Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Netanyahu warns Hezbollah amid high tensions along northern border

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and others, after Israeli forces said they thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria by suspected militants.
The Israel Defense Forces announced late Monday that it had struck targets in Syria after the militants tried to plant explosives in the Golan Heights. The four suspects were believed to have been killed by an Israeli missile strike while carrying out the attempted attack in the pre-dawn hours of Monday.
Netanyahu, who toured a military base in the central city of Ramle on Tuesday, said Israel would not hesitate to take further action.
“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves. I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this,” he said.
Netanyahu added: “These are not vain words; they have the weight of the State of Israel and the IDF behind them and this should be taken seriously.” READ MORE

As Beirut death toll rises, Lebanese PM vows to punish those behind huge blast

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister said Tuesday those responsible for a massive blast that killed dozens of people and left wide swaths of Beirut in devastation would “pay the price,” as authorities scrambled to rescue the injured and find the cause of the explosion.
More than 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured, officials said, with the toll expected to rise as more bodies were pulled out of the rubble.
The blast, which sent a mushroom cloud into the sky, leveled several blocks around Beirut’s downtown port and caused damage several miles away, blowing out windows and knocking people off their feet.
The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis: Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.
Hours later, ambulances still carried away the wounded as army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.
The cause of the blast was not immediately known.
Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. READ MORE

Israeli involvement in massive Beirut port blast ruled out by both sides

A destroyed silo at the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on August 4, 2020 (STR / AFP)
Massive blasts that struck Beirut were not caused by Israeli activity, sources in Lebanon and Jerusalem said Tuesday afternoon, as officials attempted to determine what sparked the huge explosions.
Lebanese officials indicated that an initial explosion was caused by fireworks stored at the port, and a second, even larger explosion may have been caused by the fire reaching explosive material that has been kept there for years.
The blasts came amid high tensions between Israel and Lebanon and hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a fresh warning to the Iran-backed terror group.
Senior Hezbollah officials told OTV Lebanon that social media rumors about an Israeli attack were false.
“There is no truth to rumors about an Israeli strike against Hezbollah weapons in the port,” a source told the station. READ MORE

Hezbollah denies a weapons depot was attacked

The Lebanese channel OTV reported on Tuesday, based on sources close to Hezbollah, that there is no truth to the reports of an Israeli attack on weapons in the port of Beirut.
The Al Arabiya network reported earlier that the explosion in the port of Beirut took place in a Hezbollah weapons depot.
Lebanese media reports said the blast killed at least 73 people and injured 3,700 others.
Abbas Mousawi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that the explosion in the port of Beirut was "concerning" and that the government in Tehran continues to monitor the goings on in Lebanon and is willing to offer humanitarian aid.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority cabinet leader, also expressed a willingness to help Lebanon by sending medical teams, rescue teams and blood donations to the country.

Report: Saudi Arabia constructed 'yellowcake' facility with China's help

Saudi Arabia has constructed with Chinese help a facility for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, Western officials with knowledge of the site told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
The facility, which hasn’t been publicly disclosed, is in a sparsely populated area in Saudi Arabia’s northwest and has raised concern among US and allied officials that the kingdom’s nascent nuclear program is moving ahead and that Riyadh is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons.
Even though Riyadh is still far from that point, the facility’s exposure appears certain to draw concern in the US Congress, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers has expressed alarm about Saudi nuclear energy plans and about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 2018 vow that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
It is also likely to cause consternation in Israel, where officials have warily monitored Saudi Arabia’s nuclear work.
The Saudi Energy Ministry said in a statement it “categorically denies” having built a uranium ore facility in the area described by some of the Western officials, adding that mineral extraction—including uranium—is a key part of the country’s economic diversification strategy.
The Saudi statement said the kingdom has contracted with the Chinese on uranium exploration in Saudi Arabia in certain areas. A spokesman declined to elaborate on the ministry’s statement.
“Yellowcake” is a milled form of uranium ore which occurs naturally in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries such as Jordan. It is produced by chemically processing uranium ore into a fine powder. It takes multiple additional steps and technology to process and enrich uranium sufficiently for it to power a civil nuclear energy plant. At very high enrichment levels, uranium can fuel a nuclear weapon.
Saudi Arabia has not kept its nuclear ambitions secret, but promised that its nuclear program will be used to supply domestic electricity, enabling the country to export more of its oil.
However, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned in 2018 that "without a doubt" if Iran develops nuclear weapons, "we will follow suit as soon as possible."
Last year, the US approved the sale of nuclear technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia.
Israel has requested that the Americans remove all the nuclear fuel used from Saudi Arabia so that it would not be reprocessed.
The Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment. A State Department representative declined to say whether Washington has raised the issue with Riyadh, but said the US has warned all its partners about the danger of engagement with China’s civilian nuclear establishment

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Watch what really happened in the Beirut expostions of 8/4/20

Israel Reveals Maps of Hezbollah Missile Sites in Beirut

Two huge explosions rock Beirut, dozens of casualties

Beirut (AFP) - Two enormous explosions rocked the Lebanese capital's port on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the Beirut sky.
Video footage of the second blast showed an enormous orange fireball that dwarfed nearby buildings and sent a devastating tornado-like shockwave ripping through the city.
"We heard an explosion, then we saw the mushroom," said one resident who witnessed the second, deafening explosion from her balcony in the city's Mansourieh district.  
"The force of the blast threw us backwards into the apartment," she said.
Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, many bloodied, after the massive blasts, the cause of which was not immediately known.
A soldier at the port, who asked not to be named, told AFP: "It's a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead."
The official National News Agency confirmed deaths in the blast, without citing a number.
The explosions "caused dozens of injuries," a security source said.
The AFP correspondent said every shop in the Hamra commercial district had sustained damage, with entire storefronts destroyed, windows shattered and many cars wrecked.
Injured people were walking in the street, while outside the Clemenceau Medical Centre, dozens of wounded people, many covered in blood, were rushing to be admitted to the centre, including children.
Destroyed cars had been abandoned in the street with their airbags inflated.
A huge cloud of black smoke was engulfing the entire port area, as helicopters flew to dump water on the burning buildings.
The port zone was cordoned off by the security forces, allowing access only to a string of ambulances, fire trucks and people whose relatives were working inside the devastated area, while others were screaming to be let through. (Story continues)

Lebanon is sliding into the abyss of a “failed state”

When he quit as Lebanon’s foreign minister on Monday, July 3, Nasser Hitti said his country was close to becoming a “failed state” due to “conflicting interests” and its weakened ties with the “Arab community” – a dig at the Shiite Hizballah’s iron fist on government as Iran’s tool.
Lebanon’s woes are the result of a compendium of troubles: a cold shoulder from oil-rich Sunni Arab friends, a collapsed economy, popular discontent that transcends sectarian divides, government corruption and ineptitude, and the disastrous spinoff from the Syrian civil war – all aggravated by the coronavirus outbreak. Last year, as Lebanon plunged deep into debt, Hizballah fighters came marching home from a successful campaign on Iran’s behalf in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah, riding high, deepened his grip on government and parliament, after forging an alliance with President Michel Aoun.
Lebanon’s formerly strong ties with Arab nations were soon derailed, especially with Saudi Arabia. They bitterly resent the Iranian Lebanese proxy’s growing role in furthering Tehran’s ambitions in its country and region and interference in its conflicts.
Hizballah’s increased clout in Beirut also tipped the scales of the fragile power-sharing arrangement among the country’s three main sects, based on a Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minster and a Shiite Muslim Parliament Speaker. They form the elite which maneuvers tirelessly for the high ground in Beirut and plum jobs for their cronies.
Not long ago, Beirut was the free-and-easy playground of well-heeled Arabs who kept the town buzzing and its banks swimming in abundant dollars. Today, Lebanon’s public debt-to-gross domestic product is the third highest in the world, unemployment is rife and a third of the population had sunk to below the poverty line. Transfers have dried up from the large Lebanese diaspora. The drop in remittances from Gulf-based Lebanese nationals and decline in oil prices keep on pushing Lebanon further into debt and widening the gap between the Lebanese pound and the dollar in a thriving black market.
The country’s weakness is further exacerbated by the added burden of 1,5 million Syrian displaced refugees displaced to Lebanon at the height of the war.
Furious protests starting last year over the breakdown of basic services – power cuts, shortages of clean water and public healthcare – spilled over in October when the government levied a tax on tobacco, petrol and the Whatsapp messaging service. This plan was scrapped but the protests continued against the ruling elite, which continues to be blamed for feathering their nests while failing to carry out essential reforms. Tens of thousands of angry Lebanese forced the Western-backed Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri to resign and his unity government to fall, bringing the country to a standstill.
The protesters will not have forgotten or forgiven Hizballah goons for wielding sticks to break up their demonstrations last year.
The current Prime Minister Hassan Diab subsequently announced that Lebanon would default on its foreign debt for the first time in its history, saying its foreign currency reserves had hit a “critical and dangerous” level and that those remaining were needed to pay for vital imports.
By the time the coronavirus restrictions began to be lifted in May, the prices of some foodstuffs had doubled, and Lebanon was at risk of a major food crisis. At a time of hyperinflation, meat, fruits and vegetables have become unattainable luxuries for most Lebanese; some can’t even buy bread.
Hours after Hitti resigned, President Michel Aoun and Diab signed a decree appointing Charbel Wehbe as the new foreign minister.
Hitti’s resignation was the biggest blow yet to Diab’s six-month-old government, which has struggled to make good on promises to implement wide-ranging reforms following the massive anti-establishment protests last year.  Diab’s cabinet has already seen two high-profile resignations from a team negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. Both had cited the same lack of will to reform due to the interests of the country’s political-financial elite.
Hitti’s prediction that “If they don’t’ come together, then the ship will sink with everyone aboard.” is close to being realized. “Everyone” also includes Hizballah, whose response to this dire fate is keenly watched from neighboring Israel.

15 said killed in mystery airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Syria

At least 15 people were killed in a mystery air attack on a base used by Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias, a war monitor group focused on Syria said Tuesday.
Citing “reliable” sources, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the intensive airstrikes continued from 5 a.m. until 9 a.m Monday, and hit the Imam Ali base near the town of Abu Kamal, in eastern Deir Ezzor region close to the border with Iraq.
“The attack left several casualties and destroyed positions, bases, and weapons warehouses,” the SOHR report said in its initial report.
On Monday it identified the dead as “15 Iranian-backed militiamen of Iraqi nationalities.”
Sources said that in the wake of the attack, forces transported dead and injured fighters across the border into Iraq and that Iranian forces in Al-Bokamal were on high alert and massing more fighters.
The reported timing of the Deir Ezzor attack put it hours after Israel thwarted an attempt by four men to plant bombs inside its territory along the border with Syria late Sunday night. The attackers were all killed by soldiers on the ground and an unspecified aircraft that fired at them. No Israeli soldiers were injured.
A spokesman said that the military did not yet know which military or terrorist organization the men belonged to, but the IDF was looking into the matter.
He said it was not immediately clear if it was an isolated incident or if it was tied to ongoing tensions with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terror group that has vowed to carry out some kind of attack on Israel in retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike in Syria last month that it attributed to the Jewish state. There has been no comment from the Lebanon-based group.
Iranian bases in Deir Ezzor have been targeted in the past in strikes attributed to Israel, which has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.
Though the Israel Defense Forces generally refuses to make statements about individual strikes, Israeli officials have confirmed the broad outlines of a several-year air campaign to keep Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria.

Netanyahu: Sovereignty decision depends on White House support

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the issue of the application of sovereignty during the weekly Likud faction meeting Monday after not commenting on the issue since the beginning of July.
"For me, the application of sovereignty has not been dropped from the agenda - it depends on the White House," Netanyahu told the Likud faction.
Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani said in response, "Mr. Prime Minister, the one who repeatedly promised to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, this decision will not be made Washington, but in Jerusalem."
"This is your decision alone and you must go through with it. Keep your word and begin to apply sovereignty in Judea and Samaria soon," Elhayani adde

Singapore to make travellers wear electronic tags to enforce quarantine

SINGAPORE, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Singapore will make some incoming travellers wear an electronic monitoring device to ensure that they comply with coronavirus quarantines as the city-state gradually reopens its borders, authorities said on Monday.
From August 11, the devices will be given to incoming travellers, including citizens and residents, from a select group of countries who will be allowed to isolate at home rather than at a state-appointed facility.
Similar measures using electronic wristbands to track peoples' movements during quarantine have been used in Hong Kong and South Korea.
Travellers to Singapore are required to activate the device, which use GPS and Bluetooth signals, upon reaching their home and will receive notifications on the device which they must acknowledge.
Any attempt to leave home or tamper with the device will trigger an alert to the authorities.
Hong Kong in March introduced a scheme for incoming travellers to use a slim electronic wristband, similar to a tag worn by hospital patients, to enforce quarantines for arriving passengers. South Korea has also used such wristbands connected to smartphone apps for those who violate quarantine.
Singapore, which has not given details on what the device will look like, said in a statement that it will not store any personal data and does not have any voice or video recording function.
Those aged 12 and below will not have to wear the devices.
The city-state, which is also planning to give all residents a wearable virus-tracing dongle, has tough punishments for breach of its quarantine and social distancing rules.
Under the Infectious Diseases Act, punishments can be fines of up to S$10,000 ($7,272) or imprisonment of up to six months, or both. It has also revoked the work passes of foreigners who flouted the rules.
Singapore has reported 52,825 coronavirus infections, mostly due to mass outbreaks in cramped migrant workers dormitories, but imported cases have been creeping up in recent days. ($1 = 1.3752 Singapore dollars) (Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie in Singapore Editing by Ed Davies)

Monday, August 3, 2020


For a very long time we have been warned that a U.S. economic collapse was inevitably coming, and now it is here.  Fear of COVID-19 and unprecedented civil unrest in our major cities have combined to plunge us into a historic economic downturn, and nobody is exactly sure what is going to happen next.  
On Thursday, we learned that U.S. GDP was down 32.9 percent on an annualized basis last quarter.  That officially makes last quarter the worst quarter in all of U.S. history, and many people believe that this new economic depression is just getting started.  
But of course not all areas of the country are being affected equally.  According to USA Today, states such as Hawaii, Nevada, Michigan and New York were hit particularly hard last quarter...
Every state was walloped last quarter, though ones that rely heavily on travel and tourism, such as Hawaii and Nevada, were hit hardest by the downturn, according to employment figures analyzed by economist Adam Kamins of Moody's Analytics. 
Michigan, the heart of the nation's auto industry, was slammed as consumers put off car purchases. And densely populated Northeast states struck by the most severe virus outbreaks - like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts - absorbed among the heaviest economic losses as governors shut down earlier and residents stayed home.
Originally, the mainstream media was telling us that the U.S. economy would come surging back to life during the third quarter, but we continue to get more signs that indicate that the economy is starting to slow down again. READ MORE

“Long Live Syria! Down with Assad!” Russia’s Syrian proxy shouts

Moscow used its South Syrian proxy, the Fifth Corps, to send a message to Bashar Assad in Damascus. This telling slogan was shouted on Aug. 1 in the presence of Russian officers at a passing-out parade of 1,000 Russian- trained recruits of the Fifth Corps. This militia was established earlier this year to nail down Moscow’s role as the boss of southern Syria. It rules three regions, Daraa, Quneitra and Jebel Druze.
Most of the volunteers joining up are former rebels, some of them southern Syrian fighters against the Assad regime who were in Israel’s pay during the civil war. Installed as their commander is Ahmed al- Awdah, a colorful former rebel, reputed to hold a degree in English literature who is known to have changed sides more than once. Today, he answers directly to a Russian general. The Fifth Corps, most of whose recruits are Sunni Muslims, acts as a living barrier against Iranian, pro-Iranian or Hizballah intrusions or Syrian national army attempts to  challenge Russian control of southern Syria.
And so the slogan, “Long Live Syria! Down with Assad!” coming from the throats of a thousand new Russian-trained Syrian recruits, at a parade attended by a Russian colonel and other officers, would have resounded jarringly in the ears of Bashar Assad and his regime. Vladimir Putin was telling him from Awdah’s Bosra headquarters in the South where the power, that guaranteed his survival by military intervention, stands today and what is planned in the Kremlin for his country and regime.

If there was any doubt about those intentions, Russian officers have also been making their way to the eastern province of Der Ezzour to raise local talent for pushing the Iranian Guards out of this Syrian-Iraqi border region. Steps are therefore in motion for asserting Russian domination in the Eastern Euphrates into the bargain.

Putin’s emissaries are also in touch with the Kurdish leaders of northern Syria. In conversation with Gen. Mazlum Abdi, head of their US-backed militia, they are holding out seductive assurances of support for the Syrian Kurds’ attainment of “decentralization” – another word for self-rule. They are also promising to look after Syria’s Kurds against retribution by the Assad regime if and when the US withdraws its troops from the country. Russian-American dialogue also seems to be taking place alongside this step.

Seen from Tehran, the spectacle of Russia, an erstwhile ally in the campaign for keeping Assad in power, quietly and determinedly forging its own path into positions of control in southern, eastern and northern Syria, must be maddening in the extreme.

Often on brink, Lebanon hurtles toward collapse

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Power cuts that last up to 20 hours a day. Mountains of trash spilling into streets. Long lines at gas stations.
It may seem like a standard summer in Lebanon, a country used to wrestling with crumbling infrastructure as it vaults from one disaster to another.
Only this time, it’s different. Every day brings darker signs Lebanon has rarely seen in past crises: Mass layoffs, hospitals threatened with closure, shuttered shops and restaurants, crimes driven by desperation, a military that can no longer afford to feed its soldiers meat and warehouses that sell expired poultry.
Lebanon is hurtling toward a tipping point at an alarming speed, driven by financial ruin, collapsing institutions, hyperinflation and rapidly rising poverty — with a pandemic on top of that.
The collapse threatens to break a nation seen as a model of diversity and resilience in the Arab world and potentially open the door to chaos. Lebanese worry about a decline so steep it would forever alter the small Mediterranean country’s cultural diversity and entrepreneurial spirit, unparalleled in the Middle East.
In the past, Lebanon has been able to in part blame its turmoil on outsiders. With 18 religious sects, a weak central government and far more powerful neighbors, it has always been caught in regional rivalries leading to political paralysis, violence or both. Its 1975-90 civil war made the word “Beirut” synonymous with war’s devastation and produced a generation of warlords-turned-politicians that Lebanon hasn’t been able to shake off to this day. READ MORE


IDF says it killed 4 terrorists planting bombs on Syria border

Israeli forces foiled an attempt to place bombs along the border with Syria, opening fire and hitting four “terrorists,” the Israel Defense Forces said after midnight Sunday.
The incident comes with the military on high alert for an attack by Hezbollah, which is seeking revenge for a fighter killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel.
“A short time ago, an IDF force foiled an attempt to place explosive devices along the border with Syria,” the army said in a statement.  “Special forces that were carrying out an ambush near an IDF post in the southern Golan Heights spotted a cell with a number of terrorists planting explosive devices along the border.”
The army said “an IDF force and an aircraft opened fire together on the four-member cell and hit them.”
There were no casualties to the IDF.
The statement noted that IDF forces in the north were on a high level of alert and warned Syria that that Israel holds Damascus responsible for any attacks emanating from it’s territory.
While the statement only said the terrorists were “hit,” an IDF spokesperson tweeted they were now “former terrorists” and indicated they were killed. READ MORE