Sunday, October 15, 2017

#Lebanese sources: 'Russia estimates #Netanyahu interested in warlike atmosphere with #Hezbollah'  The Al-Hayat newspaper quoted a Lebanese political source who spoke about statements made by Israel and Hezbollah recently, estimating neither side is particularly interested in war, despite the fact they've been preparing for one since the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War.

The newspaper also quoted Lebanese sources in close contact with Russian leadership, who said fears Israel might start a war were presented to Moscow by senior Lebanese officials.

It was the Russian diplomacy's estimate, those same sources said, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "currently needs to maintain a warlike atmosphere since public disclosure of the dangers inherent to a confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah and amplifying the issue of (Hezbollah) rearmament helps him continue his government's reign, plagued by disagreements as it is, and maintaining minimal unity without actually starting a war."

#ISIS: Islamic State claims triple suicide bombing on Damascus police HQ  The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility on Wednesday for a triple suicide attack on the main police headquarters in Syria’s capital Damascus that killed at least two people.
Two attackers “entered the headquarters building and fought with those inside… then detonated their explosive vests” before a third also blew himself up, it said in a statement released via the Telegram messaging app.
The attack was the second time in a month that suicide attackers have targeted the capital, which has often been insulated from the worst of the violence in the war-torn country.
Two of the suicide bombers detonated their explosives in front of the police HQ on Khaled Bin al-Walid street in central Damascus, the Syrian interior ministry said in a statement carried by state media.
“The terrorist suicide attackers tried to storm the police command headquarters… The guards opened fire on them, forcing them to blow themselves up before they entered the building and achieved their goals,” it added.
Police surrounded a third attacker behind the building who also blew himself up, the statement said.
The interior ministry said two people had been killed and six wounded in the attack, among them two children.
Damascus police chief Mohammed Khairu Ismail told reporters at the scene of the attack that one of the dead was a policeman who tried to stop the bombers.
“One of our forces grabbed one of the suicide bombers and prevented him from entering the building, so he blew himself up, killing the sergeant,” Ismail said.
It was the second time this month that suicide attackers have targeted police in the capital, after at least 17 people were killed in an October 2 attack on a police station in the southern district of Midan.

#ISIS: Islamic State chiefs gather near Israel border, set up training camp  Several senior commanders from Islamic State who recently fled from Iraq and northern Syria are now based in southern Syria, just across the Golan Heights border with Israel, and are training hundreds of new recruits there, an Israeli television report said.
Israel’s Channel 2 said the commanders have made their way to an Islamic State-controlled enclave “close to the border” with Israel. They have set up a training camp to which they have recruited 300 local youths, said the report, which showed footage apparently of the camp and training sessions.
Among the commanders is one of Islamic State’s most notorious recruiters, Abu Hamam Jazrawi, the TV report said.
The commanders are also now running Islamic State internet propaganda campaigns from their new base, in place of the former campaign headquarters in Raqqa, the extremists’ former de facto capital in northwest Syria where the fight to oust them has entered what appear to be its final stages.
The Israeli government has vowed to prevent IS from setting up operations close to the Israeli border. Israel “won’t allow Islamic State figures or other enemy actors, under the cover of the war in Syria, to set up next to our borders,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last November, soon after what was believed to be the first notable clash between IS gunmen and Israeli troops.
The incident involved a short exchange of gunfire between an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group and Israeli soldiers, and ended with an IDF airstrike that killed four militants.
Both the IS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, have been set up on Israel’s borders for years.
Despite a relatively long-lasting “live and let live” relationship with these groups, the IDF has warned of a potential — some say inevitable — conflict with them and has been preparing to respond to cross-border attacks.

Rare private #Israeli dispute  The previous administration has much to answer for with regard to the numerous concessions it made to Iran while negotiating the deal. Nevertheless, it would apparently be a mistake to ignore its officials’ warnings.

On the Israeli side as well, the politicians and the defense professionals differ in their view of the Iran deal, even if here (unusually) the dispute is being conducted in private. The Israel Defense Forces and intelligence agencies are presumably aware of the agreement’s flaws (first and foremost preserving Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and the lack of restrictions on its missile program), but also of the risks that could ensue if America abandons the agreement.

Former Military Intelligence director Amos Yadlin, who currently heads Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, remains close to senior IDF officers, and his public statements often reflect the mood in the General Staff and the intelligence community. In an article published this week, Yadlin and Dr. Avner Golov argue that this isn’t the moment to cancel the nuclear agreement.

Instead, they propose that Israel reach deeper understandings with Washington about a possible exit from the deal if Iran violates it in the future. They also recommend strengthening Israeli-American efforts to block Iranian aid to terrorist and guerrilla organizations and taking steps in the UN Security Council against Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

Some senior Israeli intelligence officials are currently more worried about what’s happening on a nearer Iranian front, in Syria, following the Assad regime’s success in the Syrian civil war. Media attention has focused mainly on Iran’s plans to deploy Shi’ite militias, including Hezbollah, along the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. But Iran is engaged in a much broader and potentially much more dangerous move, which includes plans to build an Iranian-controlled airport near Damascus and a seaport on the Mediterranean coast in Tartus (next to the Russian one), and possibly also to station a larger number of ground troops in Syria.

In addition, Israel is worried that Iran will replenish Syria’s stock of precision missiles, most of which were used up during the civil war, and that it might attempt to deploy advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles in Syria. These are Israel’s new red lines, which Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will spell out over the next two weeks during meetings with his Russian and American counterparts.

According to American media reports over the last few weeks, support is growing in the Pentagon for taking steps against Hezbollah, and even against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which the administration is apparently considering declaring a terrorist organization. Washington seems to be more willing than in the past to step up its intelligence gathering on Hezbollah, and perhaps even to actively intervene against Iranian efforts to arm the Lebanese organization. Mattis, who sees Iran’s growing influence in the region as a more urgent problem than the nuclear issue, may propose steps like these to Trump as an alternative to imposing new sanctions on Iran.

#ISIS: City largely spared  That attack was claimed also by IS, which said three of its fighters armed with guns, grenades and explosives had targeted the station.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s conflict began in March 2011, with anti-government protests.
Damascus has been shaken by several bomb attacks, despite being largely spared from the worst of the violence in the six-year war.
In this month’s incident at Midan, one attacker was able to reach the first floor of the police station before blowing himself up.
The Midan police station itself had previously been targeted in December 2016, when a seven-year-old girl entered the building wearing an explosive belt that was remotely detonated.
Rebel groups have been gradually expelled from territory in the capital they once held, though they maintain a presence in a handful of positions, including the Jobar neighborhood.
They also hold territory in the Eastern Ghouta region outside the capital, and have regularly launched rockets into the city.
A deal worked out between regime allies Russia and Iran with rebel backer Turkey earlier this year has implemented so-called “de-escalation zones” in several parts of the country, including Eastern Ghouta, bringing a measure of relative calm.
But the fight against IS is continuing, with government troops and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, leading separate offensives against the jihadists in the north and east Syria.

#Hezbollah Still Pursuing ‘Destruction of #Israel,’ Top US Congressman Warns at #Iranian Threat Hearing  The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a stark reminder on Wednesday that Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shia terrorist organization backed by Iran — is “well positioning itself to intensify its original mission: the destruction of Israel.”
Delivering introductory remarks at a committee hearing on “confronting the full range of Iranian threats,” Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) said Hezbollah was now “ascendant in Lebanon,” with “thousands of fighters in Syria” as well.
“This terrorist organization is building a deadly rocket arsenal, ready to rain terror on the Jewish state,” Royce continued. “I was in Israel during the 2006 Hezbollah rocket campaign. Its capabilities then, quite substantial, are far more concerning today.”
“This is a powder keg,” Royce warned.
Iran has used its military intervention on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to construct missile factories in both Syria and Lebanon. Over the last year, Israeli intelligence officials have reported that the Tehran regime is supplying Hezbollah with ever more sophisticated precision technology for its missiles aimed at the Jewish state. Israel estimates that Hezbollah currently possesses around 150,000 missiles — ten times more than in 2006, when the terrorist group last unleashed its firepower on Israel’s northern population centers.
Royce added that it was imperative for the US to “urge our allies in Europe to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and provide the administration with additional tools to go after this Iranian proxy — as we voted to do last week.”
On October 5, the US Senate passed the Hezbollah International Financing Act, which sanctions individuals and organizations involved with the group and its satellite institutions, such as its broadcaster Al-Manar.
Royce’s comments on Wednesday followed a statement made the previous day by National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, who said, “We in the intelligence community do in fact see continued activity on behalf of Hezbollah here inside the homeland.”
Rasmussen cited the arrest of two alleged Hezbollah agents — Ali Kourani and Samir el-Debek — in New York last June as evidence of increasing Hezbollah activity within the borders of the US. “It’s our assessment that Hezbollah is determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook,” he said.
Founded in 1985 as an amalgamation of Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Shia terrorist groups, Hezbollah has consistently promoted the destruction of Israel as its primary goal. The group’s 2009 manifestohailed “the beginning of hastening historic demise of the Zionist entity,” adding that by its very existence, Israel “embodies an eternal threat to Lebanon.”

#Yemen's cholera outbreak now the worst in history as millionth case looms  The cholera epidemic in Yemen has become the largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history, with a million cases expected by the end of the year and at least 600,000 children likely to be affected.

The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of the disease in Yemen and 2,156 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily, more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all cases.
The spread of the outbreak, which has quickly surpassed Haiti as the biggest since modern records began in 1949, has been exacerbated by hunger and malnutrition. While there were 815,000 cases of cholera in Haiti between 2010 and 2017, Yemen has exceeded that number in just six months.
Save the Children has warned that, at the current rate of infection, the number of cases will reach seven figures before the turn of the year, 60% of which will be among children. In July, the International Committee of the Red Crosspredicted there would be 600,000 suspected cholera cases in the country by the end of the year.
Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, said an outbreak of this scale and speed is “what you get when a country is brought to its knees by conflict, when a healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, when its children are starving, and when its people are blocked from getting the medical treatment they need”.
Kirolos said: “There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation. All parties to the conflict must take responsibility for the health emergency we find ourselves in.”
More than two years of fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels has crippled the country, causing widespread internal displacement, the collapse of the public health system, and leaving millions on the brink of famine.
The crisis was exacerbated when sanitation workerswhose salaries had gone unpaid went on strike. This meant garbage was left on the streets, which was then washed into the water supply. It is estimated that 19.3 million Yemenis – more than two-thirds of the population – do not have access to clean water and sanitation.
The government stopped funding the public health department in 2016, meaning many doctors and hospital staff have not received salaries for more than a year. Healthcare has since been provided mainly by international organisations, the efforts of whom have been hampered by the conflict.
The spread of the disease has nonetheless slowed. At the beginning of the most recent outbreak, in May this year, between 5,000 and 6,000 new cases were detected daily. That rate has since dropped to just under 4,000 a day. The mortality rate has also declined, from 1% at the beginning of the outbreak to 0.26% now.
“Whatever decline we’re seeing now is due to the heroic efforts of workers at the scene,” said Sherin Varkey, the officiating representative of Unicef Yemen.
Varkey said the situation would not be solved until there was peace in the country.
“There are no signals that give us any reason for optimism. We know that both parties to the conflict are continuing with their blatant disregard of the rights of children,” he said. “We’re at a cliff and we’re staring down and it is bottomless. There seems to be no hope.”
Cholera should be easily treatable with oral rehydration salts and access to clean water. But Mariam Aldogani, Save the Children’s health adviser for the city of Hodeidah, said conditions in the country had made this very difficult.
Aldogani said: “All the NGOs are trying to increase the knowledge of how to prevent the disease, because it’s preventable, you have to boil the water. But if you don’t have money to buy gas, and you have to walk a long way to get the wood, how can you boil the water?”
Aldogani, who has been a doctor since 2006, said witnessing the suffering of her patients was deeply painful. “I saw one young man, he had cholera and severe dehydration. He was in a coma and he died in front of his mother. We tried our best, but he came too late and she was crying, and I cried. It makes me angry. When I see a mother lose her baby, especially a stillbirth, she waits for this baby for a long time and then she loses it because of cholera, it makes me so angry.
“The war is a big problem for us, it’s a wound. But with the cholera, you have the wound and you put salt in the wound. It hurts. I hope this war can be stopped. We need peace for the children of Yemen. Our situation before the war was not good, but it was not like this.”
  • This article was amended on 13 October 2017. A previous version said Mariam Aldogani had been a doctor since 2010, she has been a doctor since 2006 and joined Save the Children in 2010