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Israel strikes 'dozens' of Iranian targets in Syria

The Israeli military on Thursday said it attacked "dozens" of Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria in response to an Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date.

Israel said the targets included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centres used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed several Syrian air-defence systems after coming under heavy fire. It said none of its warplanes was hit.

The blistering Israeli assault was by far the most intensive Israeli action in neighbouring Syria since the civil war broke out there in 2011. Israel has largely tried to stay on the sidelines, but has previously acknowledged carrying out over 100 airstrikes over the past seven years, most believed to be aimed at Iranian weapons shipments bound for the Hezbollah militant group.

But with the civil war appearing to wind down, and Iranian forces looking to establish a foothold on Israel's doorstep, Israel has stepped up its response. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual security gathering north of Tel Aviv, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would respond fiercely to any further Iranian actions.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel struck "almost all" the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.(Nir Elias/Reuters)

"We will not let Iran turn Syria into a forward base against Israel. This is the policy, a very, very clear policy, and we're acting according to this policy," he said. "We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs. If we get rain, they'll get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood."

Iranian state television broke its silence over the Israeli airstrikes late Thursday morning, the start of the Iranian weekend. A presenter announced the Israeli strikes, sourcing the information to Syria's state-run SANA news agency. The broadcaster also described the Israeli attack as "unprecedented" since the 1967 Mideast war.

There was no immediate word on Iranian casualties. Syria's capital, Damascus, shook with sounds of explosions just before dawn, and firing by Syrian air defenses over the city was heard throughout the night. Syria's state news agency SANA quoted a Syrian military official as saying Israeli missiles hit air defense positions, radar stations and a weapons warehouse, but claiming most incoming rockets were intercepted. Syrian activists said the onslaught lasted more than five hours.

Israeli troops on 'very high alert'

In recent months, Israel has warned that it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Iran has accused Israel of carrying out a series of deadly strikes on Iranian military positions in Syria in recent weeks, and had vowed retaliation. Iran has sent thousands of troops to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Israel fears that as the fighting nears an end, Iran and tens of thousands of Shia militiamen will turn their focus to Israel.

Israeli soldiers and tanks are seen near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday.(Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesperson, said Israel was not looking to escalate the situation. But he said troops will continue to be on "very high alert."

"Should there be another Iranian attack, we will be prepared for it," he said.

Iran fires at Golan Heights, Israel says

Iran's ability to hit back could be limited. Its resources in Syria pale in comparison to the high-tech Israeli military. Iran also could be wary of military entanglement at a time when it is trying to salvage the international nuclear deal.

Earlier Thursday, Israel said Iran's Al Quds force fired 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in the Golan Heights. Conricus said four of the rockets were intercepted, while the others fell short of their targets. The incoming attack set off air raid sirens in the Israeli-controlled Golan, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Syria's state media said Syrian air defences intercepted "hostile Israeli missiles" early Thursday that were fired over southwestern Damascus. Hours later, state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast a live feed of Syrian air defences firing into the sky above the capital, and loud explosions and air defence firing were heard through the night.

CBC's Margaret Evans reports from Yarmouk, accompanied by Syrian government representatives1:22

Syrian activists reported Israeli airstrikes hitting targets near Damascus. One video posted online showed a large explosion and shrapnel flying in the air. Residents reported loud sounds that rocked their buildings. It was not immediately clear what was hit.

Bitter enemies

Al-Ikhbariya TV said Israel also targeted military posts in southern Suweida province, including an air base, and struck near Homs in central Syria. The state TV station said the attacks were foiled.

Iranian officials offered no immediate comment on Israel's claim about the missile fire.

Syrian media earlier said the hostilities began with Israeli fire at Syrian positions in southern Syria from across the border. Pro-government media said Syrian missiles were then fired at Israeli forces. One TV station, Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen, said at least 50 missiles were fired from Syria at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. Al-Ikhbariya TV said missiles targeted 10 Israeli positions.

Syrian media said it was the first time in years that Syrians had fired at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Late Tuesday, Syrian state media said Israel struck a military outpost near the capital of Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missiles targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belonged to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, killing at least 15 people, eight of them Iranians.

Last month, an attack on Syria's T4 air base in Homs province killed seven Iranian military personnel. On April 30, Israel was said to have struck government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.

Israel considers Iran to be its most bitter enemy, citing Iran's hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles. U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, with strong support from Israel, has further raised tensions.

Collision course

Israel and Iran have appeared to be on a collision course for months.

In February, Israel shot down what it said was an armed Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace. Israel responded by attacking anti-aircraft positions in Syria, but an Israeli warplane was shot down during the battle.

Missile fire is seen over Daraa, Syria, on Thursday. (Alaa al-Faqir/Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss military co-ordination in Syria.

Russia has also sent forces to Syria to back Assad. But Israel and Russia have maintained close communications to prevent their air forces from coming into conflict.

Bomb shelters open

Together with Putin, Netanyahu toured a parade celebrating the anniversary of the World War II victory over the Nazis and then met the Russian president at the Kremlin for consultations.

After 10 hours together, Netanyahu said he conveyed Israel's obligation to defend itself against Iranian aggression.

Accompanied by the Syrian government, reporter Margaret Evans takes us inside the refugee camp of Yarmouk, just south of central Damascus, where the Syrian army has nearly regained control.5:38

"I think that matters were presented in a direct and forthright manner, and this is important. These matters are very important to Israel's security at all times and especially at this time," he said.

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Charlie Walk Accuser Tristan Coopersmith Says 'Dozens' Have Reached Out With 'Similar' Experiences (Exclusive)

Tristan Coopersmith is opening up about her decision to go public with her sexual harassment allegations against The Four judge Charlie Walk.

ET’s Sophie Schillaci spoke with Coopersmith on Wednesday, after she alleged in an open letter published on her website that Walk sexually harassed her while she worked for him at Columbia Records from the summer of 2004 to summer of 2005. Coopersmith’s claims include Walk allegedly making “lewd comments” about her body, sharing his sexual fantasies with her and inappropriately touching her. Coopersmith, who wrote that she was 27 years old at the time, also alleges that he once drunkenly pushed her onto his bed in his bedroom at his home.

In a statement to ET, Walk — who’s currently Republic Records Group president — denied the allegations, and said that there had never been a single HR claim against him during his career. On Wednesday, Republic Records told ET in a statement that Walk has been placed on leave.

Coopersmith tells ET that she first met the record executive when she worked at the now defunct Teen People, and claims his alleged harassment started almost “instantly” after he asked her to come work for him.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it,” she says. “I consider myself a kid back then. … So, I mostly just laughed it off and I would try and correct him and, you know, like, ‘Hey, Charlie. You have a wife, man. Come on.’ You know? But I would sort of laugh it off, ’cause that’s all I knew how to do.” 

She later fights back tears when speaking about how the alleged harassment affected her. Coopersmith eventually left the job after a year.

“I started to get a bit more vocal with him,” she says. “I started to be like, ‘Hey, no!’ And it would get a little bit louder, and I would not respond to any of his instant messages. That was a turning point, and the real turning point for me was, I was losing sight of myself. I was looking in the mirror going, ‘This is not the girl who started this job.’ She’s not strong, and she’s not courageous, and she doesn’t feel great about herself.'”

Coopersmith tells ET that she actually wrote her open letter back in November, as part of her own therapeutic process when the allegations against disgraced studio mogul Harvey Weinstein came out. But it was Viola Davis’ passionate speech at the Women’s March in Los Angeles earlier this month that inspired her to share her story.

“I realized I needed to share my truth,” she recalls. “The reason I wasn’t healing was because I was alone in it. … And, I realized that I needed a reason to share it on a broader scale. I needed a purpose.”

“And so, my purpose in sharing it was to continue the conversation,” she adds. “Because if we don’t continue this conversation, it’s gonna go away. … You know, this isn’t about Charlie. This isn’t about the music industry, this isn’t about anybody’s career being ruined. It’s a much broader conversation about a massive shift we need to have in workplaces.”

Interestingly enough, Coopersmith says she actually didn’t know Walk was a judge on Fox’s new music competition, The Four, before she published the letter. Since Coopersmith went public with her allegations, two more women anonymously accused Walk of sexual harassment in music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz’s Lefsetz Letter email newsletter, Billboard reports. 

“I’ve received hundreds of messages of support, dozens of messages of women who had experienced something similar as I did with him,” she says. “I’ve even heard from men, lots of men, that had witnessed him doing really unsavory things and that opens up a whole other conversation of, where are the bystanders? Where is the conversation about communicating to people, like, we are all in this together, and if you see something, you have to say something, because all of this has been supported by a system that allowed this to happen.”

In a statement to ET on Monday, Walk called Coopersmith’s allegations “untrue.”

“It is very upsetting to learn of this untrue allegation made by someone who worked with me 15 years ago, without incident,” he said. “There has never been a single HR claim against me at any time during my 25+ year career, spanning three major companies. I have consistently been a supporter of the women’s movement and this is the first time I have ever heard of this or any other allegation — and it is false.”

Meanwhile, in a statement to ET on Wednesday, Republic Records said they’re conducting an investigation concerning the allegations against Walk. 

“Republic Records is committed to a safe workplace environment where employees are treated fairly and respectfully,” the statement reads. “We have retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of this matter and have encouraged anyone who has relevant information to speak to the firm’s investigators. Mr. Walk has been placed on leave, and will remain on leave for the duration of the investigation.”

Fox Broadcasting Company, which airs The Four, also told ET on Monday that they were “reviewing” the allegations against Walk.

“We have only recently learned of these past allegations regarding Mr. Walk,” the statement reads. “We are currently reviewing this matter and are committed to fostering a safe environment on all of our shows.”

RELATED CONTENT:

Charlie Walk Placed on Leave as Republic Records Investigates Sexual Misconduct Allegations

‘The Four’ Judge Charlie Walk Accused of Sexual Harassment in Open Letter

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