News Flash – 17 April 2018

National News



Jeweller robbed of gold at gunpoint



NEW DELHI: A jeweller, who was heading home to Mayur Vihar with a stock of gold worth a few lakh, was robbed at gunpoint near Mayur Vihar Phase III on Sunday. The accused gunmen chased him, rammed his scooter with their bike and fled with the jewellery and cash. The jeweller, Ratan Verma, told police that he was returning from his shop in Noida around 10pm with gold jewellery and cash when the robbers attacked him. He said that when he reached Vasundhara Enclave near Mayur Vihar Phase III, three men on a motorbike rammed his scooter. While he was trying to get up, one of the men pulled out a pistol and held it against his temple and asked him to hand over the bag containing the gold bricks and sped towards Noida. Verma later reached the New Ashok Nagar police station and registered a complaint. Police are questioning Verma to establish if someone known to him was involved in the crime. Meanwhile, police are scanning the CCTV footage from the area to establish the sequence of events. They have seized Verma’s scooter as evidence.



Fire at Kolaghat power plant, supply not affected

The Monday evening blaze at Kolaghat Thermal Power Station.



KOLAGHAT: A fire broke out on Monday evening at Kolaghat Thermal Power Station (KTPS) that supplies nearly a sixth of the state’s power requirement and a third of state utility WBPDCL’s generation. Though three transformers were gutted, power generation was not affected as firemen managed to insulate the six generating units. According to officials, the flames were first spotted around 6pm in one of the seven transformers of Unit No. 4. Soon, the fire spread to two more transformers in the same unit. Kolaghat thermal power plant has six units of 210 MW each, with a generating capacity of 1,260 MW. The plant, however, supplies 850 MW every day, which remained unaffected even after the fire. After the fire broke out, authorities alerted the plant’s own fire brigade unit. Before firemen could reach the affected unit, it burst and the flames engulfed two adjacent transformers. Four KTPS fire tenders managed to douse the flame within a couple of hours. The power supply, however, was restored several hours later. KTPS general manager Tapas Patra said, “The fire did not damage the production area of the affected unit. We hope to replace the transformers and restore normal power supply in 24 hours”. On Monday evening, the power requirement in the state was 6,035 MW. Of which Kolaghat supplied the usual 850 MW.



Cashless ATMs: Situation worse in rural areas



AHMEDABAD: Weekends is usually about eating out and shopping for most families. However, as several ATMs ran out of cash on Sunday, people ended up running from one ATM to another, to make cash withdrawals and their expenses. The cash shortage faced by banks was also acknowledged by deputy chief minister Nitin Patel last week, while he was in Surat. Bankers indicate that the situation is worse in rural centres while urban centres are getting a reasonable cash supply, albeit, it is much less than the actual requirement. “Banks in urban centres such as Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot are getting merely 20% of the actual cash requirement. This is bound to create a shortage. When we’re not getting currency from the Reserve Bank of India, how can we put cash in ATMs or make clearances. Farmers are adversely hit as they’re not getting paid in the harvest season,” said Janak Rawal, secretary, Maha Gujarat Bank Employees Association (MGBEA). “If there is no improvement in the situation, we will make a representation to the RBI,” he added.


“I and my wife had stepped out to run a few errands and get my mom’s medicines on Sunday evening. We moved through six ATMs fetching for cash in different banks on Anandnagar Road and Bodakdev, however, all of them had run out of cash,” said Shamik Das, a resident of Satellite. Commenting on the situation, J N Singh, chief secretary, said, “We understand the urgency faced by the banks and are in constant touch with the RBI as well as the central government to resolve the issue”. Singh also said that cash had been dispatched by the RBI upon special request to certain regions where there was acute shortage of cash. “Last week, we had sent cash through RBI to centres in North Gujarat and on Tuesday, we will be dispatching cash to Surat, where we’ve learnt of cash shortage getting severe,” Singh added. Urban cooperative banks too are adversely hit with the currency shortage. “We cannot do much unless RBI starts dispatching currency to the currency chest from where we get cash. We hope the situation improves soon,” said Jyotindra Mehta, chairman, Federation of Urban Cooperative Banks.



International News



The real next war in Syria: Iran vs Israel

A boy stands on the rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Douma, Damascus, Syria on April 16, 2018.



SYRIA-ISRAEL BORDER: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Syria is going to explode. I know, you have heard that one before, but this time I mean really explode. Because the US, British and French attack on Syria to punish its regime for its vile use of chemical weapons — and Russia’s vow to respond — is actually just the second-most dangerous confrontation unfolding in that country. Even more dangerous is that Israel and Iran, at the exact same time, seem to be heading for a High Noon shootout in Syria over Iran’s attempts to turn Syria into a forward air base against Israel, something Israel is vowing to never let happen. This is not mere speculation. In the past few weeks — for the first time ever — Israel and Iran have begun quietly trading blows directly, not through proxies, in Syria. And this quiet phase may be about to end. Israel and Iran are now a hair-trigger away from going to the next level — and if that happens, the US and Russia may find it difficult to stay out. Let me try to explain what is unfolding from a lookout post on the Syrian-Israel border, where I stood a couple of days ago. Let’s start with the fact that the latest US, British and French cruise missile punishment attack appears to be a one-off operation and the impact will be contained. Russia and Syria have little interest in courting another Western raid and raising the level of involvement in Syria by the three big Western powers. And the three Western powers do not want to get more deeply involved in Syria. It is the potentially uncontained direct shooting war brewing between Israel and Iran that is much more likely and worrisome, because it may be about to enter round two.


Round one occurred Feb. 10, when an Iranian drone launched by a Revolutionary Guards Quds Force unit operating out of Syria’s T4 air base, east of Homs in central Syria, was shot down with a missile from an Israeli Apache helicopter that was following it after it penetrated Israeli airspace. Initial reports were that the Iranian drone was purely on a reconnaissance mission. But the official Israeli army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Friday that the drone’s flight path and Israel’s “intelligence and operational analysis of the parts of the Iranian unmanned vehicle” indicated that “the aircraft was carrying explosives” and that its mission was “an act of sabotage in Israeli territory”. I have no ability to independently verify that claim. But the fact that the Israelis are putting it out should raise alarm bells. If it is true, it suggests that the Quds Force — commanded by Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Suleimani — may have been trying to launch an actual military strike on Israel from an air base in Syria, not just reconnaissance. “This is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy,” a senior Israeli military source told me. “This opened a new period”. It certainly helps to explain why Israeli jets launched a predawn missile raid on the Iranian drone’s T4 home base last Monday. This would have been a huge story — Israel killed seven Iranian Quds Force members, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit — but it was largely lost in the global reaction to (and Trump tweets about) President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons two days earlier.


“It was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” said the Israeli military source. And the Iranians not only openly announced their embarrassing losses through the semiofficial Fars news agency — they have played down previous indirect casualties from Israeli strikes in Syria — but then publicly vowed to take revenge. “The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, said during a visit to Syria. Since then, senior Israeli defense officials have let it be known that if the Iranians were to strike back at Israeli targets, Israel may use the opportunity to make a massive counterstrike on Iran’s entire military infrastructure in Syria, where Iran is attempting to establish both a forward air base, as well as a factory for GPS-guided missiles that could hit targets inside Israel with much greater accuracy — inside a 50-meter radius — and deploy them from Syria and with Hezbollah in Lebanon. These defense officials say there is zero chance Israel will make the mistake it made in Lebanon — of letting Hezbollah establish a massive missile threat there — by letting Iran do the same directly in Syria. Now you can understand why it is such a dangerous situation — even without the US, French and British punishment for Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Iran claims it is setting up bases in Syria to protect it from Israel, but Israel has no designs on Syria; it actually prefers the devil it knows there — Assad — over chaos. And it has not intervened in the civil war there except to prevent the expansion of Iran’s military infrastructure there or to retaliate for rebel or Syrian shells that fell on Israel’s territory.


I understand Iran’s security concerns in the Gulf; it faces a number of hostile, pro-American Sunni Arab powers trying to contain its influence and undermine its Islamic regime. From Iran’s perspective, these are a threat. But what is Iran doing in Syria?. Tehran’s attempt to build a network of bases and missile factories in Syria — now that it has helped Assad largely crush the uprising against him — appears to be an ego-power play by Iran’s Quds Force leader Suleimani to extend Iran’s grip on key parts of the Sunni Arab world and advance his power struggle with President Hassan Rouhani. Suleimani’s Quds Force now more or less controls — through proxies — four Arab capitals: Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Sana. Iran has actually become the biggest “occupying power” in the Arab world. But Suleimani may be overplaying his hand, especially if he finds himself in a direct confrontation with Israel in Syria, far from Iran, without air cover. After all, even before this, many average Iranians were publicly asking what in the world is Iran doing spending billions of dollars — which were supposed to go to Iranians as a result of the lifting of sanctions from the Iran nuclear deal – fighting wars in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. That is surely one reason Iran has not retaliated — yet. Suleimani has to think twice about starting a full-scale, direct war with Israel, because of another big story many people have not noticed: Iran’s currency is collapsing back home. Consider this April 12 story on


The Iranian rial “has plummeted to a record low amid growing economic and political uncertainty, causing a rush to the banks as Iranians desperately try to acquire US dollars with exchanges forced to shut their doors to prevent long and chaotic lines.” The rial has lost one-third of its value just this year, the story noted. Moreover, Israeli military officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin and Suleimani are no longer natural allies. Putin wants and needs a stable Syria where his puppet Assad can be in control and Russia can maintain a forward naval and air presence and look like a superpower again — on the cheap. Iran’s Rouhani probably also prefers a stable Syria, where Assad has consolidated his power and that is not a drain on the Iranian budget. But Suleimani and the Quds Force seem to aspire to greater dominance of the Arab world and putting more pressure on Israel. Unless Suleimani backs down, you are about to see in Syria an unstoppable force — Iran’s Quds Force — meet an immovable object: Israel.



Iraq executes 11 convicted of ‘terrorism’: Ministry



BAGHDAD: Iraq has executed 13 people including 11 convicted on charges relating to “terrorism”, the justice ministry said on Monday. They included individuals responsible for car bombings, “killings of security forces personnel” and kidnappings, it said in a statement, without specifying dates, locations or other details of the attacks. The executions are the first since the beginning of the year in Iraq, which according to rights group Amnesty International put to death at least 111 people in 2017. On December 15, 38 people sentenced under Iraq’s terrorism law were hanged in the country’s Nasiriyah prison. Three months earlier, 42 others were hanged at the same prison. Iraq faces regular criticism from diplomats and rights groups over death sentences handed down almost daily under its terror laws. Some 20,000 people were arrested during a years-long offensive by Iraqi forces battling to retake swathes of the country from the Islamic State group. Many have been sentenced to death but not yet executed.

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