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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

    • Syria says Israeli warplanes struck a military position near Damascus on Wednesday, but their air defenses stopped most of the missiles.
    • Syria says the Israeli warplanes launched missiles while inside Lebanon.
    • Israel doesn't respond to reports of their military campaign in Syria, but have made it clear they will do what it takes to stop Iran and Hezbollah.

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian military position in a rural area near Damascus on Wednesday, triggering Syria's air defense system which destroyed most of the missiles, a Syrian army statement carried by state television said.

    The statement said several missiles were launched by the Israeli jets from inside the territory of neighboring Lebanon at 03:42 am local time.

    "The general command of the armed forces holds Israel fully responsible for the dangerous consequences of its repeated, aggressive and uncalculated adventures," the army statement said.

    In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: "We do not respond to such reports."

    The Syrian army said it had destroyed most of the Israeli missiles fired at its position, but did not give details of any damage or casualties.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the missiles targeted "positions of the Syrian army and its allies" in the region of Jamraya, west of Damascus, which was also hit in December.

    The Israeli air force has said it has struck arms convoys of the Syrian military and Lebanon's Hezbollah nearly 100 times since the war in Syria began more than six years ago.

    Israel regards the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the biggest threat it faces on its borders.

    It has grown deeply alarmed by Iran's expanding clout during the conflict, and has warned it would act against any threat from Tehran.

    SEE ALSO: Mattis has flipped on nuclear weapons since the Pentagon decided to take on China and Russia

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    tacp jtac

    • US forces reportedly responded to an "unprovoked attack" by Syrian pro-regime forces with airstrikes.
    • No US forces were injured, according to multiple news reports.


    US forces reportedly responded to an "unprovoked attack" by Syrian pro-regime forces at the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters on Wednesday, according to a statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM).

    US-led coalition forces, who typically advise and assist SDF troops, conducted airstrikes against the Syrian forces who attacked their "well established" headquarters. No US forces were injured during the attack according to reports from multiple news outlets.

    "In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh mission," a CENTCOM statement said, referring to the alternative label for Islamic State militants.

    The initial attack happened eight kilometers, or roughly five miles, east of the de-confliction line on the Euphrates River.

    Meanwhile, reports from rebel-held areas near the capital of Damascus claim that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians. Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Tuesday.

    Around 2,000 US troops were reportedly deployed to Syria, according to the Defense Department. US military presence dwindled down after a major offensive to rid Islamic State militants from Raqqa, once a major hub for the terrorists.

    Following the siege on Raqqa, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that US forces would focus on diplomacy and that they "won't just walk away" from efforts to stabilize the region.

    SEE ALSO: Marines in Syria fired more rounds than any artillery battalion since Vietnam — and burned out 2 howitzers in the process

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    US Marines Syria

    • The US led an attack that killed more than 100 pro-Assad regime soldiers in Syria on Thursday.
    • The attack was a response to a pro-Assad airstrike on the headquarters of a long-time US ally in Syria.
    • The US has been edging closer and closer to fighting the Syrian government and Russia since the fall of ISIS.


    A US attack on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad killed more than 100 in the country's north on Thursday, and the regime came roaring back with airstrikes of its own on rebel forces near Damascus.

    The airstrikes from Assad killed 21 and injured 125, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday.

    Assad's strikes followed what the US called an "unprovoked attack" by his forces on the headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of anti-Assad fighters the US has trained and supported for years.

    The US responded with artillery, tanks, and rocket fire.

    In the exchange, no US forces were reported hurt or killed, but 500 of Assad's were said to be engaged, many wounded, and 100 dead.

    Syria map 2018

    "We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh in September 2017," a US military official told Reuters.

    The pro-Assad forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for [ISIS] from 2014 to 2017."

    But Syrian state media characterized the event differently, saying the US had bombed "popular local forces fighting" ISIS, and that it was a US "attempt to support terrorism." The Assad regime and its Russian backers have an established history of calling anyone who doesn't support the regime a terrorist.

    Though some of the anti-Assad resistance has become entwined with Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, the US vets the groups it works with, and maintains that the SDF are moderate rebels who were instrumental in the defeat of ISIS.

    Syria wants the US out, but it won't go without a fight

    Su-25 crash Syria

    Syria's air offensive on rebel-held areas near Damascus has been going on for days, with local reports claiming that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians.

    Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Tuesday.

    Syria has seen a dramatic uptick in air raids by Russian and Syrian jets after a Russian jet was downed by Syrian rebels using a portable anti-air missile system.

    Though Russia announced its forces would withdraw from Syria in December, the recent rash of renewed strikes show they have stayed put, and are likely responding to an increased need to support the Assad regime.

    In January, Syria vowed that it would eject US troops from the country, but since then the US announced plans to stay there long enough to counter Iran's growing influence.

    Meanwhile, the US began a more vocal campaign of accusing Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons in the conflict.

    The US has repeatedly flirted with the idea of carrying out another punitive strike against the Assad regime as reports of gas attacks grow more numerous. 

    SEE ALSO: Mattis has flipped on nuclear weapons since the Pentagon decided to take on China and Russia

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    Idlib civilians syria

    • Russian and Syrian forces are slaughtering civilians in a new offensive against rebels in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, and one UN official said he's "running out of words."
    • Nearly 80 civilians were killed by airstrikes on Tuesday, which was deadliest day for rebels since 2015, and another 26 were killed on Wednesday. 
    • A separate catastrophe for civilians is unfolding in the Kurdish-majority area of Afrin between Turkish and US-backed forces. 


    Civilians in Syria are bearing the brunt of a new onslaught by Russian and government forces against the last rebel-held areas of the country.

    The humanitarian situation has become so severe that the United Nations issued an urgent call for a ceasefire, with one official saying he was “running out of words” to describe the scale of suffering.

    In the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, besieged by government forces since 2013, about 78 civilians were killed by airstrikes and artillery fire on Tuesday, according to monitors. A further 26 civilians were killed on Wednesday.

    “I saw yesterday a man lose his child. I saw many families all gone because of the Assad regime and Russia,” said Nour Adam, a 21-year-old media activist living in Ghouta.

    Siege Watch, a group that documents besieged communities in Syria, said Tuesday was the deadliest day for the rebel enclave since it started monitoring in late 2015.

    The government has blocked all deliveries of food and aid to eastern Ghouta, where nearly 400,000 people are trapped, for more than two months.

    Idlib syria civilians

    “The people here eat one meal a day, if they can buy that meal. It’s very expensive. They can’t work because of the shelling. So they are hiding in the basements,” said Adam.

    Syrian State Media reported that three people had been killed by rebel shelling of Damascus.

    In the northern province of Idlib, also held by armed groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, more than 100 civilians have been killed in the past two weeks by Russian and Syrian government airstrikes.

    The Syrian government launched an offensive in December to recapture the province, large parts of which are dominated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rebel coalition that absorbed al-Qaeda-linked fighters last year.

    Those airstrikes increased after HTS fighters shot down a Russian jet over the province. The pilot reportedly killed himself with a grenade rather than be captured.

    Activists say hospitals were among the targets hit. And rescue workers and doctors on the ground in Idlib have accused government forces of usingchlorine bombs in the offensive.

    Idlib province is currently home to 2 million people — half of them displaced from other areas of the country. Since mid-December, about 300,000 more people have been displaced within Idlib itself, meaning hundreds of thousands of civilians are in the way of the intense fighting.

    Abdulkafi Alhamdo, a teacher who survived the siege of Aleppo and fled to Idlib, says government attacks “have made the whole area hell.”

    Alhamdo lives in Idlib province, and visited the city of Idlib on Tuesday to document the destruction.

    “I went there, I saw people afraid. They are just traumatized,” he said by phone.

    “People are fleeing, they don’t know where to go. They just see a place on the street and they stay there.”

    “In the house that I’m living in, the the flat above my flat contains only two rooms and there are five families are living there,” he added.

    The new carnage in Syria prompted the UN to call for a monthlong ceasefire across the country to deliver aid to more than 2 million people in desperate need.

    Panos Moumtzis, assistant UN secretary general and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said the country had reached a “critical stage.

    “The humanitarian situation has dramatically deteriorated, and that's why we are ringing alarm bells."

    “We are running out of words, to be honest, to describe it,” Moumtzis told the New York Times.

    A separate catastrophe for civilians is unfolding in the Kurdish-majority area of Afrin, on Syria’s northern border.

    Last month, Turkey and allied Syrian rebel groups opened a new front in Syria’s multisided war with an assault on the territory against the US-backed Kurdish militia, the YPG.

    Turkish-backed FSA rebel shoots into air in Afrin, Syria

    The YPG played a key role in the defeat of the ISIS in Syria, and received US backing and support to do so.

    But Turkey views the YPG and ISIS as one and the same, because of the YPG’s links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for decades.

    Turkey says the group poses a threat to its security and has vowed to create a safe zone within Syria to remove it.

    Airwars, an independent group that monitors civilian casualties caused by airstrikes, says between 77 and 100 civilians have been killed so far in the Afrin operation — 14 to 22 by YPG fire in Syria and Turkey, and 63 to 79 by Turkey in the Afrin countryside.

    The increased violence across the country makes hopes of a negotiated settlement in Syria even less likely than before.

    Both eastern Ghouta and Idlib province were named as de-escalation zones in a deal brokered in September last year between Russia, Turkey and Iran. The deal was supposed to reduce violence in these areas and allow humanitarian access, with an eye on a permanent ceasefire.

    The opposite has happened. Conditions for civilians have gotten worse and aid access is being restricted as before.

    SEE ALSO: Fighting in northwest Syria is in a tailspin, as Turkish forces shoot at fleeing civilians and mutilate US-backed forces

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Assad

    • The US has a plan to kick Syria's Assad out of power by treating the country like North Korea.
    • Syria probably needs $200-300 billion in reconstruction after a civil war and protracted fight against ISIS, but the US says Assad won't see a dime until he holds elections.
    • Assad has been linked to war crimes, gross human rights violations, and chemical weapons use, and the US wants to see him brought to justice at the Hague, rather than killed.


    After seven long years of bloody civil war, the US just laid out a strategy to have Syrian President Bashar Assad removed from power by essentially treating the country like North Korea.

    Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, David Statterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, described how the US would remove Assad from power without using its military might.

    "Syria needs reconstruction funds of between $200-300 billion plus. The international has community has committed itself not to provide those funds" until Syria holds UN-observed, fair elections and reforms its constitution, Statterfield said.

    "We cannot conceive of circumstance in which a genuinely fair electoral process overseen by the UN with participation of the Syrian displaced community could lead to a result in which Assad remained at the helm," he said.

    The US has about 2,000 boots on the ground in Syria, air bases in nearby countries, and has cycled through a few aircraft carriers to destroy ISIS and push them out of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has now lost almost all of its territory, and large swaths of Syria are held by US-backed forces that don't support Assad. Assad himself lacks control of the eastern part of his country, where most of the oil lies.

    Assad, an accused war criminal who the US has punished with cruise missile strikes in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians, is no friend to the US, and the US won't simply give his country back.

    Syria needs cash and the US ain't buying

    aleppo syria

    With US forces holding the purse strings and oil fields in Syria, the US intends to make Syria an international pariah state much like North Korea.

    "The US has provided nearly 7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance" to Syria since the beginning of the war, Statterfield said. 

    But "unlike in Iraq, we do not have a trusted government partner to work with" in Syria, he said. "We are not working with, and we will not work with the Assad regime."

    Much of Syria has been reduced to rubble, as Russia and Syria have bombed the country's western coastline to kill rebels and the US has combed through the eastern stretches to knock out ISIS. Air forces often target roads, bridges, and important infrastructure to hobble the flow of enemy fighters on the ground.

    While Russia has the planes and bombs to continue airstrikes, Statterfield said the US is willing to bet it doesn't have the cash to rebuild it by itself.

    Furthermore, Russia committed to a political solution to the Syrian civil war in November. Statterfield characterized Russia as trying to steer the solution towards leaving Assad in power. With a concerted effort led by the US at the UN, he said, the international community can deny Syria's government the funding it would need to remain.

    Assad becomes Kim Jong Un, cut off and clinging to power

    putin and assad

    Under the US plan, Syria won't see a dime of reconstruction money until they put together a fair election. Assad, who has never faced a real opponent in a fair election, and who has spent the last five or so years reportedly gassing his own people with airstrikes, is unlikely to win such an election, according to Statterfield.

    Statterfield was realistic and admitted the process would be extremely difficult, noting "Assad will cling to power at almost any cost."

    The other prong of US strategy in Syria, limiting Iran's influence, will be dealt with separately, according to Statterfield.

    But the US has now outlined a credible strategy to undermine Russia and Iran's wish to keep Assad, who experts say drives radicalization and terrorism with his brutal military campaign against rebels, in power.

    SEE ALSO: The US just changed course in Syria — and could now look to confront Iran

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    US Marines howitzer syria

    • US-led coalition in Syria killed more than 100 Syrian regime forces on Wednesday in response to an attack on one of its bases.
    • Syrian regime forces' initial coordinated attack included tanks, howitzers and more, but only one US-backed SDF fighter was injured.
    • Regime forces were likely attempting to take an oilfield near Khusham.


    The US-led coalition in Syria killed more than 100 Syrian regime forces on Wednesday after its headquarters suffered an "unprovoked attack," according to a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve and Reuters.

    Syrian regime forces launched a coordinated attack that included about 500 regime troops, 122mm howitzers, tanks and multiple launch rocket systems on the US-backed SDF headquarters in Deir al-Zor province approximately five miles east of the Euphrates River.

    The river acts as a de-confliction line between the coalition and Russian and Syrian forces.

    Regime forces operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks fired 20-30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, where some US troops were embedded, according to Pentagon press secretary Dana W. White.

    One SDF fighter was injured, Reuters reported.

    The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery,"according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. CNN also reported that HIMARS and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.

    US Marines howitzers Syria

    "Along with ground based fire support, these aircraft released multiple precision fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks," Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesperson for US Air Forces CENTCOM, told CNN.

    The coalition's counter-attack killed more than 100 regime forces, Reuters reported, but a Syrian commander said that only seven were killed and 27 were injured.

    Reuters reported that regime forces were likely trying to take an oilfield near Khusham, citing a US official.

    Syrian state media characterized the event differently, saying the US had bombed "popular local forces fighting" ISIS, and that it was a US "attempt to support terrorism."

    SEE ALSO: These are all the tanks in Russia's arsenal

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    isis flag

    Two British ISIS fighters who are part of a group of British militants sometimes referred to as "the Beatles" have been captured by Syrian Kurdish fighters, according to a report from The New York Times.

    Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were reportedly involved in the torture and killings of Western hostages. Both men previously lived in London, and are considered foreign terrorists by the US State Department.

    "As a guard for the cell, Kotey likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding. Kotey has also acted as an ISIL recruiter and is responsible for recruiting several UK nationals to join the terrorist organization,"the Department said on its website about the 34-year-old British national.

    Elsheikh, who is 29 years old, "was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer."

    Along with Elsheikh and Kotey, the "Beatles" group consisted of two others — the infamous executioner Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed "Jihadi John," and Aine Davis, who is currently being held in Turkey.

    "The Beatles," the State Department said, "is responsible for holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages, including several Westerners."

    SEE ALSO: The US reportedly killed more than 100 Russian and Syrian-backed fighters in a 3-hour military blitz

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    2018 02 10T070557Z_1_LYNXMPEE19055_RTROPTP_4_ISRAEL IRAN.JPG

    • Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashes amid Syrian anti-aircraft fire on Saturday.
    • It was one of the most serious incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war almost eight years ago.
    • Footage from northern Israel showed what appeared to be white aircraft debris scattered on the ground.

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syrian anti-aircraft fire shot down an Israeli jet on Saturday, the military said, after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria and struck an Iranian target there.

    Footage from northern Israel showed what appeared to be white aircraft debris scattered on the ground.

    It was one of the most serious incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war almost eight years ago.

    "A combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel," the Israeli military said in a statement.

    "IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the #UAV into Israeli airspace. Massive Syrian Anti-Air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe," Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter.

    Syrian state media cited a military source as saying Syrian air defences had opened fire in response to an Israeli act of "aggression" against a military base and hit "more than one plane".

    "The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane," the unidentified military source said.

    Israeli media said the jet crashed in northern Israel.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a rare visit to the Israel-Syria front on Tuesday and warned Israel's enemies not to "test" its resolve. He did not mention by name Iran or its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, both main players in Syria's civil war.

    Netanyahu has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighbouring Lebanon.

    Israel has seen spillover violence from the Syrian civil war. It has opened fire at times to foil what it deemed deliberate cross-border attacks and has struck suspected Hezbollah arms shipments around 100 times in Syria during the civil war.

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    turkish tanks

    • The Syrian Kurds seem to have a powerful new ally in their fight against invading Turkish forces in northern Syria — embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    • The two have a mutual interest in combatting Turkish incursion into the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region, and Assad is supporting the Kurds in a number of ways, including humanitarian aid.
    • But the Syrian Kurds want to create their own autonomous zone in Syria's north, which the Assad regime opposes.


    ALEPPO, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's U.S.-backed Kurds are getting indirect help from an unlikely source in their war against Turkey in the northwestern region of Afrin: President Bashar al-Assad.

    Pro-government forces and Kurdish-led forces have fought each other elsewhere in Syria and Damascus opposes the Kurds' demands for autonomy. But in Afrin they have a common enemy and a mutual interest in blocking Turkish advances.

    Turkey, which regards the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as a threat on its southern border, launched an assault on the region last month. Seeking to shield Afrin, the Kurds asked Damascus to send forces into action to defend the border.

    The government shows no sign of doing so, but it is providing indirect help by allowing Kurdish fighters, civilians and politicians to reach Afrin through territory it holds, representatives of both sides told Reuters.

    Assad stands to gain while doing little.

    The arrival of reinforcements is likely to sustain Kurdish resistance, bog down the Turkish forces and prolong a conflict that is sapping the resources of military powers that rival him for control of Syrian territory.

    For the United States, it is yet another complication in Syria's seven-year-old war, and a reminder of how its Syrian Kurdish ally must at times make deals with Assad even as it builds military ties with the United States.

    Lacking international protection, the Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria say they have reached agreements with Damascus to allow reinforcements to be sent to Afrin from other Kurdish-dominated areas -- Kobani and the Jazeera region.

    welcome to stalingrad welcome to kobane under siege by the islamic state on the syrian frontline body image 1421150947

    "There are different ways to get reinforcements to Afrin but the fundamental route is via regime forces. There are understandings between the two forces ... for the sake of delivering reinforcements to Afrin," Kino Gabriel, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said.

    While the Kurds depend on Assad to reach Afrin, Kurdish sources say they also enjoy leverage over Damascus because it needs their cooperation to source grain and oil from areas of the northeast under Kurdish control.

    A commander in the military alliance fighting in support of Assad said "the Kurds have no option but coordination with the regime" to defend Afrin.

    "The Syrian regime is helping the Kurds with humanitarian support and some logistics, like turning a blind eye and allowing Kurdish support to reach some fronts," said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Turkish advances at a steady pace against the Kurds

    The Turkish military is making slow gains nearly three weeks into the operation it calls "Olive Branch".

    Ankara views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

    The United States has relied on the YPG as a vital ground component of its war against Islamic State, and has backed the group in other Kurdish-run regions in northern Syria along the border with Turkey.

    But U.S. forces are not in Afrin, so have been unable to shield Afrin from the attack by Turkey, its NATO ally.

    The Kurds meanwhile accuse Russia of giving a green light for the Turkish attack by withdrawing observers it deployed in Afrin last year.

    The Afrin war marks another twist in the complicated story of relations between Assad and the Syrian Kurdish groups, spearheaded by the YPG, that have carved out autonomous regions in northern Syria since the war began in 2011.

    The YPG controls nearly all of Syria's frontier with Turkey. But Afrin is separated from the bigger Kurdish-controlled region further east by a 100 km-wide zone controlled by the Turkish military and its Syrian militia allies.

    For much of the war, Damascus and the YPG have avoided confrontation, at times fighting common enemies, including the rebel groups that are now helping Turkey attack Afrin.

    kurds

    But tensions have mounted in recent months, with Damascus threatening to march into parts of eastern and northern Syria captured by the SDF with support from the U.S.-led coalition.

    Underlining that, pro-Syrian government forces attacked the SDF in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, drawing coalition air strikes overnight that killed more than 100 of the attackers, the coalition said.

    "The regime has allowed the YPG to bring people into Afrin, while attacking it east of Euphrates (River). I think that is indicative of the state of relations right," said Noah Bonsey, International Crisis Group's Senior Analyst on Syria.

    He added: "There is still a significant gap between the YPG and regime positions on the future of northeastern Syria."

    Defending autonomy in Afrin

    The main Syrian Kurdish groups remain wedded to their vision of a Syria where they enjoy autonomy in a form of federalism that is at odds with Assad's determination to recover all Syria.

    Each side has allowed the other to maintain footholds in its territory. In Kurdish-held Qamishli, the government still controls the airport. In the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, a government city, Kurdish security forces patrol the streets.

    Scores of Kurds from Sheikh Maqsoud have gone to Afrin to support the fight, Kurdish officials there said. The short journey requires movement through areas held by the government or its Iran-backed Shi'ite militia allies.

    "Of course people went from Sheikh Maqsoud - in the hundreds - to bear arms and defend Afrin," said Badran Himo, a Kurdish official from Sheikh Maqsoud.

    "Around 10 of them were martyred (killed)," he told Reuters as Kurdish security forces held a rally to commemorate one of the dead.

    Earlier this week, witnesses say a civilian convoy of hundreds of cars drove to Afrin from other Kurdish-held areas in a show of solidarity.

    The Syrian government has ignored appeals by the Kurdish authorities to guard the Syrian border at Afrin.

    "We tried to convince them, via the Russians, to at least protect the borders, to take a position, but we did not reach (get?) a result," Aldar Khalil, a top Kurdish politician, told Reuters.

    "If they don't protect the borders, then at least they don't have the right to block the way for Syrian patriots who are protecting these borders, regardless of other domestic issues."

     

    (Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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    israel syria f 16 shoot down

    • Syria shot down an Israeli F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid from Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday.
    • Israel responded with a furious barage of airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian-backed positions, including Syrian air defenses.
    • Israel has been running a quiet air offensive against Iranian-backed forces in Syria for some time, and despite the F-16 loss, it remains committed to shutting down Tehran's influence along its borders.


    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli forces would press ahead with Syria operations despite their loss of an advanced warplane to enemy fire for the first time in 36 years.

    Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed the F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday. The Iran-backed forces are supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's near seven-year civil war.

    Israel then launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it said were 12 Iranian andSyrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defense systems.

    However, Israel and Syria have both signaled they are not seeking wider conflict and on Sunday their frontier was calm, though Netanyahu struck a defiant tone on Sunday in remarks to his cabinet broadcast by Israeli media.

    "Yesterday we landed hard blows on the forces of Iran and Syria. We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit," he said.

    Iran's involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel, which has said it would counter any threat. Israel also has accused Iran of planning to build precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Israel's strikes on Saturday had killed at least six people from Syrian government and allied forces. Syrian state media have yet to disclose any casualties or damage.

    The downing of the F-16 over northern Israel - as the air force struck back for what it said was an incursion by an Iranian drone launched from Syria - was a rare setback for a country that relies on regional military supremacy.

    Security cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio the Iranian drone was modeled on the U.S. RQ-170 drone that was downed in Iran in 2011. The U.S. Embassy did not immediately comment.

    The jet's two-man crew survived with injuries, and Israeli generals insisted they had inflicted much greater damage in Syria - even as Damascus claimed a strategic gain in the decades-old standoff with its old foe to the south.

    "Broadest attack" on Syria defenses 

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem February 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

    Israel said it had destroyed three Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and four targets "that are part of Iran's military establishment" in Syria during Saturday's raids.

    "This is the broadest attack on Syria's defense systems since (Operation) Peace for the Galilee," air force Brigadier-General Amnon Ein Dar told Army Radio, referring to Israel's 1982 Lebanon offensive, in which it battled Syrian forces.

    It was also the first downing of an Israeli warplane by enemy fire since that conflict.

    In Syria, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper said the country's air defenses had "destroyed the myth of Israeli air superiority in the region".

    Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which fights in support of Assad in Syria, spoke of the "start of a new strategic phase" that would limit Israel's activity in Syrian airspace, where Israeli planes have regularly attacked suspected weapons shipments to the Islamist movement.

    Both the United States, Israel's closest ally, and Russia, which supports Assad in the Syrian civil war, have expressed concern over the latest clashes.

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to begin a previously scheduled visit to the region on Sunday, expecting what a State Department official said would be "tough conversations". He is due to travel to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait during the Feb 11-16 trip.

    In a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Netanyahu affirmed Israel's right to self-defense and pledged continued cooperation with Moscow to avoid inadvertent clashes with Russian forces in Syria.

    Putin, whose country supplies Syria's air defense systems, urged Netanyahu to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

    The Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk consultancy, said in a commentary that "in order to reinforce deterrence, Israeli leaders will probably assess they need to show Iran, Hezbollah and Syria they will continue to strike targets despite the risk".

    "(But) in a fog of war environment, another incident can easily drag the relevant parties toward a regional conflict."

     

    SEE ALSO: US signals major change on North Korea after South Korea's president agrees to meet Kim Jong Un

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    Donald Trump

    • An incident on Israel’s northern border this weekend sparked the most violent confrontation yet in its cold war with Iran.
    • Whatever the Trump administration might be doing to diffuse this military escalation, it is doing so quietly.
    • All eyes are now on Russia for direction.


    WASHINGTON – It took 24 hours, nearly to the minute, for White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to respond to the incident on Israel’s northern border, which sparked the most violent confrontation yet in its cold war with Iran.

    “Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian- backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria,” Sanders said in a midnight message to the press. “We call on Iran and its allies to cease provocative actions and work toward regional peace.”

    Whatever the Trump administration might be doing to diffuse this military escalation, it is doing so quietly – leveraging what little influence it has over players in Syria’s civil war to prevent the conflict from exploding region-wide.

    In a serious military and diplomatic crisis between powerful nation-states, where the international community would in past years look to the US for leadership, all eyes are on Moscow for direction. It is a consequence of six years of Syria policy in which Washington chose to disengage from the war there and allow Russia and Iran to run free.

    Now, senior Trump administration officials say they will not “accept” or “allow” Tehran to entrench itself in Syria so close to Israel’s border, already girded along one part by Lebanese Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. To that end, the US was a part of critical talks with Russia last July to push Iran some distance away from the Golan border.

    Since then, the US secretaries of defense and state have all but announced that American troops stationed in Syria will remain there indefinitely, if need be, to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State and to thwart Iran from completing a land bridge, or “Shi’ite crescent,” from Mashhad to the Mediterranean.

    But concerns over that July agreement have born fruit. This weekend’s kinetic exchange – in which a drone of Iranian origin flew into Israeli airspace, prompting an IAF response that led to the loss of one of its jets – demonstrated the difficulty of enforcing such deals and the true extent of the administration’s diplomatic influence over the tripartite running Syria.

    It shows how motivated Tehran remains to complete its forces’ buildup around Israel and how determined Israel remains to prevent it.

    While Israelis may look to America for assistance in times of crisis such as these, it is unclear what diplomatic or military options the administration has at its disposal to help – in this case or in any future crises to come.

    This administration has no channel of communication with Tehran, unlike its predecessor; it does not have relations with the Assad government. And if conflict were to erupt, Washington’s priority would be to avoid a confrontation between its own military forces and Russian forces before anything else.

    Outlining US policy in Syria just weeks ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration seeks to “diminish” Iran’s presence in the state and deny it the ability to threaten its neighbors. He offered no details of a plan to accomplish this.

    Trump has yet to comment or tweet on the border incident.

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    FILE PHOTO: Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near a U.S military vehicle in the town of Darbasiya near the Turkish border, Syria April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

    • Turkey has been enraged by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.
    • The Pentagon requested $300 million for Syrian "train and equip activities" and $250 million for border security, which Turkish media interpreted as $550 million to the YPG in 2019.
    • "Our ally's decision to give financial support to the YPG... will surely affect the decisions we will take," Erdogan said.


    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A decision by the United States to continue to fund the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will affect Turkey's future moves, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit this week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    U.S. officials have said that Tillerson expects to have difficult conversations when he visits Turkey on Thursday and Friday, given that the NATO allies have starkly diverging interests in Syria.

    Turkey has been enraged by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Washington has backed the YPG in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

    "Our ally's decision to give financial support to the YPG... will surely affect the decisions we will take," Erdogan said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

    His comments followed the release of the U.S. Department of Defence's 2019 budget, which includes requests for funds to train and equip local forces in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

    The Pentagon requested $300 million for Syrian "train and equip activities" and $250 million for border security requirements, according to a copy of the budget. While it did not specify how much of this, if any, was earmarked for YPG-led forces, Turkish media interpreted that to mean that the Pentagon had allocated $550 million to the YPG in 2019.

    "It will be better for them not to stand with the terrorists they support today. I am calling on the people of the United States, this money is coming out of the budget of the United States, it is coming out of people's pockets."

    Turkey last month launched an incursion into Syria, which it calls "Operation Olive Branch" to sweep the YPG from its southern border. It has also threatened to press on to the Syrian town of Manbij, under the control of a YPG-led force, and has warned American troops stationed there not to get in the way.

    Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message.

    "It is very clear that those who say 'we will respond aggressively if you hit us' have never experienced an Ottoman slap," Erdogan said in parliament.

    That was an apparent reference to comments made by U.S. Lieutenant General Paul Funk during a visit to Manbij.

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    AC 130H_Spectre_jettisons_flares

    • US airstrikes reportedly killed Russian military contractors in a massive battle in Syria earlier this month.
    • They are thought to be among the 100 or so dead after the clash.
    • It saw 500 pro-Syrian regime forces assaulted US-backed forces in what the US called an "unprovoked attack."
    • Russian contractors are not the same as regular Russian soldiers, but US and Russian forces have operated close to each other on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict for years.


    US airstrikes in response to what it called an "unprovoked attack" reportedly killed around 100 people in Syria earlier this month, and now Russian media has reported that Russian military contractors may be among the dead.

    While the Kremlin has declined to comment, and no independent party has yet verified the reports, US and Russian aligned forces have fought on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict and in close proximity for years.

    If the US did kill Russian military contractors, it falls short of killing official Russian servicemembers, which could escalate into a larger war.

    But the loss of Russians in Syria may still blacken the image of the Kremlin's intervention in the six-year civil war, which it portrays as peace-keeping and inexpensive.

    Russian media said Russian private contractors and pro-government forces advanced on oil fields in the eastern Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the United States.

    “Pro-regime forces initiated what appeared to be a coordinated attack on Syrian Democratic Forces east of the Euphrates river,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, referring to the SDF, which the US has trained, equipped, and backed for years.

    US Marines howitzer syria

    The river acts as a border between the coalition and Russian and Syrian forces, and the Pentagon also described the SDF location as well-known, and that therefore the attack wasn't a mistake.

    Syrian regime forces launched a coordinated attack that included about 500 regime troops, 122mm howitzers, tanks and multiple launch rocket systems on the US-backed SDF headquarters in Deir al-Zor province approximately five miles east of the Euphrates River.

    Regime forces operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks fired 20-30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, where some US troops were embedded, according to Pentagon press secretary Dana W. White.

    The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery," according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. 

    The Pentagon said that the attack wounded only one SDF soldier, and that the SDF and US-led coalition's return fire killed around 100 in self-defense. 

    SEE ALSO: US just detailed its plan to kick Assad out of Syria by treating the country like North Korea

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    T72 battle tank russia destroyed

    • A US drone operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday, the Pentagon said.
    • The tank was destroyed nearly week after a Bloomberg report said Russian mercenary forces fired on a position held by US troops and their Syrian rebel allies.
    • No US or SDF forces were killed in either attack, the Pentagon told Business Insider.


    A US drone operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday, a Pentagon representative confirmed to Business Insider on Tuesday.

    "The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisers," US Marine Corps Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said, adding that the SDF's "position was within effective range of the hostile weapons systems."

    The US has been training, equipping, and backing the SDF rebels in Syria's civil war for years as Russia has provided similar assistance to forces loyal to the Syrian government in close proximity.

    Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson first reported the news of the tank's destruction and said three crew members were killed, though their identities and affiliations were unclear. Tomlinson said the tank was destroyed after "pro-regime forces" fired on US special operations troops near the location where 500 pro-government forces attacked a headquarters used by SDF and US troops last week.

    syria map feb 2018

    The US responded to that attack last Wednesday with a furious barrage of air and artillery strikes and reported killing 100 pro-government troops, but sources told Bloomberg on Saturday that as many as 200 or 300 Russian mercenaries were killed in the attack.

    Rankine-Galloway said no US or Syrian rebel forces were killed or hurt in the tank attack, and the Pentagon reported only one SDF member wounded after the attack on Wednesday.

    The US maintains regular contact with the Russian military and has established hotlines to ensure the forces don't come in contact, but reports suggest an increasing presence of Russian contractors in Syria.

    The T-72 battle tank was a 1970s Soviet-era design that has seen heavy upgrades and use in the Syrian theater. The Pentagon reported that T-72s took part in the attack on the SDF headquarters on Wednesday.

    SEE ALSO: A massive battle between US and Syrian pro-regime forces reportedly killed more than 200 Russians

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    t-72 tank us airstrike

    • A US jet operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday.
    • The US military has now released video of the drone strike that took out the tank.


    The US military has released video that it says shows a drone strike destroying a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in Syria.

    The Pentagon told Business Insider on Tuesday that "the tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisors." 

    Other outlets have reported that the "coalition advisors" were US special operations forces which are known to train, equip, and fight alongside the SDF. The Pentagon said no US or SDF forces were killed by the tank.

    Widespread reports suggest Russian military contractors drove the tank and had been behind multiple attacks on the US and its allies in Syria. 

    Bloomberg recently reported that one massive battle saw US airstrikes, rockets, and artillery kill upwards of 200 Russians as they defended an SDF position.

    Watch the video below:

    SEE ALSO: US just detailed its plan to kick Assad out of Syria by treating the country like North Korea

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    Russian military in Syria

    • More than 100 Russian mercenaries reportedly died when trying to attack a US-backed Kurdish position after US personnel called in airstrikes.
    • The attackers were originally labeled as "pro-Assad" fighters, but Bloomberg reports that they may have been Russian mercenaries working for the shadowy private military company known as Wagner.
    • Russian mercenaries have been reported in Syria before. Their deaths are not listed as casualties by the Russian government, meaning the true cost of Russia's intervention could be higher than the official count.


    Bloomberg has reported that last week's attack on US-backed Kurdish fighters by forces aligned with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was actually conducted by Russian mercenaries, and that at least 100 of them died in the failed attack.

    The February 7 attack happened just five miles east of the "de-confliction" line between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Russian-supported Syrian government in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region.

    Some 500 "pro-Assad" fighters attempted to attack an SDF headquarters, but were repelled by American artillery and airstrikes that were called in by US advisers on the ground. Russian nationals were suspected of being part of the attack, but no casualties were reported, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he did not think there were any Russian casualties.

    Russian soldier Syria

    Bloomberg, however, reported that three Russian sources told them the attack was conducted by Russian mercenaries, and that as many as 200 Russian "contract soldiers" died in the attack. 

    Russia has denied that any of its forces were killed or wounded in the attack, but evidence that Russians had died have slowly begun to surface on Russian social media. 

    It is unclear who was paying the mercenaries involved in last week's attack, or what group they were a part of, but reports of a Russian private military company (PMC) by the name of Wagner have surfaced throughout the last few years.

    Reports of Wagner mercenaries in Syria

    This incident is not the first time Russian mercenaries have been reported to be operating in Syria. Stratfor, an American geopolitical intelligence firm, recently reported that Wagner mercenaries had served in Ukraine, Syria, and parts of Africa.

    Last September, two Wagner operators were reportedly taken prisoner by the terrorist group ISIS in Syria's Deir Ezzor region, and in August 2016, Sky News interviewed Russian men who claimed to be mercenaries who fought at the Battle of Palmyra.

    The independent Russian media outlet Fontankapublished an investigation from 2016 that claimed that as many as 2,500 men from Wagner were operating in Syria. They reported that they had a training base in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai region, and that many of the men in the group had fought in Ukraine's Donbas war on the side of the separatists.

    Screen Shot 2018 02 13 at 4.28.28 PM

    Just last week, Igor Girkin, the former defense minister for the self-declared Donetsk Peoples Republic, a separatist region backed by Russia in eastern Ukraine, said Russian mercenaries operating in Syria who died in combat were cremated on sight, so as to hide the true cost of Russia's involvement.

    "'No body, no criminal case' — this Russian investigative principle is being creatively used in the military campaign," Girkin said on the Russian social media website VKontakte. "It is possible to dispose of a considerable number of bodies without anyone noticing. What can I say? There has never been such cynicism in our country."

    Russian mercenaries are reportedly being used for two purposes: to achieve objectives that the poorly trained and equipped Syrian Arab Army are not capable of achieving alone, and to hide the true cost of Russia's involvement in Syria. 

    The tactic is not unheard of. The US employed mercenaries during its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their deaths were not reported in official counts. The US continues to rely on PMCs in active warzones around the world.

    If accurate, the losses sustained last week would make the number of Russian military deaths five times higher than the official count — and that does not even include previous losses sustained by Wagner. 

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    T72 battle tank russia destroyed

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday he could not rule out that there were Russian civilians in Syria, but that they had no connection to the Russian armed forces.

    Associates of Russian military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria's Deir al-Zor province on Feb. 7.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking on a conference call with reporters, said he had no information about any such casualties.

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a Trianon Council meeting (Conseil de coordination du dialogue de Trianon) aiming to strenghten the links between France and Russia at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Febuary 9, 2018.     REUTERS/Ludovic Marin/Pool

    • French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that "France will strike" if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties.
    • Macron admitted he had not yet seen proof that chemical weapons had been used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
    • The vice-president of the Syria Civil Defence, or "White Helmets", volunteer force said France should stop talking and take real action.


    PARIS (Reuters) -President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that "France will strike" if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this was the case.

    Macron said last May that the use of chemical weapons would represent a "red line". In a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday expressed concern over signs that chlorine bombs had been used against civilians in Syria.

    "On chemical weapons, I set a red line and I reaffirm that red line," Macron told reporters. "If we have proven evidence that chemical weapons proscribed in treaties are used, we will strike the place where they are made."

    "Today, our agencies, our armed forces have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population."

    The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.

    Last week was one of the bloodiest in the Syrian conflict as Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded two of the last major rebel areas of Syria - Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and the northwestern province of Idlib.

    Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress toward ending a war now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.

    Syria signed the international treaty banning chemical weapons and allowed monitors to destroy its poison gas arsenal after an agreement reached in 2013 to avert U.S. retaliation for what Washington said was a nerve gas attack near Damascus that killed more than 1000 people. Washington again accused Syria of using nerve gas last year and struck Syrian targets.

    In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the United States have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas, which it possesses legally for uses such as water purification, as a chemical weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.

    France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has struggled to wield influence on Syria. Critics who accuse Macron of inaction say he has not given a clear definition of whether use of chlorine would for him constitute a chemical attack.

    On Tuesday, the vice-president of the Syria Civil Defence, or "White Helmets", volunteer force said France should stop talking and take real action.

    France and the United Nations have repeatedly called in past months for a ceasefire and the opening of aid corridors to alleviate Syria's humanitarian crisis. Russia, Assad's most powerful ally, said last week a ceasefire was not realistic.

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    F 16 Israel Crash

    • Israel lost an F-16 to surface-to-air missiles in an intense air war over Syria, but it has operational F-35 stealth jets specifically designed to defeat air defenses, begging the question: Why not send the F-35s?
    • The F-35 awaits some software updates to bring it to full combat capability, but an F-35 pilot told Business Insider it's up for the job, and it's just a matter of time before it starts.
    • A source with inside knowledge of the F-35 program suggested to Business Insider that if unexplained strikes start happening, we'll know the reason why.


    Israel shot down an Iranian drone with an Apache helicopter and had one of its own F-16s downed by Syrian air defenses in an intense air battle that played out over the weekend. Experts say its a matter of time until the F-35 steps in for its first taste of combat.

    After the loss of the F-16, Israeli jets scrambled within hours and took out half of Syria's air defense network, according to their own assessment.

    But the image of the destroyed Israeli plane will leave a lasting black eye for the Jewish state, and Syria's assistant foreign minister promised Israel's air force "will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria."

    Despite the downed F-16 and Syria's threats, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue to wield his air force against Iranian-backed targets in Syria when he feels they get too close to his borders."We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit," he said.

    So why didn't Israel send F-35 stealth jets? Isreal has spent hundreds of millions on acquiring and supporting the weapons system purpose-built to fight in contested air spaces undetected. Israel declared its F-35s operational in December, 2017.

    Looks like a job for the F-35?

    IAF F 35I and F 16I nf

    Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the F-35 today has a "very immature software set," and that it "doesn't make a huge amount of sense to use them and risk them over enemy airspace" when it can afford so few of them.

    But retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35 squadron commander, thought differently.

    "I'd be very comfortable flying the currently fielded software in combat," Berke, who trained with Israeli pilots at the US Navy's Top Gun school, told Business Insider.

    Berke said the F-35 was "ideal" for the heavily defended airspace over Syria, and also ideally suited for Israel's air force, which he described as finding "innovative, creative, and aggressive ways to maximize the capability of every weapons systems they've ever used."

    "The F-35 will see combat for Israel and it's just a matter of time," Berke said. Bronk and other experts contacted by Business Insider agreed that the F-35's first combat will likely take place in Israeli service, as they lash out against mounting Iranian power in the region.

    Presently, it's not clear that Israel didn't use the F-35. Israel has a long history of pioneering weapons systems and hitting the ground running with new ones. Israel has conducted its air war in Syria very quietly, only publicly acknowledging strikes after its F-16 went down. In March 2017, a French journalist cited French intel reports allegedly saying the F-35 may have already been put to work in Israeli service.

    When the F-35 starts fighting, you'll know

    Pantsir and S 400 in Syria

    But, with or without the F-35, Israel seemed satisfied with its counter attack on Syrian defenses. Bronk cautioned that Israel's claim to have taken out half of the defenses probably only refers to half of the defenses in immediate proximity to its borders, but said they have "many, many tricks developed over decades" for the suppression of enemy air defenses.

    The surface-to-air missiles in Syria's hands "certainly cannot be ignored or taken too lightly," according to Berke, and pose a "legitimate threat" to legacy aircraft like Israel's F-16.

    A source working on stealth aircraft for the US military who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the work would only hint to Business Insider that the F-35 may be gearing up for a fight in Syria, saying "if things unexplained start happening, there's a good explanation."

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    syria army

    • Syrian media says the country's army is preparing an offensive on an eastern Syrian town to fight ISIS, but ISIS isn't there — and the US is.
    • The US has recently been clashing with Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces in eastern Syria, dealing them devastating defeats.
    • It looks like the Syrian army and its backers could be headed for another such defeat. 


    After a massive battle that saw up to 300 pro-government fighters killed at the hands of the US and its local allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, it looks like Syrian President Bashar Assad's military will mount another offensive.

    Pro-Assad Al Masdar reported on Monday that Syria's 5th Legion and several units from Hezbollah are preparing an attack on ISIS near Deir Ezzor, in the country's east. Al Masdar seemed to confirm that the Syrian troops planned to encounter US-backed forces in a subsequent story on Wednesday.

    But Syria's own state-run media said in November that Deir Ezzor had been liberated from ISIS. Western assessments of Syria no longer say the terror group holds territory there.

    syria map feb 2018

    Instead, the US and the SDF hold much of eastern Syria, where the Syrian Army and its Lebanese and Iranian backers will head. Al Masdar announced the offensive would begin in three weeks and move under the cover of Russian airstrikes and with Iranians, who are thought to have 70,000 fighters in Syria.

    Those fighters may well meet the 2,000 or so US troops in Syria, but despite the numerical advantage, pro-regime forces have fared poorly against the US.

    In a battle between pro-government forces and US-backed forces on February 7, 500 Syrian-aligned soldiers launched an attack on a well-known headquarters of the SDF with 122mm howitzers, Russian-made tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems. According to the Pentagon, they only wounded one SDF fighter.

    t-72 tank us airstrike

    The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery," according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. CNN also reported that rocket launchers and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.

    The Pentagon said it had killed 100 pro-regime fighters, but a later report from Bloomberg indicated that as many as 300 Russian military contractors had been killed in the fighting.

    Days later, the Pentagon told Business Insider that a US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank firing towards the SDF and its coalition partners.

    SEE ALSO: It's 'just a matter of time' until Israel's F-35 sees combat in the intense air war heating up over Syria

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