Israeli army fires warning shots into Syria

JERUSALEM -- Israel fired warning shots into Syria on Sunday after an apparently errant mortar shell struck an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights, the latest example of regional spillover from Syria’s civil unrest.

The Syrian mortar caused no damage or injuries, but Israeli military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over how fighting between the Syrian army and Syrian rebel groups has inched closer to the Golan Heights border.

Until Sunday, Israel had restrained itself from responding to the handful of instances in which mortar shells and gunfire struck Israeli settlements or military positions in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

Sunday’s retaliation by Israeli soldiers marked the first such military engagement between Israel and Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel Radio reported that Syrian forces returned fire, though Israeli military officials would not comment on that report.

Last week Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he warned Syrian President Bashar Assad to move the fighting away from the border region. Israel also complained to the United Nations about three Syrian tanks that last month drifted into what it says is a demilitarized zone along the Syrian border.

Though tensions along the normally quiet frontier are rising, Israel is reluctant to get involved in Syria’s unrest, analysts say. Some fear military intervention by Israel -– Syria’s longtime enemy -- could backfire by rallying support around Assad.

“If Israel got involved, it would be good for Bashar since he could say he’s protecting the Arab nation,’’ said Moshe Moaz, a Syria expert at Hebrew University. “But I think both sides are going to be very careful not to be dragged into something that will escalate. If Bashar really upsets Israel, Israel could do something very serious to teach him a lesson.”

In 2007 Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility that it feared could be used to develop nuclear weapons. But overt military clashes between the two countries have been rare in recent decades.

The Israeli action underscores how the Syrian conflict is spilling over its borders and, in at least two cases, prompting retaliatory fire from neighbors.

Turkey, which shares a more than 500-mile frontier with Syria, has repeatedly fired retaliatory artillery salvos into Syria in response to Syrian shells landing in Turkish territory.

The Turkish strikes began in October after an apparently errant mortar shell from Syria struck a home in a Turkish border town, killing five people: two women and three children.

Since then, Turkey has had a policy of firing back into Syria when shells from the Syrian side land on Turkish territory. Turkish commanders say they try to target the battery that fired into the Turkish side. There has been no definitive word on Syrian casualties from the Turkish retaliatory fire.

Turkey, though, unlike Israel, has been a major supporter of the Syrian opposition and has been a staging point and logistics center for rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

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-- Edmund Sanders and Patrick J. McDonnell


Must Reads: A 'Red Era' museum, Obama and mothers of the missing

Motherscaravan

From attacks in Afghanistan to the missing in Mexico, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from the past week in global news:

China museum builder lets history speak

Obama faces new Mideast challenges in his second term

As 'insider attacks' grow, so does U.S.-Afghanistan divide

Mothers from Central America search for missing kin in Mexico

Britain's crackdown on Web comments sparks free-speech debate

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Marta Elena Perez of from Nicaragua attends Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Oct. 28, 2012, with a photograph of her daughter, Karla Patricia Perez, who went missing in 2005. Credit: Marco Ugarte / Associated Press


U.N.: 11,000 refugees pour out of Syria in 24 hours

Turkeyborder

Eleven thousand refugees have poured out of Syria in just 24 hours, a staggering number as violence surges near the border, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

The Friday deluge is more than triple the usual numbers of 2,000 to 3,000 people escaping daily, agency spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said. Nine thousand Syrians fled to Turkey alone, most of them reaching the border overnight. The numbers were nearly enough to fill a typical refugee camp.

The rest of the day's refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon.

Vast, sudden waves of refugees usually mean the violence raging in Syria has veered especially close to one of its borders, Wilkes said. Scores of refugees showed up wounded over the last 24 hours; two have died.

“The numbers are increasing by the hour,” Wilkes said. “The Turkish government says it can take weeks or even months to build a camp. But it can take only hours to fill them.”

Continue reading »

Syria's Assad denies civil war, blames the West

Assad
BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar Assad denied his country is in the midst of a civil war and accused Western nations of demonizing him in an interview with RT, a Russian satellite and cable channel.

"We do not have a civil war. It is about terrorism and the support coming from abroad to terrorists to destabilize Syria,” the Syrian president told the Russian station, reprising his oft-repeated charge. “You have divisions, but division does not mean civil war. It is completely different. ... The problem is not between me and my people.”

The Syrian opposition also does not label the conflict a civil war, calling it instead a grass-roots uprising aimed at ousting a murderous dictator.

In the 25-minute interview, which aired Friday and was conducted in the renovated Presidential Palace in Damascus, Assad said forces in the West had worked to turn him into an international villain like former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"The West creates enemies; in the past it was the communism, then it became Islam, and then it became Saddam Hussein,” Assad said. “Now, they want to create a new enemy represented by Bashar.”

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Iran reportedly bans imports of foreign 'luxury' goods

Iran reportedly bans imports of foreign 'luxury' goods

Iran is reportedly banning the import of foreign cars, laptops and scores of other "luxury" goods in an effort to protect its stash of hard currency.

Iran Daily, a state-owned newspaper, reported Thursday that a long list of foreign products including cellphones and cosmetics could not be purchased from abroad. More than 70 kinds of foreign goods were included on its published list, including home appliances, apparel and luxury cars such as Porsches.

Products that could not be made domestically could later be removed from the list after more review, the article said, but those that could be produced inside Iran would remain banned.

The step comes as Iran faces continued pressure from Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The value of Iranian currency has plunged dramatically over the last year, forcing Iranians to scale back. Western government experts believe its foreign currency reserves are in danger of running out, pushing it toward an “economic drop dead date.”

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Red Cross 'can't cope' as Syria crisis worsens, chief says

Red Cross 'can't cope' as Syria crisis worsens

The Red Cross lamented Thursday that the deepening crisis in Syria has prevented it from helping many of those in need, even as it steps up its efforts.

"We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation," Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at a briefing in Geneva.

Although the aid group has fed more than a million people in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, trucked in water, and delivered medicine, crutches and other hospital supplies, Maurer said "blank spots" in aid remained. The United Nations has estimated that more than 2.5 million people need aid; more than 350,000 people have spilled out of the country and registered as refugees.

PHOTOS: Living under siege: Life in Aleppo, Syria

The Red Cross chief met with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this fall and told reporters that the flow of aid had improved somewhat since but that the group is still unable to reach all prisons and other detention facilities, the Associated Press reported. It succeeded in reaching battered districts in the city of Homs in late October, but violence has continued to block it from other areas.

Aid workers and volunteers have been among those slain in a conflict that is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people. A Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer was caught in fighting and killed last month in Harasta; two volunteers were injured in two incidents the next day in the same area.

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Bashar Assad: To live and die in Syria

Bashar-assad
BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar Assad says he has no intention of leaving Syria, despite demands from Washington and elsewhere that he relinquish power.

“I am Syrian. I’m made in Syria,” Assad said in an interview with the Russia RT television channel. “I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

Brief excerpts of the interview appeared Thursday on RT’s  website. The full session will be aired starting Friday, the station said.

PHOTOS: Living under siege: Life in Aleppo, Syria

The Syrian president, speaking in English, repeated his oft-stated position that he has no plans to step down, despite demands for his resignation from armed rebels and their backers in the West and elsewhere.

Moscow, which has been a staunch ally of Assad, has called for negotiations that would include representatives of his government.

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More takes from foreign media on the U.S. election

APphoto_Spain Obama Reaction

 The Times rounded up some early reactions and reflections from abroad on the U.S. presidential campaign. As foreign media continue to mull over the reelection of President Obama, here’s more of the coverage Wednesday from newspapers and other outlets worldwide:

The Cold War is abolished, Kommersant (Russia): The reelection of Barack Obama as president of the USA allows many in Moscow to breathe easier. ... Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who called Russia Geopolitical Foe #1, has gone off in the distance and will no longer get on the Kremlin's nerves with his "caveman proclamations."

Mandate renewed, El Universal (Mexico): What does this mean for Mexico? ... The domestic difficulties and economic crisis will make it difficult to have a bilateral relationship that is very different than the one that exists now.          

Europe fears a greater interventionism from Obama II, Le Figaro (France): The continuing euro crisis and the risk of recession will be the first test. Before and after his reelection, Barack Obama does not want to see the U.S. economy dragged down due to mismanagement in Europe. ... The second term is likely to be more aggressive.
Countymap
What Obama’s win means, The Times of India:
And the lessons for India? First up, this is how real democracy works. In over 200 years and 44 U.S. presidents, only three have ever been dynasts. ... The U.S. campaign carries an important message for Indian politicians: privilege, entitlement and dynasty are all living on borrowed time.

New U.S. government needs to craft more constructive China policy, New China News Agency (China): It is natural for the U.S. ... to have difficulty completely disarming its suspicions toward China, which is politically, economically and culturally different. However, the U.S. should know nothing in the world remains forever unchanged, and that China will never abort its development objective simply because of Washington's unwarranted anxiety.

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What foreign media are saying about the U.S. election

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Voters in the United State handed President Obama a second term in office on Tuesday. As the rest of the world reacted and reflected on the presidential campaign, here’s a sample of the reactions and analysis from newspapers and other media around the globe:

Obama won with pragmatism and realism, Clarin (Argentina, link in Spanish): In effect, after the promised hope and change of 2008, this year Obama recognized that he hadn’t achieved all that he had set out to do. And he honestly asked for four more years to be able to do it. Few leaders, in the campaign to get reelected, have the courage to recognize their limitations.

CountymapObama will disappoint his friends around the world, Gulf News (United Arab Emirates): Drone attacks continue to outrage public opinion in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Guantanamo Bay prison which operates outside U.S. law remains open, despite Obama’s specific promise to close this moral outrage during his first year in office. The new Democrat administration would generate a huge amount of goodwill if it chose to do something about any (or all) of these problems.

FULL RESULTS: ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney lost because hard-line Republicans betrayed him, Guardian (Britain): By all historical precedent, given the figures, Romney should have sewn it up months ago. But his Reagan-esque ideas were out of date. The voters replied: "It's the economy, but we're not stupid."

A new term, an old playbook, Jerusalem Post: Elections usually turn a new page, and the president certainly has an opportunity to try to make a fresh start. But so far, Obama and other figures on the national and international stage have done little to suggest they’ll be using a different playbook.

Continue reading »

Rebels apparently target Alawite stronghold in Damascus again

Syria
BEIRUT -- Mortar shells apparently fired by anti-government rebels fell Wednesday in a Damascus district that is home to many members of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, the second deadly attack in the area this week, raising the prospect of inflamed sectarian hostilities in the tense Syrian capital.

The mortar rounds struck as rebels appear to have stepped up a campaign of violence in the capital. Car bombs and other attacks have become almost daily occurrences, despite heavy security and many government checkpoints.

The official Syrian state news service said Wednesday’s mortar salvos targeted the Mazzeh Jabal 86 neighborhood, killing three people and leaving six others hospitalized, including three in critical condition.

State media blamed the attack on “terrorists,” its standard term for mostly Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to overthrow Assad’s government.

Mazzeh Jabal 86 is home to many officers in the Syrian military and security services, which are dominated by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect, considered an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam. Syria’s Alawite minority is largely supportive of Assad in the face of the Sunni-led uprising against his family's more than 40 years of autocratic rule.

Reuters news service quoted a rebel Islamist group saying Wednesday’s mortar volleys targeted but missed the presidential palace, which sits on a  hill overlooking the capital.

The mortar attack came two days after a car bomb exploded in a crowded square in the Mazzeh Jabal 86 district, killing 11 people and injuring dozens, state media said

Along with bombings, targeted killings of government figures and supporters also appear to be on the upswing in the capital.

On Wednesday, the state news agency reported that “an armed terrorist group” assassinated a judge, Abad Nadweh, using a bomb that was attached to his car and detonated remotely.

The judge’s killing came a day after the brother of the speaker of the pro-Assad parliament was shot to death in his car in Damascus as he headed to work, according to official accounts.

Last weekend, rebels in Damascus abducted and executed a well-known Palestinian Syrian television actor, Mohamed Rafeh. Rebels accused Rafeh of being a government informant and enforcer. Friends and family say the actor was killed in retribution for his outspoken support of Assad.

Earlier this week, heavy fighting was reported in Damascus between pro and anti-Assad Palestinian factions.

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--Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reportedly shows damage caused by a mortar attack Wednesday in a residential district of Damascus. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / SANA.


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