Israel’s Syria assaults kill Hezbollah men, Iranian

Technicians inspect an Israeli Air force F-16 jet at the Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel. (AP)
Updated 25 August 2019

Israel’s Syria assaults kill Hezbollah men, Iranian

  • Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there

BEIRUT, DAMASCUS: Israel airstrikes near the Syrian capital overnight killed two fighters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and one Iranian combatant, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Sunday.

“The Israeli raids targeting Iranian and Hezbollah posts ... in the southeast of Damascus killed at least three people — two from Hezbollah and a third who was Iranian,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Israel said on Sunday an airstrike against an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria that it accused of planning “killer drone attacks” showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere.

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied that Iranian targets had been hit late on Saturday and said its military “advisory centers have not been harmed,” the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck “Iranian Quds Force operatives and Shiite militias which were preparing to advance attack plans targeting sites in Israel from within Syria over the last number of days.”

The elite Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters the forces had been preparing to launch “killer drones” armed with explosives at northern Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military had thwarted the planned Iranian attack.

“Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression,” he said on Twitter. “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.”

Syrian state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted “hostile targets” over Damascus, the capital, on Saturday night.

Witnesses in Damascus said they heard and saw explosions in the sky.

The Syrian forces said in a statement that “the majority of the Israeli missiles were destroyed before reaching their targets.” Conricus, however, said the impact of the Israeli strikes was “significant.”

A war monitor said on Sunday that two members of Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and one Iranian were killed in the strikes.

Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapon shipments to Hezbollah.

Iran and Hezbollah are helping President Bashar Assad in the eight-year Syria war. Russia, which is also aiding Assad, has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli airstrikes. Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Israeli leader’s office said.

Israel made no comment on what the Lebanese army and Hezbollah said was the crash of two Israeli drones in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut early on Sunday. Hezbollah officials said one of the drones was rigged with explosives and caused some damage to the organization’s media center.

On Thursday, Netanyahu hinted of possible Israeli involvement in a series of blasts in the past few weeks that have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups in Iraq, many of them backed by Iran.

On Wednesday, the PMF, the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s paramilitary groups, said the US had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying US forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.

The US-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of Daesh, dismissed the statement and the Pentagon denied it.

On the popular Israeli YNet news website, military affairs commentator Ron Ben-Yishai described the alleged Iranian killer drone attack plans as revenge by Tehran for the purported Israeli drone strikes in Iraq, noting that the two enemies were using similar weapons. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, and now executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war.

“We’re not there yet,” he said on Israel Radio. “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”


Iraqis aim to rekindle protests with Iran football match

Updated 5 min 40 sec ago

Iraqis aim to rekindle protests with Iran football match

  • Victory over Iran, in the match whose venue has been changed to neighboring Jordan, could light a fire under the weeks-long protest movement.
  • Demonstrators have criticized Iran for backing the very government they want to bring down, accusing Tehran of economic and political overreach in Iraq

BAGHDAD: For Iraqis opposed to the Baghdad government and its sponsor Tehran, there is even more than football at stake when Iraq faces Iran in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Anti-regime rallies at the epicenter of protests in the capital’s Thrill Square have faded in recent days, following a spree of arrests, threatening messages and killings of activists.
Hussein Diaa hopes that victory over Iran, in the match whose venue has been changed to neighboring Jordan, could light a fire under the weeks-long protest movement.
“If our team beats Iran, it will bring more people out onto the streets and lift protesters’ spirits,” said the 24-year-old, kicking a football around in Tahrir.
Behind him stood Al-Jumhuriyah bridge, the main frontline between angry protesters and security forces using tear gas, live rounds and at times machine-gun fire.
“Our players have to give their all so we can hold our heads up high and confront Iran,” said Diaa.
Demonstrators have criticized Iran for backing the very government they want to bring down, accusing Tehran of economic and political overreach in Iraq.
The two countries fought a 1980-1988 war and were rivals under Saddam Hussein, but the predominantly Shiite states have grown close since the dictator was ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion.
The ensuing years saw Iraq swept up in sectarian violence and a war against the Daesh group, and FIFA banned international football matches on its territory.
The match between the two football-mad nations was to have been played in the southern port city of Basra.
But FIFA said it had assessed “the current security situation in Iraq” and informed the local federation that upcoming matches “must be played on neutral ground.”
It accepted Iraq’s proposal to change the venue to Amman.
FIFA’s decision came as a blow to Iraq after global football’s governing body had only earlier this year finally lifted a three-decade ban on it hosting internationals for safety reasons.
For Ahmad Al-Washa, Thursday’s match couldn’t come at a better time.
“Football is the best way to send a message to the whole world. We’re betting on this match,” said the activist.
Washa hoped it could be a way to attract international attention to the protests “so the United Nations can intervene and end the bloodshed.”
Well over 300 people have died since protests erupted on October 1 and 12,000 people have been wounded, but rallies have continued in Baghdad and across the south.
And when the game gets underway, the “Lions of Mesopotamia” will have fans “not just in Amman, but all across Tahrir,” said Washa.
Activists have erected a large screen to watch the match from 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT), usually the time when crowds start to swell in the square.
They will be expecting solidarity from the large Iraqi diaspora in Jordan.
Some have already posted online to call on fans in the stadium to wear medical masks in solidarity with protesters confronted by tear gas back in Iraq.
Other activists have called for fans to stand up in the 25th minute and chant, “We want a country!” — a key slogan of the protest movement and an ode to the day it was relaunched, October 25.
Sensing the encounter on the field could be heated, the head of Iraq’s football federation has been trying to head off any skirmishes.
“No racist banners against the Iranian team, otherwise FIFA could punish us,” he warned.
In more than a dozen showdowns between the national teams, Iran have won 11 times, with six wins for Iraq and two draws.
On Tahrir, Hussein Jawwad said the match could be a shot at a desperately-wanted win, both for the team and the protests.
“We’ve been targeting our leaders recently but on Thursday night, we’ll be aiming for the Iranian football team in Amman,” said the 25-year-old fan.

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