German minister can’t rule out longer-term military role in Middle East

AZRAQ: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said she could not rule out a longer-term deployment of German forces in the Middle East, amid a broader debate about a role for Germany in possible military action Syria.
Von der Leyen spoke during a visit to the Azraq air base in Jordan where some 300 German troops support a refueling plane and four Tornado warplanes that fly reconnaissance missions as part of US led-coalition operations against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Asked if Germany needed a strategic base in the Middle East, von der Leyen said: “First we must bring this deployment to a successful end. I don’t want to rule the idea out, let me put it this way.”
Von der Leyen and other German officials on Wednesday called for concerted efforts to prevent chemical weapons being used in Syria, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany could not simply look away if such attacks took place.
The German government said it was in talks with the US and other allies about possible participation in military intervention if chemical weapons were used in attacks on Idlib, the last major opposition-held enclave in Syria.
The news has divided the German ruling coalition, with the Social Democrats, ruling any such action out unless it is sanctioned by the UN.
Germany, under pressure from the US to boost defense spending and take on more responsibility within NATO, did not take part in April military strikes by US, French and British forces on Syria after a chemical weapons attack.
The US has pledged to surpass that if Syria uses chemical weapons again.
Washington last month asked Berlin about its willingness to participate in military action together with France and Britain, if another chemical weapons attack took place.
A leaked report about the query has triggered emotional debate in a country whose Nazi past keeps military action a sensitive issue.
Assad’s troops and other loyalist fighters had been amassing around Idlib for several weeks.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Syrian troops were planning a major offensive for the area.
An Israeli missile attack targeted the Syrian capital’s airport late on Saturday, activating air defenses which shot down a number of the projectiles, pro-regime news agency SANA reported.
“Our air defenses responded to an Israeli missile attack on Damascus international airport and shot down a number of hostile missiles,” a military source said, quoted by SANA.
The agency, without giving any information on casualties or damage, posted footage and images of the air defenses being activated.
In a shaky video, a small, bright explosion is seen in the night sky, with city lights in the distance.
AFP’s correspondent in Damascus heard a loud blast late on Saturday, followed by several smaller explosions.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the incident.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Saturday’s strikes hit a weapons depot outside the airport.
“The missiles, suspected to be Israeli, destroyed an arms warehouse near the Damascus international airport,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Israel has vowed to prevent its arch-foe Iran, which is a main backer of Syria’s regime, from gaining a foothold in neighboring war-torn Syria.
Earlier this month, Israel acknowledged having carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months, mainly against Iranian targets.
It has also admitted to striking Syria to prevent what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an armed movement backed by Iran and which fights alongside Syrian troops.
The last reported Israeli strikes on Syria took place on Sept. 4, when pro-regime media said the military’s air defenses downed several missiles in the coastal province of Tartus and in central Hama.
The Observatory also reported those raids and said they killed three Syrian soldiers.
Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 and has since killed more than 360,000 people, with millions more displaced internally and to neighboring countries.
After losing swathes of territory to fighters, President Bashar Assad’s troops have regained the upper hand and are now in control of around two-thirds of the ravaged country.
They were bolstered by nearly three years of airstrikes by their key ally Russia and Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and other foreign fighters on the ground.

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