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Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel launched air raids against Syrian army positions early Wednesday and issued a stark warning to Damascus just hours after a bomb on the occupied Golan wounded four Israeli soldiers.

The Syrian army said the air strikes killed one soldier and wounded seven, cautioning that the assault endangered “the security and stability of the region.”

The bombing marked the most serious escalation along the ceasefire line with Syria since the 1973 Middle East War, with Israel’s defence minister warning that Damascus would pay a “high price” for helping militants bent on harming the Jewish state.

Fighters from Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which fought a bloody war with Israel in 2006, are battling alongside regime troops in Syria’s civil war and are credited with a string of recent battlefield successes against the rebels.

Israeli officials have been careful not to directly blame Hezbollah at this stage, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday there was a growing number of “jihadists and Hezbollah elements” on the Syrian Golan, which “represents a new threat” for Israel.

Following the Golan attack, Netanyahu had warned that Israel would act “forcefully” to defend itself.

Israel’s military said a Syrian army training facility, a military headquarters and artillery batteries had been targeted in the response.

Syria’s army command confirmed strikes on its bases in the Quneitra region, which it said led to “the martyrdom of one soldier and the wounding of seven others.”

“We warn that these desperate attempts to escalate and exacerbate the situation in these circumstances by repeating these acts of aggression would endanger the security and stability of the region,” a statement added.

The early morning air strikes took place 12 hours after four soldiers who were patrolling the Israeli side of the ceasefire line were wounded, one of them severely, by a roadside bomb.

It was the third such incident in two weeks along Israel’s northern frontier, with Israeli military officials blaming the Syrian army for complicity in the attack.

Two previous attempts to strike soldiers along Israel’s northern borders on March 5 and March 14 were blamed on Hezbollah.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel held Syria’s regime accountable for the attack.

“We see the Assad regime as responsible for what is happening under its authority, and if it continues to cooperate with terror elements who seek to harm Israel, we will make it pay a high price,” he said in a statement at dawn.

Israel would not tolerate any “breach” of its sovereignty and would continue to strike anyone seeking to harm its forces or civilians, Yaalon said.

“We will react with determination and force against anyone operating against us, at any time and any place, as we have done tonight,” he said.

And Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would not hesitate to take “forceful action” to ensure calm on its northern borders.

“Our policy is very clear: we hurt those who hurt us. We also thwart, to the best of our ability, the transfer of weapons whether by sea, by air or by land, and this activity will continue,” he said in comments released by his office.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bomb, analysts pointed to similarities with an explosion on Friday that targeted troops along the Lebanese border, prompting Israel to shell Hezbollah positions over the border.

And on March 5, Israeli troops on the Golan opened fire on Hezbollah members who were allegedly trying to plant a bomb near the ceasefire line, hitting two of them. Syrian sources said 11 people had been wounded.

Israel occupied the strategic Golan Heights plateau in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community.

Writing in Yediot Aharonot daily, defense correspondent Alex Fishman said Israel was being “dragged into a brawl” with the Syrians and Hezbollah.

With no policy for halting the deterioration along the border, Israel should consider sending a clear message in the form of “one or several hammers that will pound Damascus or Beirut powerfully and shake up somebody over there,” he wrote. “A policy of ‘sit-still-and-do-nothing’… is an invitation to the next incident.”

AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana

President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?