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WATCH: Syrian Air Defenses Intercept, Destroys Israeli F-16 Missiles Over East Of Homs

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The Syrian Army claims the country’s air defences in the central province of Homs have traced, intercepted and destroyed a number of missiles fired by Israeli fighter jets.

Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military source who stated that Israel had violated the Lebanese airspace before being confronted by the army air defences.

“At 20:25 of Tuesday, the Israeli fighter jets launched a number of missiles, from over Lebanon, into the direction of eastern Homs… immediately, the army air defences intercepted the hostile missiles and shot down a number of them,” the military source said.

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There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, said reports from Sana.

On March 5, the Syrian army air defences also targetted an Israeli missile aggression on the country’s central and southern regions, blocking the missiles from reaching their targets.

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The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Israeli jets hurled eight missiles at al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province. It said blasts were heard and believed to have been caused by anti-aircraft defences while intercepting these strikes but gave no further information.

If the target was al-Shayrat base it would be the second time this month that the Israeli Forces has allegedly attacked the site which is said to be used by Iran as a forward base for smuggling weapons into the war-torn nation.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli attack targeted two military airports near the city of Homs in western-central Syria — al-Shayrat and al-Dabaa — besides targets in Quneitra.

Off late, Israel has frequently hit targets within Syria belonging to Iran and its regional proxies Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias and has openly admitted of conducting a series of strikes since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

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Hagia Sophia: Turkey turns iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia into mosque

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

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The iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia will be turned into a mosque. Hours after a landmark court ruling Friday (July 10), the Turkish government confirmed that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia will be reopened for worship after an 85-year hiatus.

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The nearly 1,500-year-old architectural gem will be transferred to the state Religious Affairs Directorate under a presidential decree, according to a Friday announcement in the Official Gazette.

Earlier Friday, ruling on a petition filed by an Istanbul NGO, Turkey’s Council of State overturned a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

After centuries of use as a church under the Byzantine Empire, in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Mehmet II following his conquest of Istanbul. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum. Posting his decree on social media today, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed best wishes for the change, which he has long advocated.

While details of the change are not yet known, Turkish officials have pointed out that many famed houses of worship, such as Paris’ Notre Dame and Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, are also open to visitors.

“Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship won’t keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, told Anadolu Agency in an interview this week. Turkey is home to people of many faiths who can freely exercise their religions, he added.

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The Russian Orthodox Church expressed shock at Turkey’s decision to withdraw the museum status of Hagia Sophia, blaming it of disregarding voices of millions of Christians. “The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida stated.

“Today’s court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored,” Legoida said.

UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialogue nor notification beforehand”.

“UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the UN’ cultural body said in a statement.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides tweeted –  Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.

Christodoulides said Turkey’s “escalating, flagrant violation of its international obligations is manifested in its decision to alter the designation of Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage Site that is a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith”.

Later, Greece called Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilised world”. “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan … takes his country back six centuries,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

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British defense minister hails Saudi-UK ties days after imposing sanctions

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The British government privately called Saudi Arabia to praise their bilateral ties a day after sanctioning its senior officials for human rights abuses, The Independent reported on Friday. 

Defense Minister Ben Wallace called his Saudi counterpart to emphasize Britain’s support for the Saudis, The British daily reported, citing Saudi media. The British government decided not to publish the call, but the state-run Saudi Press Agency was less subtle.

In a press release, it reported: “His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, received yesterday a phone call from His Excellency British Defence Secretary, Mr Ben Wallace, during which the partnership between the two countries was discussed, especially in the defence field, and the efforts made by the two countries to enhance regional and international security.”

The report went on to say that Wallace “expressed his country’s appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s role in addressing threats to stability in the region.”

“He also affirmed the country’s government’s keenness to strengthen defence relations between the two friendly countries, especially in the field of military exports to the Kingdom,” the report said. On Monday, Britain announced its first independent sanctions regime. It had previously joined with the UN and EU sanctions, but post-Brexit will now implement its own system.

Of the 49 initial individuals sanctioned, 20 were Saudis involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

On Tuesday, Britain announced it will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia a year after the court of appeal declared that the UK government acted unlawfully by selling arms to the kingdom without first assessing whether they were involved in breaches of international humanitarian law.

An official government review found that airstrikes in Yemen, which breached international humanitarian law, were only “isolated incidents”, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a written statement to the parliament.

By Karim El-Bar

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Turkey Shocked Over US Decision To Conduct Military Drills With Cyprus

The Press Release Read – The United States is pleased to announce our intention to provide International Military Education and Training (IMET) to the Republic of Cyprus. We plan to provide IMET to the Republic of Cyprus beginning in U.S. fiscal year 2021, subject to Congressional appropriations and notification.

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The US plans to conduct military drills with Cyprus for the first time, thus directly challenging Turkey – a NATO ally. Ankara immediately warned of destabilization in the region if the US plans to hold drills with Cyprus are implemented. 

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The Twitter account of the US Embassy in Cyprus Twitter posted: “We’re strengthening our security partnership with the Republic of #Cyprus by providing International Military Education and Training. The IMET program promotes regional stability & defence capabilities through professional military education and training.”

The Press Release Read – The United States is pleased to announce our intention to provide International Military Education and Training (IMET) to the Republic of Cyprus. We plan to provide IMET to the Republic of Cyprus beginning in U.S. fiscal year 2021, subject to Congressional appropriations and notification.

The IMET program is a key component of U.S. security assistance, promoting regional stability and defence capabilities through professional military education and training.

Through professional and technical courses, and with specialized instruction, IMET provides students from allied and friendly nations valuable training and education on U.S. military practices and standards. IMET serves as an effective means to strengthen military partnerships and international coalitions that defend our national security interests.

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IMET facilitates the development of important professional and personal relationships among defence leaders. It also helps develop a common understanding of shared international challenges and fosters the relationships necessary to counter those challenges collaboratively.

Offering IMET to the Republic of Cyprus is consistent with the Department of State’s Eastern Mediterranean Strategy and the policy intent of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, both of which aim to strengthen our security partnership with the Republic of Cyprus.

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The Republic of Cyprus is an important partner in the Eastern Mediterranean region. We look forward to continuing to deepen our bilateral relationship as we promote regional stability.

Turkey criticized the US decision and said –  “Initiatives that do not observe the balance between parties will not contribute to establishing a secure environment on the Island, nor will they help keep peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy.

“As we have stressed many times before, these steps will not contribute to finding a solution to the Cyprus issue but instead strengthens the uncompromising approach of the Greek side,” it added.

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