Thursday, July 19, 2012

Evening Update: War Looming?

The IDF raised its level of alert on Thursday and called off weekend furloughs for a number of units due to concern over the fighting in Syria.

On Wednesday, a bomb in a Damascus security buildingkilled defense minister Daoud Rajha; deputy defense minister Assef Shawkat, who was also President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law; and former defense minister and senior military official Gen. Hassan Turkmani.

Israel is primarily concerned that Syria’s chemical weapons or other advanced military systems will fall into the hands of rogueactors such as Hezbollah or global jihad elements operating in the country.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the border with Syria and warned that Hezbollah might move Syrian chemical weapons to Lebanon.

Since many Islamists came to Syria from outside the country – from global jihad, al-Qaida and other groups – there may be even greater chaos there the day after Assad, Barak said.

On Wednesday night, Barak spoke with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and updated him on Israel’s concerns regarding the situation in Syria. Barak told Panetta, who is scheduled to visit Israel later this month, that Assad’s days were numbered and that Israel’s main concern was with the chemical weapons.

Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Thursday struck back at rebels following a bombing that killed several key members of the embattled leader's inner circle.

Assad – whose grip on power in increasingly tenuous – dropped out of public view following Wednesday's bombing. While the Syrian president does not appear in public often, analysts regarded his absence following such a serious blow as remarkable.

Later on Thursday, Syria's state television broadcast pictures of Assad, showing him at a ceremony where he swore in new Defense Minister Fahad Jassem Al-Freij, who succeeded Daoud Rajah, who died in a bombing by anti-government forces, Wednesday in the Syrian capital.

Many residents were fleeing Damascus’ Mezzeh neighborhood after troops surrounded it and posted snipers on rooftops while exchanging gunfire with opposition forces, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia – which has billions of dollars tied to the Assad regime – has stood by the Syrian regime and vowed to veto any measures that could lead to international military intervention.

The spiraling chaos in Syria has also contributed to the price of crude oil topping $91 dollars a barrel amid market concerns, and led Israel to the south to place its military on high alert while canceling weekend leaves for IDF officers and soldiers.

Government forces struck back against rebels with attack helicopters and shelling in a fifth straight day of clashes in Damascus. The inability of the military to control the clashes in the capital against lightly armed rebel forces and the deadly bombing of a high-level security meeting a day earlier made Assad's hold on power look increasingly tenuous.

The state TV announcement appeared aimed at sending the message that Assad is alive, well and still firmly in charge. It said Assad wished the new defense minister good luck but it did not say where the swearing-in took place. Nor did it show any photos or video of the ceremony, as it usually would.

Thousands of Syrians streamed across the Syrian border into Lebanon, fleeing as fighting in the capital entered its fifth straight day, witnesses said. Residents near the Masnaa crossing point - about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Damascus - said hundreds of private cars as well as taxis and buses were ferrying people across

Many residents were fleeing Damascus' Mezzeh neighborhood after troops surrounded it and posted snipers on rooftops while exchanging gunfire with opposition forces.

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