Syrian army retakes Golan crossing from rebels: reports

QUNEITRA CROSSING – Syria’s army recaptured the only Golan Heights crossing on the ceasefire line with Israel Thursday, in another setback for rebels a day after they were blasted out of the strategic town of Qusayr.

As the rebels were driven back out of the southwestern plateau, government troops also pursued insurgents who abandoned Qusayr, bombarding a nearby village where they fled to along with hundreds of wounded civilians.

Qusayr’s capture gives President Bashar al-Assad the upper hand if a US-Russian plan for the first direct peace talks between his regime and its opponents materialises, analysts say.

And Russia said Syria’s foreign minister would lead a government delegation at the “Geneva 2” talks which have been delayed largely over disagreement in the opposition ranks about who will attend.

The rebels briefly took control of the Quneitra crossing, strategically and symbolically important for its proximity to Israel and to the Syrian capital, before being forced out.

“The Syrian army has recovered control of the crossing, there are sounds of explosions from time to time but far less than in the morning,” an Israeli source said.

An AFP correspondent near the crossing confirmed forces loyal to Assad recaptured the frontier post, saying he could see tanks moving inside the area.

Both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Israeli army radio said the rebel advance on the plateau was followed by fierce fighting in nearby Quneitra town.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous confirmed there had been “incidents” along the armistice line, and described the situation as “very sensitive”.

In Vienna, the government said Austria will withdraw its UN contingent as the “mission can no longer be maintained for military reasons”.

Shrapnel from the fighting wounded a Philippine UN peacekeeper, the Filipino military said. One Israeli source said an unspecified number of Syrian soldiers had been taken to an Israeli hospital.

The crossing falls within a UN-controlled buffer zone.

It is the only direct passage between Israel and Syria and used almost exclusively by Druze residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who are allowed to cross over to study, work or get married.

Israel seized a large section of the plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move the international community never recognised.

Thursday’s developments came as soldiers chasing down rebels who fled from Qusayr fired missiles at Eastern Bweida about 14 kilometres (nine miles) away, said the Observatory.

Its director Rami Abdel Rahman expressed concern for the safety of “at least 500 injured people” sheltering in the village.

Qusayr, located just 10 kilometres from Lebanon, was once home to more than 25,000 people.

However, thousands fled during the blistering 17-day assault by government forces led by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

“Qusayr is completely destroyed, and totally deserted,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“The rebels put up a fierce resistance, but they didn’t have the means to fight back,” he said.

The regime “has called on Qusayr’s residents to return home, but there is nothing but ruins. How are they supposed to return?” Abdel Rahman asked.

The rebels conceded they had lost Qusayr after controlling it for a year, but opposition interim leader George Sabra declared they would fight on “until the whole country is liberated”.

The army said the “heroic victory” served as a warning that it would “crush” the rebels and bring “security and stability to every inch of our land”.

Hours after Qusayr fell, at least five rockets launched from across the border with Syria hit the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Two landed in the city’s Roman ruins and the other three hit the city centre, a security source told AFP. Two people were hurt.

The fighting came as Paris said the international community had to respond to test results from both French and British laboratories confirming the use of banned nerve agent sarin in Syria’s war.

The United States initially responded cautiously, but Secretary of State John Kerry said he had asked Paris to share its data, which the French government now says it has done.

Russian, US and UN diplomats on Wednesday admitted a widely anticipated peace conference would not take place as planned this month.

A date has still to be fixed for the talks to end the 26-month conflict, which is estimated to have killed more than 94,000 people.

One of the main stumbling blocks was disagreement over who could take part.

Russia said on Thursday that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem would lead his country’s delegation to the talks.

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Insight: Russia’s Syria diplomacy, a game of smoke and mirrors

[SEE:  Russia’s Iskander and S-300 Missile Systems Not Really for Sale—Used for Mind Games Only]

Insight: Russia’s Syria diplomacy, a game of smoke and mirrors

 

Reuters

 

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shakes hands with U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria, in Moscow December 29, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

 

MOSCOW

(Reuters) – Sitting at a long table in Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Syrian opposition leaders outlined a plan to protect Moscow’s interests if the Kremlin agreed to the removal of its longstanding ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

Throughout the meeting last July, one of many since the start of Syria’s civil war, Russian officials sat stony-faced. When the Syrians had finished, there was a long silence.

“The Russians listened but never spoke, and when we were done speaking, we were told that Moscow is dedicated to human rights and we were told to get on our way,” said Mahmoud al-Hamza, a Moscow-based member of the Syria National Council, who was present at several such sessions.

More than two years after the Syrian conflict erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, Assad is clinging to power thanks in large part to Russian diplomatic and military support.

Russia and the United States have agreed to bring together the warring sides for a peace conference in the coming weeks. Yet some fellow mediators suspect a Kremlin ploy to keep Assad in power – at least a little longer. On the battlefield, the momentum has swung Assad’s way and on Wednesday forces loyal to him retook the strategically important town of Qusair.

Leaked accounts of Moscow’s dealings with the opposition, promises to deliver Assad a potentially game-changing missile system and anecdotal evidence that Russians are training Syrian troops have widened the trust deficit between Russia and the West.

“Our biggest fear is being screwed over by the Russians,” said one French official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

DIPLOMATIC DANCE

As on many other occasions, the July meeting between Russian officials and the opposition foundered on the position championed by President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: the Syrian people should decide their country’s future for themselves.

Russia says it is motivated by a desire to stop the fighting, not by a wish to maintain military and industrial interests in one of the Kremlin’s last Middle East allies.

“Our position at this moment is to stop the bloodshed and pain, and that is the fundamental task of all efforts connected with the resolution of the Syrian crisis,” said a Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be named. “We are not selecting candidates for the future transitional government. We are not supporting any forces that will make it up.”

Some foreign diplomats and observers say that if past diplomacy is any guide, Moscow will seek to pack the table with members of tame opposition parties that are part of Assad’s tightly controlled political system, while exploiting the divisions among his opponents.

“Everything must be done to convince the opposition to sit at the negotiating table without preliminary conditions, having guaranteed full representation to all Syrian opposition groups, including internal opposition,” Lavrov said last week.

Moscow has had several rounds of talks with Hassan Abdel Azim and his National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which rebels say is little more than a front for Assad. The group’s leader outside Syria, Haytham Manna, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Kremlin has also tried to cast Russian-speaking Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil as a member of the opposition. Jamil came to Russia several times last year to work out an oil-for-fuel swap deal.

“It’s reached a point where Moscow knows Assad is no longer an option. Russia only wants people who will keep something of the old ties alive,” said Free Syrian Army member Hamza.

MESSAGE

While insisting it is not supporting Syria’s rulers, Russia has sent them advanced radar anti-ship missiles, unfrozen but not yet delivered an order of S-300 anti-aircraft rockets and promised to fulfill a contract for 12 MiG-29MM2 fighter jets.

Syria is one of the last bastions of support for Moscow in the region and Russia does not want to see Assad go the way of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a long-time partner.

In another show of force in the region, Russia sent a group of four navy ships from its Pacific Fleet last month to the Mediterranean, where they will join a squadron of warships already stationed off the coast of Syria.

Reports of arms shipments and shipping movements, often conflicting and ambiguous, may strengthen Russia’s hand in its dealings with the West.

“Everything that is happening around Syria has less to do with promises to Assad personally and more to do with power plays between Russia and the West,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. “And for Russia that means keeping things on the diplomatic track.”

“Those ships may be carrying elements for the S-300, they may not be. For Russia, the less clarity the better in arguing its position,” he said.

The S-300s are unlikely to be delivered before autumn. A source in the arms industry suggested the deal could be speeded up or frozen depending on what the West does.

“Everything at this point can be used as a bargaining chip,” Lukyanov said.

LONG HISTORY

Russia also worries about the security blow-back it could face after the Syrian conflict, in which it estimates 200 of its own citizens are fighting on the rebel side.

Russia’s southern Muslim territories in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and the North Caucasus, where Islamist insurgents wage daily violence, are prone to instability. Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s main security agency, has voiced fears that returning fighters could fuel Islamic radicalism.

Russia has a naval base on Syrian soil, and the two countries have long and deep cultural ties. Thousands of Syrians live in Russia – and many Russians are in Syria – as a result of years of educational, business and security ties.

Pro- and anti-Assad Syrians have emigrated to Russia, one of the few countries to give visas to Syrians wanting to put their families and money in a safe place.

Sitting in his Middle Eastern restaurant in a busy Moscow shopping district, Hassan al-Dubaisi, who came to study engineering five years ago, says he has been visited three times by Syrian businessmen of all political stripes looking for help.

“Usually they want to buy a stake in the restaurant or ask for help getting started in Russia, but I don’t like partners,” he said blowing out smoke from his water pipe.

Dubaisi, who comes from near Dera’a, where the uprising against Assad began, said he donated money to the opposition – 10,000 roubles ($310) – as have many other Syrian emigrants.

Support for the rebels thrived at first in Moscow’s Syrian community, which tends to be more secular and better educated than average Syrians. But enthusiasm has waned as the violence has dragged on and the rebels have turned more Islamist.

Dubaisi and other opposition supporters say they face increasing pressure and sometimes violence in Russia for their political views and for joining anti-Assad protests in Moscow.

“The (Syrian) embassy here has already identified me as an opposition supporter and … I’ve heard that if I ever go back to Syria, I’m on a list of people to be arrested before I even make it through passport control,” he said.

Security ties between Syria and Russia flourished during the Cold War. Russia, the world’s second largest arms exporter after the United States, was the first supplier to which Assad’s father, Hafez, turned when he gained power in 1971.

Two years later, Moscow equipped an Arab coalition including Syria that launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the 1973 Middle East War. When Egypt turned towards Washington and expelled Soviet advisers, Syria remained in Moscow’s camp.

Syria became an even more loyal customer after Russia wrote off some 70 percent of Syria’s $13.4 billion debt in 2005, a stumbling block that had frozen arms cooperation in the 1990s.

Since then ties have revolved around arms and military cooperation. Syrian sources say crack troops loyal to Assad have been sent to Russia for training. A Russian military source told Interfax that an unspecified number of Syrian officers have been sent to Russia for coaching on a range of air defense systems, but not yet on the S-300. ($1 = 31.9362 Russian roubles)

(This story clarifies the affiliation of Mahmoud al-Hamza in the third paragraph)

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Editing by Paul Taylor and Janet McBride)

Putin Tells One Lie Too Many—His Anti-Chinese Uyghur Terrorists Do NOT Target Moscow

[Putin has finally shown his true colors with this latest false flag incident.

THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL THAT AN ANTI-CHINESE TERRORIST ORGANIZATION WOULD ATTACK IN MOSCOW!!  WHAT WOULD BE THEIR OBJECTIVE?  RUSSIA CANNOT CREATE AN UYGHUR STATE FOR THEM.

And the overweight ringleader, who is in great distress, as he lies prostrate, being pinned to the ground, is obviously NOT CHINESE OR UYGHUR. Yulai Davletbaev

Putin is desperate to make his fight and Obama’s fake fight into one great big happy terror war.  Russians should take this as a sign of deception and immediately get the “Russian Spring” back on track.  Putin is just another traitor to the human race, like Obama.]

FSB arrests mastermind of foiled Moscow bombing who ‘fought in Afghanistan’

Russia-Today

Federal Security Service agents apprehend Yulai Davletbaev suspected of preparing terror attacks in Moscow during a special operation outside Moscow.(RIA Novosti / National Anti-Terrorism Committe)

Federal Security Service agents apprehend Yulai Davletbaev suspected of preparing terror attacks in Moscow during a special operation outside Moscow.(RIA Novosti / National Anti-Terrorism Committe)

Russia’s FSB secret service has captured the suspected mastermind behind a foiled terror attack in Moscow. His group, which fought in Afghanistan against the ISAF forces, was uncovered and neutralized last month by police.

A man identified as Yulay Davletbayev headed the terror cell, which was plotting an attack in Moscow. Two of his accomplices were killed in a May 20 police operation, while a third was captured alive. The items seized by law enforcers at the time included half-completed suicide vests, detonators and metal shrapnel.

The FSB captured Davletbayev, who is in his early 40s, in a suburb of Moscow after weeks of searching, the committee said. “This job took considerable effort and cooperation from troops, national bodies and local authorities. Several regions of the Russian Federation conducted search and screening operations. This allowed identifying the location where the criminal was hiding.”

All of the militants were Russian citizens, Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee said Thursday. The group trained in combat and demolition along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a region controlled by the Taliban.

They are also known to have fought against the US-led ISAF coalition deployed in Afghanistan, the committee reported.

The cell was sent to Moscow by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, [[WHAT THE F?]] also known as the Turkistan Islamic Party, a terrorist organization that seeks to establish an Islamic state inside the Chinese border province of Xinjiang. The organization has carried out attacks against US-related targets, and others.

 

Federal Security Service agents apprehend Yulai Davletbaev suspected of preparing terror attacks in Moscow during a special operation outside Moscow.(RIA Novosti / National Anti-Terrorism Committe)

Federal Security Service agents apprehend Yulai Davletbaev suspected of preparing terror attacks in Moscow during a special operation outside Moscow.(RIA Novosti / National Anti-Terrorism Committe)

The group’s goal was to organize a series of attack in the Russian capital during Victory Day celebrations on May 9. Davletbayev got a job as taxi driver to familiarize himself with the city and pick high-value targets for future attacks, the committee said.

“While navigating around the city in his taxi, he was selecting places most vulnerable for a terrorist attack, which would suffer most damage and cause greatest loss of life,” the committee said.

They failed to meet their timetable, and were ultimately exposed by the Russian security services. .

The arrest of the cell’s leader came after the arrested member, Robert Amerkhanov, decided to cooperate with investigators.

The group is suspected of committing several crimes in Russia’s southern regions before 2010, when they moved to Afghanistan.

The FSB also has information on Davletbayev’s links to another militant leader, who was responsible for bombing a natural gas pipeline and at least two attacks on Russian police officers; the leader was killed in 2010 by anti-terrorism forces.

The Russian capital has seen a number of deadly terror attacks in recent years. The most recent was in January 2011, when a suicide bomber set off an explosive device in the arrival zone of Domodedovo Airport, killing 36 people and injuring 180 others. In March 2010, bombings in the Moscow Metro killed 41 people and injured around 100.

Israeli Researchers “Discover” An Arab-Specific Disease, Which They Deny Creating In Nes Tziyona Bioweapons Lab

[This story follows on the heels of recent organized Zionist denials that Israel has been developing ethnically-targeted anti-Arab biological weapons (SEE: Israel’s Ethnic Weapon?).  The big problem with their denials, in the new light of this report on an Israeli discovered ethnically-specific disease, is that the IDF bio-weapons research facility is downwind from the nearby Sheba Medical Center, where the new disease was allegedly discovered.  It seems as though the Zionist scientists are trying to gain the missing, ego-massaging peer recognition, which would be out of their reach for a novel ethnic bioweapon. 

They want credit for being brilliant, but NOT for being evil.]]

Mediterranean Prevailing Winds

Researchers in Israel uncover disease hitting Arab kids

JPost

The rare disease was discovered by an international group of researchers headed by Israelis at Sheba Medical Center.

Dr. Raz Somech

Dr. Raz Somech Photo: courtesy sheba

A rare genetic disease that weakens the immune system of children has been discovered among Arab children by an international group of researchers headed by Israelis at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

Information on the discovery of the “orphan disease” (suffered by a relatively small group) was published Thursday morning in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

What began as a clinical observation of a unique phenotype in sick patients has finally been concluded by using advanced genetic and molecular assays to discover the novel disease, said Dr. Raz Somech at the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba. He and some two dozen researchers, including Dr.

Christoph Klein, director of Dr. von Hauner University Children’s Hospital in Munich and Bill Gahl of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, worked on it.

They observed that the seven affected children suffered from life-threatening infections during the first two years of their lives; their research led to the discovery of an unusual bone marrow malfunction due to mutations in a gene named VPS45 (Vacuolar Protein Sorting 45) as the cause of the disease, which they called congenital neutrophil defect syndrome.

It is estimated that there are dozens of such cases in the Palestinian Authority; none has yet been found among Israeli Arabs.

Five of the children studied were Palestinian Arabs treated at Sheba, while two were Moroccan Arabs treated in Munich. Some of them have already died. All of the children are the result of consanguinity – inbreeding of first cousins – and their illness could have been prevented if their parents had not married, Somech told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

No Jews have been identified with the syndrome, but Somech said that “now we will be able to look. It is a rare disease, but because of consanguinity in this region, we are likely to see many more cases than in other countries.”

In addition to the inbreeding problem, few Arab women agree to undergo abortions.

The replacement of stem cells could successfully treat it, but since there is only a small database of Arab tissue types because few donate such samples, it is unlikely that compatible tissue could be found.

No suitable donors were found in the small Arab tissue type registry at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, Somech said.

If the victims of the disease were Jewish children, it is likely that they could be successfully treated, as there are hundreds of thousands of Jews who undergo voluntary tissue testing so a compatible donor could be found, he added.

The Sheba team are now considering a different – biological – treatment that could prevent the need for bone marrow transplantation for the children who lack a healthy gene.

Children with orphan diseases are at a disadvantage in many ways. They are taken from one doctor to the next in the hope of a treatment or cure being found. In addition, drug companies are very reluctant to invest huge sums to develop treatments when only a small number of patients are involved.

However, genetic research can identify such diseases, and such work can contribute to the advancement of modern medicine, because the examination of these children can supply insights into fundamental principles of biology.

The authors of the paper wrote that the gene VPS45 has several functions in blood cells – it is responsible for membrane transport, for the vitality of the cells and their migration characteristics.

“On the one hand, the identification of this disease and the discovery of its molecular mechanism creates a justified hope for affected patients, as young patients can now receive blood stem cell transplantation earlier” if suitable donors were available.

On the other hand, this research illustrates the importance of new signalling pathways that can possibly influence the therapy of the future – not only for children with rare diseases, but also for younger and older patients with common diseases.

Sheba was been recently acknowledged as a “Jeffrey Modell Diagnostic and Research Center for Primary Immunodeficiency”– which is the worldwide gold standard benchmark for excellence in this field.

The center serves patients from the whole Middle East region, including the Palestinian Authority and runs a collaboration with Palestinian doctors. The purpose of the center is to better diagnose, treat and cure patients suffering from primary immunodeficiency and to characterize and understand the immune system both healthy and diseased, Somech said.

Pakistan’s Ongoing Military Dictatorship Pulls Over Prime Minister’s Car, While Army Commander Passes

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan witnessed a historic democratic transition, many in the county have started to believe that the days of military supremacy are over. But not on the roads, at least not yet.

As Nawaz Sharif, along with his family, left for the Presidency to take oath as prime minister for a record third time on Wednesday, he struck reality on the streets of Islamabad.

The question is: who is the real power wielder in Pakistan? The prime minister or the Army chief? Theoretically, the army chief is answerable to a grade-22 civil bureaucrat. Practically, he is mightier than any elected or non-elected individual in the country.

One such demonstration of this reality was witnessed Wednesday soon after Mian Nawaz Sharif’s election as Prime Minister of Pakistan.

After securing more than two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the premier reached Punjab House to freshen up.

The prime minister was supposed to reach the Presidency before 4:00 pm to take oath from President Asif Ali Zardari.

At the oath-taking ceremony, services chiefs, political leaders, diplomats and senior civil and military officials had been invited.

PML-N sources and eyewitnesses said first to come out of Punjab House was the SUV carrying first lady Kulsoom Nawaz and her daughter Mariam Safdar. Just behind them were the vehicles of Hamza Shahbaz and Hassan Nawaz.

The convoy of the prime minister was standing at close distance from the cars of his family members. As soon as they reached the outer barrier of Punjab House adjacent to Margallah Road, an alter commando blew the whistle with full force ordering the driver to stop the vehicle.

Consequently, the prime minister’s convoy had to stop as well. The pause remained for two to three minutes.

The commando was there to make sure nothing should obstruct the route of the Army chief’s convoy, only allowing vehicles from Punjab House to pass after the entire convoy of the army chief drove away.

Whether it was a mere coincidence could not be ascertained. None of the PML-N leaders was ready to comment on the incident. But the prime minister might have shared his thoughts with his closest aides.

Follow Shahzad Raza on twitter @shahz79