Golan Heights

Escalation in Gaza; Orwell in Golan

An Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the besieged Gaza Strip was declared March 26 following two days of Israeli air-strikes and Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of strikes across the Strip, while at least 50 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Residential and commercial buildings were struck by Israeli warplanes, with at least seven Palestinians reported injured. The escalation came after a Gaza rocket struck an house north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven Israelis. (Ma'an) With the air-strikes underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Donald Trump in Washington for the signing of a presidential proclamation officially recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. At the joint press conference, Trump said, "We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv," adding, "We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism." Netanyahu called Trump's recognition a "diplomatic victory," adding that "Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of defense." (Ma'an)

Syria endgame: whither Idlib?

With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa  to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)

Syria: 270,000 displaced in Daraa offensive

At least 270,000 people—about a third of the population—have been displaced by the Assad regime offensive on Daraa governorate in southern Syria since June 19. UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Mohammad Hawari confirmed the figure July 2, saying it "exceeded our expectations of 200,000." The agency expects the number to rise, with civilians fleeing to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—but with both countries refusing to allow entry. The UNHCR said about 164,000 displaced are now in camps and villages in the neighboring small opposition-held governorate of Quneitra, close to the Golan border. (See map.) The Assad offensive to regain Daraa governorate, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, has been backed by Russian air-strikes, violating a "de-escalation zone" Moscow had declared with the US last July. UNHCR noted reports that "suggest indiscriminate attacks on health facilities, schools, civil defense centers, and offices of local NGOs."

US to withdraw from Iran nuclear agreement

President Donald Trump announced April 8 that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 pact under which the US was to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. The White House statement says the US will re-imposes all sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA, including those instated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012. The sanctions are expected to go into effect in no later than 180 days.

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)

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