Iran, Russia & Syria defence chiefs meet

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THE DEFENCE chiefs of Iran, Russia and Syria have called for closer trilateral co-operation in the battle against terrorism, emphasising the need to keep up the fight until the eradication of violence and terror threats.

On Wednesday night, Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, sat down for three-way talks with his Russian and Syrian counterparts, Sergei Shoigu and Fahd Jassem al-Freij, on the sidelines of the VI Moscow Conference on International Security.

During the talks, the three sides exchanged views on the latest developments in Syria as well as the counter terrorism operations underway in the crisis-hit country. They also called for ‘convergent efforts’ by Tehran, Moscow and Damascus towards uprooting violence and Takfiri terrorism.

The trio also slammed a recent US missile attack against a Syrian army airfield as well as Washington’s blatant support for terrorists, urging an end to such evil acts of violence, which facilitate the spread of terror activities to elsewhere in the Middle East region and the entire world.

All forces should be mobilised to restore peace to Syria and protect the country’s territorial integrity in the face of terrorists, the defence ministers said. In June 2016, the three senior military officials held a similar meeting in the Iranian capital, Tehran, where they agreed to step up trilateral co-operation in the fight against terrorism.

Syria has been the scene of a foreign-sponsored crisis since March 2011. Backed by a number of Western states and their regional allies, a myriad of terrorist outfits have been operating there to topple the legitimate and elected government in Damascus.

Tehran and Moscow have been supporting Syria in its counter-terrorism battles over the past years, facilitating many army gains on the battlefield. Iran and Russia have been offering military advisory assistance to the Syrian army, while Moscow also provides air cover to the government’s ground operations on several fronts.

Dehqan and Shoigu also held a separate meeting on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the Moscow conference to discuss bilateral defence ties as well as the situation in Syria. The two sides held talks on ways to bolster the implementation of the ceasefire which has been in place across Syria since last December, stressing that ground should be prepared for easier aid deliveries to violence-stricken Syrians.

• The World Bank has expressed deep concern about the deteriorating life conditions in the Gaza Strip, saying that constant fuel shortages and frequent power cuts have brought the Israeli-besieged enclave to the brink of a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

In a report released on Thursday, the international financial institution added that foreign assistance alone would not have significant impact on reviving the stagnant Palestinian economy unless practical and significant changes were made on the ground.

The report quoted the World Bank’s, West Bank and Gaza director Marina Wes as saying: ‘While in any healthy economy, energy underpins industrial process and economic growth, Gaza faces electricity blackouts every eight hours. During summer and winter peaks, the scarce electricity supply is increasingly rationed to four hours during daytime.’

Wes further said that the situation had recently become the norm, and the enclave was plunging into darkness during most of the day. Adding that, ‘This has created a humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s two million people.’

According to the report, the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant frequently runs out of fuel for its generators and the resulted outages affect hospitals, clinics, water supplies, and other vital services. The power cuts have also had a crippling effect on household chores.

Wes further touched on the impotent economy of Palestine, which is incapable of creating jobs and incomes. She said that one-third of Palestinians there were out of work and over half of the youths in Gaza were unemployed. Wes warned that, ‘Gaza is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.’

Last November, the World Bank cautioned that only 10 per cent of Palestinians in the blockaded enclave had access to drinking water, and two months earlier, it had announced that Israeli restrictions on the flow of building materials into Gaza had hampered reconstruction efforts in the coastal enclave.

The report is due to be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which has been scheduled to convene in Belgium’s capital of Brussels on May 4. The 15-member AHLC is a policy-oriented conference with a declared objective of co-ordinating mechanisms for developing assistance to the Palestinian people. The committee is chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union. The World Bank acts as the secretariat of the group.

• On December 27, 2008, Israel waged a war on Gaza and its warplanes pounded the enclave for the next five days, before ground troops, aided by tanks, launched a full-scale offensive on the enclave. Up to 1,400 Palestinians were killed in total during the war, which lasted for 22 days.

Five years later, in early July 2014, Israel waged another war on Gaza. The 50-day military aggression, which ended on August 26, 2014, killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including 577 children. Gaza has been blockaded since 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standards of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.

The apartheid regime of Israel denies about two million people in Gaza their basic rights, such as freedom of movement. And now in 2017 an Israeli tank has shelled the southern part of the Gaza Strip as the Tel Aviv regime goes ahead with its acts of aggression against the besieged Palestinian coastal sliver.

The Israeli military announced in a statement on Thursday that the tank fire had struck and destroyed a purported military site belonging to the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, after shots were allegedly fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli forces stationed near the border between the occupied territories and the enclave.

There were no initial reports of injury or damage in the incident. The Tel Aviv regime’s latest assault against the Gaza Strip came more than a month after an Israeli combat drone struck an alleged military site in the al-Sudaniyah district, completely destroying the building. An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fired two missiles into the same area shortly afterward. No immediate reports of casualties were available though.

• A huge explosion that rocked the area of Damascus International Airport was caused by Israeli missiles targeting a ‘military position’, according to Syria’s SANA news agency. A military position southwest of Damascus International Airport was targeted at dawn today by an Israeli aggression using several missiles fired from occupied territory, sparking explosions in the area,’ SANA said on Thursday, citing a military source.

Footage emerged of burning fuel or gas at fuel tanks and an ammunition depot in the airport’s compound early on Thursday, according to reports. ‘The blast was huge and could be heard in Damascus,’ said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Lebanon’s Al-Manar television channel had earlier reported that the explosion and fire were likely caused by an Israeli airstrike.

There have been no reports of casualties so far. Israeli warplanes have targeted the Damascus airport and other bases around the capital in the past. The airport was hit by Israeli airstrikes in December 2014. The Israeli regime does not usually confirm or deny the raids it conducts on Syrian soil.