Monthly Archives: March 2016

9,000 sorties, 400 localities freed: What Russia has achieved during its 5-month Syria operation

As Russia’s Vladimir Putin announced the start of the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has reported the anti-terror operation’s achievements to the Commander-in-Chief.

“Backed by our aviation, Syrian forces have freed 400 populated areas and over 10,000 square kilometers [3,860 square miles] of territories,” Shoigu said during a Kremlin meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Terrorists have been forced out from Latakia and Aleppo, and Palmyra has been “blocked,” the military official reported to Putin, saying that military actions to free the UNESCO heritage site from militants continue. Hama and Homs Provinces in central Syria have been largely mopped up, and Kuweires airbase that had been besieged by terrorists for over three years was retaken.

Saying that Russia’s Air Force in Syria has conducted more than 9,000 sorties starting from September 30, 2015, the Defense Minister added that for the first time massive strikes at a range over 1,500 kilometers [930 miles] with both air and ship-launched missiles have been conducted.

With Russia’s support from the air, the Syrian army managed to retake control of oil and gas fields near Palmyra.

Three large fields have already started functioning in normal mode, the minister added.

In all, 209 oil production facilities and almost 3,000 oil delivery vehicles have been destroyed by Russia’s airstrikes.

“As a result of airstrikes, terrorists’ resources’ provision has been largely cut,” Shoigu told Putin, saying that petroleum trade routes with Turkey, as well as main routes of weapons provisions to terrorists have been blocked

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Putin orders surprise Syria withdrawal – Beginning Tuesday

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In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the “main part” of its forces in Syria from Tuesday.

He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives.

The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose office said in a statement he had agreed to the move.

The pullout was “in accordance with the situation on the ground”, the statement said.

Russia began its campaign of air strikes in Syria last September, tipping the balance in favour of the Syrian government and allowing it to recapture territory from rebels.

Telephone conversation with President of Syria Bashar al-Assad • President of Russia

The two presidents discussed the implementation of the joint statement by Russia and the United States, in their capacity as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, on cessation of hostilities in Syria. They share the view that the ceasefire has made possible a dramatic reduction in the bloodshed in the country and improved the humanitarian situation. It has also made it possible to put in place conditions for starting a peace process under UN aegis.

The two leaders noted that the operations conducted by Russia’s Aerospace Forces have brought about a real turnabout in the fight against the terrorists in Syria, throwing their infrastructure into disarray and causing them substantial damage.

In this context, Mr Putin said that Russia’s Armed Forces have fulfilled their main mission in Syria and a timetable for the withdrawal of the Aerospace Forces’ main air grouping has been agreed. Russia will maintain an aviation support centre in Syria in order to monitor compliance with the ceasefire.

The President of Syria noted the professionalism, courage and heroism of the Russian service personnel who took part in the military operations, and expressed his profound gratitude to Russia for providing such substantial help in fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance to the civilian population.

Mr al-Assad said that he is ready to help organise a political settlement in the country as soon as possible. The two presidents expressed the hope that the full-format talks between Syrian Government officials and opposition representatives under UN aegis in Geneva will produce concrete results.

Source:  • President of Russia

IDF: Hamas Militants Fighting with ISIS in Sinai

Militants from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas are fighting alongside the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, while ISIS fighters are continuing to receive treatment in Gaza hospitals, a senior IDF official told Palestinian media.

Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, specifically cited a Salafi militant named Mahmoud Z. who has allegedly been coordinating between the two Islamist groups, as well as Ibrahim Abu Qureia, an ISIS fighter who recently received medical care in Gaza.

Mordechai added that Hamas has been seeking to exploit the Erez crossing on the Israeli border for terrorist activities, and warned that continuing those attempts would negatively impact Israel’s good-faith efforts to help with Gaza’s reconstruction.

Israeli security officials told Ynet on Saturday that Hamas had permitted Salafi leaders from Gaza to travel to Sinai, where the local ISIS affiliate is fighting against the Egyptian military. At least two men—Hamas militant Mohammed Sami Gint and Mahmoud Nimr Abdel Latif Zagrah—left Gaza to fight with ISIS, they claimed. Their comments were made the same day Hamas leaders traveled to Egypt in an effort to repair ties with Cairo, which have deteriorated in recent years.

Egyptian security officials were quoted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot as saying that Hamas was building 3-mile-long “mega-tunnels” into the Sinai. Egypt has been aggressively destroying Hamas tunnels that breach into its territory, and its intelligence service has echoed the Israeli assessment that Hamas is involved in arms smuggling with ISIS-Sinai Province.

Mordechai told the Arabic news site Elaph in February that the same tunnel network that Hamas uses to smuggle arms and explosives into Gaza serves as a crossing for ISIS fighters, which Hamas is treating in exchange for money and weapons. Israeli sources familiar with the situation told Elaph that Israel is keeping Egypt informed of ISIS’s movements in the Sinai and of the group’s relationship with Hamas, and has provided the Egyptian military with aerial photographs of tunnel openings along the Sinai-Gaza border.

Ynet reported in December that Hamas has been funding ISIS-Sinai Province with tens of thousands of dollars per month in weapons sales, and that the IDF was intensifying efforts to collect information on the group after it issued several threats against Israel. ISIS-Sinai Province is believed to have thousands of jihadists in its ranks and receive millions of dollars in aid from funders abroad, giving it the capacity to attack Egyptian targets on a daily basis.

According to Egyptian authorities, Hamas’ logistical support and training was key in facilitating the rise of ISIS-Sinai Province. The ISIS affiliate’s leader, Shadi al-Menei, reportedly met with top Hamas leaders in December in an effort to bolster their coordination.

Al-Menei’s forces carried out a major attack in July against Egyptian troops in the northern Sinai, killing over a dozen. The group also claimed responsibility for striking an Egyptian naval vessel that same month, as well as for rockets fired into Israel’s southern region. An Israeli general confirmed at the time that Hamas was assisting ISIS-Sinai Province through arms smuggling and other means.

Times of Israel journalist Avi Issacharoff similarly characterized the relationship between the groups as one of “close cooperation,” adding that Hamas launched surveillance drones to track Egyptian troop movements near smuggling routes between Gaza and the Sinai. “These routes are vital to Hamas on one side of the border, and Islamic State on the other,” he explained.

The widening coordination between the terrorist organizations echoes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation in his 2014 speech to the United Nations General Assembly that “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

Arik Agassi wrote in The Tower Magazine in January that ISIS-Sinai Province “has become one of the most powerful, dangerous, and effective in the region,” largely due to Iranian support via its proxy, Hamas.

The Iran-Hamas-ISIS axis is part of Iran’s strategy of using proxy forces against U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel as part of a larger strategy to achieve hegemony over the Middle East. This has resulted in one of the region’s best kept secrets: An intensive cooperation mechanism between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS, based on money, weapons, military equipment, and training.

Iran’s foreign policy goal of hegemony over the Middle East is based on its primary ideological pillar – exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries using terrorism and political subversion. In pursuing its ambitions, Iran has often put aside its religious differences with radical Sunni groups like ISIS and Hamas. The Islamic Republic is more than willing to cooperate with these groups as long as doing so helps promote its larger interests.

“By directly supporting Hamas in Gaza and indirectly supporting ISIS in the Sinai, Iran is able to gain foothold against Israel and Egypt to destabilize them, undermine America’s regional influence, create another Iranian power base in a Sunni-dominated region, and project its power and influence in its pursuit of regional hegemony,” Major (res.) Dan Feferman, a former senior IDF intelligence officer and Iran specialist, told the Tower. When asked why Iran would indirectly fund a serious rival such as ISIS, Feferman said that Lebanon, Iraq, and especially Syria are more important to Iran than the Sinai, as Iran wants to preserve its influence in states affected by the Syrian civil war – so Iran fights ISIS in those counties. In places where Iran does not have a strong influence, such as Egypt, it feels comfortable supporting ISIS, albeit indirectly.

Egypt prepares to share Giulio Regeni murder investigation files with Italian side

The body of Regeni was found with signs of torture on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo early in February, nine days after he disappeared

 

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Egypt’s prosecution has sent the results of its investigations into slain Italian student Giulio Regeni to the office of the Ministry of International Cooperation, ahead of presenting these findings to the Italian side, a judicial source said Friday.

The body of Regeni, a PhD student who was conducting research on independent trade union movements in Egypt, was found with signs of torture on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo early in February, nine days after he disappeared on 25 January.

The culprit is yet to be identified.

The documents include statements made by his friends in Egypt as well as statements from the last person Giulio spoke with before his disappearance on 25 January.

It also includes a call log, acquired from the telecommunications company, a list of places he used to frequent, and people who used to visit his house or meet him outside.

The source added that the prosecution is willing to share all the case information with the Italian investigation team.

 

Intra-Syrian Talks in Geneva Likely to Continue Until March 19 – Source

An informed source at the talks told Sputnik that the current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday.

The current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday, March 19, an informed source at the talks told Sputnik on Sunday.

“Most likely, this round of Intra-Syrian talks won’t go beyond Friday, March 19, ” the source said.

A new round of talks between the Syrian opposition and the country’s government is scheduled to start on Monday, and is expected to be over by March 24.

 

Combat Missiles Heading to US Found in Passenger Aircraft in Serbia

Serbian authorities have started an investigation into reports that two air-to-surface missiles, presumably destined for the US, were found in a passenger aircraft.

According to Serbian news agency Tanjug, Air Serbia, the largest air Serbian carrier, has confirmed that an undisclosed “package” was discovered by a sniffer dog aboard a passenger aircraft, “thanks to the strict measures of security control”.

“We confirm that a package that headed towards a remote destination was found earlier this day in Belgrade airport, thanks to the strict measures of security control… The air carried assists investigation, security and reliability — are Air Serbia’s top priorities,” Tanjug cites.

Earlier in the day, Serbian media reported two combat missiles, each 1.5m long were discovered aboard the aircraft in Belgrade Nikola Tesla airport. The missiles were reportedly packaged in a wooden case and provided with documents that listed Portland, Oregon as its destination.

The missiles are presumably AGM-114 Hellfire, a universal precision missile that can be fired from ground, maritime or air platform, including predator strike drones. Each missile costs $110,000 and is capable of covering up to 8 kilometers at a speed of 1.3 Mach.

 

 

Turkey blocks Facebook, Twitter following deadly Ankara blast – reports

Turkish authorities banned Twitter and Facebook after images spread on social media depicting the suicide car bombing that killed and injured dozens in the Turkish capital of Ankara, local broadcasters reported.

Turkey’s telecommunications authority, TIB, blocked access to social media after a court-ordered ban was imposed, Turkish NTV and CNN Turk reported.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, and a number of other sites has been blocked because images showing victims of the tragedy were being shared on those platforms, according to the court.

Difficulty in accessing the sites has been reported by users.Broadcast media has also allegedly been banned from covering certain aspects of the attack. A journalist from Today’s Zaman, a sister publication of the newspaper Zaman that was recently taken over by the government, said “a ban on networks for coverage of explosion in Ankara” had been issued.The blast rocked the crowded center of the Turkish capital on Sunday evening, killing at least 34 people and injuring 125. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

 

Car bombing rocks Turkish capital Ankara, 34 dead, 125 injured

A blast caused by a suicide car bombing hit the center of Ankara on Sunday evening. The explosion resulted in over a hundred casualties.

At least 34 people were killed and 125 injured in the explosion, according to the Turkish health ministry, as cited by Sputnik news agency.

The blast occurred near Guven Park in the city center.

The suicide car bomb went off at 6:43 pm local time (16:43 GMT), Turkish broadcaster TRT said.

The site of the blast is close to a courthouse and buildings housing the country’s justice and interior ministries.What appears to be CCTV cam footage was posted on YouTube that allegedly shows the moment of the explosion. A couple of buses can be seen in the video, before a passing by car slows down near them and a huge blast is seen.

Turkish authorities have announced that they will release the name of the group responsible for the deadly blast and the results of the probe into the bombing on Monday. “I believe the investigation will be concluded tomorrow and the findings will be announced,” Efkan Ala said in comments broadcast live on local TV, as quoted by Reuters.

The blast was caused by “explosive-laden vehicle,” according to Reuters citing Ankara governor’s office.

The blast appears to have been triggered by a car exploding near a bus stop, TRT said. Guven Park adjoins a major transportation hub.

It’s a car bomb, [it happened] in the heart of Ankara… and today is Sunday, many people may be outside,” Turkish journalist Onur Burcak Belli told RT by phone, adding that the scene of the blast is “very close to a shopping mall” and that “many cars are on fire and apparently a public bus is also on fire.”

I was nearby when I heard the explosion, and there were casualties all around… the numbers of dead are increasing,” an eyewitness told RT by phone, adding that “the explosion was actually bigger than the last one in Ankara.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

A security official said that initial findings suggest the attack was carried out by Kurdish PKK fighters or a group affiliated with them, Reuters reported.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has issued a statement condemning the attack, saying it shares “the huge pain felt along with our citizens,” AP reported. The party has been previously accused of not speaking out against PKK violence.

Images allegedly showing the aftermath of the explosion emerged on social media. A huge fire could be seen in some of them.

A large cloud of smoke rising into the dark could also be seen from the distance.

Numerous loud sirens could be heard in a Periscope transmission from the scene, in which people can be seen running by, with some screaming.

In February, 28 people were killed and 61 injured in a blast in Ankara, when a car bomb, reportedly targeting military personnel, went off close to the parliament building. Forces linked to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia were accused of committing that terrorist attack by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

A splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), later claimed responsibility, saying the bombing had been in retaliation for Turkey’s military operation in the country’s southeast and vowing to continue its attacks.

 

‘Super Sunday’ Regional Elections in Germany to Test Merkel’s Coalition

Three German regions will vote on Sunday in parliamentary elections that are widely seen as a test for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling coalition ahead of the next year’s general election.

A total of 13 million voters will cast their ballots in the western states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as in Saxony-Anhalt in the east. The “Super Sunday” will take place in an atmosphere of concern over Merkel’s open-arms policy on refugees.

The arrival of over a million of migrants at the German border last year looks likely to make it a single-issue election and cost the Conservatives and their coalition partners in the Social Democratic camp votes, the recent opinion polls have shown.

The upcoming vote will be the first opportunity for Germans to deliver their verdict on how the government has been handling the migrant crisis since the chancellor threw the doors open to war refugees coming to Europe from Syria last summer.

The fiercely anti-EU, anti-migrant Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party has meanwhile been making gains all across the country. The populist party has seats in five of the 16 regional legislatures and looks set to grab more in the three regions, where it can win between 10-18 percent of votes.