Libya’s UN-supported government launched a counterattack on Sunday against a strategic military base used by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar to pound the capital Tripoli with rocket fire.
The response came after a missile barrage damaged Tripoli’s main airport and set fuel tanks and several aircraft ablaze, with at least six civilians killed in surrounding residential areas in the attacks on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Turkey – the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) main ally defending Tripoli against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) – threatened to step up its attacks against the eastern-based LNA, which has attempted to seize the capital for more than a year.
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“The forces of war criminal [Haftar] fired more than a hundred rockets and missiles at residential areas in the centre of the capital,” the GNA said in a statement on Facebook.
The airport was badly damaged and came under renewed rocket fire on Sunday morning, it said.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the GNA launched the counter-offensive in an effort to take a key LNA base using advanced weaponry to strike the city centre.
“The government’s military commanders say they are trying to recapture a military camp in southern Tripoli, which has been under the control of Haftar’s forces for the past few months. Haftar’s troops have been using that camp to fire rockets into residential areas and the airport,” said Abdelwahed.
“Military sources say it is also important because it is run and protected by Russian military experts from the Wagner Group, who have been fighting with Haftar’s forces.”
More than a dozen people have been killed over the past two days in missile attacks, the Tripoli-based government said.
Adding to the misery of Tripoli residents, the main water supplier to northwest Libya said armed men in the south had stormed one of its facilities, reducing supply.
‘Responsible for the suffering’
Turkey said on Sunday that it would deem the Haftar’s forces “legitimate targets” if their attacks on its interests and diplomatic missions in Libya persisted.
On Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli had been shelled.
Turkey backs Libya’s internationally recognised GNA. It has signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and deployed military trainers and equipment, including armed drones that have helped repel Haftar’s offensive.
Ankara views Haftar’s forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, as “putschists”.
“If our missions and our interests in Libya are targeted, we will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, in which it also slammed the United Nations for not taking action over the LNA’s attacks.
“It is unacceptable for the United Nations to remain silent against this carnage any longer,” it said. “Countries providing military, financial and political aid to Haftar are responsible for the suffering that the people of Libya are enduring and the chaos and instability the country is being dragged into.”
It also said attacks on Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital, were war crimes.
“The attacks on diplomatic missions including our Tripoli embassy, Mitiga airport, civilian planes preparing to take off and other civilian infrastructure, and those which kill civilians or injure them, constitute a war crime,” the statement added.
Haftar’s LNA has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli from the GNA, frequently shelling the capital. The United Nations said four-fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of 2020 were caused by LNA ground fighting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the LNA was in a “period of regression” after NATO member Turkey threw its support behind the GNA.
“Even the efforts of countries that provide him [Haftar] with unlimited financial support and weapons will not be able to save him,” Erdogan said.
Pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
The LNA says Turkey has established a military drone base at the Mitiga airport, but the GNA denies this.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called the bombardment “an all too familiar but frightening spectacle”.
“These horrifying attacks occur on a regular basis in close proximity to civilian neighbourhoods,” UNSMIL said on Twitter.
It called the shelling “one in a series of indiscriminate attacks, most of which are attributable to pro-LNA forces, killing more than 15 and injuring 50 civilians since 1 May”.
Since Wednesday, 17 civilians and two police officers have been killed and more than 66 other civilians wounded in rocket fire targeting several areas of the capital, according to the GNA.
UNSMIL slammed the attacks for hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure, and called for “those responsible for crimes under international law to be brought to justice”.
But the GNA said international condemnation was not enough.
“We no longer pay any attention to the timid condemnations of the international community … The senseless acts are proof of his weakness and desperation after the successive defeats of his militias and mercenaries,” it added.
Haftar’s forces have suffered several setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA fighters pushing them from two key coastal cities west of Tripoli in April.
GNA troops now surround the LNA’s main rear base at Tarhouna, 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital.
Syria launches parliamentary elections amid war, economic woes |NationalTribune.com
Damascus launches parliamentary elections across government-controlled areas of the country on Sunday, as President Bashar al-Assad marked 20 years in power amid a continuing war and deep economic woes. More than 2,000 candidates, including businessmen under recently-imposed United States sanctions, will be running in the legislative election – the third since the start of the…
Damascus launches parliamentary elections across government-controlled areas of the country on Sunday, as President Bashar al-Assad marked 20 years in power amid a continuing war and deep economic woes.
More than 2,000 candidates, including businessmen under recently-imposed United States sanctions, will be running in the legislative election – the third since the start of the 2011 protests and ensuing civil war.
The elections, originally scheduled to be held in April, were postponed twice due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Although several lists are running in the polls, real opposition to al-Assad’s Baath Party is absent in the election.
Opposition groups traditionally tolerated by the government are expected to boycott the polls and the Baath Party is guaranteed to monopolise the new parliament as it has done in previous elections.
In the last vote in 2016, the Baath and its allies took 200 of the 250-seat parliament while the remaining posts went to independent candidates.
Observers say the contest lacks credibility with the majority of candidates being either part of al-Assad’s Baath Party or loyal to his regime.
“The majority of Syrians believe the election is only a process controlled by the regime to represent itself as a legitimate authority in Syria,” said Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House and co-founder of the Syrian Centre for Policy Research.
“People know that the majority of MPs are nominated by the Baath party and all of them need to have security approval based on loyalty and not qualifications,” he added.
Karam Shaar, an expert on Syria at the Middle East Institute, said: “The al-Assad regime uses parliamentary elections to reward loyalty. This time around, warlords and militiamen are expected to gain yet more seats for their contributions to the state over the past four years.”
Syrian children living in Atmeh camp, near the Turkey-Syria border [File: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
More than 7,000 polling stations have been set up across about 70 percent of the country where the al-Assad government maintains control.
Government forces have been pushing to regain control over areas overtaken by opposition and rebel groups since the start of the war.
Al-Assad’s troops regained control over Eastern Ghouta in 2018 and southern parts of Idlib after the launch of a Russian-backed offensive to retake the northwest province in late 2019.
Other parts of Idlib remain as the last rebel-held bastion in the country, while large swaths of land along the Turkey-Syria border house millions of internally displaced Syrians from the war.
Syrians living abroad, including millions of refugees forced to leave their homes because of fighting, will not be taking part in the election.
Citizens casting their ballots in Sunday’s vote are expected to focus on soaring living costs and the country’s dire economic situation.
“As nearly 90 percent of the country plunges into poverty, people are increasingly focusing on meeting their basic needs,” said Shaar.
Syria’s economy has been in freefall over the past few months with the pound losing about 70 percent of its value, making the price of basic commodities now unaffordable to many Syrians.
Still, observers say most Syrians believe the parliament is not the right channel to solve their economic problems.
“The economic situation is choking the average Syrian in both government and rebel areas,” said independent researcher Malak Chabkoun.
She explained a deteriorating economy and US sanctions will be at the forefront of the voting agenda, but people will be casting their ballots for candidates “they were told [by the government] to vote for”.
“The Baath Party candidates have [also] added US sanctions to their platform this time around to garner support and cry victim,” she added, referring to a range of newly-imposed US sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, that target companies, institutions, and individuals doing business with the al-Assad government.
While analysts say the legislation affects the al-Assad government and its local and foreign backers, humanitarian efforts and civilians in Syria, and neighbouring Lebanon, have also been affected by the sanctions.
Displaced Syrians walking past their makeshift tents in Idlib, Syria [File: Getty Images]
Lack of international recognition
After the vote, the new parliament plans to approve a new constitution, and al-Assad is expected to name a new prime minister. The new parliament will also be expected to approve candidates for the next presidential election.
But experts say the international community will not recognise the vote.
“The international community and political opposition groups will not recognise this parliament as a legitimate one,” said Mehchy.
“A new constitution can be only approved by a new parliament based on a transparent election in which refugees and Syrians outside the country have the right to vote,” he explained, adding the coming parliament will only approve candidates “nominated and approved by the security agencies”.
Al-Assad came to power at the age of 34 in 2000 after nearly 30 years of his father’s rule. He was elected for a third seven-year term in 2014, with the government claiming more than 88 percent of the votes were in his favour.
His time in power has been marred by a bloody civil war that has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions of Syrians displaced inside and outside of the country.
Commenting on al-Assad’s 20 years in power, Chabkoun said: “Bashar has continued the same pattern [as his father’s] of quelling any opposition, disappearing people who speak out against his government, and continuing to control the goods and resources of the country for his family and friends’ own gain.”
According to Freedom House, the Syrian government is considered “one of the world’s most repressive regimes”, which along with “other belligerent forces”, has severely compromised Syrians’ political rights and civil liberties.
According to Mehchy, al-Assad’s rule has been “a catastrophic era, especially the years of conflict since 2011”, which he said the government’s policies during the first 10 years contributed towards as “root causes”.
“These policies neglected the economic and political exclusion that the majority of Syrians were suffering from,” said Mehchy.
Ofek 16: Israel launches new spy satellite |NationalTribune.com
A new Israeli spy satellite, called Ofek 16, is shot into space from a site in central Israel [Reuters] Israel has launched a new spy satellite that it said would provide high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence. In a statement on Monday, Israel’s Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries said “Ofek 16” was shot…
A new Israeli spy satellite, called Ofek 16, is shot into space from a site in central Israel [Reuters]
Israel has launched a new spy satellite that it said would provide high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence.
In a statement on Monday, Israel’s Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries said “Ofek 16” was shot into space at 4am local time [01:00 GMT].
The “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities … will undergo a series of tests,” it added.
The first images are expected in about a week.
There were no further details on the satellite’s mission, but Israeli public radio said it would be used to monitor the nuclear activities of regional rival Iran. Tehran denies its nuclear programme has any military dimension.
Minister of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said intelligence capabilities are “essential” to Israel’s security.
“We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”
State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries was the main contractor for the project and the satellite’s payload was developed by defence firm Elbit Systems.
Iran launches its first military satellite
Iran has announced it successfully launched the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite after months of failures, a programme the United States alleges is a cover for missile development. “The first satellite of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been successfully launched into orbit by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC],” said the elite forces’ official website…
Iran has announced it successfully launched the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite after months of failures, a programme the United States alleges is a cover for missile development.
“The first satellite of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been successfully launched into orbit by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC],” said the elite forces’ official website on Wednesday.
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It said the satellite – dubbed the Nour – was deployed from the Qassed two-stage launcher from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau.
The satellite “orbited the Earth at 425km [264 miles]”, said the website. “This action will be a great success and a new development in the field of space for Islamic Iran.”
The IRGC called it the first military satellite ever launched by Tehran. It used a Ghased, or “Messenger”, satellite carrier to put the device into space, a previously unheard-of system.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and historically low oil prices, the missile launch may signal a new willingness to take risks by Iran.
“This raises a lot of red flags,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
“Now that you have the [US] maximum pressure campaign, Iran doesn’t have that much to lose any more.”
Hinz said, based on state media images, the launch appeared to have happened at a previously unnamed IRGC base near Shahroud, Iran, some 330km (205 miles) northeast of Tehran. The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport, from which Iran’s civilian space programme operates.
Iran nuclear deal: Tehran reacts to Trumps threats
Navigating armed forces
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the capital Tehran, said it was the first time the IRGC took credit for the launch of a military satellite.
“As a military satellite, what we’re likely to see is this to be used specifically for intelligence gathering and secure communications for the navigation of forces on land and sea,” he said.
Tehran has had several failed satellite launches in recent months. The last one came in February when Iran failed to put its Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit.
That failure came after two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites last year, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 also killed three researchers, the authorities said at the time.
The rocket explosion in August drew the attention of US President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure.
The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s programme, something Trump himself hinted at by saying the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident”.
Arch-foes Iran and the US have appeared to be on the brink of an all-out confrontation twice in the past year.
Long-standing acrimony between Tehran and Washington was exacerbated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a deal that froze Iran’s nuclear programme, and issued new demands that Tehran curtail its development of ballistic missiles.
Washington has also raised concerns in the past about Tehran’s satellite programme, saying the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 amounted to a violation of limits on its ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Over the past 10 years, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit, and in 2013 it launched a monkey into space.
Wednesday’s launch comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal and after a US drone attack in Iraq killed IRGC General Qassem Soleimani in January.
Wednesday also marks the 41st anniversary of the founding of the IRGC by Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. An image of the rocket that carried the satellite showed it bore a Quranic verse on overcoming adversaries.
The IRGC, which operates its own military infrastructure in parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces, is a hardline force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was not immediately clear if Iran’s civilian government knew the launch was coming. President Hassan Rouhani gave nearly a 40-minute speech on Wednesday before his cabinet that included no mention of the launch.
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