June 4, 2013
Russia’s Putin says S-300 missiles not yet sent to Syria
President Vladimir Putin defended on Tuesday Russia’s right to sell arms to the Syrian government but said Moscow had not yet delivered advanced S-300 air defense systems to Damascus.
Although Western governments have criticized Russia for planning to send the missile systems to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Putin told a news conference the contracts were legal and were not intended to upset the military balance.
He also praised the S-300 missiles system as one of the best in the world but added: “The contract was signed several years ago. It has not been fulfilled yet.”
France says tests confirm sarin gas used in Syria
PARIS (AP) — France’s foreign minister says tests have confirmed that sarin gas has been used multiple times in Syria.
In a statement Tuesday, Laurent Fabius said samples taken from Syria and tested by a laboratory in France “prove the presence of sarin in the samples in our possession.”
Fabius says France “now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way.”
APNewsBreak: Iran’s Reactor Said Damaged by Quakes
Several countries monitoring Iran’s nuclear program have picked up information that the country’s only power-producing nuclear reactor was damaged by one or more of several recent earthquakes, with long cracks appearing in at least one section of the structure, two diplomats said Tuesday.
Iran is under U.N. sanctions for refusing to stop nuclear programs that could be used to make weapons, even as it insists it has no such plans.
Russia Stations Advanced Missiles in Armenia
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia has deployed in Armenia state-of-the-art ballistic missiles capable of striking targets more than 400 kilometers away, according to a source in the Armenian Defense Ministry.
Speaking on the condition anonymity, the source told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) over the weekend that several Iskander-M systems are currently stationed at undisclosed locations in the country. The source declined to clarify whether they were delivered to the Armenian armed forces or the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri.
Russian campaigner says Putin’s policy on Syria is all about oil
Russia’s staunch backing of ally Syria can be pinned squarely on President Vladimir Putin’s need to buttress oil prices in order to protect his own regime, ardent Kremlin opponent Garry Kasparov said Tuesday.
The former chess king turned political campaigner said Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be seen through the domestic Russian prism, rather than as a need to maintain the alliance with Damascus or spar diplomatically with the West.
Putin warns of “organ eating” Syrian rebels
Russian President Vladimir Putin, known for his black humor, on Tuesday said he hoped that Syria’s opposition will not send organ-eating rebels to proposed peace talks.
Speaking to an EU-Russia summit, Putin described seeing televised footage in which “members of the Syrian armed opposition pull out internal organs of their enemies and eat them.”
He seemed to be referring to a video uploaded to YouTube in May which showed a rebel apparently cutting out and eating the heart of a Damascus regime soldier.
Meqdad Says Hizbullah Fighters Set to Storm Aleppo
Free Syrian Army’s Political and Media Coordinator Louay Meqdad revealed on Tuesday that there are currently around 4,000 Hizbullah members fighting alongside the Syrian regime in Aleppo.
The pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted Meqdad as saying that the fighters are deployed in the Academy of Military Engineering near the province of Aleppo.
He pointed out that the fighters are getting ready to storm the province, which the opposition controls more than half of it.
Sabra Urges Berri to Open ‘Humanitarian Corridors’ in Qusayr: Delaying Aid Leads to Massacre
Caretaker leader of the Syrian National Coalition George Sabra on Tuesday urged Speaker Nabih Berri to open “humanitarian corridors” to evacuate the wounded in the neighboring country’s border town of a-Qusayr.
“There are more than 1000 wounded persons in al-Qusayr, 400 of them are in critical conditions, and we do not have enough support in the town to heal these people,” Sabra explained in a videotaped speech posted online.
Kabbara Gives 48-Hour Ultimatum for State to End Battles in Tripoli
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara gave on Tuesday a 48-hour ultimatum for the state to control the situation in the northern city of Tripoli.
“The residents of the city will have to defend themselves if the battles continued,” Kabbara said after heading a meeting for the National Islamic Gathering.
The lawmaker accused President Michel Suleiman, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati and Army Commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji of cooperating with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Hariri Denounces Clashes in Tripoli, Calls on Army to Assume Responsibilities
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the army to assume its responsibilities and safeguard the northern city of Tripoli, expressing fear that a “wicked” plot is targeting the city and its residents.
“We completely reject the incidents in Tripoli,” Hariri said in a statement issued late on Monday.
He called on the army and the security institutions to control the situation and prevent those “who are assaulting the dignity and safety of the citizens and implementing foreign orders” that aim at destabilizing the country from carrying out their plot.
SANA: Rebels Pushed Out of Damascus Suburb
Syrian government forces have pushed rebels battling to topple President Bashar Assad out of a key district on the edge of Damascus, the country’s state news agency reported Tuesday.
If confirmed, the regime’s latest gain would bolster the defenses of the Syrian capital and further shift the balance of power Assad’s way in the civil war.
In the past two months, the Syrian army has moved steadily against rebels in key battleground areas, making strategic advances near the border with Lebanon and considerably lowering the threat to Damascus, the seat of Assad’s government.
Evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria attacks reaches UN
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report that both sides were deliberating breaking the rules of war against millions of victims.
“War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria,” the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report delivered to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, adding it had “reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons.
Shelling kills civilian near Russian embassy in Damascus
Shellfire near the Russian embassy in Damascus killed a civilian and wounded a member of the security forces on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
“It was recorded that five shells hit the Al-Adwi area of Damascus,” the Britain-based watchdog said.
“Some of them struck near the Russian embassy, where sources reported one civilian was killed and one member of the regime forces was wounded.”
Two Hezbollah fighters including commander killed in Damascus clashes
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Hezbollah in the Damascus suburb of Madhamiya on Monday have killed two members from the Lebanese Shi’ite militia group, one of them being a field commander, activists said.
The Syrian government troops backed by hundreds of fighters from Hezbollah attempted to infiltrate Madhamiya, activists added.
U.N. panel reports ‘new levels of brutality’ in Syria conflict
United Nations human rights investigators said on Tuesday the Syrian regime has been using civilians as “human shields,” adding that they had reasonable ground to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in the conflict.
“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality”, the 29-page report said, according to Reuters news agency. “War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace.”
UN concerned over border restrictions on Syrians
Syrians trying to flee their conflict-ravaged homeland are facing growing difficulties as they try to get to neighboring Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, the UN’s refugee agency warned Tuesday.
“We call on all parties in the conflict to enable people to leave, and on countries in the region to keep their borders open,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AFP.
Fleming declined to say who was to blame for the border restrictions, which reports on the ground suggest are due to fighting and checkpoints in Syria, as well as beefed up controls on the other side of the line.
Raad Says Qusayr Rebels Wanted to ‘Attack Resistance from Behind’
Hizbullah on Tuesday accused the Syrian opposition of seizing control of the Syrian town of Qusayr with the aim of “attacking the resistance from behind its back.”
“The thing that is immunizing and strengthening the resistance is the harmony among all the political forces that have embraced the path of resistance, and this is what’s bothering the other partners in the country, who have been trying to drive a wedge or stir discord in order to infiltrate through and achieve their plot,” head of Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad said.
Battle for Damascus is over. Is Israel intelligence slow on Syrian war?
When Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon informed a Knesset panel Monday, June 3 that Syrian rebels still occupied four Damascus districts, debkafile’s intelligence sources reported the battle for the Syrian capital was all but over. Barring small pockets of resistance, Bashar Assad’s army had virtually regained control of the city in an epic victory. Senior IDF officers criticized the defense minister’s briefing on Syria Monday to a Knesset panel as drawing on flawed intelligence which, they feared, must lead to faulty decision-making.
Russia Reiterates Iran’s Participation in Upcoming Geneva II Conference
TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Russian foreign ministry official once again underlined that Iran should take part in the upcoming Geneva II Conference.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Moscow and Washington are still divided over Tehran’s participation in the conference slated for June.
Nevertheless, the Russian Foreign Ministry believes that the event would not be successful if Iran were not invited, Ryabkov said.
Defense minister confirms field hospital operating on Syria border
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in a wide-ranging presentation to a Knesset defense oversight committee, confirmed on Monday that Israel is operating a field hospital on the Syrian border and transferring severely wounded Syrian nationals to Israeli hospitals for treatment.
“Our policy is to help in humanitarian cases, and to that end we are operating a field hospital along the Syrian border,” Ya’alon told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “In cases where there are badly wounded, we transfer them to Israeli hospitals. We have no intention of opening refugee camps.”
US spills Israeli missile defense secrets
The US government has publicized classified information detailing the location, design and specifications of a launch site to be built from this summer for Israel’s new Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system. The details, apparently spilled in error, appear to include highly sensitive information relevant to the struggle against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The material specifies, for instance, that the launch site must be completed by the end of next year, by which time, it says, Israel expects to have the Arrow 3 — a missile defense system crucial to Israel’s plans for countering an Iranian nuclear threat — operational.
Ban Alarmed by Intensity of Violence in Lebanon
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed alarm over the recent deterioration in the security situation in Lebanon.
“The Secretary-General is alarmed by developments in Lebanon, the spill-over effect from Syria,” his spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters at the U.N. headquarters on Monday.
He said U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly had expressed concern last week on the spillover.
Powers set to press Iran on nuclear inquiry: diplomats
(Reuters) – China and Russia are expected to join four Western powers in voicing deep concern about Iran’s atomic activities this week and pressing it to cooperate with a stalled inquiry by the U.N. nuclear agency, diplomats said on Tuesday.
A draft statement by the six powers, expected to be delivered during a June 3-7 meeting of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says it is essential and urgent for Iran to engage with the IAEA.
Iran not after nuclear bomb, says presidential contender Velayati
Ali Akbar Velayati, a conservative presidential contender, reiterated that the Islamic republic is not seeking nuclear weapons that he said are banned by the Islamic religion, in an exclusive interview with AFP.
Iran’s controversial nuclear program has for years been a point of contention between the Islamic republic and the P5+1 countries, the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, who suspect the drive is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
No concessions to West, Iran’s Khamenei tells candidates
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Tuesday that the country’s next president should avoid making “concessions” to the west, saying this would not diffuse tensions over Tehran’s nuclear drive.
Khamenei is the ultimate decision maker in Iran and has the final say on all key issues, including its controversial nuclear program, a major source of concern in the West over suspicions the Islamic republic is using it to develop weapons.
U.S. blacklists ‘front companies’ of Iran’s leaders
The United States identified and blacklisted Tuesday what it called a “major network of front companies” serving Iran’s leadership.
It said the 37 companies under The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order both pull in money from state business for the leaders and work to circumvent international sanctions on the regime.
“EIKO and its subsidiaries — one that manages and controls EIKO’s international front companies, and another that manages billions of dollars in investments — work on behalf of the Iranian Government and operate in various sectors of the Iranian economy and around the world, generating billions of dollars in profits for the Iranian regime each year,” the U.S. Treasury said.
Turkish government offers conciliatory moves as thousands return to protest in Taksim
ISTANBUL – After a tense night in Istanbul’s Taksim, where demonstrators feared the police were about to reclaim the square, thousands of protesters returned on Tuesday morning. At the same time, senior government figures made conciliatory moves toward the demonstrators in the absence of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is currently out of the country.
On Monday night, the police came close to the southern edge of Taksim, arriving from the main road leading to the Bosphorus and launched large volleys of tear gas grenades which swept the square. Hundreds of demonstrators ran away from the road, many of them taking shelter in the lobbies of nearby hotels while hundreds of others wearing gas masks remained on the barricades that had been erected across the road from metal fences, burnt-out vehicles and paving stones uprooted from the sidewalk.
Turkish deputy PM to meet Istanbul park protest organizers
The death toll since the start of the protests in Turkey over the weekend has risen to two after a 22-year-old man died in a hospital, injured from being shot during anti-government protests in southern Turkey, the NTV television reported Tuesday.
“Abdullah Comert was seriously wounded… after gunfire from an unidentified person,” the station reported, quoting a statement from the local governor’s office in the Hatay province.
Unions join forces with Turkish protesters
Istanbul (CNN) — Trade unions claiming 240,000 members are throwing their weight behind anti-government demonstrations across Turkey.
The KESK confederation of public sector workers was calling a two-day strike starting Tuesday to protest what it called the “fascism” of the governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has become one of the focal points of demonstrators’ anger.
Red Cross To Withdraw Foreign Staff From Afghanistan Following Attack
(Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is removing some international staff and curtailing operations in Afghanistan following last week’s fatal attack on their Jalalabad compound, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The ICRC has held emergency meetings since the May 29 attack in the east of the country in which an Afghan guard was shot dead and three people, including one international staff member, were wounded.