Russia on Monday announced new military drills that will involve 100 aircraft on its southern flank in the latest in a series of manoeuvres likely to alarm war-torn Ukraine.
The drills involving 100 jets and helicopters including attack aircraft, fighter jets and supersonic interceptor jets will take place in the southern Astrakhan region from Monday to Friday, an air force spokesman said.
The spokesman, Igor Klimov, denied the drills were related to the conflict in Ukraine where government forces have been battling Moscow-backed separatists since April.
"The manoeuvres are a routine event," Klimov told AFP.
During the drills, the military will conduct missile launches and test aircraft weapons against land and air targets, he said.
Late last week, Russia launched drills involving S-300 surface-to air missiles, also in the Astrakhan region.
Separately, the military said that this month it will stage exercises involving the next generation of the missile systems, the S-400.
The drills come as Russia is gearing up to call up reservists for two months of training between August and October.
The drills, which follow a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, will take place in all of the country's military districts.
Reservists will be trained to use new and modernised weapons and equipment, the defence ministry said in a statement on Friday, adding the training had been planned in November 2013.
NATO has sounded the alarm over what it calls "Russia's aggression" against Ukraine, with the military bloc's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday urging NATO countries to increase their defence investments.
The crisis in Ukraine deepened after the downing of a Malaysian plane last month with all 298 people on board that Kiev and Washington blamed on a missile supplied by Russia. Moscow instead pointed the finger at Ukraine.
Lebanon battles jihadists as Syria war spills over
Lebanon vowed Monday to show "no leniency" to jihadists its troops are battling near Syria, on a third day of clashes threatening to further engulf it in its neighbour's war.
The army meanwhile announced that 22 soldiers were missing, possibly taken hostage, and a military source said 16 others had been killed since the fighting erupted.
Analysts said the violence could be contained in the short-term, but warned an aggressive military response could stoke tensions and worsen the clashes, which have also killed three civilians.
On Monday, the army deployed reinforcements and fired mortar rounds at militant positions in the mountains around the eastern border town of Arsal, saying it was advancing.
Residents fled en masse after fierce fighting raged overnight.
"We didn't sleep all night because of the fighting," said Ahmed Hujairi, 55, who left with his family.
"The armed men are not letting anyone else leave. They fired over our heads to stop us," he added.
The gunmen were from different countries, dressed in black and were "very well-organised".
- 'No appeasement': PM -
Prime Minister Tammam Salam pledged there would be "no leniency towards the terrorist killers and no appeasement for those who violate Lebanon's territory and harm its people."
In a statement after a cabinet meeting, he also urged France to speed up delivery of weapons for the Lebanese army being purchased under a $3 billion deal financed by Saudi Arabia.
The government stood united behind the army, he added, a vote of confidence for the institution from the country's fractious political class.
The clashes are the latest evidence of how Syria's conflict, which began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, has afflicted Lebanon.
Despite officially distancing itself from the war, Lebanon's existing sectarian and political tensions have been worsened by the conflict next door.
It is also hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, who have tested its limited resources and the patience of its four million citizens.
And Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement, has openly intervened in the Syrian conflict, dispatching fighters to bolster regime troops against the Sunni-dominated uprising.
Majority-Sunni Arsal is broadly sympathetic to the uprising against Assad's regime, and has regularly been bombed by Syrian regime forces who say that are targeting opposition fighters holed up in the area.
The latest violence began after soldiers detained a Syrian man, Imad Ahmed Jumaa, who the army said confessed belonging to Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.
Jihadists angered by the arrest opened fire on army checkpoints and stormed a police station, killing two civilians and capturing several police. A third civilian was shot dead by a sniper on Sunday.
- Fears for Lebanon -
The fighting has raised new concerns about the effects of the Syrian conflict on fragile Lebanon, which fought a brutal 1975-1990 civil war.
Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the situation in Arsal was an inevitable "spillover" from the Syrian conflict.
"As much as the Lebanese like to think that Syria's problems are coming to Lebanon, the reality is that Lebanon sent fighters for and against Assad to Syria... so we shouldn't be surprised that it's coming here."
He said the situation in Arsal could be contained in the short-term, but warned an aggressive army response or the involvement of Hezbollah would anger Lebanon's Sunnis.
Many of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims resent Hezbollah's outsized military power, and have been angered by its role in Syria.
But the movement says it is fighting in Syria to prevent militants from groups like Al-Nusra and the jihadist Islamic State threatening Lebanon.
The clashes in Arsal have prompted international concern, as well as domestic condemnation, with the Sunni community's most prominent political representative, former prime minister Saad Hariri, insisting the army was "a red line".
The UN refugee agency said it was making plans to deliver aid to Syrian and Lebanese civilians affected by the fighting if needed.
A UN official said there was scant information on the status of tens of thousands of refugees in Arsal, though there were reports shelling had started a fire at one tented encampment, prompting refugees to shelter in nearby buildings.
Iran says it gave missile technology to Hamas
Hamas is able to fire missiles into Israel because Tehran provided weapons technology to the militant group to defend itself against Israeli attacks, a senior Iranian official said Monday.
Officials from Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards have said in the past that Fajr-5 missiles are part of Hamas' Gaza Strip arsenal, whose technology has been supplied by Iran and produced locally without needing direct shipment.
"Palestinian resistance missiles are the blessings of Iran's transfer of technology," the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaei, was quoted as saying by Al-Alam, the Arabic channel of Iran's state TV. "We need to transfer defensive and military technology to Palestinians so that they can build weapons under the blockade and defend themselves," he added.
Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel during the recent conflict, with some intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system and many of the crude missiles landing in open areas away from cities. Israel, which launched its military operation in Gaza on July 8, has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside area. More than 1,880 Palestinians and over 60 Israelis have been killed in the fighting.
Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard chief commander, wrote to President Hassan Rouhani this week calling on him to provide air defense systems to Hamas to hit invading Israeli planes. He also said Hamas should dig tunnels to be used as shelter to protect Gaza's population from Israeli assaults.
"I've requested Rouhani to provide air defense systems to Gaza so that Palestinians can defend themselves against invading planes," he said, adding that Iran was not shy to publicly declare its military support for Hamas.
"The Americans in recent days approved about $300 million to strengthen (Israel's) Iron Dome. You should provide air defense systems to Palestinians to be able to defend their people against aerial bombardment," he said in the appeal to Rouhani.
Rezaei also urged Hamas to capture Israeli soldiers to use them as bargaining chips in its battle against Israel.
"Getting their soldiers captured is the weak point of Israelis. Should two or three be captured, all Zionists will surrender," he said.
Rezaei said Israel's goal in the ongoing war was to disarm Hamas and destroy its missile power, but that it has failed to do so despite discovering and hitting some underground tunnels.
"The Zionists seized some tunnels but they can't plow the entire Gaza Strip. Facilities where weapons are produced remain intact," he said.
Iran's Guard commanders have boasted that stone-throwing Palestinians are hitting Tel Aviv with missiles, thanks to Iran's support.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, called on Muslims from around the world last week to help arm Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to defend themselves against Israel.
Iran, a Hamas backer, does not recognize Israel and supports militant anti-Israeli groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group.
1 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
3 And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:
4 And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:
5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet:
6 Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.
7 Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.
Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up