Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets affiliated with Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent its arch-foe from securing a further foothold along its borders.
Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria have killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, a war monitor said Wednesday.
The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 attacks against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Az Zor to the al-Bukamal desert at the Syrian-Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The raids killed seven Syrian soldiers and 16 non-Syrian militia fighters whose nationalities were not immediately known, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, operate in the region, the Observatory said.
The raids also wounded 28 troops and militiamen, some of them critically.
A senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told The Associated Press that the raids were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States and targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used as a part of the pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that supports Iran’s nuclear program.
The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the attacks but without giving further details.
“At 1:10am [23:10 GMT], the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Al Bukamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source.
“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added.
Local news source DeirEzzor24 said a number of warehouses and sites belonging to pro-Iranian militias were hit in the area.
“They burnt Iranian positions in Deir Ezzor,” said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area.
Routine raids The attacks were the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week.
The last air raids on January 7 were aimed at positions in southern Syria and south of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.
According to Israeli media, the area that came under fire has reportedly been struck by Israel on more than one occasion in recent years as it houses a number of bases used by Iranian-backed groups.
The area is also key to a land corridor for Tehran that links Iran across Iraq and Syria through Lebanon, which Iran uses to smuggle in weapons and rockets, mainly to the Hezbollah armed group.
Iran has members of its own military as well as fighters from a variety of nationalities fighting with militias it supports deployed across Syria.
Israel hit about 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military.
The Israeli army has carried out hundreds of air and missile raids on Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011, singling out Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.
Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive a Covid-19 jab on December 19, ahead of the launch last week of a nationwide innoculation programme.
Israel was set Sunday to begin its third coronavirus lockdown, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism that a “world record” vaccination drive will restore a degree of normality within weeks.
After a sharp rebound in detected infections, Netanyahu’s government announced three days ago that it would re-impose the strict measures that had previously helped limit transmission.
From 5:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, most people will be forced to stay within 1,000 metres of their home.
There are a range of exceptions, including seeking medical care, attending legal proceedings or exercising.
A key difference in Israel’s third lockdown compared to previous versions relates to schools, with more students able to attend classes.
Instead of near total closures, Israel is keeping schools open for children under six, as well as grades one to four and teenagers finishing secondary school in grades 11 and 12.
Israel’s National Council for the Child criticised the decision to close grades five through 10.
“The decision to ignore this age bracket means the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children, only because in theory they can be left at home alone while (their parents) go to work,” NCC head Vered Windman was quoted as saying by the Ma’ariv newspaper.
“But this is precisely the age group that is at a higher risk of developing emotional difficulties, fears and isolation.”
– ‘World record’ –Speaking late Saturday following Shabbat, Netanyahu said Israel was hoping to vaccinate a quarter of its population, or roughly 2.25 million people, against coronavirus within a month.
He said he had spoken with the heads of the companies making vaccines who had voiced confidence that the requisite number of doses could be provided.
Israel’s vaccination targets are of “such a magnitude (they amount to) a world record” pace, the prime minister said.
The premier has political incentives to push an accelerated vaccination campaign.
The fraught coalition government that he formed in May with his former election rival and current defence minister, Benny Gantz, collapsed last week, triggering elections in March — Israel’s fourth vote in two years.
Netanyahu’s election campaign could be hindered by the start of a more intensified phase of his long-awaited corruption trial and the departure of his staunch ally US President Donald Trump from the White House.
Political analysts have said that Netanyahu is hoping a rapid vaccination drive will put Israel’s pandemic-wracked economy on a path to recovery before election day.
The North African country is the third Arab nation this year to normalise ties with the Jewish state under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit.
Prime gMinister Benjamin Netanyahu and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI held a telephone conversation during which the Israeli premier invited the king for a visit, Netanyahu’s office said Friday.
The phone call comes three days after an Israeli delegation signed a US-sponsored normalisation agreement with Morocco in Rabat.
“The leaders congratulated each other over the renewal of ties between the countries, the signing of the joint statement with the US, and the agreements between the two countries,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
“In addition, the processes and mechanisms to implement the agreements were determined,” it added.
During the “warm and friendly” conversation, Netanyahu invited Mohammed VI to visit Israel, the statement from the prime minister’s office added.
A statement from Morocco’s royal cabinet confirmed Friday’s phone conversation but did not mention Netanyahu’s invitation.
King Mohammed VI, the statement said, “recalled the strong and special links between the Jewish community of Moroccan origin and the Moroccan monarchy”.
He also “restated the coherent, steadfast and unchanged position of the kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian issue,” it said.
The Moroccan king also welcome the “reactivation of mechanisms of cooperation” with Israel, it added.
Four bilateral deals were signed Tuesday between Israel and Morocco, centring on direct air links, water management, connecting financial systems and a visa waiver arrangement for diplomats.
Israel and Morocco are also due to reopen diplomatic offices.
Morocco closed its liaison office in Tel Aviv in 2000, at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Morocco has North Africa’s largest Jewish community of about 3,000 people, and Israel is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin.
Mahmoud Abbas calls for international conference early next year to ‘launch a genuine peace process’.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has criticised the recent decision of two Arab countries to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel as a “violation” of a “just and lasting solution under international law”.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, Abbas also called for an international conference early next year to “launch a genuine peace process” in the wake of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain’s recognition of Israel.
“The conference should have full authority to launch a genuine peace process based on international law,” Abbas told the virtual UNGA in a recorded video address from his headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
“It should aim to end the occupation and grant the Palestinian people their freedom and independence in their own state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and settle final-status issues, notably the refugee question,” he said.
The Palestinians have rejected US President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the conflict, which they say overwhelmingly favours Israel, and have officially cut off contact with the United States and Israel. Arguing that Washington is no longer an honest broker, they have called for a multilateral peace process based on UN resolutions and past agreements.
They have also rejected the agreements signed by the UAE and Bahrain on September 15 to normalise ties with Israel, viewing it as a betrayal of the long-standing Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only come in exchange for territorial concessions.
Since the mid-90s, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war.
There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected more than 10 years, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.
Instead, Netanyahu has focused on building ties with Arab, African and Asian countries that have long supported the Palestinian cause. In Israel, the agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with considerable regional influence, is seen as an historic breakthrough that could transform the Middle East.
Israel put on hold its plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank following the deal with the UAE, while saying it still plans to eventually go through with them. The UAE said the agreement removed an immediate threat to the two-state solution and gave the region a window of opportunity.
The Palestinians insist the conflict will not be resolved until they realise their aspirations for independence.
“There can be no peace, no security, no stability, no coexistence in our region without an end to the occupation,” Abbas said.
Office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in Gaza says agreement has been reached to ‘end aggression against our people’.
Hamas, the Palestinian group running the besieged Gaza Strip, has announced it has reached a Qatari-mediated deal to end the latest escalation of violence with Israel.
After talks with Qatari envoy Mohammed el-Emadi, “an understanding was reached to rein in the latest escalation and end [Israeli] aggression against our people”, the office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said on Monday.
There was no immediate comment by Israel.
The Israeli army has carried out attacks on Gaza almost daily since August 6 in what it says is a response to the airborne incendiary devices and, less frequently, rockets launched into southern Israel.
The fire balloons are widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of an informal truce under which Israel committed to easing its 13-year-old crippling blockade in return for calm.
But so far, Israel’s response has been to tighten the blockade.
It has banned Gaza fishermen from going to sea and closed its goods crossing with the territory, prompting the closure of the Palestinian territory’s sole power plant for want of fuel.
What Hamas says about the agreement is that it will stop incendiary balloon launches as well as what it calls its night-time confusion operations where groups go along the fence and throw explosives and cause disruption,” said Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Jerusalem.
“In return, it says that Israel is undertaking to go back to the pre-escalation situation which means allowing fishermen out into the Mediterranean, easing the restriction on goods coming in and also presumably the restoration of fuel supplies to Gaza’s only power station.”
Monday’s announcement came amid a flurry diplomatic activity from Qatar whose envoy delivered the latest tranche of $30m in aid Gaza before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.
Sources close to the Qatari delegation said the Israelis told al-Emadi they were willing to resume fuel deliveries for the power plant and ease their blockade – if there was an end to the fire balloons.
Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar has been a major component of the latest truce first agreed in November 2018 and renewed several times since.
Mediation efforts have grown more urgent in recent days as authorities in Gaza have detected the first cases of local transmission of the coronavirus. Hamas has imposed a lockdown in the coastal enclave, which is home to two million Palestinians.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from expanding its arsenal, but critics view it as a form of collective punishment.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several smaller battles since the closure was imposed.
The restrictions have pushed Gaza’s economy to the brink of collapse, leaving more than half the population unemployed, and years of war and isolation have left the healthcare system ill-equipped to cope with a major outbreak.
The El Al aircraft will carry US and Israeli officials to the United Arab Emirates to cement the ‘normalisation’ deal.
High-level delegations are flying from Israel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the first-ever commercial flight between the Middle Eastern nations to put final touches on a controversial pact establishing open relations.
Top aides to US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on board the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Israel’s flag carrier El Al on Monday.
Flight LY971 is expected to take off at 10:30am and is set to fly over Saudi Arabia after Riyadh agreed to the Israeli request on Sunday – also a first.
The plane carrying the US and Israeli delegations to Abu Dhabi has the word “peace” written on it in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
It is also named after Kiryat Gat, a Jewish settlement built on the remains of two ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages, Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja.
Announced on August 13, the “normalisation” deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalysed largely by shared fears of Iran.
Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defence envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.
Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, Kushner called the UAE-Israel deal a “giant step forward”.
“To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” Kushner said.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, has signalled that it is not ready.
But in what could presage a more relaxed posture by Riyadh, the El Al plane will be allowed to overfly Saudi territory to cut flight time.
On Sunday, Israeli TV channel Kan reported there was Israeli concern that Riyadh may revoke permission to use Saudi airspace at the last moment. If the flight is allowed, it would mark the first time an Israeli commercial plane uses Saudi territory for an overflight. There was no comment from Saudi officials.
‘Soon follow’ O’Brien said on Sunday more Arab and Muslim countries were likely to follow Abu Dhabi’s move.
“We believe that other Arab and Muslim countries will soon follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and normalise relations with Israel,” O’Brien told reporters after talks at Netanyahu’s residence.
He did not name the states, but Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan.
Recent news reports suggested Morocco may also be considering a similar agreement with Israel in exchange for military and economic aid.
However, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani said last week “we refuse any normalisation with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people”.
Palestinians have condemned the UAE’s move as an abandonment of a policy of linking official relations with Israel to the achievement of Palestinian statehood in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to give Trump an election boost.
“They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” she said.
The UAE-Israel agreement hit an immediate speed bump after it was announced, as contradictory comments on the planned Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley were made.
In spite of earlier comments by the UAE and a joint statement by the three countries that indicated the annexation plan would be “suspended”, senior UAE official Omar Ghobash, has admitted his government did not “have any guarantees as such” that Israel would not annex occupied Palestinian territory in the future.
Kushner has said as part of the Israeli-UAE deal that the United States will not consent to Israeli annexation for “some time”.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, cast the annexation plan – already dogged by disagreements within his governing coalition on the proposed timing – as temporarily on hold. But Israeli officials have signalled they want approval from Israel’s main ally – the US – first.
Weapons sales The Israel-UAE accord also faces another problem: a possible sale of stealth F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi that could challenge the Israeli technological edge in the Middle East.
Netanyahu has denied reports the UAE deal hinges on the sale of F-35s to the Emirates, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel’s military advantage.
“This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal,” the Israeli leader said last week.
Ever since the 1960s, the US has guaranteed to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.
The policy was enhanced two years ago with a law that Washington must ensure, when selling weapons to another country in the Middle East, that Israel retains the ability to defend itself if the arms were to fall into the wrong hands.
Israel has already received a first consignment of American F-35s, a fighter also coveted by other Gulf powers.
Yoel Guzansky, a senior analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told AFP there is no doubt of the importance of the F-35s.
“I absolutely think that without the F-35, the possibility of buying it, they [the Emiratis] wouldn’t sign the agreement,” said Guzansky. “This is a big hurdle to the fulfilment of the agreement.”
Guzansky noted before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, the US sold Turkey and Iran sophisticated weaponry, “and now these countries are hostile towards Israel”.
But some analysts say a deal can be struck to the satisfaction of both Israel and the UAE, and ultimately Saudi Arabia, a longtime customer of US armaments.
“Although this is not really public, from what I understand arrangements are being made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” Joshua Teitelbaum, a Gulf specialist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told AFP.
Economic ties On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel. Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.
Netanyahu told reporters abolishing “the anachronistic boycott” opened the door for “unbridled” trade, tourism and investment.
Statements issued by the UAE and Israel on Sunday said the UAE minister of state and Israel’s agriculture minister had spoken by phone and “pledged to collaborate on projects that address food and water security”.
The UAE, a desert state, relies on imports for about 80 percent of its food, and has heavily encouraged investment in agricultural technology and farmland abroad in recent years.
Israel and the UAE say they want to promote trade – especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the UAE – establish direct air links, and boost tourism.