Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

Fighters from Syria’s Raqa battle to oust IS from their hometown

June 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Delil Souleiman | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces chat in a neighbourhood in the west of Raqa city, after seizing the area from the Islamic State group on June 11, 2017
RAQA (SYRIA) (AFP) – Khalil al-Hussein fled the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa 18 months ago, but now he is back and fighting to help oust the jihadists from his hometown.The 25-year-old is one of several members of a Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting IS who are originally from the northern city.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began an operation to capture Raqa last year, and finally entered the city earlier this month.

It was the first time Hussein had been inside his hometown since he fled, following years under terrifying IS rule.

“I fled Raqa because the crimes of Daesh became too much to bear: the punishments, the decapitations, prison, insults,” he told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“I want to find my house again whatever the price — even if I have to die,” said Hussein, who lived in the city’s eastern district of Al-Rumeilah.

When the SDF broke into Raqa city for the first time on June 6, Hussein was among their ranks.

“I want to liberate my city from Daesh,” he said passionately, standing on the city outskirts, his head wrapped in a green scarf.

“I’m not just here for my house, I’m here to liberate my city’s people.”

– ‘Beautiful memories’ –

Located in a remote desert region and bordered to the south by the Euphrates river, Raqa was little known internationally before the country’s conflict erupted in March 2011.

It was the first provincial capital to fall to rebels, but IS jihadists seized it from opposition fighters in 2014, and transformed it into their de facto Syrian capital.

Since then, it has become synonymous with the group’s worst atrocities, a place of public executions and prison sentences for such “crimes” as smoking or wearing jeans.

But the city still holds a special place in the hearts of its natives, including Hussein, who smiles when he talks about it.

“There is nothing more beautiful than Raqa,” he said, his eyes shining.

“I have beautiful memories of the pretty streets, the generous residents and the coexistence between communities.”

Raqa had some 300,000 residents before the war, most of them Sunni Arabs.

But the population was also about 20 percent Kurdish and included thousands of Syriac and Armenian Christians.

Hussein signed up with the SDF after fleeing Raqa, joining the ranks of its Kurdish and Arab fighters, many of them like him from Raqa city.

– ‘We will free Raqa’ –

At his side, on the outskirts of the city, his fellow fighters discuss the unfolding battle, in which the SDF has so far captured four neighbourhoods, two in the east and two in the west.

Hussein’s Al-Rumeilah neighbourhood, however, remains under IS control.

Some of the fighters smoke, while others take photos of the city.

A group join hands, some with weapons slung over their shoulders, and dance the traditional Middle Eastern “dabke” to celebrate their advances.

“We feel great joy,” said Abu Saleh al-Hindawi, a fighter who commands Arab members of the SDF.

He is also from Raqa, and participated in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government when it began in 2011, before later joining the SDF.

Walid al-Khalaf, perched on a pick-up truck and bearing an automatic weapon, is also originally from the Al-Rumeilah district, and left last year.

“I haven’t seen my house for eight months. I can’t describe how I feel,” the 28-year-old said.

“I left my house with nothing but a blanket and mattress.”

Now, he has a single thing on his mind.

“We will free Raqa, and God willing the battle won’t last long,” he said.

“And wherever the jihadists go, we will pursue them.”

by Delil Souleiman

U.S. Repositioning Aircraft Over Syria as Tensions Rise

June 19, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military said on Monday it was repositioning its aircraft over Syria to ensure the safety of American air crews targeting Islamic State, as tensions escalate following the U.S. downing of a Syrian military jet on Sunday.

“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace,” said Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesman at U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart)

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Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

Russia steps up rhetoric after U.S. fighter shoots down Syrian government jet

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June 19, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russia escalated tensions with the United States Monday, promising to actively track U.S. and coalition aircraft over Syria with air defense systems and warplanes, the country’s defense ministry said.

In a statement released Monday, the Russian military said it would treat U.S. and coalition operating west of the Euphrates Rivers as “aerial targets,” but stopped short of threatening a shootdown.

“In regions where the…

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Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet

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Defence ministry says planes flying west of Euphrates will be treated as targets and that it has suspended safety agreement with US

A US navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Pentagon confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday. Photograph: US DoD handout/EPA

Russia’s defence ministry has said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria as a potential target, after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday.

The ministry also said it was suspending a safety agreement with Washington designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

According to the Pentagon the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State (Isis) control. It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

In an apparent attempt at deescalation, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning. “I’m sure that because of this neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Ozerov said Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian response increases the risk of an inadvertent air fight breaking out between US and Russian warplanes in the skies above Syria.

The US military confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian attack but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of US military strategy in Syria.

Tensions have also been bubbling between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

In a sign of how complex the Syrian peace process has become, Russian-sponsored peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, are scheduled to resume on the same day – 10 July – as talks convened by the UN in Geneva.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the date on Monday in the knowledge that it would coincide with the UN schedule. He also said that the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would take part.

A spokesman for de Mistura said “the subject is currently being discussed”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/russia-target-us-led-coalition-warplanes-over-syria

Russia halts US aviation cooperation over downing of Syrian jet

June 19, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Omar haj kadour, AFP | A Syrian army jet fires rockets over the village of Rahbet Khattab in Hama province on March 23, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-19

The Russian defence ministry said Monday that it was halting aviation cooperation with the United States after the US downed a Syrian government warplane on Sunday, a move one Russian official described as a clear “act of aggression”.

The Russian defence ministry said it was halting cooperation with Washington within the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria, effective immediately. It also accused the United States of not using the proper communication channels before shooting down the Syrian army jet.

“The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow “ends cooperation with the American side from June 19”.

Moreover, any coalition aircraft flying to the west of the Euphrates will be treated as targets, the defence ministry said.

“Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground.”

URGENT: Russian military halts Syria sky incident prevention interactions with US as of June 19 – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g pic.twitter.com/w27zQsyy5y

RT

@RT_comCoalition’s airborne objects in Russian Air Force’s Syria missions areas to be tracked as targets – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g  pic.twitter.com/PHqYQjI6Yo

Voir l'image sur Twitter

Russia previously suspended the memorandum of understanding on air safety in April to protest against US airstrikes launched in response to a suspected chemical attack.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, on Monday firmly condemned the United States for shooting down the Syrian plane, calling it an “act of aggression”.

“This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law,” Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow on Monday, the TASS news agency reported. “What is this if not an act of aggression?”

Ryabkov said the Kremlin had also warned the United States not to use force against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

A Syrian jet plane

The incident marked the first time an American fighter jet had taken down a Syrian warplane, which Washington accused of attacking US-backed fighters.

The tensions come as the US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to evict the Islamic State (IS) group from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

>> Read more: MSF says 10,000 Syrians flee Raqqa as battle for the city nears

The Syrian jet was shot down after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling IS jihadists with US support, in an area close to Raqqa. The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 around 7pm as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group”.

It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

International imbroglio

The SDF entered Raqqa for the first time earlier this month and now holds four neighbourhoods in the east and west of the city.

In a further escalation of military action in Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched a series of missiles into Syria on Sunday in revenge for deadly attacks on its capital that were claimed by the Islamic State group. It said the missiles were “in retaliation” for a June 7 attack on the parliament complex and the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that killed 17 people.

Assad has focused his forces further east, to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, which is largely under IS group control and where government forces are besieged in part of the provincial capital.

Outside of coalition operations, US forces have only once directly targeted the regime – when Washington launched air strikes against an airbase it said was the launchpad for an alleged chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians in April.

The Kremlin denounced those US strikes as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.

Syria’s war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since spiralled into a complex and bloody conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people and become a proxy war for regional powers as well as ensnaring the United States and Russia.

Interfax reported that Ryabkov and the US under secretary of state, Thomas Shannon, would meet in St Petersburg on June 23 to discuss persistent tensions in bilateral ties.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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The Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber was shot down by an American F18 Super Hornet after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces north of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The US, which has special forces troops in the area, had earlier sent a warning to the Syrian military to stop targeting the forces and called on Russia to rein in its ally, but they were ignored.

Russia, which intervened militarily to back the Syrian regime in 2015,on Monday condemned the US action, saying it flouted international law.

“It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, adding it was a “dangerous escalation”.

 Image may contain: airplane

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “It is hard for me to choose any other words but these: if you [the US] can’t help you should at least not interfere. As your ‘efforts’ once again do nothing but help the militants.

“You are fighting the wrong party: it is not the Syrian army that perpetrates terror attacks in European capital cities.”

See the whole report:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/us-forces-shoot-syrian-jet-first-time-move-described-self-defence/

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Russian diplomat: U.S. downing of Syrian warplane is ‘support of terrorists’: TASS

June 19, 2017

Image may contain: airplane

Moscow sees the downing of a Syrian government warplane by the United States as an “act of aggression and support of terrorists”, TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Monday.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)

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The truth is, the U.S. has communicated with Russia and Syria many times not to fly in a threatening manner in certain areas. The consequences of Syria’s Russian-supported actions are clear. Russia’s answer is more fake news and propaganda. Peace and Freedom Editor

Russia’s Lavrov calls on U.S. to respect Syria’s integrity — After U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Jet

June 19, 2017
Reuters

The United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in this country, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.

Lavrov made his remarks after a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

Lavrov also said that a new round of peace talks on Syria in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana would tale place on July 10.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)

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U.S. Says It Shot Down Syrian Aircraft

Move marks the first time coalition forces have struck a regime plane in the nation’s civil war

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Updated June 18, 2017 11:01 p.m. ET

An American warplane shot down a Syrian government jet on Sunday, the Pentagon said, marking the first time in Syria’s civil war that a U.S. pilot has struck a regime plane and signaling an increased willingness by the Trump administration to directly challenge President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it had shot down the Syrian SU-22 after regime forces twice attacked members of American-backed…

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Pentagon: US shoots down Syrian aircraft for first time

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows warplanes inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (SANA via AP)

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The U.S. military on Sunday shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet that bombed local forces aligned with the Americans in the fight against Islamic State militants, an action that appeared to mark a new escalation of the conflict.

The U.S. had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday’s confrontation, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. While the U.S. has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight IS that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.

The U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Iraq said in a written statement that a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 after it dropped bombs near the U.S. partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The shootdown was near the Syrian town of Tabqa.

The U.S. military statement said it acted in “collective self defense” of its partner forces and that the U.S. did not seek a fight with the Syrian government or its Russian supporters.

According to a statement from the Pentagon, pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces-held town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah in northern Syria, wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.

Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance toward the town, the Pentagon said. Following the pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition called its Russian counterparts “to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” according to the statement.

A few hours later, the Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters and, “in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces,” was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Pentagon said.

“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Pentagon said, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State group. “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat. ”

U.S. forces tangled earlier this month with Syria-allied aircraft in the region. On June 8, U.S. officials reported that a drone likely connected to Iranian-supported Hezbollah forces fired on U.S.-backed troops and was shot down by an American fighter jet. The incident took place in southern Syria near a base where the U.S.-led coalition was training Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group.

An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said at the time that the drone carried more weapons and was considered a direct threat, prompting the shootdown.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Saudi-Qatar crisis puts Syria rebels in tricky position

June 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Sammy Ketz | Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – A diplomatic crisis pitting Saudi Arabia against Qatar has put Syrian rebels in a difficult position, analysts say, after rivalries between Gulf backers had already weakened the opposition.

Both Sunni-ruled monarchies sided with the protesters in March 2011, when the war started with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations.

They continued supporting the mostly Sunni rebels when unrest spiralled into conflict between the armed opposition and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the country’s Alawite Shiite minority and is backed by Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran.

But six years later, the rebellion has been plagued by rivalries between Riyadh and Doha, as well as weakened by Russia’s military intervention in support of Assad’s forces.

Moscow’s support for regime forces led to a series of setbacks for the rebels, including their landmark loss in December of second city Aleppo.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and allies, including the United Arab Emirates, severed or reduced diplomatic ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate supports extremism, claims Doha has denied.

“The current rupture puts the Syrian opposition in a very awkward position politically, as nobody wants to have to take sides publicly nor can afford to alienate either side,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

A rebel official in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus said he hoped the crisis between Doha and Riyadh was just “a temporary storm”.

– ‘Sensitive’ issue –

“Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have supported the revolution of the Syrian people and shown solidarity throughout years of tragedy,” the rebel official said.

In a sign of the embarrassment the crisis is causing, several rebel groups approached by AFP refused to comment, saying it was a “sensitive” issue.

But Sayigh said the latest flare-up in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will have a limited impact on the Syrian conflict.

“It probably won’t have a major financial impact, nor a military one since the US and Turkey have stepped up their support for factions that previously were close to Qatar or to Saudi Arabia,” Sayigh said.

Riyadh “reduced its funding sharply starting” from the summer of 2015 “after it launched its intervention in Yemen” earlier in the year, he said.

Six years into the war, Syria’s fractured rebellion controls just around 10 percent of the war-torn country, with backing from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and the United States.

Pro-Doha rebels including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group are present in the north of the country.

In Eastern Ghouta, pro-Doha opposition groups exist alongside the pro-Riyadh Jaish al-Islam rebel alliance.

Rebels in the south, meanwhile, are trained by Amman and Washington.

Another influential player is Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, which now leads the Tahrir al-Sham group and which some analysts and Syrian factions say has links with Qatar, although Doha has denied this.

– Tensions in Eastern Ghouta? –

Qatar led most mediation efforts to obtain the release of hostages held by the group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.

In Eastern Ghouta, even before the Gulf crisis, factions supported by Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other had already clashed, killing hundreds of fighters.

Raphael Lefevre, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said the latest Saudi-Qatari crisis could well spark further tensions between rival groups in the rebel enclave.

In 2013 and 2014, “Qatar and Saudi Arabia competed for influence within exiled opposition bodies, each by supporting different factions and leaders, something which largely contributed to paralysing and fragmenting the Syrian opposition,” he said.

But the consequences of the latest spat “could be much bloodier, especially as the two countries support rival rebel factions in areas already marked by a great degree of opposition infighting and regime violence such as the Eastern Ghouta”, Lefevre said.

Syria expert Thomas Pierret however said “local dynamics rather than external patrons determine alliances” in Eastern Ghouta.

He said Ahrar al-Sham risked “suffering financially from a reorientation of Qatari politics”, even if it continues to enjoy support from Turkey, which has intervened as a mediator in the Gulf dispute.

Syria’s exiled political opposition is also fractured. The High Negotiations Committee is based in Riyadh, while the National Coalition work out of Istanbul.

by Sammy Ketz
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Macron, Putin Hold Talks Amid Strained U.S.-European Ties

May 29, 2017

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The talks at Versailles are the French president’s first with the Russian leader since winning election earlier this month

Alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin waves upon his arrival at the Versailles Palace on Monday.

Alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin waves upon his arrival at the Versailles Palace on Monday. PHOTO: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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VERSAILLES, France—French President Emmanuel Macron and his counterpart Vladimir Putin of Russia strained Monday to turn the page on allegations of Russian interference in France’s elections well as their differences over Syria, with the French leader describing the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as a “red line.”

The newly elected French leader was hosting Mr. Putin at the Palace of Versailles to mark 300 years of Franco-Russian diplomacy that began under Russian Czar Peter the Great.

Heightened tensions with Moscow loomed over the meeting as Mr. Macron and other European leaders have begun to weigh a geopolitical landscape defined by increasingly fragile trans-Atlantic relations. Last week U.S. President Donald Trump didn’t reaffirm the principle of mutual defense at the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which the U.S. and 27 other nations belong. That prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say this weekend it was time to “really take our fate into our own hands.’’

“It was an extremely frank, direct conversation,” Mr. Macron said in a joint news conference with Mr. Putin after their talks.

Any fissures in the NATO alliance provide Mr. Putin with an opening to drive a lasting wedge between the U.S. and its allies on a range of foreign policy fronts. Europe has often strained to show unity on defense and foreign policy, a struggle that risks being exacerbated without full-throated security assurances from the U.S. and with the looming departure of the U.K. from the European Union.

On Monday, Mr. Macron stood firm on the European Union’s sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea as well as France’s opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whom the West has accused of carrying out chemical attacks against his own people.

“There is a very clear red line on our side,” Mr. Macron said. “The use of chemical weapons by anyone—so any use of chemical weapons—will meet with retaliation and an immediate response.”

Mr. Macron also said reopening France’s embassy in Damascus was “not my priority.”

Mr. Putin said attacks on the Assad regime would only strengthen militant groups like Islamic State.

“It is impossible to combat the terrorist threat by destroying the statehood of countries that already suffer from internal problems,” Mr. Putin said.

The Macron-Putin meeting was also closely watched for signs of personal animus between the two leaders. Mr. Putin irked Mr. Macron’s presidential campaign by hosting his rival, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, during a visit to Russia.

“If Ms. Le pen asked to meet, why should we turn her down?” Mr. Putin said as Mr. Macron looked on.

The Russian leader also dismissed allegations the Macron campaign made that Kremlin-backed hackers and media outlets interfered in France’s presidential election. Mr. Macron’s party En Marche said in February its website was targeted by thousands of hacking attempts and that Kremlin controlled outlets spread defamatory rumors about the candidate in an attempt to destabilize the campaign. In the final hours of official campaigning, Mr. Macron’s party said it was hacked when thousands of emails and documents purportedly from the campaign were leaked on the internet.

“They say Russian hackers may have interfered,” Mr. Putin said, referring to the Macron campaign. “Dear colleagues, how can you comment on such things?”

The remarks belied initial attempts by both leaders to play down the alleged interference. Mr. Macron he did not discuss the issue with Mr. Putin behind closed doors because he wanted to be “pragmatic.”

That resolve wavered when a Russian journalist asked Mr. Macron why his campaign banned Russia Today and Sputnik from its headquarters.

“Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave like press organizations or journalists, they behaved like organization of influence, of propaganda, and false propaganda,” he said.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at stacy.meichtry@wsj.com and William Horobin at William.Horobin@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/macron-putin-hold-talks-amid-strained-u-s-european-ties-1496062884?mod=e2tw&tesla=y

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Russia Views Iran, Syria as Strategic Partners in Middle East

May 24, 2017
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Dr. Papadopoulos: Russia Views Iran, Syria as Strategic Partners in Middle East
Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos
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Fars News Agency
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TEHRAN (FNA)- It is now more than six years that the Syrian government is engaged in a full-fledged war against terrorism. Syria has been faced with international terror squads programed to unite and topple the country’s government. Apart from Iran and Russia, the Syrian government has never been supported by other countries, and it has rather been confronted in terms of economics, politics and military support.

“Russia and Syria are not just allies – they are friends, too.  Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions… Syria’s security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria”, said Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

“To counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security… Syria is Russia’s historic friend – friends are there for each other.  And, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state” he added.

Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher and Editor of Politics First (a non-partisan publication for the UK Parliament) holds a PhD in Russian history and specializes in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.

FNA talked to Dr. Papadopoulos about Russia’s intention to support Syria in general, and ways in which the Syrian government has been supported by Russians in particular.

Below is the full text of the interview.

Q: How do you assess the historical ties between Russia and Syria in the contemporary history, specially since the Cold War era? What landmark events should be brought up to study the relations between these two countries in its entirety?

A: Russia and Syria are not just allies – they are friends, too.  Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions.  And the Russian and Syrian peoples have benefited tremendously from those relations, which have been in existence for over half a century.  Syria’s security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria; for example, during the June War of 1967, the October War of 1973 and the conflict in Syria today.  In return, Syria is Russia’s eyes and ears in the Middle East.  Many Russians and Syrians regard each other as brothers – a sentiment that has gained even more popularity as a result of how, today, the Syrian and Russian militaries are on the frontline fighting extremism and terrorism, specifically Wahhabism and Salafism.

Q: Syria has been at war with foreign-backed terrorists for around six years now, while militants are losing ground in every front now. Where and at what stages, do you think, Russia’s assistance has brought Syria a step closer to victory? 

A: The turning-point in the Syrian conflict was on 30 September 2015 when Russia militarily intervened in the fighting, at the request of the Syrian Government, which is the only legitimate authority in Syria, in accordance with international law.  Up until that date, the Syrian military, which reflects the multi-cultural Syrian state in terms of its personnel (contrast this with how the terrorist opposition groups are sectarian, comprised of 99 per cent Sunnis), has been fighting on approximately 300 fronts and against approximately 80 different nationalities of terrorists – not to mention the military and financial support that these terrorists were and are continuing to receive from the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The courage and tenacity demonstrated by Syrian servicemen and servicewomen has been extraordinary, and their achievements will gain a special place in history.  History will show that those men and women gave it their all in order to contain and defeat one of the most awful cancers in the history of mankind: Extremism.

The Syrian military had been battling alone, against the odds, for four years, prior to Russian intervention.  The Syrian soldier needed help from his Russian counterpart, and, like true brothers do, the Russian soldier came to his aid.

Because of Russian intervention in Syria’s fight with Takfirism, the Syrian military will prevail.  It is not a matter of if but when victory will come for the Syrian Armed Forces.

Q: Why does Russia see it on itself to stand up for Bashar Al-Assad’s government? What objectives could be perceived for Russia’s present role in Syria?

A: Firstly, Russia came to the aid of a legitimate government and one that is in trouble in its fight with extremism and terrorism.  Secondly, on humanitarian grounds, namely to protect the Syrian people from the barbarism that is Wahhabism and Salafism.  Thirdly, to counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security.  Fourthly, Syria is Russia’s historic friend – friends are there for each other.  And finally, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state; no different to how the US would militarily defend its position in Saudi Arabia or Israel, if it was required to do so.

Q: Considering the recent Washington-Moscow confrontational policies over a range of issues, specially the war in Syria, do you see a shift in Russia’s foreign policy towards the United States’ allies in the Middle-East, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia?

A: No.  Israel and Saudi Arabia are staunch allies and friends to the US – and nothing can undo this well-known reality.  Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is the number one exporter of religious extremism (Wahhabism) and terrorism to the world, which continues to affect Russian security, especially in the North Caucasus.  And as for Israel, the Israelis historically pose a deadly threat to Russia’s friend and ally Syria, and Israel has been assisting armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in their fight with the Syrian army, something that Moscow is well aware of.

For the Kremlin, Syria and Iran are its strategic partners in the Middle East.  Damascus and Tehran are to Moscow what Tel Aviv and Riyadh are to Washington.

Q: Is the Syrian crisis pushing the ties between Russia and the US into a state similar to the cold war decades ago? With the new US administration, how likely is it to witness a 21st century version of the cold war?

A: The crisis in Ukraine is what propelled relations between Russia and the US to such a low level.  However, the fighting in Syria has made relations between the two superpowers even worse.  The state of relations between Moscow and Washington today are comparable to how they were before Detente in the 1970s and during the early 1980s.  And with the Trump administration determined to “Make America Great Again” by crushing or curtailing the power of countries which follow independent foreign policies (Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea, to name but a few), it is extremely difficult to see how Russia-US relations can improve. President Putin cannot and will not (and rightly so) bow down to American diktats, while President Trump is determined to both fulfil his own personal megalomaniac ambitions and pursue America’s insatiable lust for ever more wealth and power in the world.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13960209001727

Assad regime regains total control of Syrian city of Homs — Russian soldiers to provide security

May 21, 2017

AFP

© STR, AFP | Syrian rebels are evacuated from the Al Waer district of Homs on May 21.

Latest update : 2017-05-21

The Syrian regime on Sunday regained total control of the central city of Homs with the evacuation of rebels from the last area they had controlled.

The Russian-supervised evacuation of the Waer district was the latest blow to the insurgents by regime troops backed by their Russian and Iranian allies.

Since December, the rebels have lost their former bastion of Aleppo and nearly all of the areas they controlled in Damascus.

This latest setback is mostly symbolic, however, as most of the rebels had been driven out of Homs in 2014 after two years of bombardment and stifling siege.

“The last bus (with evacuees on board) has left the Waer neighbourhood,” Homs provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP.

On Saturday, he had said that 3,000 evacuees, including 700 rebels, were due to be taken out of Waer.

“There are no more weapons or armed men in Waer… we can declare Homs to be a secure city,” Barazi said, referring to the rebels.

He added that the Syrian security services had now entered the former rebel bastion.

Russian police are taking their place to control neighbourhood in Homs city, while the last convoy of civilians preparing 2B displaced

An AFP correspondent said the evacuees left on board 50 buses as more than 30 trucks packed with household belongings trailed behind.

Many rebels wore black scarves to conceal their faces, some holding light weapons authorised under the deal while families lugged suitcases and children carried toys.

“I feel like I am dying inside. I wanted to stay but I was afraid of being arrested,” one rebel, who shielded his eyes behind sunglasses, told AFP.

The Russian-supervised operation began two months ago and has been carried out over several weeks.

Under the deal, opposition fighters are granted safe passage by the government out of Homs to rebel-held areas elsewhere in Syria, including the northwestern Idlib province.

Between 600 and 100 Russian soldiers will deploy in Waer to provide security for residents who still live there or for those who were displaced by fighting and wish to return home.

The evacuation of Waer will bring Syria’s government closer to cementing its control over more parts of the war-wracked country.

Earlier this month, rebels also began evacuating the last districts under their control in the capital Damascus, following their defeat in second city Aleppo in December.