US troops in Syria attacked after airstrikes on militias

Drones are seen during an Iran army drone combat exercise in Semnan, Iran. US air strikes on Sunday targeted Iran-backed militia groups using drones to hit US military positions in Iraq. (AFP file)
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Updated 29 June 2021

US troops in Syria attacked after airstrikes on militias

  • One of the facilities targeted was used to launch and recover the drones, a defense official said.
  • Blinken said that the strikes in Iraq and Syria should send Iran a “strong” message of deterrence not to keep attacking US forces

WASHINGTON: US troops in eastern Syria came under rocket attack Monday, with no reported casualties, one day after US Air Force planes carried out airstrikes near the Iraq-Syria border against what the Pentagon said were facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups to support drone strikes inside Iraq.
Iraq's military condemned the US airstrikes, and the militia groups called for revenge against the US.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the militias were using the facilities to launch unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against US troops in Iraq. It was the second time the administration has taken military action in the region since Biden took over earlier this year.
There was no indication that Sunday's attacks were meant as the start of a wider, sustained US air campaign in the border region. But a spokesman for the US military mission based in Baghdad, Col. Wayne Marotto, wrote on Twitter Monday that at 7:44 p.m. local time “US forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets.” He said there were no injuries and that attack damage was being assessed.
Marotto later tweeted that while under rocket attack, US forces in Syria responded in self-defense with artillery fire at the rocket-launching positions.
Kirby said the US military targeted three operational and weapons storage facilities — two in Syria and one in Iraq. In its release of videos of the strikes by Air Force F-15 and F-16 aircraft, the Pentagon described one target as a coordination center for the shipment and transfer of advanced conventional weapons.
Kirby said the airstrikes were “defensive,” saying they were launched in response to the attacks by militias.
“The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation — but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Kirby said.
The Pentagon said the facilities were used by Iran-backed militia factions, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Jessica McNulty, said Monday that each strike hit its intended target and that the US military was still assessing the results of the operation.
“The targets selected were facilities utilized by the network of Iran-backed militia groups responsible for the series of recent attacks against facilities housing US personnel in Iraq,” McNulty said. She said those groups have conducted at least five such "one-way” drone attacks since April.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters in Rome on Monday, said Biden has been clear that the US will act to protect American personnel.
“This action in self-defense to do what’s necessary to do to prevent further attacks, I think sends a very important and strong message. And I hope very much that it is received,” he said. “I think we’ve demonstrated with the actions taken last night and actions taken previously, that the president is fully prepared to act and act appropriately and deliberately to protect us.“

Blinken also said that the strikes on pro-Iran fighters in Iraq and Syria should send a “strong” message of deterrence not to keep attacking US forces.
“I would hope that the message sent by the strikes last night will be heard and deter future action,” Blinken told reporters on a visit to Rome.
“This action in self-defense to do what’s necessary to prevent further attacks sends a very important and strong message,” he said.
Asked in Rome if the United States was holding Iran responsible for the attacks, Blinken said: “A number of the groups involved in recent attacks are militia that are backed by Iran.”
Two Iraqi militia officials told The Associated Press in Baghdad that four militiamen were killed in the airstrikes near the border with Syria. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give statements. They said the first strike hit a weapons storage facility inside Syrian territory, where the militiamen were killed. The second strike hit the border strip.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that closely monitors the Syrian conflict through activists on the ground, reported that at least seven Iraqi militiamen were killed in the airstrikes.
The Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions vowed revenge for the attack and said in a joint statement they would continue to target US forces. “We ... will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime and with God's help we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge,” they said.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sanctioned umbrella of mostly Shiite militias — including those targeted by the US strikes — said their men were on missions to prevent infiltration by Daesh and denied the presence of weapons warehouses.
Iraq's military condemned the strikes as a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security.” It called for avoiding escalation, but also rejected that Iraq be an “arena for settling accounts" — a reference to the US and Iran. It represented rare condemnation by the Iraqi military of US airstrikes.
In Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused the US of creating instability in the region. “Definitely, what the US is doing is disrupting the security of the region," he said on Monday.
US military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over drone strikes targeting US military bases in Iraq, which became more common since a US-directed drone killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a nonbinding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
Sunday's strikes mark the second time the Biden administration launched airstrikes along the Iraq-Syria border region. In February, the US launched airstrikes against facilities in Syria, near the Iraqi border, that it said were used by Iranian-backed militia groups.
The Pentagon said those strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier that month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.
At that time, Biden said Iran should view his decision to authorize US airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten US interests or personnel.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” Biden said when a reporter asked what message he had intended to send.

(With AP and AFP)


Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Updated 10 sec ago

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

  • Extradition sought under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids
ITANBUL: Turkey said Wednesday it would seek the extradition of 33 “terror” suspects from Sweden and Finland under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids.
“We will seek the extradition of terrorists from the relevant countries within the framework of the new agreement,” signed on Tuesday by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted as saying by NTV television.

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

Israel has accused Hezbollah gunmen of setting up clandestine positions at the border in defiance of UNIFIL. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 min 26 sec ago

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

  • The allegation — to which there was no immediate response from Beirut, Tehran or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — came as Israeli-Iranian tensions soar

JERUSALEM: Israel accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah on Wednesday of conducting a cyber operation designed to disrupt a UN peacekeeping mission on the border between the countries, and threatened harsh Israeli retaliation against enemy hackers.
The allegation — to which there was no immediate response from Beirut, Tehran or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — came as Israeli-Iranian tensions soar.
In what he termed a first public disclosure of the incident, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “Iranian security institutions in cooperation with Hezbollah (recently) launched a cyber operation with the aim of stealing materials about UNIFIL activities and deployment in the area, for Hezbollah’s use.”
“This is yet another direct attack by Iran and Hezbollah on Lebanese citizens and on Lebanon’s stability,” he told a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University, without elaborating.
Established in 1978, UNIFIL patrols Lebanon’s southern border. It is charged with monitoring the ceasefire that ended the last war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Israel has accused Hezbollah gunmen of setting up clandestine positions at the border in defiance of UNIFIL. Lebanese officials say Israel continues air force overflights of their territory in violation of the cease-fire.
Gantz said an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps cyber unit called “Shahid Kaveh” had “conducted research to damage ships, gas stations and industrial plants in several Western countries including Britain, the US, France and Israel.”
Britain’s Sky News reported similar allegations last year, saying the Iranian embassy in London had not responded to them.
Gantz hinted that Israel — which is widely believed to have waged cyber war against Iran’s nuclear facilities and other infrastructure — may retaliate physically against enemy hackers.
“We know who they are, we target them and those who direct them. They are in our sights as we speak — and not just in the cyber-space,” he said. “There is a variety of possible responses to cyber-attacks — in and outside of the cyber-domain.”

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Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Updated 29 June 2022

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

  • The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve
  • Foreign minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister of a caretaker government

JERUSALEM: Israel was headed on Wednesday toward its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising living costs and renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett moved last week to dissolve parliament after infighting made his ruling coalition no longer tenable. The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve.
Once the calling of a snap election gets the Knesset’s final approval, Israel’s center-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over from Bennett as prime minister of a caretaker government with limited powers.
But even with lawmakers grappling over the exact election date, either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1, the campaign has already become dominated by the possible comeback of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which lasted longer than many expected but faltered in recent amid infighting.
Netanyahu, now opposition leader, has been delighted by the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.
Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.
Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were working to form a new government before parliament dissolves. That scenario, which appears remote, would scupper an early election.


Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Updated 29 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

  • The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian early Wednesday during clashes in the hotspot town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
Mohammad Marei, 25, died from a bullet wound to the chest, the Palestinian health ministry said. The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town.
The Israeli army said it conducted overnight “counter-terrorism activities” in several West Bank locations.
In Jenin, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on troops, the army said.
“A number of suspects also hurled explosive devices at soldiers, who responded with fire. A hit was identified,” the army added, without specifically commenting on Marei’s death.
His killing comes amid spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank, including in and around Jenin.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.


Egypt sentences man to death over high-profile femicide

Updated 29 June 2022

Egypt sentences man to death over high-profile femicide

  • Mohamed Adel found guilty of “premeditated murder” of fellow student Nayera Ashraf after she rejected his advances
  • Viral video earlier this month appeared to show Ashraf being stabbed outside her university in Mansoura on June 19

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Tuesday sentenced a man to death for the murder of a student after she rejected his advances, a judicial source said, in a case that sparked widespread outrage.

Mohamed Adel was found guilty of the “premeditated murder” of fellow university student Nayera Ashraf after he confessed to the crime in court, the source told AFP.

The verdict, handed down in Mansoura north of Cairo after the trial opened on Sunday, will now be referred to the grand mufti, Egypt’s top theological authority — a formality in death penalty cases.

A video that went viral earlier this month appeared to show Ashraf being stabbed outside her university in Mansoura on June 19.

She had previously reported her fears of attack to the authorities, and the prosecution had said messages from the accused “threatening to cut her throat” were found on her phone.

The verdict was met with celebrations in front of the courthouse in Mansoura, videos published by local media showed.

The crime has triggered widespread anger in Egypt and beyond, and was followed by a similar on-campus shooting of a female student in Jordan a few days later.

Jordanian police said Monday that the man suspected of killing Iman Irshaid had “shot himself” after refusing to turn himself in.

Meanwhile another case began making headlines in Egypt after news that the body of TV presenter Shaimaa Gamal had been found, nearly three weeks after her husband had reported her missing.

Gamal’s body was found following a tip-off from someone who confessed to their “participation in the crime,” a prosecution statement said late Monday.

The prosecution ordered the arrest of her husband, who is a senior judicial official, according to the statement.

All three cases have caused an outpouring of anger on social media, with users demanding justice and decrying incidents of femicide in the Arab world.

Some have called for the perpetrators to be sentenced to death, while others say men must “learn to take no for an answer.”

Egyptian preacher Mabrouk Attia also sparked outrage, including among women’s rights defenders, after suggesting that Ashraf would not have met the same fate had she been veiled.

Patriarchal legislation and conservative interpretations of Islam in Egypt have contributed to severely limiting women’s rights.

Nearly eight million Egyptian women were victims of violence committed by their partners or relatives, or by strangers in public spaces, according to a United Nations survey conducted in 2015.