Friday, April 21, 2017

Mortar Shells From Syria Land In Golan Heights, Iran Election Campaign Kicks Off Without Ahmadinejad

Three mortar shells from Syria land in northern Golan Heights 

Three mortar shells fired from Syria landed in the Golan Heights on Friday evening, causing neither injury nor damage.

Two projectiles were discovered in an open area in the northern Golan Heights, after having triggered sirens in the Golan Regional Council.

The sirens rang moments after a mortar shell landed in another open area, also in the northern Golan Heights. There were no injuries or damage reported in that incident either.

The Israeli military said both incidents appeared to be spillover fire from the raging civil war in neighboring Syria.

The IDF fired back, hitting a position affiliated with the Assad regime, which it said was the source of the mortar fire, military sources said.
The incident occurred as US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Israel. He met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier Friday, and warned Syria’s President Bashar Assad against any further use of chemical weapons. “They’d be ill-advised to try to use any again,” said Mattis. “We’ve made that very clear with our strike.”
Errant fire from fighting in the war-torn country has been common over the past several years, and a number of serious incidents in recent weeks have led to high tensions between Syria and Israel.
The IDF has frequently retaliated against stray projectile strikes inside Israeli territory.
Earlier this month, an Israeli teenager was struck by a bullet apparently fired from Syria. The teen, named as 17-year-old Aviya Frenkel, was on a hike with friends on the Israeli-Syrian border just south of Quneitra.
There was no firm confirmation on the circumstances of the incident, but the direction of fire, the diameter of the bullet and closeness to the Syrian frontier point to stray fire from battles across the border.
Last month, tensions escalated quickly between Israel and Syria after Israeli jets hit an arms transfer meant for Hezbollah near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the planes.
One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system. It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
A number of additional airstrikes attributed to Israel followed as did a drone strike that reportedly killed a member of a Syrian pro-regime militia.

Campaigning began on Friday for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing.

Ahmadinejad’s disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise — he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would “polarize” the nation

His populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even Ahmadinejad’s hardline backers during his 2005-2013 tenure.
“Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council,” said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system.”
The mood in Tehran has been subdued — many are disillusioned with Rouhani’s failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that eased sanctions.
There has been uproar over a decision by the election commission to ban live TV debates, seen by some as an attempt to prevent embarrassment to some of the candidates or the regime as a whole.
The build-up to the vote has injected more interest than many predicted just a couple of months ago, when Rouhani was seen as a shoo-in for a second term if only because the conservative opposition seemed unable to offer a strong candidate.
Since then, the 56-year-old former judge and cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as a front-runner for the conservatives.
Little-known on the political scene, Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad and is seen as a close ally of — and possible successor to — supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But despite emphasizing his care for the poor, many say Raisi’s hardline judicial background and entourage will turn off voters.

“He seems like a good and calm person himself, but the people around him are scary,” said a tour operator in Yazd, echoing a widely heard sentiment.
Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favour of Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who came second to Rouhani in 2013.
Ghalibaf — a war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief — has support from powerful backroom hardliners and presents himself as a pragmatic problem-solver.
“Economic problems cannot be solved from behind a desk,” he said Friday.
The other three candidates are seen as support for the main players in the upcoming debates.

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