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Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier

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Jerusalem/ Beirut: Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli army bases in the Golan Heights , Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.

The attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, just past midnight, marked the first time Iranian forces have hit Israel from Syria, where they have deployed along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militias and Russian troops to support President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

Syrian state media said dozens of Israeli missiles hit a radar station, Syrian air defence positions and an ammunition dump, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

 

Israel said 20 Iranian Grad and Fajr rockets were shot down by its Iron Dome air defence system or fell short of the Golan targets. The Quds Force, an external arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, carried out the launch, Israel said.

“It was commanded and ordered by (Quds Force chief General) Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

Israel struck back by destroying dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, Conricus said, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes.

“We do not know yet the (Iranian) casualty count,” he said.

“But I can say that in terms of our purpose, we focused less on personnel and more on capabilities and hardware … to inflict long-term damage on the Iranian military establishment in Syria. We assess it will take substantial time to replenish.”

The Israelis fear that Iran and its Lebanese guerrilla ally Hezbollah are turning Syria into a new front against them. Israel says its occasional strikes in Syria aim to foil that.

Iran vowed retaliation after a suspected Israeli air strike last month killed seven of its military personnel in a Syrian air base.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat, and has repeatedly targeted Iranian forces and allied militia in Syria.

Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. Hours later, Israeli rocket rockets targeted a military base in Kisweh, a commander in the pro-Syrian government regional alliance said.

That attack killed 15 people, including eight Iranians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, though the commander said there were no casualties. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

The Trump administration cast its hard tack against the Iranian nuclear deal as a response, in part, to Tehran’s military interventions in the region.

The Golan flare-up with Israel “is just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted and another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.


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Taliban resumes peace talks with US envoy in Qatar

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Islamabad :The Taliban and the United States resumed talks in Doha, Qatar with an aim to end the stalemate over the participation of Afghan government in the negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict.

Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman in a statement said, “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha.”

Doha meeting happened as the Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan intelligence agency — National Directorate of Security — installation in Maidan Shahr, Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of security personnel.

 

The two sides — US and Taliban — had last met in December 2018 in Abu Dhabi in a meeting facilitated by Pakistan and observed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. It had been agreed at the meeting that the engagement process would be continued. But, arranging the next round of talks became difficult due to the Taliban’s inflexibility over negotiating with the Afghan government. The Taliban have, meanwhile, been insisting that US should instead withdraw its forces and release Taliban prisoners.

There was no word from the US side on the Taliban claim after the latest meeting in Doha that US had agreed to discuss withdrawal plans.

Recently, the Afghan Taliban while rejecting media reports of possible talks with the US in Islamabad and reiterated that they will not deal directly with the Afghan Government.

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11 die as ships with Indian, Turkish crews catch fire in Kerch Strait

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Moscow:Two ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members had caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from Russia, killing at least 11 people, media reports said on Tuesday.

The fire broke out off Russia’s territorial waters. Both vessels were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other a tanker. The fire broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other.

One of the ships, the Candy, had a 17-member crew–nine Turkish citizens and eight Indian nationals.

 

The other, the Maestro, had a 15-member crew–seven Turkish nationals, seven Indian citizens and an intern from Libya, Russian news agency Tass quoted maritime authority as saying.

At least 11 sailors had died, Russian Maritime Agency was quoted by RT news, a Russian television network.

“Presumably, an explosion occurred (on one of the vessels). Then the fire spread to another vessel. A rescue tug is en route,” said a spokesman for the Russian Maritime Agency.

Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels.

Twelve people have so far been rescued from the sea. Nine sailors were still listed as missing, the spokesperson said.

Severe weather conditions at sea had prevented rescue ships from taking victims to the shore for medical treatment, the report added.

The Kerch Strait is a key waterway that holds strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine.

It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea.

It’s also the closest point of access for Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. A Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait opened in May last year. PTI

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Pak shares Kartarpur draft pact, calls India ‘urgently’ to finalise deal

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Lahore/New Delhi: Pakistan said it has shared a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with India and invited New Delhi to “urgently” send a delegation to Islamabad to “negotiate and finalise” the proposal.

The proposed agreement aims at facilitating travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Gurudwara in Narowal, nearly 4 km away from Gurdaspur border on the Indian side.

“The draft agreement between the two governments has been shared with New Delhi through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.

 

The move is in line with Pakistan’s policy of promoting inter-faith harmony and religious tolerance and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood, he added.

Pakistan has appointed Director-General (South Asia and SAARC) as the focal person on its side and requested India to designate its focal person soon.

Pakistan also invited India to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad to negotiate and finalise the agreement”, Faisal said.

He also tweeted, “Continuing with PM Imran Khan’s initiative, Pakistan, today, shared the proposed draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor with India. Indian delegation invited to visit Islamabad for an expedited conclusion of the agreement. Keeping promises – Work in progress on Kartarpur Corridor on Pakistan side.”

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district.

Two days later on November 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.

The decision to build the corridor – from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border – was taken by the Union Cabinet on November 22.

The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur.

The corridor was a long-pending demand of the Sikh community. Pakistan had committed to open the corridor in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

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