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Syria ready to fight ‘terror’ alongside US

Posted by pakin On August - 26 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

BAGHDAD – Syria says it is ready to work with the United States to fight “terrorism” as the UN accused jihadists in Iraq of “ethnic and religious cleansing”.

The United States is poised to send spy planes into Syria to track militants, preparing the way for possible air strikes against jihadists there, a senior US official said, as the most senior US military officer warned they will soon threaten America and Europe.

The White House, however, said President Barack Obama had so far made no decision on whether to launch air strikes on Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.

Syria, locked in a civil war with various rebel groups including IS since March 2011, said for the first time that it would work with the international community, including the United States, to tackle the Islamist problem.

But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted at a news conference that any strikes on Syrian territory must be coordinated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Syria is ready for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement UN Security Council resolution 2170,” Muallem said in the Syrian capital.

The resolution, passed earlier this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to the Islamic State and to Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

Western powers fear the IS “caliphate” — a successor state to historic Muslim empires — could become a launchpad for a new round of global terror attacks.

Those fears were exacerbated by the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said abuses by IS and affiliated groups in Iraq against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims involved targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, and destruction of holy and cultural sites.

“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control,” Pillay said.

“Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity,” she said in a statement.

– IS threat to US, Europe –

Iraq is struggling to regain huge tracts of the country after the jihadists fought a lightning offensive, seizing the second city Mosul in June and sweeping through the country’s Sunni heartland.

The IS militants have also taken control of parts of Syria contiguous to the land seized in Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” straddling both countries.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the threat posed by the group will “soon” expand to both the United States and Europe, his spokesman said on Monday.

“He (Dempsey) believes that (IS) must be pressured both in Iraq and in Syria,” Colonel Ed Thomas added.

Washington has ramped up its rhetoric following Foley’s beheading, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country” and said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.

US warplanes for more than two weeks have carried out a limited air campaign against the IS in Iraq, with most of the bombing raids conducted near Mosul dam in the north.

Citizens from various Western countries are fighting for IS, further raising fears that they could carry out attacks at home.

In a statement Sunday claiming a string of attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that killed 24 people the previous day, IS identified two of the three suicide bombers as German.

– Kurds retake villages –

Kurdish peshmerga forces on Monday retook three villages in the Jalawla area northeast of Baghdad from militants, and also held off assaults elsewhere, officials said.

In Syria, the jihadists on Sunday won a bloody battle for the Tabqa military airport, the last stronghold of the Assad regime in the northern province of Raqa, a monitoring group and state media said.

The victory gives the IS jihadists full control of Raqa, the heartland of their “caliphate”.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked Shiite worshippers during prayers in eastern Baghdad, killing 11 people, while at least eight died in two car bombs in the capital’s north, security and medical officials said.

The violence comes three days after suspected Shiite militiamen gunned down 70 Sunni worshippers at a mosque northeast of Baghdad.

After the mosque attack, premier-designate Haidar al-Abadi said there was no place for weapons or armed groups outside Iraqi state control.

Abadi said he welcomes irregular forces fighting against militants, but they “must all be inside the framework of the state, and under the direction of the state, under control of the military and security forces”.

Editor’s note: Simon Tisdall is assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist at the Guardian. He was previously foreign editor of the Guardian and The Observer and served as White House correspondent and U.S. editor in Washington D.C. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN) — Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and what many fear is its apparent threat to invade Ukraine, has riveted international attention since the crisis erupted with February’s revolution in Kiev. Excitable talk has proliferated as fast as North Korean missiles.

Pundits obsess about a new Cold War, a showdown with “mad bad Vlad” Putin, and the resulting need to boost military spending (always a Pentagon favorite). The talk is all Ukraine, Ukraine. Politicians and diplomats have put everything else on hold.

Including Syria, which is a big mistake. Far more than an argument over an obscure shard of territory on the edge of Nowhere-on-Don, the catastrophe now taking place in and around Syria ranks as a fundamental challenge and threat to the current world order.

Syria, not Crimea, directly affects western security in very basic ways. What’s happening there is changing the power balance in the Middle East. And unlike in Ukraine or the Baltic republics or other post-Soviet lands, a vast human catastrophe is unravelling, apparently without end. In Syria’s real, not phoney, war, more than 100,000 people have died so far.

The total number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, for example, has now passed the 1 million mark, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency — and that does not include the tens of thousands who have not registered with the agency. About 12,000 are fleeing Syria for Lebanon each week.

The refugee outflow is also affecting Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. As the war enters its fourth year, the overall refugee total is around 2.5 million. A further 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 9.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N.The suffering concealed behind these bald figures is appalling, as any visitor to the refugee camps will testify. Children are particularly badly affected.

Yet even if they are not swayed by the human cost of a conflict that has become depressingly familiar, basic considerations of self-interested realpolitik suggest governments, politicians and diplomats should be paying more attention to Syria.

One obvious reason is the way the war has been exploited to facilitate the spread of Islamist fundamentalism. Large areas of northern Syria are now under the control of jihadi groups and militias who, whatever else they may disagree about, are united in their opposition to western values and interests.

Syria is in the process of becoming a bridgehead to Europe for al Qaida and like-minded fanatics. It is already a magnet for young European Muslim men who want a piece of the global jihad. They then bring their new “skills” home.

A second reason to take a second look at Syria is the way instability there is steadily spreading outwards to affect neighboring countries. Turkey’s neo-Islamist government, having initially tried to broker a peace deal, now regards itself as virtually at war with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Last week the Turks very deliberately shot down a Syrian warplane they said had violated their airspace.

The threat of a Syria-Turkey conflict aside, the impact on Turkey’s politics and people has been considerable. The increasingly authoritarian behaviour of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, to some degree reflects the pressure the country is under. Kurdish militants trying to make common cause with their divided Syrian counterparts is one concern. Another is that border areas inundated with refugees are becoming less governable.

Growing instability and consequent political uncertainty are also affecting pro-western Lebanon and Jordan, while apparently reviving Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq is being fed by the Syrian flames. Recent reports suggest many Iraqi Shia fighters are now inside Syria, determined (like the Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon) to bolster the Assad regime against its mostly Sunni foes.

In geopolitical terms, the Syrian collapse has provided Iran with an opportunity to extend its influence into the heart of the Arab world, opening up a new front in its proxy war with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf led by Saudi Arabia. No doubt to Iran’s delight, Riyadh’s displeasure at the Obama administration’s refusal to get directly involved in Syria has caused a rift between the two long-time allies. Given the current state of western relations with Tehran, handing Iran a free boost in this way is a serious diplomatic own goal.

The ongoing failure to address and resolve the Syrian conflict has numerous other far-reaching consequences. What goes for Iran goes for Russia, too. Its obstinate and unprincipled support for Assad has come cost-free as the U.S. and Europe dither and the Geneva “peace process” leads precisely nowhere. Perceived American weakness over Syria may even have encouraged Vladimir Putin in his Crimean misdemeanors.

Al-Assad’s continued survival as Syria’s head of state is an egregious affront to the U.N. Security Council and its various related Syria resolutions, to the U.N. charter, to international law, and specifically to international war crimes legislation. Al-Assad stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, not least over the use by his forces of chemical weapons against civilian populations.

But once again, nothing much is done, and the credibility of such institutions and laws suffers as a result. The moral example set by such dereliction is shocking.

A lot has been made of the bad precedent Russia set by annexing the territory of an independent sovereign state. And it is fair to say such behavior is unacceptable and illegal, and should not be emulated by others. But in the overall scheme of things, the Crimea problem fades into insignificance when set alongside the dreaded ramifications and implications, short and long term, of the international community’s plain inability or its lamentable lack of will to halt the Syrian war.

(CNN) — Two Spanish journalists held more than six months in Syria are on their way home, Spain’s El Mundo newspaper reported Sunday.

The newspaper said that El Mundo staff correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova had been handed over to authorities in Turkey, and showed a picture of them together in apparent good health and spirits at the airport in Beirut.

The article did not go into detail about how they were freed.

The two journalists were kidnapped in September.

Garcia was traveling with Espinosa but not on assignment for El Mundo.

Espinosa, 49, and Garcia, 42, have made numerous trips to war-torn Syria, often together, and they organized their most recent visit together, foreign editor Ana Alonso earlier told CNN.

Espinosa was previously kidnapped while covering a conflict in Sierra Leone, and Garcia was kidnapped in 2012 in Syria for about 12 days, said Gervasio Sanchez, a Spanish veteran war photographer who knows both me. Both were subsequently released.

The newspaper reported in December the men were kidnapped at the Tal Abyad checkpoint in Raqqa province, close to the Turkish border, as they prepared to leave Syria after two weeks of coverage.

Their captors are reported to be members of a group linked to the al Qaeda-backed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and have not revealed demands to free the two, the paper said at the time.

Initially, the captors said they wanted to ensure the two journalists were not spies, El Mundo said.

The journalists were traveling with four fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who were also kidnapped, but released 12 days later. The fighters were supposed to have provided protection to the Spaniards, the newspaper reported.

In 2012, Espinosa was in the same makeshift press center in Baba Amr, Homs province, where correspondent Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed.

Israel intercepts Gaza-bound weapons haul

Posted by Nuttapon_S On March - 5 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Military says it stopped ship in the Red Sea carrying Syrian “advanced weaponry” being shipped from Iran to Gaza.

Israel says it has intercepted a ship in the Red Sea carrying Syrian-made “advanced weaponry” being shipped from Iran to Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

The Israeli military said the weapons were shipped overland to Iran and then onward towards Gaza by sea.

Iran and Syria have long provided aid to both Lebanon’s Shia movement, Hezbollah, and to armed Palestinian groups.

“During a complex covert navy operation in the early hours of this morning, the navy intercepted a cargo vessel in international waters between Sudan and Eritrea that was carrying an Iranian shipment of advanced weapons,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said.

“Dozens of surface-to-surface M302 Syrian-manufactured rockets were found,” Lerner said, adding that the crew of the ship, named the Klos-C, had “fully co-operated”.

The military said in an earlier statement it had “prevented an attempt to smuggle an Iranian shipment of advanced weaponry intended for terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip”.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel claimed to have killed two fighters belonging to Hezbollah as they tried to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian frontier.

That incident came a week after Israel reportedly bombarded positions of its arch-enemy Hezbollah inside Lebanon.