Archive for September, 2017

US builds permanent military base in Israel

September 20, 2017

The United States established on Monday its first permanent military base in the heart of the Negev in Israel, local media reported.

According to the Israeli media, the military base is located inside the Israeli Air Force’s Mashabim Air Base, west of the towns of Dimona and Yerucham.

Brigadier General Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the Israeli Air Force’s Aerial Defense Command, said this demonstrates the “years-old alliance between the United States and the State of Israel.”

Israeli army sources said that cooperation between the Israeli Air Force and the US Army has been routine.

According to the Times of Israel, Haimovitch also said that this base “allows us to improve our defense in discovery and in interception and in preparedness.”

He added that the new air base, along with other recent improvements to Israel’s air defense program, “will improve our abilities significantly. It will not get us to 100 per cent, but it will get us much closer to achieving important things during war.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170920-us-builds-permanent-military-base-in-israel/.

Iraq foils jihadist attempts to flee to Syria

2017-02-13

MOSUL – Iraqi forces have thwarted an attempt by around 200 jihadist fighters to flee their bastion of Tal Afar towards Syria, west of the city of Mosul, a security spokesman said Monday.

Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shiite militia groups, said the Islamic State group used tanks in their bid to break out of Tal Afar.

“The attack by the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs started at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT on Sunday), the fighting lasted around six hours,” their spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said.

Hashed forces have been deployed in desert areas west of Mosul since federal forces launched a massive operation to retake the city from IS on October 17.

Their main goals are to retake Tal Afar, a Turkmen-majority city which is still held by IS, and to prevent the jihadists from being able to move men and equipment between Mosul and their strongholds in Syria.

“This was an attempt by Daesh to open a breach, flee to the Syria border and exfiltrate some leaders and fighters,” Assadi said.

He said that Hashed forces received support from army aviation helicopters when IS attacked them. He added that the fighting left around 50 IS members killed and 17 of their vehicles destroyed.

Assadi did not provide a casualty figure for the Hashed al-Shaabi following the attack, which took place around 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Tal Afar.

IS jihadists are confined to a corridor between Tal Afar and Mosul by tens of thousands of forces deployed on several fronts.

After retaking the eastern side of Mosul last month, Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the west bank of the city.

The early stages of the Mosul offensive saw IS move fighters between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, its other major urban stronghold, but their supply lines have now been cut off.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81417.

On Syria’s Raqa front, anti-IS fighters long for their loves

2017-09-07

RAQA – The melancholy ballad sung by anti-jihadist fighter Nimer echoes through the makeshift outpost in Syria’s Raqa. But his sorrow has nothing to do with the surrounding battles: he misses his girlfriend.

His lilting rendition competes with the sound of artillery fire and US-led coalition air strikes targeting the Islamic State group in its one-time bastion.

But Nimer, 18, seems a world away from the battlefield when he speaks about his love.

“I like to play these songs on my mobile phone, and then sing them quietly to my love,” the young Syrian Democratic Forces fighter confides timidly.

He has not seen his girlfriend for a month and a half as he battles alongside his Kurdish and Arab comrades against IS.

Each time he has leave, he heads to his sister’s house outside the city and tries to see his beloved.

“I want to marry her, have children and build a life from scratch,” he says wistfully.

Around him, fellow fighters sit on purple cushions and smoke in silence, enjoying a respite from the offensive.

Their weapons are lined up along the wall next to them in the house, commandeered as an outpost.

Nimer hails from Raqa and lost his parents and brothers to the battles that have raged inside the city since June, when the SDF entered the IS stronghold after battling for months to encircle it.

“When we advance on the front, I revisit my memories in the midst of all the destruction. On each street we have memories together,” he says.

– ‘I did the impossible’ –

Sporting a light beard and digital camouflage, Nimer still recalls the extreme interpretation of Islam imposed by IS’s “religious police”, including a rigid separation between men and women.

“I couldn’t have photos or songs on my phone. I was afraid they would arrest me and accuse me of adultery. That was the way they thought,” Nimer says.

“I would risk my life just to see her. I did the impossible.”

Many of Raqa’s streets are now virtually unrecognizable, with building after building disfigured by the grinding battle to oust IS.

In the distance, a US-led coalition air strike sends up a vast bloom of grey and white dust and rubble, and fighters nearby let off volleys of gunfire.

Yasser Ahmed discreetly moves away from his fellow fighters so he can speak freely about his two-year girlfriend, whom he hasn’t seen for ten days.

“Under IS, it was like a prison,” says Ahmed, 20, also from Raqa city.

“I couldn’t see my beloved. We only talked by landline because we were afraid that IS’s people would see us. We were scared all the time,” adds Ahmed.

The top buttons of Ahmed’s shirt are open to reveal a small gold chain hanging around his neck, a present from his love.

“She always tries to persuade me not to return to the front, but I tell her I must liberate my city from IS so we can live in security,” adds Ahmed, his skin tanned a deep brown.

“Love is the most beautiful thing we have. During the war, we lost a lot. We don’t want to lose love as well.”

– Broken heart –

Abu Shalash, another fighter from Raqa, is battling the jihadists to heal a broken heart.

His lover’s parents forced her to break up with him and marry her cousin.

“I went crazy, and I joined the fighting to forget my pain,” says the 19-year-old.

He and his ex-girlfriend dated covertly under IS in their native Raqa, but she now lives in Ain Issa, a town further north.

“I left my city, I hated my life. When I passed in front of the house, I would remember the memories we created together,” he says.

From time to time, Abu Shalash looks at the ground in exasperation, pausing to take a deep breath before resuming.

“During our last Valentine’s Day, we celebrated in secret,” he says.

“I brought her a red teddy bear and a cake with our initials on it. We always met at night, so IS wouldn’t see us.”

Despite everything, Abu Shalash hasn’t lost hope that he might find love again.

“Life under IS was torture. I want the battles to end, and for us to live our love freely,” he says.

“I want Raqa to become a city for all the lovers who were deprived of their love by IS.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84723.

Refugees fleeing conflict zones opt for war-torn Syria

2017-09-06

DAMASCUS – Millions of Syrians have fled their country’s war as refugees, but for tens of thousands of people escaping conflict elsewhere, Syria is also a place of refuge.

Among them is Zahraa Abdi, who fled her native Somalia in 2012 and lives in a small room with her three children in northern Damascus.

“In Syria, death is organised, you can escape it. But in Somalia, it strikes randomly, at any time or place, there’s no escape,” she said, her hair wrapped in a turquoise headscarf.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR estimates some 55,000 refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and beyond are currently living in Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since March 2011.

It provides them with various forms of assistance, though many also work to supplement the aid.

The largest refugee contingent, numbering around 31,000, are Iraqis who crossed the border into Syria to flee their country’s many years of violence.

But the UN also counts some 1,500 Afghan refugees, and 1,500 more from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.

Abdi, 47, chose to come to Syria because she could enter without a visa, and she was desperate to find safety for her family.

She fled her home in a suburb of the Somali capital Mogadishu after her 10-year-old daughter was raped and murdered.

“In Syria, there is bombing, but there are also regions were you can take refuge. In Somalia, the armed men enter homes and kill the inhabitants,” said Abdi, dressed in a black robe embellished with rhinestones.

“I don’t want anything for myself, I just want safety for my children.”

Somalia has been engulfed in violence for most of the past 25 years, and waves of Somalis have fled abroad searching for safety.

But conflict also caught up with Abdi in Syria.

In 2012, she was living in the town of Al-Tal, held then by opposition forces and subject to sporadic government blockade and regular clashes.

She spent two years there before escaping to the relative safety of nearby Damascus.

– ‘Syria is part of me’ –

While Abdi moved to Syria in the early part of the conflict, most refugees sought safety in the country long before it was consumed by war.

In a modest church packed to capacity in a Damascus suburb, 45-year-old Faten sings hymns in Arabic and English.

A Chaldean Christian from Iraq, she and her family fled to Syria in 2007 after receiving death threats related to her sister’s job at a cafeteria serving US forces.

Graffiti was scrawled on the walls of their home accusing them of “treason,” and shots were fired at the house.

“When they set fire to the house, we knew it was the end, that we had to go,” she said, her curly hair pulled up in a pony tail above her lightly made-up face.

“My brother and sister and I left without anything. We were barefoot so we wouldn’t make any noise when we were running away,” she said.

She sought refuge at All Saints Church in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus, where she met Alex Amazia, a refugee from Sudan who would become her husband.

Amazia arrived in Syria in 1999, fleeing Sudan’s civil war.

Twelve years later, South Sudan announced its independence and he found himself the citizen of a new country, but one Syria’s government does not recognize.

He is unable to renew his Sudanese papers, or to obtain South Sudanese ones in Syria, and so lives without documentation.

But he said the violence that has surged in South Sudan makes life in Syria a better option regardless.

“Despite all the difficult circumstances we have lived through in Syria, the situation in South Sudan remains appalling, and doesn’t compare to here,” he insisted.

He has spent 18 years in Syria now, missing the funerals of his father and brother.

“Syria has become part of me, I am Syrian,” he said.

Alex and Faten married in 2014 and he looks after the church, which is attended by a flock that includes dozens of refugees, mostly from South Sudan and Iraq.

Faten feels the conflict she fled in Iraq has caught up with her across the border in Syria.

“We feel that we are stuck with the curse of war,” she said.

– ‘Weary of war’ –

Roqaya Omar, 60, also found herself caught up in the Syrian conflict, after fleeing Somalia a decade ago.

In 2012, she was living in the town of Harna near Damascus, which was a frontline in the fighting.

“We lived all the experiences of war like any Syrian,” she said.

“We were besieged and we heard the sound of battle and shelling,” she added.

“But I didn’t feel the same fear as I did in Somalia, where anyone can be killed with knives and slaughtered.”

She was able to flee Harna and move with her 26-year-old son Mohamed into Damascus.

“I’m weary of war,” she said, stroking her son’s face tenderly.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with my son in any country in the world… any country where there is no war.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84697.

Syrian army breaks IS siege on Deir Ezzor

2017-09-05

DAMASCUS – Syria’s army broke a years-long Islamic State group siege on the government enclave of Deir Ezzor city on Tuesday as it battles to expel the jihadists from a key stronghold.

The jihadist group has already lost more than half of its nearby bastion of Raqa to US-backed forces, and the loss of Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding oil-rich province of the same name would leave it with only a handful of isolated outposts.

Syria’s army and allied fighters, backed by Russian air support, have been advancing towards Deir Ezzor on several fronts in recent weeks, and on Tuesday arrived inside the Brigade 137 base on its western edge.

“The Syrian Arab Army this afternoon broke the siege on Deir Ezzor city after its advancing forces arrived from the western province to Brigade 137,” state news agency SANA said.

“This great achievement is a strategic shift in the war on terror and confirms the ability of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies,” the army command said.

A local journalist said a minesweeper moved ahead of troops as they arrived at the base.

As they reached the soldiers who have been besieged inside the base and adjacent parts of the city, the troops embraced and shouted patriotic slogans.

Others fired in the air and flashed victory signs, as Syrian and Russian warplanes flew overhead.

Civilians gathered on either side of the road connecting the base to neighborhoods of the city to welcome the arriving troops.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad congratulated troops in a call to commanders at the base, his office said.

“Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege on the city,” he said.

A source in the Deir Ezzor governorate said trucks loaded with food and medicine were expected to arrive inside the besieged city from Aleppo by this evening.

Government forces and tens of thousands of civilians in the city have been trapped under IS siege for over two years, facing food and medical shortages.

Early this year, the government-held parts of the city were cut in two by an IS offensive.

The army’s advance Tuesday breaks the siege on the northern part of the city, but a southern section, which includes a key military airport, remains surrounded, with the army now 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.

Around 100,000 people are believed to be inside government-held areas of Deir Ezzor, with perhaps 10,000 more in parts of the city held by IS.

Earlier Tuesday, the national flag was raised throughout government-held areas of the city in anticipation of celebrations upon the arrival of government soldiers.

Some residents had begun greeting each other with “Good morning of victory.”

The army still faces a potentially difficult battle to break the siege on the south of the city and free its remaining neighborhoods, and the surrounding province, from IS.

But for the government, its success would be “one of the most symbolic victories in its six-year war,” wrote Syria analyst Aron Lund in a recent analysis.

– ‘Spiral of defeats’ –

“The reopening of the Deir Ezzor road is a strategic disaster for IS, which is now at its weakest since 2014 and seems unable to break out of an accelerating spiral of defeats,” he added.

IS has lost over half its other Syrian stronghold, the city of Raqa, to an offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

And in neighboring Iraq, it has lost 90 percent of the territory it once held, including the city of Mosul.

Inside Deir Ezzor, residents have faced years of privation, with food becoming scare or unaffordable, and medicine and healthcare unavailable.

The government has continued to fly in limited supplies by helicopter, and the UN last year began airdropping humanitarian aid to the city.

Syria’s army began its offensive to reach the city in earnest last month, and has advanced on multiple fronts, including from the neighboring Raqa province to the west and central Homs province to the south.

It has been supported by Russia’s military, which began an intervention in support of the government in 2015.

The Syrian army’s breaking of the years-long siege of Deir Ezzor city is a “very important strategic victory,” the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

“Commander-in-chief Vladimir Putin has congratulated the Russian military command (in Syria) as well as the command of the Syrian government troops with this very important strategic victory over the terrorists with the aim of freeing Syria from ISIL,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Earlier Tuesday a Russian warship in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles at IS fighters near the town of Al-Shula to aid the Syrian army, the Russian defense ministry said.

“As a result of these strikes there was damage to the infrastructure, underground communications, weapon stockpiles of the terrorists, and this allowed the armed contingents of government forces… to rapidly advance, break through IS defenses and unblock the city (of Deir Ezzor),” Peskov said.

Putin has also “sent a telegram to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad” praising the victory, he added.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests which were violently suppressed, leading the country into a vicious and complex civil war.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84687.

34 Syria regime forces killed in IS counterattack

2017-08-25

LONDON – At least 34 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters have been killed in an Islamic State counterattack in the east of Raqa province, rolling back regime gains, a monitor said Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the jihadist group had recaptured large swathes of territory from government forces in the fighting on Thursday.

Syria’s army is seeking to advance through Raqa province to reach neighboring Deir Ezzor, where jihadists have besieged government forces and civilians in the provincial capital since 2015.

Earlier this month, government troops and allied fighters arrived at the outskirts of Madan, the last IS-held town in the eastern Raqa province countryside before Deir Ezzor.

But in Thursday’s counterattack, IS “made major progress and… expanded the area under its control along the southern bank of the Euphrates,” the Observatory said.

“IS has managed to push regime forces back 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the western outskirts of Madan,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The Syria army operation in the area, backed by air support from ally Russia, is separate from the battle for provincial capital Raqa city.

The effort to oust IS from the city, once the jihadist group’s Syrian stronghold, is being led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

The SDF has captured just under 60 percent of Raqa city since it entered in June after months of fighting to encircle it.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84537.

Amman suitable for metro project — field study

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto

Sep 09,2017

AMMAN — A study conducted by the Chinese Railway Engineering Corporation (CREM) for the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has confirmed that the topography of the city allows the implementation of the Amman Metro, a GAM official told The Jordan Times on Saturday.

Following a memorandum of understanding signed in December 2016 between the two parties, CREM started a field study in the capital with the aim of analyzing the potential path the metro would take if established in Amman.

The study concluded that the launch of such a project would be possible on the ground.

The GAM official called these results “very positive” and “encouraging”, noting that CREM is currently preparing a more detailed study on the implementation of the metro in the city — which is expected to connect the north and south of the city through a single line.

Furthermore, the official said that, if the project was found feasible, it would be implemented in parallel with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with a common station connecting both systems.

“Amman needs the metro as part of the integrated transportation system, which aims to build a comprehensive transportation network where the two systems would work together,” the official stated.

Once completed, the detailed study will be submitted to the GAM later this year, along with the estimated cost and the detailed plans for the project.

If feasible, the construction and the operation of the Amman Metro will “probably” be conducted under a DBOT (design, construction, operation, transfer) model, the official said, adding that other options are yet to be considered.

The establishment of the Amman metro would reduce the “frustration” of commuters facing daily transportation hustle, the official added, stressing that many complaints were expressed over the lack of regulations in the bus service earlier this year.

However, the project still raises discrepancies among the population.

“We definitely need a new transportation infrastructure”, said student Ghazal Aburaad. “However, finding the necessary funds and organisations will present great challenges,” she continued, noting that “the government will not be able to do this without partnerships”.

This view was shared by Hazem Zureiqat, founder of the public transportation advocacy campaign Maan Nasel, who stated that “the main challenge is going to be with institutions and management”.

“If the government wants to implement this plan, it will probably have to subsidize it,” said Zureiqat, adding that the metro is a very costly system.

Furthermore, Zureiqat pointed out that this is not the first study on the implementation of a metro line in Amman, referring to the feasibility study conducted in 2010 by a French company.

“When the results of that study came out, the cost of line per kilometer was up to JD140 million, and that is why the priority was given to the BRT,” he said.

“However, the BRT is not enough and Amman needs a rail-based transportation system”, he concluded.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/amman-suitable-metro-project-%E2%80%94-field-study.

‘We’re prisoners’: Syrians trapped in SDF camps after escape from IS

Tuesday 22 August

Civilians fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group’s two remaining Syrian strongholds face “horrific conditions” in dozens of poorly equipped camps on the outskirts of Syrian cities.

Many of these camps lack clean water, food and healthcare. Some are run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, according to camp residents. The SDF denies it runs the camps, despite them being in territory under its control.

The fighting in areas where US-backed forces continue to battle IS militants has forced tens of thousands of Syrians from their homes into dozens of camps in Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces.

Many find themselves trapped in terrible conditions.

“Living in an actual prison would have been easier than living in one of these camps,” said Ahmed, who fled his home in Deir Ezzor along with his parents and five brothers and moved to al-Sad camp, also known as Arisha.

Arisha is located in the southern suburbs of Hasakeh and is considered one of the biggest IDP camps housing about 6,000 people.

“We are like prisoners in the camp, not even allowed to leave,” added Ahmed.

In a statement on 14 August, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian civilians in Arisha as well as in dozens of other poorly equipped informal camps face “terrible, terrible conditions”.

“There is one camp called Arisha in Hasakeh governorate. The camp itself used to be an oil refinery, so you see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water,” ICRC spokesperson Ingy Sedky said.

According to Ahmed, six people died in Arisha recently due to rising temperatures and the lack of medical care.

“The ambulance comes to the camp every day because the women and elderly keep falling ill due to the heat, lack of hygiene and an abundance of insects, snakes, and scorpions.”

About 70,000 people are living in such camps, which are often in hard-to-reach locations, complicating aid provision, according to the ICRC.

‘Death Camps’

Mohamed Hassan, a Syrian activist heading the “Death Camps” Campaign, an online initiative launched last week to raise awareness about the conditions in Syrian IDP camps, said that civilians were facing deadly conditions in eight informal camps on the outskirts of Hasakeh and Raqqa, and which are run by the SDF.

“Many Syrians leaving their homes are transferred by SDF members to SDF-run camps which lack any source of water or medical facilities,” Hassan told MEE.

Residents of the eight camps – Rajm Salibi, Arisha, Alhoul and Mabouka in the suburbs of Hasakeh, Ain Eissa and Karama in the suburbs of Raqqa, and Ruwaishid and Rukban near the Iraqi border – reported poor conditions, and said that vital resources, such as medical facilities and food, are lacking, reported the campaigners.

Many well-known Syrian activists, including Lina al-Shamy and others, have joined the Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the issue.

In its report, the ICRC documented that tents at these camps tend to be placed in the middle of the desert, with snakes and scorpions posing a daily threat to the residents. Many of the camps are poorly equipped, lacking basic medical equipment and access to clean water, according to ICRC spokesperson Sedky.

“Most of the camps don’t have doctors on site. They don’t even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available. As a result, the camps’ inhabitants are at risk of chronic diseases,” Sedky said at the time.

Other camps lacked even the most basic items, including tents, with new arrivals sleeping in the open for up to 10 days while waiting for shelter.

The ICRC also reported that around 50 percent of camp residents are children, with intense heat and overcrowding making the conditions even worse.

“At the same time, the sheer number of people arriving every day is adding to the catastrophe,” he added saying that there were about 18,000 people dispersed across the eight camps, all of which lack basic services.

According to ICRC, IDP camps in Syria are cramped with some housing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 people. And as the fighting has continued, the numbers within the camps have been increasing, the Red Cross said in a statement earlier this month.

Hassan told MEE that one camp was established along the frontlines between the SDF and IS and have therefore been sites where civilians died due to the fighting.

“IS attacked the IDPs in the Rajm Salabi camp last month while it was fighting with SDF and this led to 37 people being killed inside the camp,” said Hassan.

According to the campaign organizers, Rajm Salabi, located in the suburbs of Hasakeh, is run by the SDF and houses about 400 families, most of whom fled their homes in Deir Ezzor.

But SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali told MEE that his forces did not manage any camps across Syria and are “solely preoccupied with fighting IS”.

‘Living in a prison’

After fleeing the violence around his home in Deir Ezzor, Mohamed, 22, was taken by a member of the SDF to the Karama camp in the suburbs of Raqqa and interrogated for hours before being left without a tent.

“We arrived at the camp to find nothing but sand. The women and children were taken to a tent but all the men were left to sit and sleep in the open with nothing to shade us from the heat of the desert,” Mohamed told MEE.

“After that, each one of us was searched and questioned by members of SDF to make sure we weren’t affiliated with IS,” he added.

According to Mohamed, when he tried to leave the camp, members of the SDF would not let him go without paying an extortionate amount of money.

“The SDF wouldn’t let anyone out of the camp unless they were ill or willing to pay a huge sum of money,” said Mohamed.

“For a young man like me, they wanted a huge amount.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-refugees-forced-flee-death-camps-705837072.

New military factions join the National Front for the Liberation of Syria

11 Aug, 2017

AlDorar AlShamia:

The newly formed National Liberation Front of Syria (NFL) has announced the entry of new revolutionary factions into its ranks.

The Front published a number of statements bearing the names of the factions affiliated to it, namely, Osoud al-Furat Gathering, the Martyr Abu Mansur al-Amel Brigade, the Kafar Shams Martyrs Brigade, the Free Golan Brigade, the Golan Command Brigade and the Special Tasks Brigade.

At the end of last July, 10 military factions joined the group: the Commandos, the Qadisiyah Brigade, the Ahbab Omar Brigade, the Ra’ad, the Ahrar al-Janoub, the Maghawir al-Janoub, Ahrar al-Masifra, the martyrs of Damascus, Osoud Bani Umiya and the Karak martyrs.

It is noteworthy that the “National Front for the Liberation of Syria” was announced on July 22 after the merger of more than ten military factions.

It is worth mentioning that one of the objectives of the new formation – according to a previous statement – is to “restore the Syrian revolution to the right direction, to overthrow the injustice regime, to keep the national decision free and independent, to preserve the unity of Syria and the people and the gains achieved through the sacrifice of the people.”

Source: al-Dorar al-Shamia.

Link: http://www.aldorars.com/en/news/1049.

New Hamas leader says it is getting aid again from Iran

August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.