The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘TASK AND PURPOSE’ NEWS)

 

Exclusive: The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened
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It was a pitch black Saturday evening at a remote outpost in Syria last February when Sgt. Cameron Halkovich and Cpl. Kane Downey began their rounds, checking Marines on perimeter security.

As sergeant and corporal of the guard, their job was to set up the watch schedule, man the radios, and most importantly, ensure Marines on post were watching for signs of ISIS fighters, who for months had been under blistering attack from artillery at the small, Army-run base in Deir al-Zour Province. Besides an Army Special Forces team, it hosted a forward surgical team, more than dozen Marine infantrymen, and a platoon-sized element of Syrian Democratic Forces allied with the U.S.

But on that late-winter night, one of the Americans’ SDF partners would turn on them and fire two shots — marking the first known instance of an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve. And while the Pentagon often announces when service members are killed or wounded during these “insider” or “green on blue” attacks, it made no such announcement for Halkovich, a combat engineer, who was shot twice in the leg and survived.

This account of the Feb. 17 shooting of a U.S. Marine by a member of the Syrian militia he was supporting is based on interviews with multiple sources, military award documents, and scant details released by the Pentagon. It has also become an open secret among the 1,000-plus Marines and sailors of the unit Halkovich was attached to — 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in Twentynine Palms, California.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that a Marine gets shot and nobody hears about it,” said one source familiar with the incident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “It kind of blows my mind.”

In fact, when asked by Task & Purpose whether there had ever been an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve, a coalition statement flatly denied it: “We have no recorded incidents of insider attacks during OIR.”

* * *

halko wounded

The small contingent of Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment had a boring and often thankless job providing security at the outpost, a so-called “mission support site” which Task & Purpose has chosen not to name for operational security reasons. Though they occasionally left the wire, the Marines spent most of their time on rooftops or in the turret of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected truck, as Army artillerymen safely pounded ISIS positions and Special Forces soldiers trained and supported the SDF in battle.

They settled into a familiar routine after about five months in Syria: Some Marines slept or ate, while others manned a vehicle-mounted .50 caliber machine-gun or looked for infiltrators in the surrounding desert with night vision and thermal imaging devices. Meanwhile, the SDF had their own routine, manning a gate that served as the main entry point into the camp.

The Marines mostly kept to themselves, except to share an occasional cigarette with the Kurdish-dominated SDF. Sometimes the Kurds would slaughter a goat and cook it up for their American patrons. But for reasons that remain unclear, relations began to deteriorate in early February.

“There was an incident with an SDF guy racking his AK… but the Marine somehow deescalated the situation and nothing was fired,” the source said of a Kurdish soldier who chambered a round in his AK-47 rifle, threatening a Marine about a week prior to the Halkovich shooting. That SDF soldier was subsequently kicked off the base.

“Tensions were super high at this point,” the source added.

But just as one potential insider threat was removed, a new one seemed to present itself just a week later, illustrating the fragile nature of some of America’s partnerships with foreign militaries — which are increasingly being used to fight terror groups through a strategy of “advise and assist.”

2-7marines

It began with a radio call. Alerted to a commotion at the SDF-manned gate, Halkovich and Downey ran to check it out. When they got there, SDF soldiers told the Marines a truck outside the gate was just having car trouble.

It was a lie, one that was quickly exposed when a Syrian civilian in the vehicle held up a dead child that was “soaked in blood,” according to the source. Looking closer, the Marines saw a truck bed filled with about eight dead or wounded civilians. It was a mass-casualty incident, and they knew they had to help.

The SDF told the Marines no, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which strictly prohibits withholding medical assistance or discriminating in providing care.

“SDF was trying to tell us that we weren’t allowed to treat them, but… we’re going to help anybody we can,” the source said, adding that the partner force “was super upset about it.”

Another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said the injured group, comprised mostly of women and children, was turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish.

The first source gave a similar account: “It was purely racial. They refused to give them an ambulance.”

Halkovich and Downey pushed the SDF soldiers out of the way and opened the gate, amid screaming from both sides in English and Arabic. They moved concertina wire aside while another Marine called in a mass casualty to the Army surgical team. Others placed victims on litters and shuffled them in.

halkovich

Army medics managed to save four of the victims, according to the first source. But the SDF “was not happy,” the other source said. The Kurds even threatened to kick the Marines out of the compound for their humanitarian act.

Eventually, tensions settled and things went back to normal — until dark.

Around 9 p.m. that night, Halkovich and Downey decided to check on Lance Cpl. Jay Smith, who was stationed in the MRAP turret behind a .50 caliber machine gun.

After walking the 100 meters or so from their quarters, Halkovich stopped to urinate. Not thinking anything of it, Downey kept going. But as he crossed an intersection between buildings near the main gate, he realized something seemed strange.

At the entry control point, at least one SDF soldier normally watched the gate at all times. But nobody was there.

Neither Marine was aware that hidden in the shadows, one of the SDF soldiers had abandoned his post and was lying in wait.

Downey got to the door of the MRAP and reached for the handle. But before he opened it, he heard two gunshots, the distinctive report of an AK-47.

He turned around and saw Halkovich on the ground, his face obscured. Downey would later recount to his fellow Marines and military investigators that he saw a lone SDF soldier, standing over Halkovich with a rifle.

Downey then aimed in with his M4 rifle and dropped the attacker with a “hammer pair” — a well-aimed series of two quick shots to the chest. With the SDF soldier now dead, Downey kicked his weapon away and yelled to Smith in the turret: “Halko was shot! Halko was shot!”

Halkovich took two 7.62mm bullets to the left leg that went clean through — though, in the darkness, Downey initially thought his comrade was dead. With Downey’s red-lens headlamp shining down on his face, Halkovich looked up. Then he looked at his leg, then back at Downey, and finally, he screamed.

According to the award citation for the Joint Service Commendation Medal that Downey would receive in March for what was called a “shooting incident,” the Marine “acted decisively to eliminate the threat to his comrade” before applying a tourniquet to Halkovich’s leg and fireman-carrying him to the surgical facility. (The citation, signed by OIR Commanding General Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, however, takes pains to avoid identifying “the shooter.”)

Smith, for his part, remained at his post and called in the shooting on the radio, prompting the rest of the Marines to respond to the scene. Just as the Marines had done earlier in the day for civilians, they now watched as one of their own was brought to the Army surgeons stationed nearby.

Halkovich was medically evacuated from the post soon after, while Downey was brought back to a larger camp to explain what had happened to military investigators.

But for months afterward, the Marines continued to live side-by-side with the Syrian partners they had come to fear.

“It’s really terrifying,” the first source said. “You’re literally surrounded.”

Spokesmen for the Syrian Democratic Forces did not respond to a request for comment.

purpleheart halko

The Marines of 2/7 returned with little fanfare from their combat deployment in April. Halkovich received the Purple Heart that same month and is still recovering from his wounds at the Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. At Marine Corps Base 29 Palms in March, Downey would receive his Joint Service Commendation Medal for saving Halkovich’s life.

Meanwhile, a new group of Marines has taken 2/7’s place on the Corps’ Special Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response-Central Command, where, like their counterparts, they could potentially deploy to a theater of war where friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye.

Were they warned of the shooting in February? Told to prepare for the possibility of an insider attack by the SDF? A spokesperson for the unit did not respond to those questions.

“They said it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country and yet no justice was ever done for my wounded brother,” the second source told me. “That is the only reason I’m telling you this because no one knows what happened out there… and nothing came of it.”

Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

 

Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will deploy its military police on the Golan Heights frontier between Syria and Israel, its defense ministry said on Thursday, after weeks of mounting volatility in the area.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoi speaks during a news briefing, with a map showing the territory of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria seen in the background, in Moscow, Russia August 2, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sweeping away of rebels in southwestern Syria has worried Israel, which believes it could allow his Iranian backers to entrench their troops close to the frontier.

Underlining the tensions, Israel killed seven militants in an overnight air strike on the Syrian-held part of the Golan Heights, Israeli radio said on Thursday.

Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian defense ministry official, said that Russian military police had on Thursday begun patrolling in the Golan Heights and planned to set up eight observation posts in the area.

He said the Russian presence there was in support of United Nations peacekeepers on the Golan Heights who, he said, had suspended their activities in the area in 2012 because their safety was endangered.

“Today, UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police conducted their first patrols in six years in the separation zone,” Rudskoi told a briefing for journalists in Moscow.

“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Rudskoi said.

He said the Russian presence there was temporary, and that the observation posts would be handed over to Syrian government forces once the situation stabilized.

The deployment of the Russian military police highlights the degree to which the Kremlin has become an influential actor in Middle East conflicts since its military intervention in Syria which turned the tide of the war in Assad’s favor.

Israel has been lobbying the Kremlin to use its influence with Assad, and with Tehran, to try to get the Iranian military presence in Syria scaled back.

Israel sees Iran, and Iran’s allies in the Hezbollah Shi’ite military, as a direct threat to its national security.

That message was conveyed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Moscow last month, a senior Israeli official said.

Iranian forces have withdrawn their heavy weapons in Syria to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, TASS quoted a Russian envoy as saying on Wednesday, but Israel deemed the pullback inadequate.

Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe, Richard Balmforth

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

Saturday, 28 July, 2018 – 09:15
Libyan police guard a checkpoint in Tripoli (AFP Photo/Mahmud Turkia)
Cairo – Waleed Abdul Rahman
Libyan mosques have fallen victim to the ISIS terrorist group which has turned them into centers for the recruitment of militants, an Egyptian study said.

“The organization has worked on recruiting some imams” so that they lure young men into the fight alongside the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, it said.

An imam has been recently arrested in the Libyan capital Tripoli on such charges.

The report, headlined “How ISIS Took Advantage of Mosques in Libya,” said that since chaos spread in the country in 2011, extremist groups have taken control over several regions, which has resulted in mosques being run by such organizations.

The researchers said that ISIS began influencing the minds of young men, mainly in the eastern city of Derna, which is seen as the stronghold of extremist groups.

The main aim of the organization was not just to recruit fighters locally, but also to send them to Syria, they said.

ISIS also resorted to the distribution of fliers in areas that fell under their control to inform residents on the importance of mosques in encouraging and facilitating the travel of young men to Syria.

The report quoted a woman as saying that ISIS sought to recruit her sons through one of Libya’s mosques.

She told the researchers that she had sent her children to the mosque to learn the Quran because schools had shut down due to the deteriorating security situation in Derna. But her sons ended up being recruited by the organization.

The report made some suggestions on how to limit ISIS’ influence through mosques, saying the authorities should raise awareness among the people on the dangers of extremist practices.

It also said that the Libyan government should have full supervision over mosques.

IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

Two Patriot missiles fired at Sukhoi aircraft that penetrated two kilometers into Israeli territory, military says

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israeli Air Force shot down a Syrian fighter jet that traveled two kilometers into Israeli airspace on Tuesday afternoon, the military said.

“Two Patriot missiles were fired at a Syrian Sukhoi-model fighter jet,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The IDF said the aircraft was monitored as it approached the border with the Golan Heights.

“It penetrated two kilometers into Israeli airspace and was shot down,” the army said.

According to Sky News Arabia, the plane crashed inside southwest Syria, in the Yarmouk Basin, an area still under the control of the Islamic State terrorist group. It was not immediately clear if the pilots ejected before the fighter jet was shot down or what their condition was.

The official Syrian news outlet SANA confirmed that Israel had shot at one of its fighter jets, but said the plane was inside Syrian airspace at the time it was targeted.

According to SANA, Israel fired at “one of our war planes, which are leveling [terrorist] encampments in the Saida region on the outskirts of the Yarmouk Basin, in Syrian airspace.”

A military source quoted by SANA accused Israel of aiding “terrorists” in the country’s southwest, where the Syrian air force has been conducting extensive bombing raids throughout the day against a number of opposition groups.

File: A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber lands at the Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (Paul Gypteau/AFP)

It was not immediately clear if the plane was a Sukhoi-22 or a Sukhoi-24, two different types of Russian-made fighter jets in use by the Syrian Air Force, the Israeli military said.

The IDF said it had noticed increased air force activity in southwestern Syria, near the border, since the morning.

“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The spokesman said Israel has been in regular contact with the Russian military, which operates extensively in southwestern Syria, in order to prevent any conflict with Moscow.

According to the IDF, the fighter jet took off from the Iran-linked T-4 air force base in central Syria, which Israel has bombed in the past, and traveled “at high speed” toward the Golan Heights.

Conricus said there was no “confusion” about the fact that this was a Syrian fighter jet. In the past, Israel has hesitated in shooting down incoming aircraft out of concerns they might belong to Russia.

Israel stressed that it will continue to enforce the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, which requires Syria to abide by a demilitarized zone between the two countries

A Syrian fighter jet is seen in flames after it was hit by the Israeli military over the Golan Heights on September 23, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JALAA MAREY)

This was the first time that Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet since 2014, when another Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace and was targeted with a Patriot missile.

“Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace” without the appropriate authorization, Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio soon after Tuesday’s incident. “Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down,” he said.

In February of this year, the Syrian military shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it was taking part in a bombing raid against an Iranian-linked airfield in central Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace, according to the IDF. The F-16’s pilot and navigator were injured as they bailed out of the aircraft, which crashed to ground in northern Israel.

Tuesday’s breach of Israeli airspace and the interception set off incoming rocket alert sirens throughout northeastern Israel, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters for the second day in a row.

An Israeli man watches the smoke trail of a David’s Sling interceptor missile in the northern Israeli city of Safed after the interceptor was fired toward a Syrian SS-21 missile, on July 23, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Residents of northern Israel reported seeing white trails in the sky.

The Safed municipality told residents that air defense systems in the area had fired interceptor missiles and said there were no special safety instructions in light of the situation.

The alarms could be heard in the Golan Heights and Jordan Valley regions, the army said.

The sirens came a day after Israel launched two David’s Sling interceptor missiles at a pair of Syrian surface-to-surface missiles carrying approximately a half ton of explosives each that appeared to be heading toward Israel, but ultimately landed inside Syria. The Israeli interceptors did not strike the Syrian missiles: one was self-detonated by the IAF; the second reportedly fell to earth inside Syria.

The military’s air defense systems that detect and track incoming missiles and rockets are less accurate immediately after a projectile is launched, as they have less information on its trajectory. As the missile or rocket flies, the systems can better predict where it is likely to land.

Monday’s incident, which ultimately turned out to have been a false alarm, was the first known operational use of the David’s Sling system, which was declared operational last year.

The David’s Sling makes up the middle tier of Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile defense network.

In recent weeks, sirens in northern Israel have been triggered by the military shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles entering Israeli airspace from Syria.

On July 13, the Israeli military used an anti-aircraft Patriot missile to shoot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

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Gowdy: Trump advisers should consider quitting over Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO)

 

CONGRESS

Gowdy: Trump advisers should consider quitting over Russia

The South Carolina Republican chastised Trump for inviting Putin to Washington this fall.

Updated 

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy chastised Donald Trump for inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington, saying Sunday that some members of the president’s administration should consider quitting if Trump won’t listen to their advice.

“The fact that we have to talk to you about Syria or other matters is very different from issuing an invitation,” Gowdy said on “Fox News Sunday” of the Putin invitation, which the White House confirmed last week would be extended for the fall. “Those should be reserved for, I think, our allies.”

The South Carolina Republican suggested that some members of the administration may need to consider leaving if Trump continues to disregard their advice to stand firm against Russia.

That concern has dominated discourse in Washington since Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki last week, at which he spoke more harshly of the FBI than of Russia.

“It can be proven beyond any evidentiary burden that Russia is not our friend and they tried to attack us in 2016,” Gowdy told host Bret Baier. “So the president either needs to rely on the people that he has chosen to advise him, or those advisers need to reevaluate whether or not they can serve in this administration. But the disconnect cannot continue.”

Political commentators and Democratic lawmakers said after Trump’s news conference with Putin — in which he refused to side with the U.S. intelligence community on the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and said he held both countries responsible for tensions — that advisers including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and national security adviser John Bolton should quit their posts.

But Republican lawmakers have been more hesitant to call for such a response from the president’s team.

Earlier this weekend, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman penned an op-ed for a Utah newspaper in which he said he would not resign, saying he felt he is very much needed in the role. And Coats said during a Thursday interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that the question of resigning was “a place I don’t really go to publicly.”

“As long as I’m able to have the ability to seek the truth and speak the truth, I’m on board,” Coats said. After Trump indicated Monday that he did not believe Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic Party computers and other wrongdoing during the 2016 election, Coats defended American spies’ assessment that Moscow was to blame.

Gowdy struck a tone of admonishment Sunday on Trump’s refusal to side with the U.S. intelligence community — comments that the president later partially walked back.

“I’m glad he corrected it,” Gowdy said, “but when you’re the leader of the free world, every syllable matters.”

Still, Gowdy urged Trump to separate concerns about Russian interference from his frustration with the investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

“I have not seen one scintilla of evidence that this president colluded, conspired, confederated with Russia,” he said. “And neither has anyone else, or you may rest assured Adam Schiff would have leaked it,” he said, referring to the Democratic congressman from California.

Congressional Democrats continued Sunday to be skeptical of the response of their Republican colleagues on the Russia issue.

“When it comes to defending the country, they’re not willing to follow through,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Others were just rather startled at the week’s whole turn of events.

“The fact that we have to question the integrity, the honesty and the loyalty of a commander in chief when it comes to dealing with Russia is a problem in and of itself,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) on CNN‘s “State of the Union.”

Israel Retaliates to Syrian Drone Incursion by Hitting Regime Positions near Golan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel Retaliates to Syrian Drone Incursion by Hitting Regime Positions near Golan

Thursday, 12 July, 2018 – 09:00
Israeli soldiers stand on tanks in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli forces carried strikes against Syrian regime positions near the Golan Heights on Thursday in retaliation to a Syrian drone incursion a day earlier.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it hit three targets in retaliation for the incursion by a Syrian drone, which was shot down over northern Israel.

“We are still looking into why it crossed – whether it was on a military mission and crossed on purpose, or it strayed,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman. He said a stray drone was “not common”.

Israeli-issued black-and-white surveillance footage showed missiles hitting what appeared to be a hut, a two-storey structure and a five-storey structure amid hilly terrain.

The Israeli army “holds the Syrian regime accountable for the actions carried out in its territory and warns it from further action against Israeli forces,” the Israeli statement said after the strikes.

Syrian regime media said the positions were near Hader village in Quneitra province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel has grown deeply alarmed by the expanding clout of Iran during the seven-year war in Syria.

Its air force has struck scores of Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Lebanon’s Iran-backed “Hezbollah”.

In Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged President Vladimir Putin, the regime’s key ally, to encourage Iranian forces to quit Syria, a senior Israeli official said.

David Keyes, a Netanyahu spokesman, said: “We don’t get involved in the civil war. We will act against anyone who acts against us.”

The Israeli official who requested anonymity said Russia was working to distance Iranian forces from the Golan and had proposed that they be kept 80 km (50 miles) away but that this fell short of Israel’s demand for their full exit along with that of Tehran-sponsored militias.

Russian officials had no immediate comment on the meeting.

Israel has been on high alert as regime forces advance on opposition factions in the vicinity of the Golan, which Israel took from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel worries the regime could allow its Iranian allies to entrench near its lines.

Comments

‘Human Trafficking’ from Lebanon to Syria a Thriving Business

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

‘Human Trafficking’ from Lebanon to Syria a Thriving Business

Monday, 9 July, 2018 – 08:15
Syrian refugees arrive in Wadi Hamayyed, on the outskirts of the Lebanese northeastern border town of Arsal, to board buses bound for the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on August 2, 2017. AFP
Beirut – Sanaa Al-Jack
Human trafficking is currently spread at the Lebanese-Syrian borders as a thriving business due to the presence of some Syrian refugees who wish to return to their country without paying imposed
fines.

Asharq Al-Awsat witnessed how a group of brokers managed the smuggling of Syrian refugees from a travel agency near the vegetable market in the Sabra area in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut.

Those brokers, who operate at “administrative” offices, hunt their clients and bargain their safe and secure penetration through the borders, prettifying the adventure, which in many times could cause
their killing.

Most clients include Syrian refugees with uncompleted Lebanese residency permits. The Lebanese Security General does not allow them to leave the country before paying fees related to arranging their
papers.

Here comes the role of the smuggling. Amal told Asharq Al-Awsat about her experience with one of the brokers responsible for smuggling Syrians.

The broker had promised her husband, who works in the construction sector, to secure his safe passage by car through the border to his village in the countryside of Hama in return of $400.

The man paid the sum and left with his wife to the Masnaa border crossing in the Bekaa where they spent the night and were asked to remain in complete silence.

The brokers had told Amal that crossing the mountains from Lebanon to Syria would take one hour and that a vehicle would wait for them in the Syrian part of the border to take them home.

“They lied. We stayed running for more than eight hours in the dark. I lost my shoes and my feet were bleeding,” she said.

Even during the periods of tight security measures implemented at the borders by the Lebanese authorities, the illegal smuggling of Syrians does not stop, but only witnesses an increase of fees.

A security official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the trafficking of humans and goods is almost as old as the age of the borders between the two countries.

“We are exerting all our efforts to contain the smuggling but such mission remains impossible at the eastern borders with Syria which stretches around 145 kilometers,” the official said.

Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

Sergey Lavrov says Putin and Trump will discuss situation in southern Syria on July 16; US said seeking full Iranian pullout

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect Iran to completely withdraw from Syria.

Speaking after a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart in Moscow, Lavrov said a proposed ceasefire deal in the southern region brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US envisioned the withdrawal of non-Syrian forces and the deployment of Syrian troops along the border with Israel.

But Lavrov said Iran is one of the key powers in the region, and that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect it to abandon its interests in the country. He said regional powers should discuss mutual complaints and negotiate a compromise.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria, and has recently acknowledged carrying out airstrikes on Iranian targets in the country. Israel has also struck Syrian air defense systems that fired at Israeli fighter jets during the raids.

Jerusalem has accused Tehran of seeking to gain a foothold in the border area as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have made gains in clearing out rebel groups there. The US and Israel view Iran’s extensive military presence in Syria as a threat to Israel and have threatened action.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Russia and Iran have provided crucial military support to Assad’s forces, helping them turn the tide in the civil war, but Israel has also coordinated its military strikes in the territory with Iran-allied Moscow.

Lavrov on Wednesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump would discuss the situation in southern Syria at their upcoming summit on July 16.

Last week the Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Trump would make a full Iranian pullout from Syria territory a priority at that meeting.

US officials, the diplomat was quoted as saying, are convinced that Russia would be unwilling to “pay a heavy price” for Iran’s continued presence in Syria.

The diplomat, who was not identified in the report, also said Washington had given Israel a “green light” to strike Iranian military assets in Syria.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrived in Moscow Wednesday for talks as the Russian-backed regime offensive in the south of Syria was pushing tens of thousands of refugees toward the borders with Jordan and Israel.

Jordanian residents of Jabir village watch aid deliveries to Syrians fleeing government offensive in the south as smoke from unknown fire rises, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Ahead of the trip, Safadi said he hoped there would be “more steps forward to contain this crisis and prevent more destruction.”

He added that Amman has open channels with Damascus and Moscow and the talks will focus on reaching a ceasefire and halting the displacement.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels were facing a deadline Wednesday in negotiations with regime ally Russia to either agree to tough surrender terms in the south or come under a renewed military onslaught.

Moscow has been backing a two-week offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces against rebels in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

But it is simultaneously brokering talks with rebel towns for negotiated surrenders in a carrot-and-stick strategy that Russia and the regime have successfully used in the past.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to return to regime control and talks were focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the city.

Rebels were set to meet with a Russian delegation on Wednesday afternoon to deliver their decision on Moscow’s proposal for a regime takeover of the rest of the south, a spokesman for the opposition’s southern operations said.

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RUSSIA MILITARY SAYS U.S. CEASEFIRE IS OVER IN SYRIA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

 

RUSSIA MILITARY SAYS U.S. CEASEFIRE IS OVER IN SYRIA AS ISRAEL REPORTEDLY ATTACKS IRAN WEAPONS IN DAMASCUS

The Russian military’s main air force base in Syria announced on Tuesday an end to a ceasefire agreement reached with the U.S. and Jordan in southwest Syria, citing breaches by insurgent groups. The decision comes at a time when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stages a new offensive to retake one of the last rebel-held regions in the country.

The Hmeymim base, an airfield located in the west coast province of Latakia, is one of two major Russian-leased military installations in Syria, the other being a naval base about 40 miles down the coast in Tartous. Russian warplanes—likely based in Hmeymim—reportedly struck targets Monday in the southwestern province of Daraa, where Russia and Syria had agreed last year to a ceasefire with rebel groups attempting to overthrow Assad since a 2011 uprising backed by the U.S., Turkey and Gulf Arab states.

“The end of the period of reduced escalation in southern Syria can be confirmed after it was breached by extremist groups and illegitimate armed groups operating against Syrian government forces, while the agreement remains in the Syrian province of Idlib,” the Central Channel for the Hmeymim Military Base wrote on Facebook.

The base also denied reports of civilian casualties in a later message, maintaining that “Russian bombers do not target civilian sites by any means. Our missions are limited to the destruction of the terrorist bases belonging to the Nusra Front and ISIS [Islamic State militant group] terrorists, in order to support friendly land forces advancing on the ground.”

GettyImages-984308400Smoke rises above opposition-held areas of Daraa during airstrikes conducted by the Syrian military, June 26, 2018. Russia-backed Syrian troops have for weeks been preparing an offensive to retake Syria’s south, a strategic zone that borders both Jordan and the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The news, which was also reported by Saudi Arabian newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, came as elite Syrian troops stormed through southern towns and villages held by various rebel groups, including elements of the Free Syrian Army and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadi coalition recently added to the list of U.S.-recognized terrorist organizations due to its Al-Qaeda ties. Quick government gains have prompted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to issue a series of statements calling on rebel factions to unite against the military and condemned those currently attempting to broker reconciliation deals with Damascus.

The ceasefire collapse also occurred as airstrikes reportedly struck Damascus International Airport on Tuesday. While the attack remains unclaimed, it has been widely blamed on Israel, who rarely takes responsibility for strikes against Iranian and pro-Iran targets in neighboring Syria. The U.K.-based, pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israeli warplanes struck “a shipment of Iranian weapons” that had arrived at the airport, while Russia’s state-run Sputnik News highlighted reports claiming an Iranian cargo plane may have been the target.

Related: Iran Says ‘War’ with U.S. and Israel Is ‘Possibility’ But It Has ‘a Plan for Every Possible Threat’

The official Syrian Arab News Agency said that two Israeli missiles fell near the country’s main airport, without specifying the target. The channel connected the suspected Israeli attack to the Syrian military’s retaking of large swathes of territory in the Al-Lajat region in Daraa, where international powers have rushed to prevent an even larger escalation between Iran and Israel.

Anticipating last year’s ceasefire agreement to unravel as the Syrian military retook rebel enclaves outside the capital, the U.S. and Russia entered quiet negotiations with Jordan aimed at excluding Iranian and pro-Iran forces from taking part in the Syrian campaign. Israel considers their presence a provocation and has for years bombed military assets allegedly associated with Iran. When these forces reportedly responded to a deadly pre-emptive Israeli attack last month by launching rockets at the Israel-occupied Golan Heights, Israel retaliated with its largest aerial assault on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

GettyImages-890107316Russian President Vladimir Putin (3r-L), his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad (4th-R), and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) pose with Russian air force pilots during their visit to the Russian air base in Hmeymim in the northwestern Syrian province of Latakia, December 11, 2017. Russian air support has been vital in helping the Syrian military and its allies defeat insurgents and jihadis.MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Despite their opposition to Assad, the U.S. and Jordan have stepped back their support for rebel groups as they became increasingly saturated with jihadi movements. Washington told Free Syrian Army commanders that “you should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us” in a stern message published Saturday by Reuters. Jordan has repeatedly stated that it would not grant entry to any fighters or civilians fleeing to Syria’s southern border with the kingdom, with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi asserting “our borders will remain closed” in a tweet Tuesday.

Iran-backed groups, such as the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement, have reportedly pulled back from southwestern Syria as part of a recent agreement, but Iran has maintained that it would not leave Syria unless asked to do so by the local government. The latest airstrikes in Damascus, however, may indicate that the deal has fallen apart or did not preclude Israeli attacks elsewhere in the country. Last week, unclaimed airstrikes blamed on both the U.S. and Israel reportedly killed dozens—including Iraqi militias—in Syra’s far eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

Assad has welcomed both Russia and Iran as partners in the battle against insurgents and jihadis, but he has called the U.S. and Turkey to withdraw their forces immediately. Iraq, while deeply critical of U.S. and Israeli targeting of pro-Syrian government forces, has managed to maintain close relations with both the Syria-Russia-Iran axis as well as the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

Should North And South America Copy EU Border Policies?

Should N. & S. America Copy EU Border Policies?

 

If you are from the Americas, simply meaning North of South America there is a good chance that you are aware of the border issues between the U.S. and Mexico. If you are aware of the U.S. President, Donald Trump then you are probably aware of his feelings about wanting a very high border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It is my personal belief that there are good things and bad things about open, and about closed Borders between Nations. This should be obvious from the simple fact that there are good and bad people in every Nation, Religion and Ethnicity. I wish that I had the answers for everything concerning this issue, but I simply don’t. My goal with this article, just like almost all of the articles that I write, is to get the kind folks who read my articles to think deeper about the issues.

 

First I guess we would need to consider what we think about the EU example if we are going to possibly consider doing the same here in the Americas. Chancellor Merkel of Germany has been a huge driving force concerning open Borders though out all of Europe. The stats have shown that for many years the overall population of Western Europe has been declining. This would mean that, for example, you live in Germany and your economy is doing great, wages are up because companies are having to compete for quality workers, even untrained laborers. When the concept of Open Borders began in the Halls in Brussels it was pre-Arab Spring and pre-Syria melt down. The original idea would have made it much easier for a citizen of Spain or Italy to move to France if France’s job market and quality of life were better than the jobs and quality of life in Spain. This concept of Open Borders was not counting on their being several million refugees flooding into Europe because of turmoil outside of Europe’s Borders. With the large influx of Arab and Persian refugees flooding into Europe things like jobs, housing and the cost of food has become a big problem not only for the original residents but also for those migrating in. Even if there were no elevation in crime, petty or violent, you still have the makings for conflict.

 

Lets look at the ‘why’s’ for these migration issues for a moment please. Somethings come down to ‘animal’ instincts. Some may not like that statement but if you will think about it for a moment most of you will understand what I mean by that. For thousands of years, millions of years, animals have migrated with the seasons, with the food supplies, this is true of birds, big lizards and humans. Sometimes all of these creatures have migrated because of violence in their traditional homeland. With humans this usually means enslavement, death, or escape. For a moment lets look at the reality of Islamic Refugees flooding Europe. First we need to look at the why’s, why are these people risking their lives to migrate from Northern Africa and the Middle-East to Europe? Here are a few issues I would like you to think about for a moment. First lets start with unstable governments, horrible or no economies, not enough food, clean water or shelter and their biggest issue is violence/wars. My question to you is, under these realities wouldn’t you try to move, to get yourself and your family out of these conditions? Even under brutal Dictators these people mostly stayed in their home countries, in their own lands. You may well wonder why people would stay living under someone like al-Assad of Syria and I believe that the answer was simple, he made sure there was an efficient economy, he made sure that the lights were on and that there was food to eat and the trash got picked up off of the streets. Are there some very evil people like Jihadist mixing in with the masses? Of course there are and yes it is difficult to screen them out, but does Europe, does Christianity, throw out the starving, hungry and cold because of the one or two percent?

 

Now, lets talk about North and South American Countries for a moment please. When I Googled for the information I came up with a total of 55 ‘American’ Nations between the North, South, Caribbean and Central America. The Census from 2015 says that within these 55 Nations there are approximately 994 Million people living in these countries. China on the other hand has one Billion Three Hundred and Eighty Million residents, India has One Billion Three Hundred and Twenty Five Million people. The largest physical Nation on Earth is Russia and they have One Hundred and Forty-Five Million People. The U.S. it is said has Three Hundred and Twenty-Three Million residents.

 

To me it seems that President Trump only has a problem with our Southern Border with Mexico, not the much larger Border we share with Canada. I have never once heard him talk about building even a little short wall to divide our two Nations, have you? Do you ever consider if part of the issue here is skin color, or the reality that almost all of the people at our Southern Border are poor? Truth is that there are some violent gang members like members of the MS-13 folks mingled in with the families who are starving and have nothing who are only hoping for a safe place to live and to raise their children. Throughout the years I have spoken with quite a few people who were here working in the U.S. who were here illegally concerning the why question, why are they here instead of their homeland. The answers were always economic. I know that I never came across a person who told me that fear of gangs was a reason though I know that this is an issue for many and that many are too afraid to talk about that. All of the folks who would talk to me about why they are here instead of their homeland told me that they would much rather be home but that there are no jobs at home. These people were here working so that they could send money home to their families so that their families could survive. If here in the States, if there were no jobs, no money for food or housing but we found out that there were jobs in Mexico or Brazil, would you stay here and let your family starve to death? Some will say that they would wait here until they could get in legally and that sounds like a great idea, reality though is, how long, how many years can you and your family go without food or any housing while you wait on a list?

 

Since Mr. Trump has become President he has canceled several trade agreements with our allies and friendly Nation as well as putting higher tariffs on some of their imported products. One of the agreements that Mr. Trump hates is called ‘NAFTA’ this stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement. Free non-tariff trade between all Countries in North and South America was the goal of President Bill Clinton when he was President back in the 1990’s. Should all Nations open their Borders like Chancellor Merkel envisioned for the EU? Maybe we should build Mr. Trumps Wall (with him paying for it being the Mexican Government sure isn’t going too) and shoot anyone who tries to come into our Country any way other that through a designated doorway. Maybe instead of having an allowed immigration total of 50,000 people total each year maybe we should revise this number to about 350,000 with 250,000 of that total reserved for our ‘Sister’ Nations. These are just ideas, concepts of thought, what are your ideas? I know that I don’t have all the answers to this issue but it is an important issue that isn’t ever going to totally go away until there is a true workable solution. Personally I believe that the solution is going to have to be attacked with a multinational approach. Until every government quits selling out to the huge multi-national companies and creates quality employment and living standards for their own people these human waves of disparate people will only continue, and they will only grow in numbers. Friends, what other choice do these people really have?

 

 

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