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In Warsaw, Netanyahu criticized after appearing to push for war against Iran

In Hebrew, prime minister says nations at Mideast conference ‘sitting with Israel to advance the common interest of combating Iran,’ but in English, his office translates it as war

  • Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, US Vice President Mike Pence, Poland's President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for a family photo at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI/AFP)
    Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, US Vice President Mike Pence, Poland's President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for a family photo at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI/AFP)
  • Benny Gantz speaking to Israel Resilience activists on February 13, 2019, in a photo released by the party. (Sariya Diamant)
    Benny Gantz speaking to Israel Resilience activists on February 13, 2019, in a photo released by the party. (Sariya Diamant)
  • Masked gunmen of the al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, raise their hands as they stand in front of a huge poster showing a mock attack on a bus, during a mass rally in Gaza, December 16, 2018. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
    Masked gunmen of the al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, raise their hands as they stand in front of a huge poster showing a mock attack on a bus, during a mass rally in Gaza, December 16, 2018. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
  • US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech at the 1st Airlift Base in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019 during a three-day visit of the US Vice President to Poland. (Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
    US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech at the 1st Airlift Base in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019 during a three-day visit of the US Vice President to Poland. (Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
  • An Iranian woman holds an effigy of US president Donald Trump, during a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    An Iranian woman holds an effigy of US president Donald Trump, during a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
  • Darga River near the Dead Sea. (Wikipedia/Attribution/Ester Inbar)
    Darga River near the Dead Sea. (Wikipedia/Attribution/Ester Inbar)
  • President Reuven Rivlin (c) stands with a group of children holding signs that read "to be a free people on our land," after paying a condolence visit at the home of Ori Ansbacher's family in the Tekoa settlement on February 13, 2019. (Courtesy)
    President Reuven Rivlin (c) stands with a group of children holding signs that read "to be a free people on our land," after paying a condolence visit at the home of Ori Ansbacher's family in the Tekoa settlement on February 13, 2019. (Courtesy)
  • Valery Sakovich, suspect in the murder case of a young woman in 1993, escorted by police to a hearing at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Valery Sakovich, suspect in the murder case of a young woman in 1993, escorted by police to a hearing at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • An Iranian woman kisses a portrait of Islamic Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as she visits the house where he lived during his 13-year-exile in Iraq, along al-Rasul street near the shrine of Imam Ali in the central holy city of Najaf on February 13, 2019, while marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. (Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)
    An Iranian woman kisses a portrait of Islamic Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as she visits the house where he lived during his 13-year-exile in Iraq, along al-Rasul street near the shrine of Imam Ali in the central holy city of Najaf on February 13, 2019, while marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. (Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

Iranian leader dismisses talks with US as ‘kissing the wolf on your knees’

Iran’s supreme leader says negotiations with the US “will bring nothing but material and spiritual harm” in remarks just ahead of an American-led meeting on the Mideast in Warsaw that’s expected to largely focus on the Islamic Republic.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a gathering of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the Revolutionary Guard, in Tehran, October 4, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The comments from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are part of a seven-page statement read out word-for-word on Iranian state television and heavily promoted in the run-up to its release.

“About the United States, the resolution of any issues is not imaginable and negotiations with it will bring nothing but material and spiritual harm,” Khamenei says.

The supreme leader describes any negotiations as an “unforgivable mistake.” He also says negotiations would be like “going on your knees before the enemy and kissing the claws of the wolf.”

— AP

Zarif says Warsaw conference on Iran ‘dead on arrival’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says an international conference being co-hosted by Washington in Warsaw on Iran and the Middle East is “dead on arrival.”

“It is another attempt by the United States to pursue an obsession with Iran that is not well-founded,” Zarif tells a Tehran news conference.

“The Warsaw conference I believe is dead on arrival.”

— AFP

Iran leader: US challenged by backing for Palestine, arms transfers

Iranian supreme leader Khamenei, whose statement to Iranian youth is being read out on state TV, says that the US’s main challenge in the Middle East is Tehran’s support for Palestine.

He says the US will be defeated in any confrontation.

According to Iran’s Press TV, he also appears to confirm that Iran is sending weapons to “resistance forces” in the region, likely referring to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. He says the US is trying to thwart the transfers.

US ambassador pays condolence visit in settlement, tweets video of him on guitar

US Ambassador David Friedman has visited the settlement of Tekoa to pay a condolence call to the family of Ori Ansbacher, killed by a suspected Palestinian terrorist last week.

Friedman tells the family that while he is not normally at a loss for things to say, he has no words other than to express his sadness, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Just before his visit, his Twitter account had what to say, posting a video of him and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee playing Lynyrd Skynyrd at an event in Jerusalem Tuesday night.

President tells Ansbacher family slain daughter inspired nation

President Reuven Rivlin tells the family of slain teen Ori Ansbacher that their daughter has been an inspiration to many people after her death at the hands of a suspected Palestinian terrorist.

“In every interview about her, people talk about the light that shone from her,” he says, according to a statement from his office. “People are going out to walk along the paths that she walked along, people are talking about the good they see around them – and this is a great gift that she gave us without even knowing it.”

Ori means “my light” in Hebrew.

President Reuven Rivlin (c) stands with a group of children holding signs that read “to be a free people in our homeland,” after paying a condolence visit at the home of Ori Ansbacher’s family in the Tekoa settlement on February 13, 2019. (Courtesy)

Police arrest man suspected in 1993 murder

Police say they have arrested a 64 year-old man suspected in the murder of a woman 25 years ago.

Police say Valery Sakovic sexually assaulted and killed Vardit Beckerknut, 27, in the Eshtaol forest near the city of Beit Shemesh in December 1993.

Valery Sakovic, suspect in the murder case of a young woman in 1993, is brought for a court hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem on February 6 2019. The body of the young woman was found near Beit Shemesh in November 1993 with signs of violence on her body and suspicion of rape. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

According to a statement from police, DNA evidence collected at the crime scene 25 years ago led to the developments in the case.

Sakovich. who returned to Israel in 2018 after 23 years abroad, was yesterday ordered held in jail for 10 days as the investigation continues, police said.

During the court appearance he said he was in the area at the time, but denied killing or raping Beckerknut, according to Hebrew media reports.

Beckerknut, from the nearby town of Kiryat Anavim, was found murdered in the forest two days after last being seen hitchhiking.

Macron denounces anti-Semitic wave in France, links it to yellow vests

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned an “unacceptable increase” in anti-Semitic vandalism and hate speech, calling it “a new turn of events linked to the movement” of yellow vest protesters, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux says.

“Anti-Semitism is a repudiation of the Republic, in the same way that attacking elected officials or institutions are a repudiation of the Republic,” Macron tells ministers during a cabinet meeting, Griveaux says.

— AFP

PM: Mandelblit rushing indictment under pressure from left, media

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expressing unhappiness with a decision by the attorney general to push ahead with a possible graft indictment, blaming the move on pressure from the left and media.

Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday rejected a request to collect further evidence that Netanyahu says could exonerate him.

Netanyahu writes on Twitter that Mandelblit is “rushing to announce a decision before elections, though the truth will only come out in a hearing after elections.”

Mandelblit is widely expected to announce a decision to indict Netanyahu on bribery charges in three cases in the coming weeks. Charges can only be filed after a hearing, which will take place after the April 9 vote.

Pence arrives in Warsaw for Mideast confab

US Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Poland, starting a four-day visit to Europe in which he will take part in international conferences and visit the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.

He landed at Warsaw airport in the early afternoon on Wednesday and met in a hangar there with American and Polish troops.

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech at the 1st Airlift Base in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019 during a three-day visit of the US Vice President to Poland. (Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

In Warsaw, he will visit historic sites associated with World War II and take part in a conference Thursday on the Middle East. He will visit Auschwitz Friday and will then head to the Munich Security Conference.

His stop in Poland comes as Poland lobbies Washington for a permanent US base on its soil.

— AP

Omani FM spied stealing into Netanyahu hotel in Poland

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi has been spotted sneaking into the Warsaw hotel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is staying, reportedly for a meeting on the sly.

Walla news reporter Tal Shalev snaps a pic of bin Alawi in the parking garage of the hotel.

According to Walla, bin Alawi was at the hotel for a secret meeting with Netanyahu, whom he has met before.

Netanyahu visited Oman last year for a meeting with Sultan Qaboos and touted burgeoning ties with the Arab world. He is hoping to meet with senior officials from Arab countries while at the confab.

 

Attorney general green lights path for settlement medical school approval

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has appeared to pave the way for the establishment of a medical school at a university in a West Bank settlement, saying an earlier reversal is not necessarily binding.

In a decision released today, Mandelblit says the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria has the right to decide on whether or not to establish the medical school at Ariel University, and does not need to follow a decision of a subcommittee against building the school.

American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson (sitting R), his wife Miriam with President Reuven Rivlin (standing middle) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (L) at the ceremony for a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank, on August 19, 2018. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

However, the final decision will be up to the main Council for Higher Education, which is slated to absorb the Judea and Samaria branch on Thursday.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has pushed for the settlement school funded by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, hails the decision and says the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is slated to decide on approving the school in the coming hours.

Giuliani urges Warsaw conference to take tough line on Iran

US President Donald Trump’s lawyer and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani is calling on a conference on the Middle East to take a “firm stance” on Iran to press its government to adopt a democratic course.

Giuliani makes the comments to a few hundred participants at a protest by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an Iranian exile group, hours before an international conference on the Middle East opens in Warsaw.

He says he hopes the conference, just like the US government, will be firm on Iran “so that we don’t do business with them, so that we isolate them, so that we do the best that we can to get them to change their policies, and if they don’t change their policies, to change the regime.”

He stresses to reporters he was speaking in a personal capacity.

— AP

Netanyahu, Omani foreign minister hail friendly ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has released a video of a meeting with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi.

Netanyahu tells bin Alawi that the recent rapprochement between the two countries is “changing the world.”

“I have to tell you that the courageous decision of Sultan Qaboos to invite me to Oman is changing the world,” he says, referring to his October 2018 visit to Muscat.

“It’s pointing the way for many others to do what you said, not to be stuck in the past but to seize the future.”

The Omani foreign agrees that the countries’ newfound friendship is “an important, new vision for the future.”

— Raphael Ahren

Military assessment warns of high risk of war with Gaza

A yearly military intelligence assessment warns of a high chance of a major confrontation with Gaza in the near future, according to Hebrew media reports.

In the assessment, army chief Aviv Kohavi warns that military action may be needed to counter a possible attempt by Gaza-based fighters to carry out an attack on Israel.

Palestinians take cover behind a dirt mound as they raise their national flag during clashes along the Israeli fence east of Gaza City, on January 18, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The assessment also sees Iran moving its operations in Syria away from Damascus and to the T-4 base to the northwest, further from the border with Israel. And it says that Iran is slowing down its attempts to arm the Hezbollah terror group, thanks to US sanctions.

But it warns that 2019 could see Iran begin to hit back at Israel over its actions in Syria, with the potential for strikes snowballing into wider fighting.

Five said injured by heavy turbulence on flight to Tel Aviv

The Magen David Adom rescue service says several people have been injured by heavy turbulence on a flight slated to land at Ben Gurion Airport.

The service says ambulances are being dispatched to the airport to treat the injured if need be.

According to Channel 12 news, there are five people lightly injured on the flight, which originated in France.

The plane is scheduled to land in the next few minutes.

Hague court rules Iran can try to recover cash frozen by US

The International Court of Justice has ruled that Iran can proceed with a bid to recover billions of dollars in frozen assets the United States says must go to victims of attacks blamed on Tehran.

Judges of the UN’s top court reject US claims that the case should be thrown out because Iran had “unclean hands” due to alleged links to terrorism, and that the tribunal in The Hague did not have jurisdiction in the lawsuit.

Pepole demonstrate with flags and banners during a rally of supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, demanding tougher policy on Iran and its violation of human rights in Warsaw on February 13, 2019. (AFP)

The court will hold further hearings to decide whether Iran can get back $2 billion frozen by the US Supreme Court in 2016.

Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, the chief judge at the ICJ, says the court “unanimously rejects the preliminary objections to admissibility raised by the United States of America.”

— AFP

At least 20 Iranian Guards reported killed in bus bombing

Iranian state media says 20 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been killed in a bus bombing in southeast Iran.

Another 20 members of the hard-line IRGC are reported injured in the bombing in the Baluchistan province bordering Pakistan.

 

Iran says suicide bomber blew up IRGC bus

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reports that the IRGC bus was blown up by  suicide bomber.

It says nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place on a road between Zhahedan and Khash in the country’s rugged far east.

US says former Air Force officer spied for Iran

A former US Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with revealing classified information as well as research about her former colleagues to representatives of the Tehran government, prosecutors say.

A Justice Department indictment charges Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is currently at large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target former colleagues in the US intelligence community.

The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. All four remain at large.

“It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country,” says Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division.

Jay Tabb, the FBI’s top national security official, says the FBI had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings.

— AP

More than one in three Americans report online hate — ADL study

More than one-third of Americans experienced severe online hate and harassment in 2018, a new study reports.

The incidents experienced by some 37 percent of Americans included stalking, physical threats or sustained harassment, and were more than double the 18% who reported such experiences in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation Leagues “Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience.”

Over 80% of Americans want policymakers to strengthen laws and improve training and resources for police to deal with cyber hate. Some 84% said they want to see private technology companies take more decisive action to counter online hate and harassment.

The survey of 1,134 individuals was conducted from December 17 to December 27, 2018 by YouGov, on behalf of ADL’s Center for Technology and Society to examine Americans’ experiences with, and views of, online hate and harassment. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

— JTA

Higher ed council advances settlement medical school

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria has voted to approve the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University in the northern West Bank, hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled that an earlier reversal on the matter had not been binding.

Mandelblit determined that the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) had the right to decide on whether or not to establish the medical school and does not need to follow a decision to veto the department’s establishment made by a separate subcommittee last week.

However, a final decision will be up to the main Council for Higher Education, which is slated to absorb the Judea and Samaria branch later this month. An official with knowledge of the deliberations tells The Times of Israel that the main council will likely green-light the project when it next convenes.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett praises the attorney general’s decision as well as the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria’s subsequent vote as “a huge victory for medicine in Israel.”

— Jacob Magid

Gantz urges Netanyahu to stop boasting about army activities

Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz is calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to desist from breaking Israel’s ambiguity policy regarding attacks in Syria, accusing him of putting Israel at risk to gain points among voters.

“I ask and I demand — there is one thing that needs to be absolutely forbidden — harming the code of defense secrecy and boasting about secret IDF operations, which could endanger the lives of soldiers. The use of the holy of holies of our defense for campaign purposes crosses a red line and needs to stop immediately,” he says in a speech to party activists.

Netanyahu on Tuesday told reporters that Israel had attacked Iran in Syria a day earlier, appearing to confirm a Syrian report of an Israeli shelling near Quneitra.

Israel generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its strikes in Syria in the hopes of giving Iran and Syria an excuse not to respond, but Netanyahu has in recent weeks began to open up about Israel’s activities over the northern border.

In response, Likud says “the last one who should be preaching about morals is Gantz, who himself admitted that he endangered the lives of Golani soldiers on behalf of Palestinians.”

The comment is a reference to a 2015 speech Gantz gave in which he said the army took extra cautions during an operation in Gaza to not harm civilians, even though it meant placing soldiers in more danger.

Iran says Saudi-backed jihadis behind attack on IRGC bus

Official and semi-official Iranian media outlets are blaming the bombing of a bus carrying elite IRGC soldiers on Jaish al-Adl, or “Army of Justice,” saying the group had claimed the attack.

That group formed in 2012 and drew some militants from Jundallah, experts believe. Iran long has suspected Saudi Arabia of supporting the militants, something Riyadh denies. It’s also unclear how the militants have been able to operate freely from Pakistan for years.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif directly links the Warsaw international confab on the Mideast to the attack.

— AP

Death toll in Iran bus attack up to 27

Iran’s Tansim news agency, seen as closely linked to the IRGC, reports that the death toll in the bombing of a bus carrying elite soldiers is up to 27.

It says the death toll may rise as some of the injured are severely wounded.

Father, five children missing after hike near Dead Sea

Search and rescue crews are searching for a family of six missing after going for a hike near the Dead Sea in the West Bank.

A group of hikers in the Nahal Dragot area near the Dead Sea in 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

The father and his five children left Wednesday morning for a hike in the Nahal Dragot area and have not been heard from since.

The children are said to be aged 12 to 18.

Police, volunteers and at least one helicopter are looking for the group in the rugged region.

Netanyahu appears to call for war with Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming under fire for appearing to call for war with Iran.

Speaking at an international conference on the Mideast in Poland, Netanyahu says in Hebrew “I am going to a meeting with 60 foreign ministers and envoys of countries from around the world against Iran. What is important about this meeting – and this meeting is not in secret, because there are many of those – is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”

Netanyahu uses the Hebrew word “milchama,” which can also mean combating Iran in this context.

While some of Netanyahu’s spokespeople correct the quote to read “combating Iran,” his official Twitter account has kept it as “war.”

https://twitter.com/IsraeliPM/status/1095748204405104641

 

Family lost on Dead Sea hike spotted by chopper — police

The family of six that went missing near the Dead Sea has potentially been found, police say.

The father and his five children are spotted by a helicopter searching the area.

They have not yet been officially identified.

A rescue official tells Channel 12 news that they all appear to be in good condition.

Netanyahu Twitter account backtracks from war with Iran quote

After being criticized for appearing to call for war with Iran, Netanyahu’s official Twitter account corrects the translation to read “combating Iran.”

His office has not updated a press statement sent to journalists, however.

Saudi prince to Israeli TV: Netanyahu is deceiving you

Speaking to Israel’s Channel 13 news, Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal, a former ambassador to Washington, pushes back against claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Riyadh wants to work with Israel regardless of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“It’s not going to happen,” he says.

Asked if Netanyahu is deceiving the Israeli public by saying the Gulf wants to work with Israel before a peace deal with the Palestinians, he responds “absolutely.”

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday Nov. 24, 2018 (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

“From the Saudi point of view its the other way around,” he says.

Faisal tells the channel that the Saudis want to push forward, but Jerusalem has refused to respond to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative or propose a plan of their of their own.

“With Israeli money and Saudi brains we can go far,” he says.

“Jerusalem is something I want to see before I die, and unfortunately I’m not too optimistic I will see that,” Faisal says.

Israel to purchase 7 training helicopters from Italy in multi-billion dollar deal

The Defense Ministry announces it will purchase seven training helicopters from an Italian defense contractor, in a multi-billion dollar deal that will see Rome buy an equivalent value of Israeli aerospace technology.

Reports in Hebrew-language media estimate the deal to be worth $350 million, and includes 20 years of aircraft maintenance from Italian contractor Leonardo.

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Live updates (closed)

Military assessment warns of high risk of war with Gaza

A yearly military intelligence assessment warns of a high chance of a major confrontation with Gaza in the near future, according to Hebrew media reports.

In the assessment, army chief Aviv Kohavi warns that military action may be needed to counter a possible attempt by Gaza-based fighters to carry out an attack on Israel.

Palestinians take cover behind a dirt mound as they raise their national flag during clashes along the Israeli fence east of Gaza City, on January 18, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The assessment also sees Iran moving its operations in Syria away from Damascus and to the T-4 base to the northwest, further from the border with Israel. And it says that Iran is slowing down its attempts to arm the Hezbollah terror group, thanks to US sanctions.

But it warns that 2019 could see Iran begin to hit back at Israel over its actions in Syria, with the potential for strikes snowballing into wider fighting.