Syria downs ‘hostile targets’ in suspected Israeli attack

(AFP)
Updated 30 November 2018
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Syria downs ‘hostile targets’ in suspected Israeli attack

  • Syrian state media said air defenses shot down “hostile targets” flying over the town of Kiswah
  • Among the targets struck were two Syrian army brigades where Lebanon’s Hezbollah group is embedded

AMMAN/JERUSALEM: Syrian air defenses shot down “hostile targets” on Thursday, state media said, in an area regional intelligence sources said contains Iran-backed assets, while Russian media said no Israeli jet had been downed as earlier reported.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing a Syrian security source, had reported that air defenses had shot down an Israeli war plane and four missiles, but the same source later denied this and Israel’s military said the report was “bogus.”
Syrian state media said air defenses shot down “hostile targets” flying over the town of Kiswah, south of the capital Damascus, and “were able to foil its goals” despite the “intensity of the aggression.
State media quoted a military source but did not specify what the target was or where it came from.
The area where the incident is said to have occurred is where Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran, has its communications and logistics hub for southern Syria near the Israeli border, according to two senior regional intelligence sources.
Among the targets struck were two Syrian army brigades where Lebanon’s Hezbollah group is embedded alongside a rocket depot close to its bases near the border with Lebanon, another Syrian army defector in touch with military personnel said.
Unlike previous occasions, the Syrian authorities did not blame Israel.
Israel is concerned that Iran’s growing presence in Syria poses a threat to its own security and has struck dozens of Iranian and Iran-backed positions in Syria over the course of the country’s seven-year conflict.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on Twitter: “In the course of Syrian ground-to-air missile fire, (Israel’s) air defenses sighted a single trajectory toward an open area of the Golan Heights.”
“At this stage it remains unclear whether there was indeed an impact in our territory. Our forces are scouring the area. Furthermore, the report about a strike on an Israeli aircraft or an Israeli aerial target are bogus,” said the statement.
A Syrian opposition figure familiar with the area where the incident occured said its proximity to the Syrian Golan Heights made it a hub for the recruitment of Iran-backed militias and their deployment across the strategic border area with Israel.
“Israel has targeted this area because the Syrian army barracks there have become a recruiting ground for Hezbollah and their militias to deploy in Quneitra,” Said Seif told Reuters.
Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and supports a number of militias that have fought alongside the Syrian army and its allies.
Tehran has in recent months expanded its military presence in southern Syria after insurgents were driven out, with Hezbollah, by far the biggest of the Iranian-backed militias expanding its foothold there, according to regional security sources.
Opposition sources say Hezbollah now plays a commanding role in the Quneitra province that neighbors the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where it is believed to be training allied militias and hundreds of former rebels.
The sources said this was the first major attack since Israel scaled down its attacks in Syria after the accidental shooting down of a Russian surveillance plane over two months ago.
The Sept. 17 downing by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, after Israeli jets attacked a suspected Iranian arms shipment to Syria, caused a diplomatic rift between Israel and Russia, and Moscow blamed Israel for the incident.


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 14 min 26 sec ago
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.