Pentagon Denies Bombing Syrian Mosque, But Its Own Photo May Prove That It Did
Alex Emmons, Intercept, Mar 17 2017
Al-Jineh in Aleppo province late on Mar 16 2017. (Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty)
Pentagon spox insisted that the airstrike in the rebel-held village of al-Jina in northern Syria on Thursday night did not hit a mosque. Navy Captain Jeff Davis wrote in an email:
The area was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties. We deliberately did not target the mosque.
He even unclassified and circulated a photo. And he pointed out that on the left, you can see a small mosque, still standing.
This image provided by the DoD purports to show the post-strike view in al-Jinah on March 16. Photo: Navy
But to the people on the ground, the photo tells a different story. Activists and first responders say the building that was targeted was a part of the mosque complex, and that the charred rubble shown in the photo was where 300 people were praying when the bombs began to hit. More than 42 people were killed and dozens more injured, according to monitoring groups and local activists. “White Helmets” rushed to treat the wounded and dig corpses out of the rubble. An administration official told the WaPo that two armed, Reaper drones fired “roughly entirety of their Hellfire payload and followed up w/ 500 lb bomb.”
Pentagon spox told The Intercept:
The building was holding a meeting of AQ members. We believe dozens of core AQ terrorists were killed.
According to the monitoring group Airwars, locals say the building the drones struck is part of a mosque and religious school, which was built as an expansion several years ago. Local activist Mohamed al-Shaghel told the NYT that the people in the building had “no affiliation with any military faction or any political side.”
The SOHR said that the strike took place between the city of Idlib and Aleppo, and called it a “massacre.” A sign shown outside the south side of the building reads “Umar ibn Al-Khattab mosque” and indicates it is a religious school. Numerous pictures showing fragments of Hellfire missiles also appeared on social media.
The debris after the strikes in al-Jineh on Mar 17
(Photo: Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty)
The Pentagon has a history of initially denying involvement in some of its worst atrocities. For instance, when Pindostan bombed a hospital in Kunduz in 2015, the Pentagon initially claimed it was not targeting the hospital. Pentagon spox said that the destruction of the hospital, which was bombed for more than 30 minutes, killing 42 people, was “collateral damage.” The Pentagon’s story continued to change over coming days, until it eventually admitted responsibility.
After Israeli Attack in Syria, Russia Summons Israel’s Envoy for Clarifications
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Mar 17 2017
Israel’s ambassador to Russia has been called in by the Russian Foreign Ministry for clarifications Friday after Israel’s air force attacked in Syria overnight, a statement by Moscow said. The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed the statement. Ambassador Gary Koren, who filed his letter of credence to Pres Putin on Thursday, was called in for a talk with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on the recent developments in Syria, a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
It is relatively rare for Israeli ambassadors to be summoned for such a talk in the wake of air force action in Syria. Since Russian forces entered Syria two years ago, a number of attacks attributed to Israel have taken place, but in none of the cases was the Israeli envoy to Moscow asked to give clarifications. Meanwhile, Netanyahu published a short response to the events in Syria, saying Israel will continue to prevent advanced arms from reaching Hezbollah. He said:
When we identify attempts to transfer advanced arms to Hezbollah, and we have intelligence information and we have the operational plan, we act to prevent it. That’s what happened and that’s what will happen.
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 10 on Friday:
Israel didn’t brief Russia before carrying out the strike overnight. The strike was made in the wake of Pres Assad’s attempts to change the rules of the game vis-à-vis Israel. We will not let Syria become a dangerous hub of Hezbollah activity.
Just last Thursday Netanyahu visited Moscow and met with Putin to discuss the situation in Syria. Netanyahu said:
I stressed during the meeting that Israel is not opposed to a political settlement in Syria as long as it doesn’t include the permanent presence of Iran or its proxies. I made this clear and I think the message was internalized. I wanted to clarify our position regarding any political settlement in Syria. It was important for me that even if an agreement took time, that Israel’s position will remain clear. I stressed our strong opposition to Iran or its proxies establishing themselves in Syria. We see that Iran is trying to establish a naval base in Syria. This has serious implications for Israeli security. I told Putin this would threaten stability and hurt the possibility of achieving a political settlement in Syria.
Remember the following was written under Israeli military censorship:
Syria complains Israeli airstrikes violated international law
Times of Israel, Mar 17 2017
Jordanians inspect the remains of a Syrian missile and
an Israeli Arrow interceptor, Mar 17 (Photo: Petra)
The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Friday sent two letters to the UN secretary-general and to the director of the UNSC regarding Israeli airstrikes that took place overnight. The letters called the strikes a violation of international law, of UN resolutions and of Syrian sovereignty. Early Friday, Syria fired missiles at Israeli warplanes after a series of Israeli airstrikes inside Syria, a rare military exchange that was confirmed by both sides. The Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets. Israeli aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, without elaborating. It would not say whether any other missiles struck Israeli-held territory, but said the safety of Israeli civilians and Israeli aircraft was “not compromised.” The army said the incident set off sirens in Jewish settlement communities in the Jordan Valley, part of the West Bank. The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is extremely rare, though Israeli military officials reported a shoulder-fired missile a few months ago. A Syrian military statement said four Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace, flying into Syria through Lebanese territory, and targeted a military position in central Syria. Damascus said Syrian anti-aircraft systems confronted the planes and claimed one of the jets was shot down in Israeli-controlled territory and that another was hit. The Israeli military denied the claim, saying none of the jets had been hit. Syria’s Foreign Ministry sent letters to the UN chief and the president of the UNSC calling on them to “condemn the blatant Israeli aggression that is considered a violation of international law.”
Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile, intercepting it before it exploded in Israel. The Israeli military said it had been on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for Hezbollah. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah. Al-Mayadin TV, which has good sources within Hezbollah, dismissed reports by other Arab media outlets that a Hezbollah commander, Badi Hamiyeh, was killed in one of the airstrikes. It said Hamiyeh was killed Thursday in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra, near the Israeli-held Golan Heights. Jordan said parts of the missiles fell in its rural northern areas, including the Irbid district. The Jordanian military said the debris came from the Israeli interception of missiles fired from Syria. Radwan Otoum, the Irbid governor, told the state news agency Petra that the missile parts caused only minor damage. A chunk of missile crashed into the courtyard of a home in the community of Inbeh in northern Jordan, about 40 km from the Syrian border. Umm Bilal al-Khatib, a local resident, said she heard a blast and initially thought a gas cylinder had exploded. When she went outside she found a small crater and a 3m-long cylinder. She said her husband contacted Jordanian authorities, who removed the debris. Haaretz said the interception took place north of Jerusalem. However, the Arrow is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles high in the stratosphere, so it remained unclear why the system would have been used in this particular incident. The Arrow is part of what Israel calls its “multi-layer missile defense” comprised of different systems meant to protect against short-range and long-range threats, including the thousands of missiles possessed by Hezbollah in Lebanon and rockets used by Hamas etc in Gaza. The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a Pindo-led coalition striking Daesh and AQ targets. Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.
Israel air raid targets government positions as Syrian conflict intensifies
Jordan Shilton, WSWS, Mar 18 2017
In yet another sign of the threat of a wider war in the Middle East, the Syrian government fired anti-aircraft missiles early Friday morning at Israeli planes after Tel Aviv launched one of its deepest incursions into the conflict to date, carrying out a raid near the Syrian city of Palmyra. Although none of the fighter jets were shot down, the IDF deployed its Arrow missile defense system to take down one of the Syrian missiles north of Jerusalem. Residents were awoken by air raid sirens and pieces of the Syrian missile landed in Jordan, prompting the Israeli army to issue a statement on the incident. Israeli planes have conducted numerous strikes since 2012 on arms shipments Tel Aviv claims are being sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The army has tended to downplay these activities, with initial reports generally appearing in the international media. But Friday’s attack marked the deepest incursion yet. The positions hit near Palmyra were reportedly occupied by government troops and aligned Hezbollah forces who are advancing on Islamic State fighters to the east. Israel’s growing aggressiveness in its actions over Syria is bound up with its role as the closest US ally in the region. Netanyahu has repeatedly warned of Israel’s refusal to accept an expanded role for Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, both of which backed Assad’s forces in the country’s civil war. In an ominous warning, Netanyahu provocatively declared during a recent visit to Moscow:
One of the most important issues we will discuss is Iran’s attempt to make an agreement with Syria. With or without Syria’s agreement, Iran will attempt to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, both on land and at sea. I will tell Pres Putin about my extreme opposition to this plan, and about the possibility Israel will choose to attack. I hope we will be able to come to the understanding necessary to prevent as much as possible confrontations between Russian and Israeli forces.
Netanyahu undoubtedly feels his hand strengthened by the repeated denunciations of Iran coming from the Trump administration. His meeting with Trump in Faschingstein last month and the pair’s joint press conference indicated that Pindostan is planning to work with Israel and a coalition of Sunni Arab states to conduct stepped-up provocations against Tehran. Responding to the Israeli raid, Russia summoned Tel Aviv’s ambassador to Moscow and demanded an explanation. Vowing that Israel would not back down, Netanyahu proclaimed in a statement released later yesterday:
Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, when we have the intel and the operational capability, we act to prevent it. That’s how we’ve acted and how we will continue to act … and everyone needs to take this into account. Everyone.
The Syrian government reacted by sending letters to the UN Sec-Gen and the director of the UNSC in which it denounced the Israeli attacks as a violation of Syrian sovereignty and a breach of international law. Damascus also claimed to have shot down one Israeli plane and hit another, but Israel denied this. The potential for further clashes between Israeli and Syrian forces, or even with Russia, is heightened above all by the imminent prospect of a major escalation of the war by the Trump administration. The Pentagon is set to send a request to Sec Def ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis for a doubling of the number of troops deployed in the country, which would see the increase of Pindo ground forces by 1,000. Pindo warplanes have already stepped up air strikes both in Syria and Iraq, with devastating consequences. On Thursday, a Pindo air strike hit a mosque in the village of al-Jina in Aleppo province, killing at least 46 civilians and wounding over 100. According to locals, there were 300 people in the mosque at the time and the death toll is likely much higher because many bodies remain unrecovered. The SOHR described the bombing as a “massacre.” Concerns were also expressed that the targeting of a meeting so close to a mosque could indicate that the Pentagon has loosened the rules of engagement in Syria, in line with unconfirmed press reports earlier this week. CENTCOM confirmed it had conducted a raid in the area but refused to state its precise location, merely stating that it had been aimed at an AQ meeting. In a tacit admission that Pindo planes bombed the mosque, CENTCOM spox told the media:
We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target, which was where the meeting took place, is about 50 ft from a mosque that is still standing.
Later in the day, Pentagon spox said the air strike had likely killed a number of high-level AQ operatives and was carried out by manned and unmanned aircraft. He declared:
We do not currently assess there were any civilian casualties.
The raid was not listed among those carried out by the coalition, indicating that the decision to target the area was taken unilaterally by Faschingstein. Pindostan and its allies continue to vastly underestimate the numbers of civilian casualties caused by their murderous air strikes. Earlier this month, the coalition asserted that a mere 220 civilians had been killed in Syria and Iraq since raids began in 2014. This ridiculously low figure bears no relation to the genuine number of lives destroyed by Pindo imperialism, a figure which will only rise as Trump escalates the conflict, as demonstrated by his recent granting of permission to the CIA to carry out drone assassinations without presidential oversight. The Pindo-incited war for regime change in Syria has now been raging for over six years and has claimed an estimated half a million lives. The Trump administration’s plans to further escalate the conflict, under the pretext of combatting Daesh, will only compound the suffering of millions who have been forced to flee their homes and vastly increase the likelihood of a direct clash between the competing powers whose militaries are deployed in the region. One of the most dangerous conflict regions is in northern Syria around the town of Manbij, where Pindo, Russian and Turkish forces, along with their proxies and fighters from the Syrian government, are operating within firing distance of each other. Pindostan has aligned itself with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey is deeply opposed to Kurdish involvement in the retaking of any territory from Daesh. Russia, meanwhile, is supporting Assad’s troops to recapture as much territory for the government as possible. The sending of hundreds more Pindo forces to this highly-explosive region only increases the danger of the Syrian bloodbath erupting into a broader conflict, with disastrous consequences for the population of the Middle East and beyond.