the referendum at this stage.


Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said he would give a rapid response to the ideas but appeared to have dismissed them when asked earlier on Friday, before the vote went ahead.

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” he said.

Mr Barzani’s statement was decried by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the decision not to postpone was “very wrong”, Reuters reports.

Media captionMassoud Barzani spoke to the BBC

Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. In Iraq, where they make up an estimated 15% to 20% of the population of 37 million, Kurds faced decades of brutal repression before acquiring autonomy following the 1991 Gulf War.

For the past three years, Kurds across the region have been engaged in the battle against IS.

Three months ago, top officials and political parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed to hold an advisory referendum on independence.

Voting will take place in the three provinces that officially make up the region – Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya – and “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration”, including Kirkuk, Makhmour, Khanaqin and Sinjar.

Kurdish officials have said that an expected Yes vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence but rather strengthen their hand in lengthy negotiations on separation with the central government.

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President Putin Offered A Plan For Full And Immediate Normalization Ties With The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN)Russia offered a plan to the United States for a full and immediate move toward normalization — or a restoration of diplomatic ties — in the opening weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, the Kremlin confirmed Wednesday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that “of course” Russia floated proposals such as this one to the US.
“Moscow systematically advocated for a resumption of the dialogue, for an exchange of opinion and for attempts at finding joint solutions,” Peskov said. “But, unfortunately, it saw no reciprocity.”
Peskov said Russia’s proposals had come through in parts and a summary of the offer went through diplomatic channels.
News of the plan first came to light in a BuzzFeed News report after the outlet obtained a document which outlined the proposal a top Russian diplomat made directly to the US State Department.
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Asked about the report, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert would neither confirm nor deny its accuracy. Nauert said in general terms that the US and Russia share the goal of improving diplomatic relations between the countries.
A Russian official confirmed to CNN that the document was authentic.
“We are sorry to hear that documents keep leaking from the (Trump) administration, though it shows that Russia keeps doing its best to normalize relations‎,” the official said.
Earlier Tuesday, Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon met with his Russian counterpart in Finland. The meeting was their third of the year to discuss so-called “irritants” in the relationship. Nauert said the meeting provided an opportunity to “raise questions or concerns,” but did not say if the two had resolved anything.
The proposal, BuzzFeed wrote, called for the US to restore all channels — diplomatic, military and intelligence — that had been cut following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intervention in Syria.
In the coming months, the proposal called for Russia and the US to collaborate on information security, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine, North Korea and eventually a full face-to-face meeting between the top national security officials of the two nations.
Relations between the United States and Russia have soured considerably since the opening of the Trump administration, when many expected Trump might bring the nations closer together as he said repeatedly was his goal during the campaign.
Russian military involvement in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an attempt to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, has cast a shadow on the US side over the potential rapprochement.
The US under then-President Barack Obama increased sanctions on Russia following the country’s alleged election interference, and moved to shutter some of the Kremlin’s facilities in the US.
Trump met with Putin face-to-face in a scheduled meeting at the G20 summit in July then spoke again during an unannounced conversation at a dinner for world leaders during the summit. Trump went on to propose a joint US-Russia cyber effort, then after sustained criticism of the proposal, Trump said he knew “it can’t” happen.
Russia responded in kind to the US’ sanctions after several months delay and ordered large cutsin the US diplomatic staff in Russia. Around the same time, Trump signed a bill putting more sanctions on Russia and restricting his ability to lift them.
He also thanked Putin for forcing the US to reduce its diplomatic staff in a comment the White House later described as sarcastic. Before Moscow’s deadline for the US to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia, the US ordered the closure of three Russian facilities in the US.

Israeli Jets Reportedly Launch Strikes On Syrian Military Facility

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israeli jets reportedly launch strikes on Syrian military facility

Syria: Israeli jets strike Syrian facility

(CNN)Israeli jets fired missiles at a military facility in Syria on Thursday, killing two army personnel, the Syrian army claimed.

The strikes caused material damage near Masyaf in the northwestern part of Syria near the Lebanese border, according to the Syrian army, which told state media that the missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace at 2:42 a.m. local time.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refused to comment.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) describes the site as a scientific research facility and a short- and medium-range missile depot.
Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror said the site was one of the Syrian regime’s centers of military research and development, which had produced missiles and, in the past, chemical weapons.
The strike marks a new level of alleged Israeli involvement in Syria since the civil war began six years ago, according to Amidror, who served as National Security Advisor between 2011 and 2013.
“It is the first time the target … is a formal Syrian facility; not just a warehouse, but a center of research and development and [production],” he said.
In its report, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quotes Syria’s military accusing Israel of propping up ISIS’s “morale,” and linking the reported strike with recent military wins over the terror group in the strategic Syrian town of Deir Ezzor.
“This aggression comes in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of the ISIS terrorists after the sweeping victories achieved by the Syrian Arab Army against terrorism at more than one front, and it affirms the direct support provided by the Israeli entity to the ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” the Syrian army said in a statement to SANA.

‘Dozens’ of strikes

Syria: What Israel sees

Syria: What Israel sees02:41
Israel has consistently said it is not taking sides in Syria’s civil war.
Even so, Israel has conducted “dozens” of strikes inside Syrian borders since 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted last year. Additionally, Israel has treated thousands of Syrians wounded in the country’s civil war, including rebel fighters.
Israel has repeatedly said there are red lines in Syria which prompt it to act. These include preventing Hezbollah, a key ally of the Syrian regime and an Iranian proxy, from getting its hands on advanced weaponry, and preventing Iran from establishing a permanent presence in Syria.
“[This strike] is within the framework of the [red lines] policy, but it is another level of interfering,” Amidror said.
Addressing the threat posed by Iran in Syria, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that Israel “reserves complete freedom of action [to protect] the security of Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Greeting Guterres, Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

With secretary general by his side, PM accuses United Nations of bias against Israel and of allowing Iran to build missile sites and Hezbollah to smuggle arms

 August 28, 2017, 4:08 pm 13

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (GPO)

AP — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday with blistering criticism of the international body’s treatment of Israel and accused it of failing to prevent arms from being smuggled to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah terror group.

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Netanyahu also claimed that Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon for the manufacture of “precision-guided missiles,” with the aim of deploying them against Israel.

Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed President Bashar Assad’s government forces in the civil war that has ravaged Syria.

“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”

The Israeli leader offered no specifics to support his allegations.

Guterres arrived on Sunday for a three-day visit to the region, his first since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the UN chief, Netanyahu criticized the United Nations, saying that it fails to check Palestinian hate speech, “absurdly denies” Jewish connections to Jerusalem and has not stopped arms from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He was referring to a recent UN cultural agency resolution about Jerusalem that angered Israel, which said it diminishes Jewish ties to the city. Israel also criticized the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, for being, according to Israel, soft on Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces in the border area.

Guterres vowed that he will “do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations. The UN peacekeeping force’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent what Israel says is Hezbollah building up its weapons.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” the UN chief said.

Earlier, President Reuven Rivlin called on Guterres to curb what he described as “the discrimination against Israel” in some UN institutions.

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Guterres, in turn, stressed his commitment to impartiality in “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

During a visit to the Holocaust memorial before meeting Israeli leaders, he warned that anti-Semitism remains “alive and well” in today’s world and vowed to combat all forms of racism and bigotry.

“I believe that the horror of the Holocaust should be such that anti-Semitism should now be dead forever,” he said, adding how he was shocked “to listen to the chant of a group of neo-Nazis in a developed country in the world, chanting ‘blood and soil’, the slogan of the Nazis.”

Guterres will meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday in the West Bank. He is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday.

Two Chemical Weapons Shipments North Korea To Syria Intercepted By U.N. Forces

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Two shipments of North Korean chemical weapons bound for Syria have reportedly been intercepted by United Nations member states in the past six months.

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The shipments bound for the Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were detailed in a confidential UN report on North Korean sanctions violations submitted to the Security Council earlier this month, Reuters reported Monday.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” a panel of independent UN experts wrote in their 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria,” the experts said, adding that another member state had since informed the panel they believed the weapons were part of an arms contract between Damascus and North Korea’s primary arms dealer, which has been subject to international sanctions since 2009.

“The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the experts wrote in their report to the Security Council.

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

Western analysts and intelligence services believe the SSRC is responsible for Syria’s research and development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, including its missile technology.

Neither Pyongyang or Damascus responded to a request for comment by Reuters.

Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of the Ghouta chemical attack on opposition-held neighborhoods in Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The West and the UN roundly blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for attack, which prompted an agreement brokered by the US and Russia to disarm Syria’s chemical stockpile.

However, chemical attacks have continued to target civilians and rebel fighters, according to opposition groups and others.

In April, a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held Idlib province left over 90 people dead, including many children, with the West accusing Assad of being responsible.

That attack prompted the US to impose “sweeping” new sanctions on Syrian officials, and President Donald Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at the airbase where the attack was launched.

The new sanctions ordered by the Treasury included freezing all assets in the US belonging to 271 employees of the SSRC, and blocked any American person or business from dealing with them.

Washington said at the time the SSRC was responsible for the producing the chemical weapons used in the April 4 attack.

The report on ties between Syria and North Korea comes as tensions between Pyongyang and the West have soared in recent months over North Korea’s weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to a seventh round of Security Council sanctions.

Army soldiers walk by a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Army soldiers walk by a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Earlier this month, Pyongyang threatened to send a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam — although it appears to have backed off for now.

Trump has promised “fire and fury” and said that Washington’s weapons were “locked and loaded.”

The intense rhetoric on both sides has raised fears of a miscalculation leading to catastrophic consequences — North Korea has vast artillery forces deployed within range of Seoul, where millions of people live.

“Russia Has Never Denied Israels Rights To Jerusalem, The Temple Mount Or The Western Wall”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JERUSALEM POST)    (THIS IS A RE-POST FROM 11-06-2016 HAS ANYTHING REALLY CHANGED)

Moscow has never denied Israel’s rights to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said in advance of his visit to the Jewish state later this week.

“These rights are clear and it would be absurd to deny them,” he told Channel 2 anchorwoman Yonit Levy.

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He spoke warmly of Russia’s ties with Israel, despite Moscow’s votes against the Jewish state at the United Nations and its delivery of the S-300 missiles to Iran.


Benjamin Netanyahu Dimitry Medvedev. (Photo credit: RIA NOVOSTI / REUTERS)

Levy quizzed him about those controversial issues as well as his support for Syrian President Basher Assad and charges that his country had intervened in the US elections.

How does Russia explain its support of the UNESCO vote “to disregard the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” Levy asked Medvedev.

The issue had been blown out of proportion, he responded speaking in Russian, with a Hebrew translation by Channel 2.

There have been some ten votes by UNESCO Boards and Committees on such Jerusalem resolutions, Medvedev said.

“There is nothing new here,” he said, as he dismissed the significance of UNESCO texts that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif.

“Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall,” Medvedev said.

“Therefore there is no need to politicize this decision,” Medvedev said, adding that such resolutions, were “not directed against Israel.”

Similarly, he said, there was nothing contradictory in Russia’s sale and shipment of the advanced S-300 advanced surface to air missile defense system to Iran.

Israel had opposed such sales because they significantly upgrade Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear sites against any attacks. It is particularly concerned because it does not believe that the Iran deal, put in place in 2015, will limit Tehran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Medvedev told Channel 2 that prior to the Iran deal, Russia respected the sanctions against Tehran and refrained from delivering the S-300. Now that the deal is in place and the sanctions were lifted, there was no reason not to complete the sale, he said.

Moving over to Syria, he referred to President Bashar Assad as the country’s only legitimate leader and added that Israel’s leadership preferred his rule to the prospect of a divided country under terrorist leadership.

“I know him (Assad) personally. There are those who love him and those who don’t. At present Assad is the only legitimate authority operating in Syria. Any regime change would have to occur legitimately,” Medvedev said.

“I remember that during my meetings with Israeli leaders, they told me they were not completely for Assad, but that there has to be someone in charge of the situation, rather than an uncontrolled break up of the country into enclaves ruled by terrorists,” Medvedev said.

Middle East terrorism, he said, is threatening his country from within.

“There are thousands of Russians fighting on behalf of ISIS and other Islamic Jihadist groups,” Medvedev said. “When they return they are experienced murders and terrorists. After their time fighting in Syria we don’t want them to organize something similar [within Russia],” he said.

Levy asked how the presence of the Russian air force in Syria impacted Israel’s ability to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

Medvedev said that it was operating from the assumption that “all sides would not take steps to aggravate the conflict.”

With regard to the United States, he charged that it had not kept its commitments in Syria and that the relationship between Washington and Moscow was at a very low point.

Medvedev chuckled when Levy asked him if Russia had interfered with the US elections.

He quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he stated that “the United States is not a banana republic.”

The US, he said, was a large and strong country and could not be influenced in that way. “It doesn’t matter who will be elected, but what policy they will execute,” he said.

“Its clear [that either candidate] will act in the best national interest of the US,” Medvedev said.

He called Republican candidate Donald Trump brilliant and said he had never met him. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said, was professional and known to him from the times he met with her when she was US Secretary of State from 2009-2012.

Russia expects to have a “normal” and “productive” relationship with whichever of the two candidates wins the White House, Medvedev said.

With regard to the Russian initiative to hold a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Presdient Mahmoud Abbas, Medvedev said that Moscow was not looking to replace the United States or anyone else when it comes to the peace process.

On the other hand, he said, there are very discouraging signs with regard to that conflict and there have been no advancements to speak of on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the last few years.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

People gather Saturday for the funeral of slain members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Idib province.

Story highlights

  • The attack occurred in rebel-controlled Idlib province amid recent spikes in violence
  • The unidentified attackers stole vehicles and equipment, activists said

(CNN)Seven members of the White Helmets rescue group were shot dead Saturday by unidentified gunmen who stormed the volunteers’ office in northwestern Syria, the group and opposition activists said.

The attackers also stole two vans, helmets and walkie-talkies, according to a statement from the group, which is formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The Aleppo Media Center activist group also said seven volunteers were killed in an attack — and posted video and photos of their funeral.
A procession of mostly men carried the dead to be buried, the images show. Many of the mourners wore the White Helmets badge and broke down in tears.
The Syrian Civil Defense called for northern Syrian checkpoints to detain any vehicles bearing the White Helmets logo that were not verified.

Attacked amid spikes in violence

The attack occurred in the city of Sarmin in Idlib province, which last month came mostly under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of Salafi jihadist groups that includes Fateh al-Sham. The latter group had been known as Jabhat al-Nusra before renouncing its ties to al Qaeda.
Idlib, one of the last Syrian provinces still beyond regime control, has been experiencing spikes in violence.
After the Syrian government — with the help of Russian air power — regained control of the key city of Aleppo last year, masses of opposition rebels were bussed to Idlib as part of a people-swap agreement.
The White Helmets have brought to light the scale of the Syrian conflict in a painfully visceral way, documenting their recovery operations through video and photo.

Saudi Arabia and Israel Agree on Al Jazeera

Peace and Freedom

There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 

may-saudi.jpgTheresa May has already suppressed a report so it wouldn’t upset the Saudis. And we wonder why we go to war with the Middle East AFP

When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall…

View original post 1,094 more words

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

12:55 PM ET

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest [when], following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

“My sense is that the Trump administration is resigned to the fact that the Assad regime has been secured by Iran and Russia for the indefinite future,” Fred Hof, a former U.S. special envoy on Syria under President Barack Obama, told TIME in an email. “They are forced – in large measure due to five plus years of Obama administration policy paralysis – to put Syrian political transition on the back burner.”

The ceasefire deal illustrates a new political reality as diplomatic attempts to resolve the six-year-old Syrian crisis as a whole give way to piecemeal efforts to deescalate the conflict in different parts of the country. Following more than a year of Russian-supported military gains by the government of President Bashar Assad, few now expect a broad national peace agreement between the regime and the rebel groups arrayed against it.

“There is no integrated solution for Syria anymore, at least for the time being in Washington,” says Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking to TIME from Paris. “The core of the problem, the political question, the Assad aspect, the transition; today it’s off the hook. Today this is on the shelf,” he adds.

International diplomacy has focussed lately on containing, rather than resolving the conflict as a whole. In May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey (a key supporter of the Syrian opposition) agreed to a plan to establish a series of four “de-escalation zones” in sections of the country held by the opposition. It achieved limited success in calming fighting between rebels and the regime.

The new ceasefire calls for Jordan and Russia to restrain Syrian rebels and the regime, respectively, along the existing front line in Syria’s southwest, according to an senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. Russia, the United States and Jordan released few other specifics of the agreement. No text of the deal was made public, and it was not clear how the truce would be enforced or monitored.

The new truce could yet provide relief to people living in three provinces in southwestern Syria, if it holds: Daraa, Suwayda, and Quneitra. The southwest has long been a redoubt of mainstream rebel groups who oppose both Assad and extremist groups, owing in part to support from the United States and Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south. Assad and allied forces have intensified attacks on rebel-held areas in the south since February. Past national ceasefires have unravelled within days or weeks. Human rights monitors and President Trump claimed that the ceasefire held, at least in its opening hours.

Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!

Others weren’t certain it would be durable. “Is the ceasefire actually going to lead to a reduction in hostilities and violence in the south? That remains to be seen,” said Charmain Mohamed, a Jordan-based Advocacy Advisor for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Past diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war have sought to broker a peace deal between Assad and a spectrum of rebel groups who demand his removal from power. Those talks collapsed last year as Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a ferocious offensive that reclaimed territory lost to the rebels, including the insurgent stronghold of Aleppo. The loss of the northwestern city was a historic blow to the rebellion that all but ended maximalist hopes of future military success against Assad.

More than six years on from the mass uprising against Assad that spawned Syria’s civil war, the contours of the conflict are shifting. After years in which the United States supported armed opposition groups but avoided direct conflict with Assad, the U.S. military struck Assad’s forces and allied troops at least four times since April, beginning with a cruise missile strike in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people. In June, hostilities escalated again when American forces shot down a Syrian government warplane that attacked U.S.-allied militias on the ground eastern Syria.

The U.S. posture toward Assad is now difficult to gauge. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a “transition away from the Assad family,” but also acknowledged that there was no plan in place to replace the current regime. Speaking to reporters in Hamburg, Tillerson said of Russian policy in Syria, “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.”

Under Trump, the U.S. has focused its efforts in Syria on fighting ISIS, sending additional troops to support Kurdish-led militias now battling their way into the jihadists’ stronghold in the eastern city of Raqqa. The ISIS-focused approach has placed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as a whole on the backburner.

The ceasefire agreement overshadowed a new round of United Nations-brokered peace talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Bahout, the analyst, said few expected any progress. “No one is betting one dollar on that,” he said.

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