Western coalition in Syria shoots down menacing drone

The British defense ministry said the drone was downed by a missile from a Royal Air Force Typhoon, the first-ever air-to-air engagement by one of the British fighter jets. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2021

Western coalition in Syria shoots down menacing drone

  • The US Central Command said that two "unmanned aerial systems" had flown toward the Al-Tanf desert garrison
  • The British defense ministry said the drone was downed by a missile from a Royal Air Force Typhoon

WASHINGTON: A drone that threatened a base with US and partner forces in southern Syria was shot down by a British fighter jet with the Western anti-Daesh coalition, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The US Central Command said that two “unmanned aerial systems” had flown toward the Al-Tanf desert garrison near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan late Tuesday.
“As one of the UAS continued its course deeper into the Al-Tanf Deconfliction Zone, it was assessed as demonstrating hostile intent and was shot down,” said Bill Urban, spokesman for the US Central Command.
The second drone was not attacked and “likely left the area,” Urban said in a statement.
The British defense ministry said the drone was downed by a missile from a Royal Air Force Typhoon, the first-ever air-to-air engagement by one of the British fighter jets.
The small size of the drone made it a “very challenging target,” the ministry said.
But officials did not say if it was armed or not.
“This strike is an impressive demonstration of the RAF’s ability to take out hostile targets in the air which pose a threat to our forces,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Neither the United States nor the British would say who launched the drones toward the base.
The Pentagon has blamed drone attacks on US forces in Iraq over the past years on Iran-backed militia groups.
Iran-backed forces are deployed in close proximity to Al-Tanf, which sits on the strategically important Baghdad-Damascus highway.
In October the base came under attack by artillery fire and drones.
“We know that this is an increasingly used and increasingly potentially lethal threat that these Iran-backed militia groups are using, the use of drones,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.


Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Updated 31 sec ago

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

BEIRUT: Banks in crisis-hit Lebanon partially reopened Monday following a weeklong closure amid a wave of heists in which assailants stormed at least seven bank branches earlier this month, demanding to withdraw their trapped savings.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said last Monday it was going on strike amid bank holdups by depositors and activists — a sign of growing chaos in the tiny Mideast nation.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks had last closed for a prolonged period back in October 2019, for two weeks, during mass anti-government protests triggered by the crisis. That year, the banks imposed strict limits on cash withdrawals, tying up the savings of millions of people.
The country’s economy has since spiraled, with about three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
The frustrations boiled over this month, with angry and desperate depositors — including one armed with a hunting rifle — started holding up the banks. One of them, Sali Hafez, broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and retrieved some $13,000 in her savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
However, only a handful of bank branches opened Monday — accepting only customers with prior appointments for corporate transactions. The partial reopening was to continue indefinitely, until banks can secure the safety of their employees.
Crowds of anxious Lebanese gathered around ATM machines.
“I’ve been here for three hours, and they won’t let me in or schedule an appoint,” Fadi Al-Osta told The Associated Press outside a bank branch in Beirut. “The security guards can let us in one at a time and check for weapons. Isn’t that their job?”
George Al-Hajj, president of Lebanon’s Federation of Bank Employees Syndicates, said branches have downsized, to have a larger number of security guards per branch.
“Our goal isn’t to harm anyone, but we want to go to work feeling safe and secure,” Al-Hajj said. “We’re also human beings.”
Tensions were simmering in the southern city of Sidon, where State Security forces armed with assault rifles stood outside some bank branches. Some police officers and army soldiers, whose salaries have lost over 90 percent of their value, unsuccessfully tried to break into a bank branch to collect small cash bonus recently granted by the government.
Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly, with authorities failing to implement critical reforms, including restructuring the banking sector and lifting banking secrecy laws. Last week, a visiting IMF delegation criticized the government’s slowness to implement desperately-needed financial reforms.

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Updated 10 min 48 sec ago

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.


Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

Updated 44 min 24 sec ago

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

  • The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria

AMMAN: A cholera outbreak in several regions of Syria has killed 29 people, the Syrian health ministry said on Monday in what the UN has called the worst outbreak in the war-torn country for years.
Rapid assessment testing confirmed 338 cases since the outbreak was first recorded last month, with the bulk of deaths and cases in the northern Aleppo province, the ministry said in a statement.
It said 230 cases were in Aleppo province where 25 people were confirmed dead. The rest were spread across the country.
The United Nations this month said the outbreak was believed be linked to irrigation of crops using contaminated water and people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates river which bisects Syria from the north to the east.
The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria where millions have been displaced by the decade-old conflict, medical officials said.
Suspected cholera cases have risen to 2,092 in the northeast of Syria since the outbreak was announced this month, said the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) which operates in the northern region.
It said there were fears about significant under-reporting of cases.
The widespread destruction of national water infrastructure after more than a decade of war means much of the Syrian population is reliant on unsafe water sources.
Prior to the recent cholera outbreak, the water crisis had caused an increase in diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and skin conditions in the region, according to the World Health Organization.


Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed

Updated 26 September 2022

Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed

  • Along with the five who were killed, at least 13 other civilians were wounded

CAIRO: A new round of infighting between rogue militias in western Libya has killed at least five people, including a 10-year-old girl, health authorities said Monday, the latest bout of violence to rock the North African nation mired in decadelong chaos.
The fighting broke out on Sunday between rival militias in the western town of Zawiya, where armed groups — like in many other towns and cities in oil-rich Libya — are competing for influence.
Along with the five who were killed, at least 13 other civilians were wounded in the clashes that continued overnight, the Health Ministry’s emergency services said.
The fighting trapped dozens of families living in the area for hours, said Malek Merset, a spokesman for the emergency services. Local media reported that one militia fired at a member of its rivals, wounding a militiaman who was taken to hospital.
The violence was the latest between militias in western Libya. In August, clashes in the capital of Tripoli killed more than 30 people, one of the deadliest bouts of fighting in Libya in many months.
Libya was plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich county has for years been split between rival administrations, each backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
Libya is now split between two rival administrations. One is that of the government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Tripoli who refused to step down after Libya failed to hold elections last year. A second administration is led Prime Minister Fathy Bashagha who operates from the eastern city of Benghazi after failed efforts to install his government in the capital.

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Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Updated 26 September 2022

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

  • Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.