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September 9, 2013

News Briefs September 9, 2013

Israel deploys missile defense near Jerusalem

The Israeli military has deployed an ìIron Dome missile defense battery in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Associated Press video footage showed the missile defense system positioned there Sept. 8 afternoon. The Israeli military refused comment, citing operational protocol.

Israel is concerned that Syria, or a group allied with the regime like Hezbollah, could launch missiles at Israel if the U.S. attacks over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Even though Israel believes it unlikely that Syria will attack the Jewish state, it is making preparations just in case. It has deployed air defense systems, drafted a small amount of reserve soldiers and is handing out gas masks.

The Iron Dome system has shot down hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip at Israeli cities. AP

Special veterans’ court operating in central Missouri

A special court to handle criminal cases involving military veterans with mental health or substance abuse problems is up and running in a central Missouri judicial circuit.

The Veterans Treatment Court in the 13th Circuit, which includes Boone and Callaway counties, is among the newest in Missouri, but more may be on the way. Legislation passed this year authorizes all circuit courts to create them.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reports the 13th Circuit’s court is funded with a $100,000 donation from the Veterans United Foundation. The foundation is the charitable arm of Veterans United Home Loans, which employs about 1,100 at its Columbia headquarters.

Veterans charged with certain violent crimes don’t qualify for the alternative court. It’s intended for those needing treatment for problems that led to criminal acts. AP

Egypt seizes anti-air missiles in Sinai

A top Egyptian military commander says his forces have seized at least 10 anti-aircraft missiles during an offensive against Islamic militant hideouts in the Sinai Peninsula.

Gen. Osama Askar, commander of the 3rd Army, told reporters Sept. 8 that the shoulder-fired SAM-7 missiles were found in a mosque and in homes of suspected militants in the southern part of Sheikh Zuweyid town, near the border with the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Western officials have said that thousands of shoulder-launched missiles went missing from Libyan arsenals during and after the country’s 2011 civil war.

Egyptian authorities have said that Libyan missiles have been smuggled into the Sinai, and some of those have gone on through underground tunnels to the Gaza Strip.

The Sinai militants are believed to include several al Qaeda-inspired groups. AP

Chinese ships visit Hawaii for exercises with U.S.

Three Chinese ships and hundreds of Chinese sailors are visiting Hawaii to participate in a search-and-rescue exercise with the U.S. Navy.

Performances by lion dancers and a children’s hula group welcomed the guided missile destroyer Qingdao, a frigate and a supply ship Sept. 6. The ships are carrying a helicopter and 680 officers and sailors.

They will hold a search-and-rescue drill with the USS Lake Erie and its sailors on Monday.

Chinese exercises with the U.S. are rare. The two nations last held a joint drill when they participated in an anti-piracy exercise off Somalia last year.

The Navy says the port visit is part of the Navy’s ongoing effort to develop relationships with foreign navies to build trust, encourage cooperation, enhance transparency and avoid miscalculation. AP

Four Russian ships head for Syria

Three Russian naval ships were sailing toward Syria in the eastern Mediterranean Sept. 6 and a fourth was on its way, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a source at navy headquarters.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said Sept. 5 that Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, but primarily in order to organize a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria. He did not say how many vessels were being sent.

The prospect of increased Russian naval presence near Syria has stoked fears of a larger international conflict if the United States orders airstrikes over an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital. The U.S. already has numerous war ships in the Mediterranean.

Two Russian amphibious landing vessels and a reconnaissance ship have passed through the Dardanelles strait, according to the report carried by Interfax, a privately owned agency known for its independent contacts within Russia’s armed forces.

Three Russian war ships were seen sailing through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. It was not immediately clear if they were the same three vessels, although that seemed likely.

Interfax reported that another landing ship had left the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Friday morning and was to pick up a ìspecial cargo in Novorossiysk before sailing toward the eastern Mediterranean. The state RIA Novosti news agency also said that the landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov would be headed toward Syria after picking up cargo in Novorossiysk, which it said would take several days.

The three ships reported to have passed through the Dardanelles are the Novocherkassk and Minsk landing vessels and Priazovye reconnaissance ship.

The Defense Ministry said it was unable immediately to confirm the ships’ departure.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday, warning the U.S. and its allies against striking any chemical weapons storage facilities in Syria.

That would create the threat of releasing highly toxic chemical agents, with corresponding consequences for the civilian population and the environment, the statement said. ìMoreover, it can’t be excluded that as a result of such a reckless action militants or terrorists could gain access to chemical weapons. This is a step toward proliferation of chemical weapons not only across Syrian territory but beyond its borders. AP

U.S. orders diplomats out of Lebanon

The State Department Sept. 6 ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns as the Obama administration and Congress debate military strikes on neighboring Syria.

In a new travel warning for Lebanon, the department said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon.

The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month that the administration said killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus.

ìThe potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains, the department said.

ìLebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly. Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning, the statement said. ìPublic demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning.

ìThe ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may be severely limited, the department cautioned.

Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said, ìWe will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly.

In a separate advisory for Turkey, the department advocated a policy of voluntary withdrawal of people, saying that its diplomatic outpost in Adana ìhas been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of threats against U.S. government facilities and personnel. The department said it was recommending that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey. AP




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