Golan Heights

Iran mobilizes more troops to Syria

The Iranian military presence in Syria has rapidly escalated in recent days, with hundreds of fresh troops reported to be arriving at an airport in Latakia governorate already being used by Russian warplanes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 15 that its observors on the ground noted the arrivals at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for the current dictator's son), near Jableh. The report comes as the Syrian army has launched a major offensive north of the strategic city of Homs. The report comes a day after Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, met the Syrian parliament speaker in Damascus. "If Syria makes a request [for Iranian forces], we will study the request and make a decision," Boroujerdi told AFP before the meeting. "Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism. We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisers to Syria and Iraq." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 15)

Syria: 'ceasefire' signals Great Power carve-up?

An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)

Israel denies backing Nusra after Golan lynching

In a grisly incident on the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights last week, Druze villagers attacked an Israeli military ambulance, killing one of two Syrian casualties it was carrying. The attack was apparently retaliation for the Nusra Front massacre of Druze villagers in Syria a week earlier. Al-Monitor reports that the IDF has launched an aggressive "information campaign" to convince the Golan Druze that Israel is not backing the Nusra Front. Media reports (Reuters, Forward) have been vague on who the casualties in the ambulance actually were, but blogger Michael Karadjis identified the murdered patient as Munthir Khalil from the "Revolutionary Command Council in Quneitra and Golan," a wing of the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front. Karadjis emphasizes that the Southern Front months ago issued a declaration cutting off all cooperation with the Nusra Front, and offered refuge to fleeing villagers after the massacre. He calls the incident "deadly consequences" of the "fairy tale" that Israel is backing Nusra.

Syria: Nusra Front renegades in Druze massacre

Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front acknowledged on June 13 that its followers were responsible for a massacre at the Druze village of Qalb Loze, Idlib governorate, saying they had violated orders and would face justice. Twenty Druze villagers were reportedly killed June 10 when Nusra militants opened fire in an incident that began with the militants' attempt to seize a local home. (Reuters, June 13) Following the massacre, five of the largest militias in Idlib, all members of the Jaysh a-Fatah coalition, issued a statement condemning the killings. The militias—identified as Ahrar al-Sham, the Sham Front, Ajnad al-Sham, Thuwar al-Sham and Fastaqm Kama Umrat—declared that "Islam forbids spilling people's blood whatever their sect is." The massacre was also condemned by the more secular Syrian National Coalition. (Mkaradjis blog, June 13) In the wake of the massacre, Israel is said to be considering creation of a "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to protect Druze residents of the area. (Times of Israel, June 14)

Protests as Israel starts Golan Heights drilling

Hundreds of Golan Heights residents and environmentalists from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel protested on Feb. 17 outside the Afek Oil & Gas facility north of Nahal El Al, where exploratory oil drilling began the previous night. Afek, a subsidiary of US-based Genie Energy, won Israeli government approval for a three-year lease to drill 10 wells on 400 square kilometers  of the Golan Heights in September. Drilling was planned for mid-January but was delayed due to a court order won by environmental opponents. The Golan Heights is home to Lake Tiberias, Israel's main water source. Genie Energy is run by Effi Eitam, a former right-wing Israeli cabinet minister who currently resides in Golan Heights.

Chem-armed ISIS being funded through US?

Well, probably not, but maybe we can get some hits by throwing cold water on the inflammatory claims. Russia Today of course jumps on a report in Pakistan's Express-Tribune Jan. 28 claiming that the ISIS commander for the country confessed under interrogation that he has been receiving funds through the United States. Authorities said Yousaf al Salafi was arrested in Lahore Jan. 22—although "sources" said he was actually arrested in December and it was only disclosed on Jan. 22. An anonymous "source" also said: "During the investigations, Yousaf al-Salafi revealed that he was getting funding—routed through America—to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria." Unnamed "sources" said al-Salafi's revelations were shared with the US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit to Islamabad, and with CentCom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin during his visit earlier in January. "The US has been condemning the IS activities but unfortunately has not been able to stop funding of these organizations, which is being routed through the US," the "source" taunted. OK, could be, but we are a little tired of the current craze for anonymous and therefore unverifiable sources.

Hezbollah attack Israeli forces in contested area

Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy in the Shaba'a Farms border area Jan. 28, killing four soldiers. After Israeli forces were hit by missile fire, they responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon. A Spanish UN peacekeeper was accidentally killed by the Israeli return fire. Hezbollah issued a communiqué saying the attack was retaliation for an Israeli air-strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights 10 days ago. Hezbollah said the attack had been carried out by a cell calling itself the "Heroic Martyrs of Quneitra," a reference to the area where the Israeli strike took place on Jan. 18. (BBC News, YNet, Israel, Daily Star, Lebanon, Jan. 28)

US expands Syria air-strikes; Israel downs fighter

The US-led coalition carried out air-strikes against both ISIS and Nusra Front positions in Syria on Sept. 23. At the same time, US planes took unilateral action against the so-called "Khorasan Group" of ex-Qaeda members "to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests," as a Central Command statement put it. The statement provided no details on the plotting. The Khorasan Group targets were said to be near Aleppo. Reports indicate the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Qaeda operative who was supposedly privy to Osama bin Laden's 9-11 plans prior to the attack. The US State Department calls al-Fadhli a "senior facilitator and financier" for al-Qaeda. (Times of IsraelMJ) Meanwhile, the Israeli military shot down a Syrian MiG-21 fighter jet that it said had infiltrated it airspace over the Golan Heights. The wreckage fell on the Syrian-controlled side of the plateau. (Al Jazeera)