Israeli raid ‘targets’ military positions inside Syria

Syria’s air defenses intercepted missiles in Masyaf. (File/AP)
Updated 14 April 2019
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Israeli raid ‘targets’ military positions inside Syria

  • 17 Syrian troops were wounded in the attack, reports war monitor
  • Israel has in recent months acknowledged it has been striking Iranian targets in Syria

DAMASCUS: An Israeli airstrike on a military position in central Syria early Saturday wounded six soldiers and destroyed several buildings, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes hit three targets, wounding 17 Syrian soldiers. 

It said there were also deaths, but it was not immediately clear how many were killed and whether they were Iranians or Iran-sponsored fighters. 

The strikes targeted the Accounting School as well as a missile development center in a village near Masyaf and a nearby military base run by Iran-backed fighters, the monitor said.

SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying the airstrike near the town of Masyaf, in Hama province, hit a military academy widely known as the Accounting School. It said Israeli warplanes fired missiles toward Syria from Lebanon’s airspace and that Syrian air defenses shot down some of the missiles.

An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on the foreign media report.

“Around 2:30 a.m. ... the Israeli air force carried out a strike targeting one of our military positions in the town of Misyaf,” in Hama province north of Damascus, SANA quoted a military source as saying.

Israel does not usually comment on reports concerning its airstrikes in neighboring Syria, though it has recently acknowledged striking Iranian targets there. The last such strikes that Israel announced were in late March.

“Our air defense batteries intercepted some of the Israeli missiles,” the source said, adding that the strike “wounded three combatants and destroyed buildings.”

The Observatory said the strike targeted a Syrian military college in the town and two buildings used by Iranian forces in nearby villages — a development center for medium-range missiles in Zawi and a training camp in Sheikh Ghadban. Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

With the support of the US administration of President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed repeatedly to take whatever military action he deems necessary to prevent archfoe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah establishing a continuing military presence.

Late last month, Trump broke with decades of international consensus to recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of the strategic Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967.

The move was a diplomatic prize for Israel, but met with a chorus of opposition from US foes and allies alike.

Iran and Hezbollah have both intervened in Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011 to support forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

They were joined in 2015 by Russia, which supplied its S300 air defense system to Assad’s forces after a Russian aircraft was downed by mistake by Syrian defense systems during an Israeli raid on Sept. 17, killing all 15 people on board.

After several months of frosty relations, Russia and Israeli resumed coordination of their military operations in Syria and Israel’s bombing campaign picked up again.

Iran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent military advisers, as well as thousands of fighters from across the region, to help his forces in the eight-year conflict.

Israel considers Iran its biggest threat and has said it will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on its borders.

The most serious wave of airstrikes on Syria this year occurred in January, when the Israeli military hit several Iranian targets, saying it was responding to an Iranian missile attack a day earlier. The Iranian launch followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.


Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

Updated 22 July 2019
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Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

  • A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies

GABES: A putrid odour lingers outside a morgue in Tunisia’s coastal city of Gabes as dozens of bodies of would-be migrants to Europe pulled out of the sea await burial.
A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place.
More than 80 drowned migrants have been retrieved from Tunisian waters — most of them victims of a deadly July 1 shipwreck that left only three survivors.
Fished out of the sea between the port city of Zarzis and the tourist island of Djerba in the south, their bodies were brought to Gabes hospital — the only facility in the region capable of taking DNA samples.
Under pressure from civil society groups, Tunisian authorities have stepped up efforts to systematically collect the DNA of each unidentified drowned migrant, hospital director Hechmi Lakhrech told AFP.
The samples could well be the only hope of informing the victims’ families of their fate, he added.
In the basement morgue, staff use surgical masks or simple scarves to fend off the stench of bodies stacked one top of the other on the floor.
Since July 6, the numbers have “overwhelmed” the morgue’s 30-body capacity, said Lakhrech.
With just two forensic doctors and two assistants, not to mention a lack of equipment, the facility is struggling to keep them properly stored, he added.
After forensic tests, the bodies are kept at the morgue until a burial site is found, which in Tunisia is complicated, according to Gabes governor Mongi Thameur.
Many municipalities have refused to allow the drowned migrants to be buried in their cemeteries.
“Some fear the bodies carry cholera, and others refuse to bury people in Muslim cemeteries if their religion is unknown,” he told AFP.
It comes down to “a problem of mentality and also of humanity in some cases,” he said, adding that many people needed to be “sensitised.”
At the Bouchama cemetery, the only one in Gabes to have so far accepted migrant bodies, 16 graves dug off to the side lie empty.
“My parents are resting here, I don’t want non-Muslims to be buried by their side,” said one local resident.
In front of the hospital, the stifling midday heat beats down as 14 white bags are carefully loaded onto the back of a garbage truck.
Once loaded, it will make the two-hour journey to Zarzis, where an improvised cemetery flooded with the bodies of migrants for several years is now full, and a new one has just been opened.
Each grave is marked with a simple plaque bearing the victim’s DNA file number and burial date.
“On July 12, we collected 45 bodies in one day!” said Zarzis deputy mayor Faouzi Khenissi, calling it a “phenomenal problem.”
The city has taken in the bodies “because we have this culture, we can’t just leave the remains unburied,” he said.
Zarzis is a hotspot for illegal departures to Europe and Khenissi says some of the city’s own youth have also been victims of the wrecks.
Municipal workers and officials take shifts volunteering after work to conduct the burials.
After three hours of prep under the blazing sun, 14 bodies are buried alongside the 47 others already laid to rest at the new site, just outside a shelter for rescued migrants.
Mongi Slim of the country’s Red Crescent called for “international mobilization” to address the issue which “does not concern Tunisia alone.”
“The country is already struggling to take care of rescued migrants, but even more so for those who’ve died.”