Middle East

Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Friday that Syrian air defense systems responding to Israeli airstrikes may have targeted the civilian jet as it came in to land at Damascus airport.Konashenkov did not name the airline but said an Airbus-320 that took off from Tehran narrowly escaped "the lethal zone of artillery fire" as it prepared to land, before it was diverted to Russia's Khmeimim Air Base, which is southeast of the city of Latakia. Data from FlightRadar24 shows a plane operated by Syria's Cham Wings as the only aircraft flying west toward Damascus at the time. The recorded flight path shows the aircraft turned as it approached Damascus before its transmission signal cut out. The airline could not be immediately contacted.Konashenkov said that Israel had fired eight air-to-surface missiles on Damascus without entering Syrian airspace on Thursday. The Syrian military used missile defense systems to repel the airstrikes, he said.Konashenkov accused Israel of routinely using passenger jets as shields from Syrian air defense systems.The Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry have not commented on Russian claims, nor on the strikes attributed to Israel.Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on Syria, predominantly targeting the transfer of precision-guided missile technology by Iran-backed groups, which are fighting to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia is Assad's most powerful international ally, providing air power and other military support.The incident comes around a month after Iran unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian plane, kiRead More – Source

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Middle East

Syrian government troops entered a strategic town in the country's last rebel stronghold Thursday after fierce clashes with opposition fighters, even as Turkey sent reinforcements seeking to curtail the offensive, Syrian state media reported.

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The push by President Bashar al-Assad's forces into towns and villages in the northwestern Idlib province has caused the displacement of more than a half million people in just over two months, compounding a humanitarian disaster in the region packed with internally displaced people. It has also angered Turkey and risked a military confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops.

The town of Saraqeb, near the Turkish border, has been at the center of intense fighting for days. Opposition fighters pushed out government soldiers who entered it Wednesday, while Turkey sent in new reinforcements Thursday and threatened to use force to compel the Syrian forces to retreat by the end of the month.

The town sits at the intersection of two major highways, one linking the capital Damascus to the north and another connecting the countrys west and east.

State news agency SANA and state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said Syrian army units entered the town before nightfall and were combing it for remaining fighters and explosives.

Siege of town, military posts

The Syrian army had earlier besieged the town and at least four Turkish military posts set up to protect Saraqeb against the advance were also besieged.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war-monitoring group, said army units entered Saraqeb but had not yet taken control.

Video taken by The Associated Press showed rebel fighters lobbing shells at government troops from around the town of Binnish, northwest of Saraqeb. Fighters stacked artillery shells and burned tires.

“Today, we are burning tires for the war thats hitting the town of Binnish," said one unidentified fighter, pledging to defeat anyone who tried to advance on the town. "Let them come here and we will stomp on their head one after another," he added.

The government advance came after a rare confrontation between Turkey's and Syria's forces Monday that killed seven Turkish soldiers and a Turkish civilian member of the military, as well as 13 Syrian soldiers.

In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced that Russian soldiers had been killed in a northern Syrian province alongside Turkish servicemen, without saying when the incident occurred or how many were killed. The ministry blamed “terrorists” for the deaths.

Russia is a main backer of Assad's forces, while Turkey supports insurgents fighting his government.

Syrian troops have been advancing since December into the country's last rebel stronghold, which spans Idlib province and parts of nearby Aleppo. Turkish troops are deployed in some of those rebel-held areas to monitor an earlier cease-fire that has since collapsed.

UN calls for cease-fire

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, called for an urgent and sustained cease-fire, restrictions on support for terrorist groups, “serious exploration of a strengthened international presence with the consent of Syrian authorities,” and a serious effort to tackle the issue of foreign fighters.

“What we are now seeing creates the very real prospect of a bloody and protracted last stand on the Turkish border, with grave consequences for civilians — and the risk of dispersal of foreign terrorist fighters and ongoing insurgency afterward,” he warned at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Britain, France and the United States.

The Syrian offensive to retake the rebel-held areas in the northwest has led to a humanitarian crisis, with more than 580,000 civilians fleeing their homes since the beginning of December, according to the U.N. Many of them have sought safety in areas close to the border with Turkey. At least 53 health facilities have suspended work in the area, according to the World Health Organization.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said the “humanitarian catastrophe” has substantially escalated as shelling and airstrikes on dozens of communities force civilians “to move north and west into the ever-smaller enclave controlled by non-government groups.” That area is now “dramatically overcrowded” and “needs are growing exponentially,” with hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk, in addition to those who have fled since December, he said.

“Time is short. The front-line has now moved to within a few kilometers of Idlib city, the largest urban center in the northwest,” Lowcock said.

Turkey has set up four military posts to prevent Syrian government forces from marching deeper into Idlib, Syria's Foreign Ministry said. It said Turkish troops have “flagrantly violated” Syria's border and deployed in several areas, including the villages of BinniRead More – Source

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Could Iraq be on the brink of civil war? Protesters in Baghdad have expressed outrage after Wednesday's storming of an anti-government rally in the holy city of Najaf by supporters of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. It could be a turning point in the four-month uprising against a power-sharing system demonstrators say has made politicians unaccountable, with corruption and mismanagement unchecked. To find out how it's impacted the movement, FRANCE 24 went to southern Iraq. Senior reporter Cyril Payen, who was there, joins The Debate panel to discuss the future of the movement.

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In northeastern Syria, the Christian community is more threatened than ever. Last October, it found itself caught in the middle of the battle between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Meanwhile, Islamic State group sleeper cells are active in the region and the Christian minority is one of their targets. Our reporters Chris Huby and Matthieu Delmas went to meet a community living in fear of kidnappings and attacks.

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In northeastern Syria, the Christian minority is caught in the crossfire. When Turkey launched Operation "Peace Spring" against Kurdish YPG fighters on the Turkish-Syrian border last October 9, Christians found themselves surrounded by fighting. Turkish forces and their allies took control of a handful of predominantly Christian villages in the Khabur Valley.

Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) group sleeper cells have been reactivated, targeting the Christian minority – whose members they consider heretics – and forcing US troops to take up positions in the villages in late January 2020.

The consequences have been disastrous. While international observers had hoped for the return of CRead More – Source

Middle East

The chief architect of the U.S. blueprint to resolve the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on Thursday blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for soaring tensions and violence in the occupied West Bank since the plan's release last week.

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Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and adviser to President Donald Trump who spent nearly three years working on the plan, said leaders who are ready for a state “dont call for days of rage and encourage their people to pursue violence if theyre not getting what they want.”

He said he thinks Abbas “was surprised with how good the plan was for the Palestinian people, but he locked himself into a position” by rejecting it before it came out.

The Palestinian president is going to different forums and putting forward old talking points when the situation on the ground has changed and “this might be the last chance that they have to actually resolve it in a good way,” Kushner said.

Abbas is scheduled to address the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday and then appear at a news conference with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an opponent of the U.S. plan who was forced to resign a decade ago ahead of a corruption indictment that later sent him to prison for 16 months.

Kushner called Olmerts appearance “almost pathetic.”

Leaders who had their chances and failed should be encouraging other peoples efforts in trying to make peace, “as opposed to trying to grab a headline when youre irrelevant and try … to get involved in a situation to get some attention," Kushner said.

“It comes from a lot of jealousy that they couldnt get it done themselves,” he added.

Meeting with UN Security Council

After briefing the U.N. Security Council at a private lunch at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Kushner told a small group of journalists that the U.S. proposal may be the last chance because the rate of expansion of Israeli settlements may preclude a contiguous Palestinian state.

Right now, Kushner said, “its very, very difficult to have a contiguous state where you can drive from the top to the bottom.”

“If you look at the rate of expansion of Israeli settlements and if you look at the aspirations of the Palestinian people youre about to get to a crossroad where you almost cant come back,” he said.

He said the 180-page plan “was what we got Israel to agree to” and the most constructive thing the Palestinians can do is to sit down with the Israelis and go over it “line by line.”

“If they would like to meet, were happy to do it, but were not going to chase them,” Kushner said.

He called his meeting with the Security Council “very constructive,” with lots of questions. British Ambassador Karen Pierce, reflecting the comments of other members, called it “interesting and productive.”

US plan keeps Israeli settlers in place

The U.S. plan, unveiled by President Donald Trump on Jan. 28, envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel, siding with Israel on key contentious issues including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state and the removal of many of the more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from these areas.

But under terms of the “peace vision" that Kushner oversaw, all Israeli settlers would remain in place, and Israel would retain sovereignty over all of its settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

The proposed Palestinian state would be demilitarized and give Israel overall security control. In addition, the areas of east Jerusalem offered to the Palestinians for a capital consist of poor, crowded neighborhoods located behind a hulking concrete separation barrier.

Kushner, who will continue to oversee the peace plan, said he and his team will follow up with the announcement shortly that a U.S.-Israeli commission is being established to turn its “conceptual map" into a detailed map with the goal of making sure “you can have contiguous territory” for a Palestinian state.

It can take “a couple of months” for technical teams to come up with a map, Kushner said, and during that time he and his team plan to consult with European and MRead More – Source

Middle East

Early Thursday morning, a Palestinian assailant carried out a ramming attack against Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. The soldiers, who were new recruits in the Golani infantry unit, were at the First Station in Jerusalem when the incident happened, the IDF said. The First Station is a popular tourist site near the Old City that's built upon an old train station. One soldier was seriously injured, but his condition is not believed to be life-threatening, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The others sustained minor injuries. "On behalf of all citizens of Israel, I send wishes for a quick recovery to the wounded soldiers," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement. "It is only a question of time — and not much time — until we apprehend the attacker. Terrorism will not defeat us; we will win!"The IDF, working with the Israel Security Agency and the police, are searching for the assailant.Israeli police officers inspect the scene of Thursday's ramming attack in Jerusalem.Hamas praised the ramming attack, calling it a "heroic operation" and hailing it as a "new stage of revolution" against Israel.In the Old City of Jerusalem Thursday afternoon, an attacker opened fire at police officers standing near Lion's Gate, one of the entrances for Muslim worshippers to the al-Aqsa mosque. One border police officer was injured and the attacker was shot and killed, Israeli police said. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem and alleyways leading to the al-Aqsa mosque were closed for a short time after the attack. Palestinians say Trump's deal is racist. But their leaders are bereft of ideas on how to fight it The attacks come amid a series of violent incidents over the last 24 hours in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian factions, including Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, had called for two days of protests following the release of the Trump administration's Middle East plan. The initial wave of protests last week dissipated, but they appear to have returned this week with an increased intensity throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, and Qalqilya."All options are open to our people to defend our rights, and to confront the deal of the century," a spokesman for Hamas said Thursday, referring to Trump's plan. In the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, clashes broke out as the IDF demolished the home of Ahmad Qanba', who was convicted in the January 2018 killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevach.During the unrest, Conricus said a Palestinian sniper had fired on Israeli troops "for the first time in a long time," and was shot dead. They were demolishing Qanba's house because he took part in the shooting and killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, IDF said. Kushner defends conditions for Palestinians to get a state and 'take control of themselves'"Our troops in Jenin were fired upon by what appears was sniper fire, retaliated, and reported that they were able to kill the sniper," Conricus said.The Palestinian Ministry of Health identified the deceased as 19-year-old Yazan Abu Tabikh. Fatah, the governing party in the Palestinian Authority, said he was an officer in the Palestinian security forces.During the exchange of fire in Jenin, a Palestinian police officer was also shot and killed, according to Fatah. Twenty-four-year-old Tareq Badwan was shot in the stomach and died from his injuries Thursday afternoon, according to the Ministry of Health. A video posted on social media by Fatah purports to show Badwan standing at the entrance to his work early Thursday morning when he is suddenly shot and colRead More – Source

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It's a grim endgame in northwest Syria. There are daily killings, sometimes by the dozens, plus up to half a million people displaced as the Russian-backed forces of Bashar al-Assad intensify their offensive against the last rebel-held province. The writing had long been on the wall after Assad agreed to turn Idlib into a giant holding pen for besieged rebels from elsewhere. Is this merely the start of another dark chapter?

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A spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence on Thursday killed three Arabs and wounded a dozen Israeli troops in a rash of attacks and clashes a week after the Trump administration released its long-anticipated Middle East plan.

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In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians, one during violent clashes, according to Israeli authorities. The shootings came hours after a car-ramming in Jerusalem targeted Israeli soldiers and a gunman wounded a policeman in suspected Palestinian attacks.

Long-simmering Palestinian unrest has been stoked by anger at US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, which was embraced by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians when it was announced last week.

The plan would give Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including the disputed holy city of Jerusalem and nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.

At the entrance to Jerusalem's walled Old City, a gunman shot at a border policeman, lightly wounding him, Israeli police said. Police opened fire on the assailant and killed him.

The shooting took place not far from a popular nightlife venue where a few hours earlier, a car rammed into Israeli soldiers who were sight-seeing after basic training.

One soldier was badly injured and another sustained moderate injuries, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said. Twelve others were lightly injured.

Police said they were treating the car-ramming incident, which took place near the Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, as a terrorist attack. The driver was still at large, police said.

"It is just a matter of time – and not much time – until we get our hands on the attacker. Terrorism will not defeat us, we will win," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Israeli troops kill 19-year-old in Jenin

In the West Bank city of Jenin, a 19-year-old man was shot dead by troops while throwing rocks at them, Palestinians said.

Jenin governor Akram Rajoub said the 19-year-old casualty was a student at an academy that trains budding police officers, and was throwing stones at the troops.

An Israeli military spokesman said soldiers came to Jenin to demolish the home of a Palestinian who was involved in the 2018 killing of a Jewish settler. Troops opened fire at Palestinians who shot and threw bombs at them in Jenin, the spokesman said.

Palestinian authorities said another Palestinian man, a police officer, had been killed at a Jenin police station by Israeli gunfire.

Israeli officials did not comment and it was unclear whether that incident was directly linked to the clashes in the West Bank city.

Stone-throwing Palestinian teen killed

On Wednesday, Israeli troops shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian elsewhere in the West Bank, saying he had thrown a fire-bomb at them during a violent protest against Trump's plan. He was the first fatality since the plan was announced.

The Israeli military said that there had been a "violent riot", during which "troops identified a Palestinian who hurled a Molotov cocktail at them".

"The troops responded with fire in order to remove the threat," it added.
Witnesses told AFP news agency that about 15 protesteRead More – Source

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A car ramming at a popular night spot in central Jerusalem that injured 14 people on Thursday is being investigated as a "terror attack," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

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Israel's Magen David emergency medical service said it had "treated and evacuated" 14 people to hospitals following the incident at Jerusalem's First Station, an area that includes several bars and restaurants.

A military spokesperson told AFP that the army was aware of a possible attack perpetrated by someone driving a vehicle in the area and would have more information later on Thursday.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted police as saying that a manhunt was underway for the suspected attacker.

The United Hatzalah medical emergency volunteers said their team had treated "people for injuries at the First Station in Jerusalem.

"Due to the nature of the incident, United Hatzalah's Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit were dispatched to the scene and treated eight people who were suffering from emotional or psychological shock," it said in a statement.

There was no immediate indication as to the motivation of the possible attack, but it comes amid heightened tension between Israel and the Palestinians following the release of US PresidRead More – Source

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A plane skidded off the runway Wednesday as it tried to land in Istanbul, crashing into a field and breaking into pieces. Authorities said at least 52 people were injured, and passengers were seen evacuating through the cracks in the plane.

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Television footage showed serious damage to the plane, with the fuselage appearing to be broken into three pieces at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport. NTV television reported the plane, which belonged to the low-cost airline Pegasus, arrived from the city of Izmir. NTV said it caught fire after skidding but said the blaze had been extinguished.

The airport was shut down and flights were being diverted to Istanbul's main airport.

Istanbul Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said at least 52 people were injured in the accident and have been hospitalized. His office said the plane was carrying 177 people, including six crew members.

Live television footage showed dozens of rescue crew members working around the flood-lit fuselage, including around the cockpit, which had flipped over.

The Transportation Ministry said there had been no deaths in what it called a “rough landing.”

"According to the information we have, there was a rough landing. The accident occurred after (the plane) could not decelerate and rammed into a field from the end of the runway," state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mehmet Cahit Turan as saying.

He added that authorities have had “no contact” yet with the pilots.

According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, the plane is a Boeing 737.

The accident comes a month after another Pegasus plane skidded off the runway in Istanbul at the same airport. There were no deaths orRead More – Source