Thursday, July 12, 2012

Israel to deploy rocket interceptor at Egypt border

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Wednesday it would deploy a battery of Iron Dome rocket interceptors at a southern frontier town opposite Egypt, a move that follows cross-border attacks in the area.
Israeli media reported that it was the first time the interceptors, which have been used against Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, were being set up at Eilat, near Israel's borders with Egypt and Jordan.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said the battery "will be placed near Eilat as part of an operational deployment program which includes changing the locations of the batteries from time to time."
An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the interceptors were set up near Eilat on Monday.
Iron Dome, a system produced locally with U.S. funding, uses radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of 5-70 km (3-45 miles) and mortar bombs in mid-air.
Israel's border with Egypt has grown tense since a popular uprising ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year. Two rockets fired across the frontier have struck in the Eilat area this year, without causing casualties. Egypt has denied they were shot from its territory.
Last month an unidentified gunman crossed Egypt's Sinai border and killed an Israeli worker. Eight Israelis died in another cross-border attack in that area in August.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel, in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.
Concerns have arisen about how the peace will fare under Egypt's new president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, although he pledged when he took office last month to uphold his country's treaties.
(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Britain, France to counter Russia with draft Syria resolution

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain and France are prepared to counter Russia with their own draft resolution on the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria after the U.N. Security Council is briefed by international envoy Kofi Annan on Wednesday, diplomats said.
The deeply divided 15-member council must decide the future of the mission, known as UNSMIS, before July 20 when its initial 90-day mandate expires. It approved 300 unarmed military observers to monitor an April 12 ceasefire - that has failed to take hold - as part of Annan's plan to broker peace in Syria.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended a shift in the emphasis of UNSMIS' work from military observers - who suspended most of their monitoring activities on June 16 because of increased risk amid rising violence - to the roughly 100 civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues like human rights.
"We have a number of drafts ready but we will consider exactly which text to circulate in the light of Mr. Annan's briefing," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
He said UNSMIS had been unable to fulfill its objectives of monitoring a cessation of violence and overseeing the implementation of Annan's six-point peace plan, which had been agreed to by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The question of a rollover (of the mission) doesn't really apply until we know what the wider context and the wider plan is and in that wider context what the future role of UNSMIS might be," Lyall Grant said.
Assad's forces have killed more than 15,000 people since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began in March 2011, some Western leaders say. Damascus says rebels have killed several thousand of its security forces.
Russia proposed a draft resolution on Tuesday to extend UNSMIS for three months.
But it does not satisfy the United States and European council members, who have called for a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.
U.S. officials have said they are talking about sanctions on Syria, not military intervention.
"We think it's a mistake to focus just on UNSMIS in isolation. We want compliance with the decisions of the Security Council. We want to see a stop to heavy weapons and we want to make use of our toolbox," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told reporters on Wednesday.
Russia and China, who have previously vetoed U.N. resolutions designed to pressure Assad, are unlikely to support a resolution threatening sanctions.
"We will support a rollover (of UNSMIS)," China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters.
Annan will be briefing the Security Council on the results of a lightning diplomatic shuttle this week to Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad - three capitals forming a Shi'ite Muslim axis of power in the Middle East.
Annan plunged into a tussle between the major powers on Tuesday, insisting that Iran, which strongly backs Assad and is regarded as an adversary of the West and Gulf Arabs, had a role to play in the drive to relaunch stalled peace efforts and begin talks towards a political transition.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jackie Frank)

Syria Condemned for Bombing Lebanon, Russia Sends Fleet

According to Reuters, Syrian forces shelled villages in northern Lebanon for five hours on Tuesday, leaving three people dead.

Among the dead were a Lebanese man and two Syrian expatriates. The Syrians were struck by a vehicle that was trying to avoid the shelling. Reuters also indicated that Russia had deployed a destroyer-class warship, the Smetlivy, on Tuesday.

The following is a closer examination of some of the statements and events surrounding the Syrian civil war.

Lebanon boosts border security: Xinhua was told by a parliamentary source that a decision made by Lebanon to boost border security on the northern border was similar to an executive order, according to Xinhua-ANI. The decision was reached on Monday night.

France, U.S. condemn bombings: The French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs issued a press statement on Tuesday, saying that they offer condolences to Lebanese victims and would support Lebanon boosting their troops on the border to protect the nation's sovereignty.

The U.S. agreed, as U.S. State Department Director Patrick Ventrell opened a Tuesday press briefing by saying, "We encourage all parties to exercise restraint and demonstrate respect for Lebanon's security and stability," according to the State Department's website.

Syria home to Russian base: The Russian destroyer Smetlivy was reportedly on its way from Sevastopol, Ukraine to send food, water and fuel to the only Russian base outside of the former Soviet Union, a naval maintenance and repair base at Tartous. Marines were on board as well and were expected to conduct a training mission at the base. Along with the Smetlivy were three landing ships and an anti-submarine destroyer.

The destroyer had previously patrolled Syrian waters in April and May. Russia is an ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has repeatedly blocked efforts to increase sanctions against the Syrian regime at the U.N. Security Council.

Offer to give Assad asylum "a joke": When asked by a reporter whether Russia was serious about offering President Assad asylum, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said that the offer was non-existent and was the result of a joke between Russian and German diplomats last week. He explained that the Germans had said it would be "nice" if Russia would offer Assad asylum, a comment he claimed Russians believed to be in jest.

"I thought that everything would be over on this joking note," he said, according to a statement on Russia's Foreign Affairs website.

Shawn Humphrey is a former contributor to The Flint Journal and an amateur Africanist, focusing his personal studies on human rights and political issues on the continent.