Syria prepares for offensive against ISIS in Palestinian camp of Yarmouk

Yamouk refugee camp. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Syrian regime is massing troops and armored vehicles to prepare to retake from Islamic State the Yarmouk area in southern Damascus, according to local sources and media.

Yarmouk was home to large numbers of Palestinian refugees before the country’s civil war, but has been under siege by the Syrian regime for many years.

According to Al-Masdar News, the Syrian Army has been concentrating forces near Yarmouk in southern Damascus after the regime successfully defeated the rebels in eastern Ghouta.

As part of its campaign in eastern Ghouta, the regime of Bashar Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, which resulted in air strikes by the US, UK and France on Saturday. However, the strikes didn’t stop the rebels from leaving eastern Ghouta under an agreement with Damascus that saw them bused to the north of the country.

Now the regime has set its eyes on Yarmouk.

A recent uptick in violence, including exchanges of rocket fire have been reported. According to the recent reports, the Syrian Army has sent its 9th Armored Division, Tiger Forces and Palestinian units that support Assad to help retake Yarmouk.

Yarmouk was once home to 160,000 Palestinians, many of whom were the descendants of refugees. It had a lively economy and local culture before the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. After years of battles, an estimated 140,000 Palestinians were displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Around 18,000 Palestinians have remained in Yarmouk, where they have faced conditions bordering on starvation, according to reports.

In 2015, Islamic State took over 60% of Yarmouk and has held it ever since, under a state of siege by the regime. There is also a small pocket of Syrian rebel fighters next to the ISIS held area.

According to the Arabic media site, a spokesman for UNRWA had issued a statement of concern about the situation in the Yarmouk camp and that it was following the security situation closely. However, in an email to The Jerusalem Post, an UNRWA spokesman denied that a statement had been issued.

The fate of Yarmouk has made headlines several times over the years. One of the former Palestinian residents, Aeham Ahmad, recently wrote a book called The Pianist of Yarmouk. ISIS burned Ahmad’s piano in 2015 and he fled to Europe, making the perilous sea journey, eventually securing asylum in Germany.

The Action Group for Palestinians estimates that 3,685 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian conflict and 85,000 have fled the country.

According to several pro-regime Twitter accounts, the assault on Yarmouk will be led by veteran Syrian soldiers from elite units such as the 42nd Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division, that have played a part in other campaigns against rebel enclaves in recent months. They will also include a group of Palestinians from the Jerusalem Brigade (Liwa al-Quds) which includes Palestinians allied with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Alwatan, a Syrian media website, included a statement from the director of the political department of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Anwar Abdel Hadi, giving a “last warning” to extremists in Yarmouk. According to the statement, the Syrian regime would likely move against ISIS in the coming days and has sought not to harm civilians. It called on the “militants” to resolve the situation and leave.

One-fifth of all ambassadors to U.N. currently in Israel

The purpose of the trip is to give the ambassadors, who are often called upon to vote on Israel-related issues a first-hand look at the challenges the country faces.

Ambassador Danon speaking with the UN ambassadors at Masada. (photo credit: AVI DODI)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon is acting as a guide for some 20% of his fellow ambassadors to the UN, who are currently getting a closeup look at Israel and will be here for Independence Day.

“I have brought groups of ambassadors here before, but never a delegation this large,” Danon said.

The purpose of the trip is to give the ambassadors, who are often called upon to vote on Israel-related issues – and who generally don’t vote in Israel’s favor – a firsthand look at the challenges the country faces and to emphasize, in light of recent UNESCO votes that have sought to erase a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s link to the historical capital.

After visiting the City of David on Monday, Ethiopia’s Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said: “This has been a very fantastic experience. One lesson that was very clear is that there is a clear connection between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. This cannot be ignored.”

The number of participants in these trips has grown from nine ambassadors in 2016, to 14 in 2017 and to some 40 on the current trip....

The Attack on the Chemical Weapons Targets in Syria: Doing the Minimum

Besides the operational success, the attack in Syria earned the United States a clear political achievement, with the enforcement of American red lines by way of a coalition with Britain and France. However, this ad hoc coalition is focused solely on preventing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and as Trump administration spokesmen clarified, there is no change in the US policy toward Syria. As such, the United States is threatening neither the Assad regime, nor the growing Iranian presence or Russian dominance in Syria. This attack was also not enough to address definitively the violations of the rules of war and the wide-scale attacks on civilians by Assad forces, including the use of conventional weapons, such as massive bombings from the air and barrel bomb attacks from helicopters. The United States and its partners did not present a plan to guarantee that the targeted attacks against civilians – and not just chemical attacks – on the part of Assad and the coalition that supports him will not continue. However, after seven years of war, in which more than a half a million people have been killed and millions have been displaced or have become refugees, the Syrian civilian population deserves more committed international support. For its part, Israel remains alone in the campaign against the consolidation by Iran and its proxies in war-torn Syria.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons, mainly chlorine, dozens of times since the American missile strike on the al-Shuayrat airbase in Syria in April 2017. However, the chemical weapons attack on civilians in Duma (apparently chlorine mixed with nerve gas) by the regime on April 7, 2018 was the attack that drove US President Donald Trump to launch a military operation on April 14, in conjunction with Britain and France, to enforce his stated red lines. Two questions that arise in relation to the attack are: What has changed since the last attack? And what are the repercussions of the operation?

According to United States Department of Defense reports, 103 missiles were launched from aircraft and ships. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said that the attack hit three targets relating to the chemical weapons infrastructure – a scientific research center in Barzeh near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility, and a command post and bunker for chemical war materials near Homs – and clarified that Russia’s forces in Syria had been warned in time about the attack through deconfliction channels. US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis stressed that “this was a one-time shot, for now." Any further military action will depend on how President Assad behaves and whether he decides to use chemical weapons again. The attack served to demonstrate the international community’s determination to prevent the use of chemical weapons, which constitutes a violation of international law, and to send a message of deterrence to Assad: refrain from using chemical weapons against civilians from now on. This comes in the wake of last year’s American attack, which failed to convey an effective message of deterrence.

For their part, Syrian military spokesman claimed that Syrian air defense had intercepted a number of missiles that were en route to the attack targets, mainly those targeting military sites (a report denied by the US Defense Department). Furthermore, the key message from Damascus was that the potential major damage was avoided due to defense tactics by the Syrian military, and that “not one strand of hair fell from the President’s head.” Russia and Iran immediately positioned themselves alongside Assad, denounced the Western aggression, and warned about the negative consequences.

Insights from the Attack

Besides the operational success, the United States scored a clear political achievement, due to its enforcement of the red lines it had drawn and its success in forming a coalition, albeit limited, with Britain and France, which were convinced that Assad’s regime was responsible for the chemical attack. However, this ad hoc coalition is focused solely on preventing the use of chemical weapons during the war in Syria, and as Trump administration spokesmen clarified, there is no change in the US policy toward Syria. As such, the United States is threatening neither the Assad regime, nor the growing Iranian presence or Russian dominance in Syria....

US bombing Syria – mission accomplished?

...The Shite Ayatollahs have played a key role – next to Russia - in sustaining the Alawite (branch of Shite Islam) Assad regime, investing some $10BN, annually, in the form of credit lines, oil and military assistance, including the funding of some Russian military systems and the maintenance of Hezbollah terrorists.

In fact, regional chaos – Syrian style - has fueled the Ayatollas’ rise to regional prominence. Their expanding presence in Iraq and Syria has adrenalized their megalomaniacal aspirations, which aim at uprooting the US presence in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean and the entire Middle East.

Moreover, the unprecedentedly effective regional profile of the Ayatollahs brings their machete closer to the throat of every pro-US Arab regime such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait and Oman, fueling subversion and terrorism, and providing anti-US Islamic terror organizations with easier access to chemical and biological weaponry and ballistic capabilities.

Furthermore, the considerable entrenchment of the Ayatollahs in Iraq and Syria has been accompanied by the Ayatollahs’ upgraded destabilization and anti-US presence – directly and through terror elements - in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Central and Latin America and the USA.

The increasingly global village, and the unprecedented global proliferation of Islamic terrorism, have eliminated the option of isolation. The US and its allies are faced with the choice of confronting the Ayatollahs and Islamic Sunni terrorism in the trenches of the Middle East or at homeland. One may assess such a dilemma against the background of an old American football rule: The closer you get to the end zone of the other team, the closer you are to scoring a touchdown; however, the closer you get to your own end zone, the closer the other team is to scoring a touchdown.

UCI EXCLUSIVE: Israel and the US – A Dynamic Partnership – Part 2 of an Interview with Ambassador (Ret.) Yoram Ettinger

In part two of this two part series, founder and CEO of the Unity Coalition for Israel, Esther Levens, interviews Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, a leading Israeli consultant to members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset. He regularly briefs US legislators and their staff on Israel’s contribution to vital US interests, on the root causes of international terrorism and on other issues of bilateral concern.

Counterterrorism officers hit the streets of New York as city ramps up security in the wake of the Syria strikes

  • The New York Police Department sent counterterrorism officers into the city?
  • The extra officers were announced on Friday?'out of an abundance of caution'
  • Officials say that there are no credible threats against the city?
  • On Friday Trump launched a series of military attacks in Syria

The New York Police Department is heightening security by sending out counterterrorism officers throughout the city.

The ramped up security announced Friday follows Trump's military strike in Syria.

However the city insists that there are no credible threats in the Big Apple.?

Department spokesman Phillip Walzak announced that the counterterrorism officers have been deployed 'out of an abundance of caution.'

The New York Police Department released this photo of deployed?counterterrorism officers

The New York Police Department released this photo of deployed?counterterrorism officers

The NYPD officers, pictured Friday evening, were deployed in response to Trump's military strike in Syria?

The NYPD officers, pictured Friday evening, were deployed in response to Trump's military strike in Syria?

The move was made?'out of an abundance of caution' as officials insist there is no credible threat in the city

The move was made?'out of an abundance of caution' as officials insist there is no credible threat in the city

'The NYPD is working with our intelligence bureau liaisons stationed abroad as well as our federal partners, and closely monitoring the U.S. military action in Syria,' Walzak said in a statement.

The counterterrorism officers were announced just an hour after President Donald Trump announced the military strike in Syria on in response to a suspected chemical attack on Friday.

Trump hailed the military action in Syria as a 'perfectly executed strike'.?

'Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!' he wrote on Twitter.

Mali: “Particularly sophisticated and underhanded” jihad attack as jihadis pose as UN peacekeepers

“The statement said some of the jihadists wore peacekeepers’ uniforms and explosive belts and used vehicles covered up with U.N. and Malian army codes.”

Muhammad said, “War is deceit.” (Bukhari 4.52.268).

“French army describes ‘underhanded’ extremist attack in Mali,” Associated Press, April 15, 2018:

PARIS (AP) — The French army says a deadly extremist attack on a U.N. military camp in northern Mali was “particularly sophisticated and underhanded.”

Officials have said the attack on a camp for the U.N. mission known as MINUSMA in Timbuktu on Saturday left one peacekeeper dead and a number of wounded.

The French army said in a statement Sunday that seven soldiers from the French military operation known as Barkhane were among the injured and that 15 attackers were killed in a counterattack.

The statement said some of the jihadists wore peacekeepers’ uniforms and explosive belts and used vehicles covered up with U.N. and Malian army codes. Three car bombs were exploded, it said….

Assad is More Dangerous than ISIS

  • The American attack on Syria is an important message that symbolizes the international community’s opposition to the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

  • American policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime needs to look beyond the chemical weapons and fight against ISIS. Assad interprets this limited focus as weakness, and he allows himself to do whatever he wants with Russian-Iranian backing.

  • The dangers to Israel from Syria and Iran have not subsided, and Israel may have to deal with the threats alone.

Buildings before and after the attack

(Source: ImageSat International (ISI))

As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent.

In August 2013, Obama had the option for a military strike against the Syrian regime following its use of gas against civilians in Ghouta, but he preferred to broker an agreement for removing chemical weapons from Syria. Later, it emerged that Bashar Assad misled the United States and managed to conceal large quantities of chemical weapons, which he is currently using against civilians.

If President Obama had acted to topple Bashar Assad’s regime, he would have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and prevented millions of Syrian civilians from becoming refugees.

President Trump is much different from Obama. In the last year, he attacked Syria twice after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.

At a speech that he gave in Ohio on March 29, 2018, President Trump surprised many when he announced that the United States would soon withdraw from Syria. He ordered the commanders of the U.S. armed forces to end the military campaign in Syria and to facilitate their exit from Syria in a few months.

According to American sources, President Trump has ratcheted down the plan to remain in Syria for the long term, provide aid to restore stability to Syria, and destroy ISIS.

President Trump agreed to leave U.S. military forces in Syria for another few months to prevent any ISIS resurgence.

However, recent developments show that Syrian President Assad is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS....

Despite chemical weapons attacks, Syria to chair UN conference on disarmament

...The Geneva-based NGO UN Watch said?on Monday that it was calling on ambassadors from the US, the EU and other democracies to walk out of the UN’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva during the four weeks when the Syrian regime’s envoy, Hussam Edin Aala, serves as president of the conference.

“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” Hillel Neuer — executive director of UN Watch — declared in a statement.

Neuer said his organization was urging?the UN “to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity.”

Established in 1979, the Conference on Disarmament meets annually in Geneva for three separate sessions that each last several weeks. While the conference is not formally?a part of the UN’s institutional architecture, the post of secretary-general?is held by a senior UN official– currently?Michael M?ller, a veteran Danish diplomat.

Key treaties regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the prohibitions on the use of chemical and biological weapons — have been negotiated through the conference and its predecessor organizations. Currently, 65 states are full members?of the conference, including the US and Israel.

Syria is scheduled to preside over the conference during its second session, from May 28 until June 24.

Turkey to preside over final session

Syria’s regional rival, Turkey, will meanwhile preside over the final session of the conference beginning in August — despite accusations from human rights groups and others of war crimes, including the?use of chemical weapons, committed by Turkish forces during their recent assault on the Kurdish-held Afrin district in northern Syria.

While the Syrian presidency of the conference is due to the automatic rotation of member states, Neuer argued that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was nonetheless?obliged?to speak out “when a UN committee makes obscene decisions which only cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN as a whole.”

Neuer said that?Syria’s presidency of the conference would likely be “exploited by Syrian propaganda, as they have done after?other UN elections, to legitimize [President Bashar] al-Assad’s cruel regime.”

The controversy over Syria’s role comes amid expressions of strong concern from senior UN officials at the conference’s general?lack of achievement since a landmark treaty in 1996.

“The Conference on Disarmament has been deadlocked since the agreement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, more than two decades ago,”?Miroslav Lajč?k, the President of the UN General Assembly, remarked?in February.?“We have to address this reality.”

Away from the UN’s deliberations, a prominent Israeli military analyst said on Monday that Israel’s reported strike on an Assad regime air base in central Syria early Monday had sent “a moral message that using chemical weapons is not acceptable.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin — a former IDF intelligence chief who now serves as executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) — added that it was important “that Israel make its voice heard” in opposing the use of chemical weapons.

Security Council holds emergency meeting on Syria airstrikes

In an address to an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres cautioned against the crisis in Syria “spiraling out of control."