Mysterious Airstrike Targets ‘Hezbollah’ Position in Syrian Desert


Beirut – “Hezbollah” was dealt a new blow on Monday when at least nine of its members, including a top commander, were killed only two days after 14 party members were killed in an ISIS attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that a drone struck a “Hezbollah” position in the Syrian desert in eastern Homs, killing 10 of its members and injuring 20 others.

“At least ten members of the Lebanese ‘Hezbollah’ party were killed in airstrikes by unidentified warplanes that targeted a site of the elite forces of ‘Hezbollah’ at dawn on Monday near the 3rd Station east of Palmyra,” the Observatory said.

It added that a field commander of the party’s Elite Force was among the dead.

The number of “Hezbollah” members killed in the past five days in the area extending from the western desert of Deir al-Zour to al-Sukhnah desert and the eastern countryside of Homs, has risen to at least 23.

Later, conflicting reports emerged concerning the identity of the warplane that targeted the party position in the western desert of Deir al-Zour city.

Websites close to the party reported that a US drone targeted the position, but the spokesperson of the US-led Coalition denied the reports, saying the location was outside its area of operations, Reuters reported on Monday.

Three sources familiar with the incident told Reuters that an air strike carried out by an unidentified warplane killed seven “Hezbollah” members in eastern Syria.

The identity of the warplane was not confirmed, but the sources did not rule out the possibility that it was Russian “friendly fire”.

Meanwhile, sources close to “Hezbollah” admitted that commander of its Intervention Unit, Abbas al-Asheq, was killed by land mines planted by ISIS in central Syria.

Abdel-Nasser al-Ayed, a researcher in Syrian military and strategic affairs told Asharq Al-Awsat that the position of the strike is located “outside the operation areas of the Coalition,” adding that US warplanes had long not flown in that area because it is covered by Russian radars.

The researcher speculated that the strike was Russian or Syrian friendly fire because the targeted position is close to where ISIS had advanced in the past couple of days.

Iran’s Guards Use Aerial Guided-Missile Attacks to Back Regime Troops in Syria


Beirut- Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard had single-handedly introduced a new weapon when taking up arms side by side by Syria’s regime against ISIS in the Badia region.

Air-launched guided missile activity was registered–meanwhile, ISIS militiamen rebelled against commandership orders to implement the deal brokered with regime forces and withdraw from Hama’s eastern rural zone.

ISIS militants were given an order to exit Hama to Idlib.

A video clip broadcasted on Iran’s Alalam News Network showed aircraft carrying guided missiles and said they belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Missiles targeted Badia posts in Syria, without specifying any locations. Other Iranian outlets reported that the attacks took place near the Syrian-Iraqi border and destroyed vehicles, military equipment, and ammunition.

Syrian opposition sources based in Deir al-Zour said that Iranian aircraft hovered over south-eastern Damascus countryside reaching all the way to the west of Abu Kamal area in Deir al-Zor border with Iraq.

Iranian aerial activity in the area near Deir al-Zour is recent — usually, surveillance aircraft belong to Syrian regime forces and Russian air fleets, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Tehran had insisted on openly broadcasting employing new weapons in Syria.

In parallel to the launch of short-range missiles from Iran to the Deir al-Zour area last summer, Tehran announced the launch of drones nearby coalition forces present at the US occupied al-Tanf base in Syria but did not announce the use of guided missiles launched by aircraft already running.

The video showed two simultaneous images of the missile’s trajectory: the first taken from a camera installed in the front, the second from a reconnaissance aircraft. Among hit targets was a tank, which means that the guided missiles are anti-armor.

On that note, the US military destroyed an Iranian reconnaissance plane that tried to approach the Al-Tanf camp.

Al-Tanf military base is used by the Washington-led coalition to train rebels belonging to the “Free Syrian Army” to fight against ISIS terrorists centered near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Washington’s Allies Control Syria’s Most Important Gas Field


Beirut- The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Deir Ezzor Military Council announced on Saturday that it seized the Conoco Gas Plant in the Deir Ezzor countryside after kicking out ISIS militants.

Before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Conoco field was one of the most important processing plants in the country and was used to supply cooking gas canisters for household use, with a capacity of 13 million cubic meters of natural gas per day, according to The Syria Report, an economic digest.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the news and said the SDF managed to fully control the gas field of Conoco, the largest in Syria.

In Deir Ezzor, the last stronghold of ISIS in the country, there are two separate offensives launched against the terrorist organization: The first is led by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally and the second by the SDF, a Kurdish-Arabic alliance backed by the Coalition warplanes.

Meanwhile, in France, the presidential palace said in a statement that President Emmanuel Macron had “learned with great sadness” of the death of a soldier from the 13th regiment of paratroopers who were killed in combat in the Levant.

In Idlib, the Observatory reported more casualties due to the heavy airstrikes that targeted the area of Tel Mardikh in the eastern countryside of the province, where at least 22 militants were killed in airstrikes carried by warplanes believed to be Russian on a headquarter of al-Sham Corps in Tel Mardikh near Saraqeb.

It said the death toll is expected to increase due to the presence of injured people in serious conditions, while reliable sources asserted to the SOHR that tens of fighters are still missing under the rubble caused by the destruction of headquarters of Corps.

Lebanese President at UN General Assembly after 3-Year Absence


Beirut – After years of vacuum, a Lebanese president will take part in the United Nations General Assembly held in New York later this week.

President Michel Aoun traveled to New York on Sunday to attend the Assembly where he will highlight Lebanon as a country of coexistence in a region that is being torn apart by ethnic and sectarian division.

This marks the first time in three years that a Lebanese president takes part in the annual meeting.

Aoun will demand that Lebanon act as an international center for the dialogue of civilizations and religions. He will also stress the need for cooperation with international organizations in regards to aiding Syrian refugees. These organizations do not coordinate with the Lebanese government, but they directly provide their aid to the displaced.

In addition, Aoun will highlight the ongoing Israeli violations of UN resolution 1701.

On Lebanon as an international center for the dialogue of civilizations and religions, Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Our experience and message allows us to carry out this dialogue seeing as we are a successful example of coexistence between religions.”

This initiative stems from the war against terrorism, “which is a global one against an enemy that creates tensions between sects and poses a threat to societies,” explained the MP.

“We can defeat terrorism and extremism if efforts are united to that end,” he stressed.

Prior to his departure to the United States, President Aoun called on the Lebanese people to “remain vigilant and avoid falling for or spreading rumors.”

“Such ploys are part of a calculated attempt to steer attention away from the achievements that have been made to build the state,” he said.

He made his remarks in wake of security warnings that were made by various embassies in Lebanon over the weekend that warned of possible security unrest in the country. This consequently created a sense of tension and apprehension among the people.

The president is scheduled to meet in New York with UN chief Antonio Guterres, as well as a number of heads of state attending the General Assembly. The two leaders had met for the first time on the sidelines of the Arab League summit that was held in Jordan in March.

Berri Says Elections Should be Held Earlier than Scheduled


Beirut- Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri is calling for moving the date of parliamentary elections forward, by adopting practical measures and rehabilitating the existing electoral mechanism to match the new electoral law.

The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), for its part, said elections should be held before their scheduled date in May 2018, with the cancelling of the magnetic card that many believe would complicate the electoral process.

In remarks on Wednesday, Berri said parliamentary elections should be held sooner than the agreed-upon date of mid next year if no agreement is reached on a magnetic voting card.

“Since there will be no card, then I am with reducing the Parliament’s term and for elections to be held at the soonest opportunity,” he added.

The use of the magnetic voting card was stipulated in the new proportional electoral law, which was endorsed by Parliament in June.

Despite the fierce competition between Berri and the FPM on some electoral seats, especially in the Jezzine region (east of Sidon), the party welcomed the idea of bringing the elections closer.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, FPM official and former MP Salim Aoun noted that the postponement of the elections for a relatively long time was made under the pretext of preparing the magnetic cards.

“Since this pretext does no longer exist, it is more useful to hold the elections at the earliest opportunity,” he stated, adding that his movement has initially “approved the extension of parliament’s term due to the excuse of magnetic cards, which we considered a fundamental reform.”

For his part, member of the Liberation and Development Bloc, MP Michel Moussa, told Asharq al-Awsat that the decision to advance the elections date needed an agreement between the different political blocs.

“This also needs a legislative session to issue a law to shorten the mandate of the current Council,” Moussa said, stressing that no excuses “can hinder the holding of elections.”

Russian Warplanes Break Deir Ezzor Siege


Beirut- Russian warplanes allowed on Monday the Syrian regime and its allies to reach the outskirts of Deir Ezzor for the first time in three years ahead of breaking the siege in the ISIS-controlled city.

Pro-regime websites announced on Monday evening that the Syrian forces came to within 1800 meters from breaking the siege of Deir Ezzor, which populates around 93 thousand civilians.

The governor of the Deir Ezzor said that the Syrian army would reach the city by Tuesday night.

Mohammed Ibrahim Samra said on Sunday that the Syrian army will arrive at the ISIS-controlled city in 24-48 hours at the most.

A military media unit run by Hezbollah said the advancing forces were heading to the besieged military’s garrison camp on the outskirts of Deir Ezzor.

While the latest advancement was surprising, Syrian opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Russian warplanes “had largely facilitated the regime’s move” towards the city of Deir Ezzor.

“The Russian warplanes participated actively in attacking the ISIS militants’ travels and in targeting their vehicles, positions and booby-trapped cars,” the sources said.

Meanwhile, reports revealed on Monday that the convoy of buses carrying ISIS militants, who had left the Qalamoun Jurud at the Syrian-Lebanese border last week as part of a deal between Hezbollah and the terrorist group, have already reached the towns of Anah and Rawa in Iraq at the border with Syria, taking shortcut roads in the Syrian desert.

The reports also revealed that their families were still trapped inside the Syrian territories.

However, military officials at the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq asserted that the convoy of 17 buses was still waiting for the seventh day under their observation near the town of Sukhnah in the desert while 6 buses from the convoy had returned to the regime-controlled city of Palmyra.

Regime Forces Expand alongside Jordan Border


Beirut- Syrian regime forces expanded on the eastern border with Jordan and curbed control of the Free Syrian Army whose factions stated on Saturday that the regime attacks are targeting Wadi Mahmoud, south east Damascus countryside.

Information contradicted regarding the regime advance to this strategic area. Lions of the East Army reported that fierce clashes are ongoing between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces in Wadi Mahmoud and Swaida countryside in an attempt by the regime forces to move forward to that region.

Reliable sources said that regime forces seized the region while Saad al-Haj, spokesman for Lions of the East Army, stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime only advanced to regions where the tribal army backed off, denying an expansion in the border region.

“The conflicts zone is 17 kilometers away from the border with Jordan,” he added. Haj stressed that the strategic importance of this region is that it is near the border with Jordan. “The regime is bragging every time it advances in a hill,” he continued.

On the contrary, “Hezbollah” war media reported that the regime forces and its allies have laid hands over Ghadir Mahmoud and Wadi Mahmoud near the Saudi-Jordanian border.

The regime forces now have control over 40 kilometers of the eastern border line with Jordan, revealed Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman. He declared to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the regime is mobilizing forces and conducting operations in that region to fully restore control over the border line with Jordan and to close faction outlets.”

Jordan and Syria share 370 kilometers land border.

Lebanese General Security… Dismantling Cells, Negotiating with Extremists

Lebanese President Michel Aoun attends the 72nd anniversary of the General Security /NNA

Beirut- Lebanese head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim’s announcement on Saturday that the institution he runs is now close to end the file of the abducted Lebanese soldiers reflects the level of progress that touched the tasks of the directorate since the appointment of Ibrahim in his position five years ago.

“We will not rest until we uncover the whereabouts of the abducted soldiers. We are very close to ending this file,” Ibrahim said on Saturday, adding that what the General Security and other security apparatus have accomplished is a national achievement for the state and all the Lebanese.

“We will not allow any threat to harm Lebanon even if we had to pay our blood and lives for this,” he said.
Ibrahim was speaking on the occasion of the General Security’s 72nd anniversary in the presence of President Michel Aoun.

Mounir Akiki, a retired General from the General Security Forces and current Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Al Amn Al-Am” magazine told Asharq Al-Awsat that since his appointment in 2011, Ibrahim placed a five-year strategy with an aim to develop the institution at the logistic level and to build and improve its human capacities.

At the administrative level, Akiki said that Ibrahim’s plan includes “modernizing the structure of the General Security by establishing new directorates to meet the expanding needs of issuing passports, residencies and visas,” particularly with the presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees, who presented additional pressure on the directorate.

At the security level, Akiki said that the number of General Security personnel grew from 4 to 7 thousand in five years, allowing the directorate to expand in the framework of an official security plan placed earlier by the Lebanese government.

According to the retired general, Ibrahim also succeeded in solving the country’s very complicated security files.

“Ibrahim is currently handling three files: the Lebanese soldiers abducted by ISIS since 2014, the file of the Aleppo patriarchs, and the file of the Lebanese photojournalist Samir Kassab,” who was taken hostage by ISIS in northeast Syria three years ago.

‘Hezbollah’ Develops Iranian Drone to Use in Qalamoun Outskirts

Qalamoun, Lebanon

Beirut – Photographs released by Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” war media showed a remarkable development in its arsenal with new drones capable of carrying missiles. These drones appear to be a development of Iranian warplanes of the same kind – but bigger – that are being used in Syria.

“Hezbollah” used the drone for the first time in the border region of al-Qalamoun to target ISIS terrorists, but did not disclose further details about them. It only said that they were being employed to strike ISIS positions and fortifications in Qalamoun, near the border with Lebanon.

These photographs reflect a development in the military industries of “Hezbollah”.

The armed group originally announced that it was manufacturing drones back in October 2012 when Israeli warplanes shot down a drone that the party later claimed as its own.

Hisham Jaber, head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the drone revealed on Monday is “small and capable of carrying up to six medium-sized munitions.”

He added that “they are controlled from close range and can fly at an altitude of 200-300 meters for an hour.” Such warplanes are used to strike tactical targets, he continued.

Iran uses such drones in Syria and they were first revealed when they flew beside US military bases in al-Tanf at the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle. The US warplanes shot down one such drone two months ago, making it more probable that the drones are manufactured by Iran.

“But these drones are smaller than the Iranian ones in Tanf. It is easy to deliver small parts of the drone to Syria where they are manufactured and armed by ‘Hezbollah’ technicians,” Jaber stated.

Lebanese Ministers’ Visits to Syria Spark Controversy


Beirut – The visit of Lebanese visitors to Syria did not escalate into a major political dispute in line with the politicians’ agreement to avoid bringing up contentious files at cabinet. Prime Minister Saad Hariri is still committed to avoiding such issues at government, saying that each person is responsible for his actions.

The debate over the visits of ministers to Syria was limited to whether these trips should be labeled as personal or official, said Transportation and Public Works Minister Youssef Finianous, who along with Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zoaiter had arrived in Damascus on Wednesday.

The officials traveled to neighboring Syria to take part in the Damascus International Fair, which kicked off on Thursday.

It appears that the repercussions of the visits will not reach cabinet or put it before a new test given that the Hajj Hassan and Zoaiter will not be signing any new agreements while in Syria, widely informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

They will only reactivate old deals, as indicated in their agenda and meetings in Damascus, they added.

The Lebanese constitution stipulates that a minister’s foreign visit is only considered official if he has the approval of cabinet that grants him political backing. In this case, the government did not approve the visits and therefore any agreement signed by the minister will not be recognized.

Hajj Hassan had held talks on Thursday with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis, who said: “We will be able to overcome major economic challenges through positive discussion, cooperation and dialogue.”

For his part Hajj Hassan, who represents “Hezbollah” in cabinet, stated that the Lebanese participation in the Damascus fair “reaffirms the natural Lebanese stance that supports Syria.”

“Our presence here in Syria, with representatives of the private sector, is aimed at holding discussions with ministers and Syrian officials to tackle economic issues between our countries and in order to provide fair trade,” he stressed.

“We hope that border crossings will soon be opened between Syria and each of Iraq and Jordan ahead of bolstering our exports to Syria and later to other Arab countries,” he added.

The ministers are accompanied on their visit by a Lebanese delegation comprised of 14 representatives of companies taking part in the Damascus International Fair. Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that some of the companies are presenting their products at the fair, while others are in Syria to study the possibility of taking part in the country’s reconstruction process.

Finanous, of the Marada Movement of MP Suleiman Franjieh, said on Thursday that he was in Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian minister of economy.

He said that he did not create uproar over his trip, “because it is very natural for me as a minister and for the Marada Movement.”

He added that he had informed Hariri of his decision to head to Damascus, saying that the premier “has his stance and I have my own. We agreed on this and I do not want to give this issue more attention than it can support.”

On whether Lebanese-Arab ties will be affected by this visit, Finianous stated: “If some Arab countries believe that ties will be harmed, I say that the prime minister does not approve of the trip..”

“If the Lebanese government combined took a political decision to head to Syria, then the Arab countries that do not recognize the regime of Bashar Assad may take a stance from Lebanon,” he remarked.

Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement had stated that the visits of ministers to Syria without the approval of the government do not have an official nature, “because Lebanon cannot normalize ties with a regime that has committed massacres against its people and carried out terrorist plots against Lebanon.”

“These visits provoke the majority of the Lebanese people and are a threat to the work of the Lebanese constitutional institutions,” it warned.