Thursday, April 19, 2018

Israel girds for attacks as violence flares in Syria

JERUSALEM — At least one Iron Dome missile-defense battery was deployed Sunday in northern Israel amid reports of security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Syria and the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist rebels or being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah.

Silvan Shalom, a vice prime minister, described the movement of such weapons as a "red line" that could lead to Israeli military action. "If there will be a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organizations," Shalom said on Army Radio. "We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah's hands."

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces said that the deployment of the Iron Dome in the north — where Israel borders Syria and Lebanon — was part of a routine rotation around the country and "not related to any current situation assessments." But Israeli journalists suspected otherwise, noting that Netanyahu had been in marathon meetings for several days with military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers, with unusual strictures on secrecy.

"Something is happening for sure," said Ehud Yaari, a senior security analyst with Israel's Channel 2 News. "Even in Israel, which is usually tense, and the normal nervousness that you have in this country, this is exceptional now."

The focus on Syria in Israel came as violence flared across the border. Syrian government warplanes and artillery increased attacks on rebels in the Damascus suburbs, fighting closed the highway to Daraa in the south, and clashes continued in Homs province, in central Syria, and in the city of Deir al-Zour in the east, according to state news media and antigovernment activists. The fierce fighting and desperate living conditions have sent 30,000 Syrians fleeing to Jordan in the past month, with thousands more entering Lebanon and massing on the border with Turkey — accelerating a flow that now totals 650,000 people who have fled and another 2 million displaced inside the country.

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