Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

Iran says Tehran, Turkey to confront disintegration of Iraq, Syria — But Assad Said To Be Winning War in Syria and Iraq “Not Disintegrating”

October 4, 2017

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is seen with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran, Iran, October 4, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Ankara (Reuters) – Iran and Turkey will work together to confront the disintegration of Iraq and Syria to ease tension in the crisis-hit region, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday after meeting with his Turkish counterpart in Tehran.

“We want security and stability in the Middle East … the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan is a sectarian plot by foreign countries and is rejected by Tehran and Ankara,” Rouhani told a joint news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra

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FILE PHOTO: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Assad Said To Be Winning War in Syria

Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday President Bashar al-Assad was winning Syria’s civil war and urged the United States to weigh in as Damascus’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies gain ground.

Avigdor Lieberman’s comments marked a reversal for Israel, where top officials had from the outset of fighting in 2011 until mid-2015 regularly predicted Assad would lose control of his country and be toppled.

“I see a long international queue lining up to woo Assad, include Western nations, including moderate Sunnis. Suddenly everyone wants to get close to Assad. This is unprecedented. Because Assad is winning, everyone is standing in line,” he told Israel’s Walla news site.

In late 2015, Russia helped Assad turn the tide with a military intervention that put Moscow’s forces in the field alongside Israel’s most potent foes – Iran and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah – opposite Syrian rebels.

The United States has focused its Syria operations on fighting rebel jihadis like Islamic State – dismaying Israel, which has tried to persuade both Washington and Moscow that Iran’s expanding clout is the greater threat.

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FILE PHOTO: Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks during the International Institute for Counter Terrorism’s 17th annual conference in Herzliya, Israel September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

In its decades under Assad family rule, Syria has been an enemy of Israel, with their armies clashing in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982. While largely keeping out of the Syrian civil war, Israel has tried to sway the world powers involved in the conflict and cautioned it could strike militarily to prevent Iran and Hezbollah entrenching further on its northern front.

“We hope the United States will be more active in the Syrian arena and the Middle East in general,” Lieberman said. “We are faced with Russians, Iranians, and also the Turks and Hezbollah, and this is no simple matter to deal with, on a daily basis.”

Lieberman did not elaborate on what actions he sought from the Donald Trump administration, which Israel has been lobbying for reassurances that Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to deploy near its border or set up bases within Syria.

“The United States has quite a few challenges of its own, but as a trend – the more the United States will be active, the better it will be for the State of Israel,” Lieberman said.

(The story is refiled to add dropped source in third paragraph)

Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton

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Iraq forces in ‘final assault’ on ISIL-held Hawija

Hawija is one of only two pockets of territory still under control of ISIL in Iraq.

Al Jazeera

Iraq’s army has launched what it said would be the final assault to capture the town of Hawija, one of two pockets of territory still under control of ISIL in Iraq, the country’s military said in a statement.

Iraqi forces began moving on Hawija two days after capturing the Rashad airbase, located 30km to the south and used by the armed group as a training camp and logistics site.

Iraq launched an offensive on September 21 to dislodge the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) from Hawija, which lies west of the oil city of Kirkuk and north of Baghdad.

The other area of the country still under the control of the group is a stretch of land along the Syrian border, in western Iraq.

ISIL’s self-declared “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, after a gruelling nine-month battle.

Source: Reuters news agency

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/iraq-forces-final-assault-isil-held-hawija-171004054355079.html

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Kurdish referendum inspires Iraq’s Christians to fight for their own independence amid fears of being caught in crossfire

Kurds in Iraq voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of seeking full independence from the central government in Baghdad — setting off a firestorm of international retaliation, including strong objections from the U.S. But the Kurdish quest for their own country has also prodded other minorities in the region — namely the long persecuted Christian community — to vocalize their fears and frustrations about being caught in the middle, and their own ambition for some form of a “safe haven” or autonomy.

“Christians understand the sentiment of self-determination and liberty that drives every man or woman,” Mark Arabo, President of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, told Fox News. “One thing that gives Christians hope is that if Kurdistan is successful in their effort to attain sovereignty, perhaps Christians can successfully carve out a space in the Nineveh Plains that would grant them far greater protection than is currently had.”

There are an estimated 200,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from over 1.5 million prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the majority of whom were forced to flee Mosul and other parts of the Nineveh Plains to the Kurdish-held north in 2014 as ISIS assaulted in on their land.

An Iraqi child works on a temporary mosaic of Pope Francis' face made from wheat, beans and lentils in Alqosh, a village of some 6,000 inhabitants about 31 miles north of Mosul, northern Iraq. (AP)

An Iraqi child works on a temporary mosaic of Pope Francis’ face made from wheat, beans and lentils in Alqosh, a village of some 6,000 inhabitants about 31 miles north of Mosul, northern Iraq. (AP)

Deemed the ancestral homeland of all Christianity — many of these Christian areas in the Nineveh now lie in the disputed areas between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil, and the central government further south in Baghdad.

As a dwindling minority, many Christians view themselves as caught between the crossfire and no longer want to be reliant on either government for security and protection, thus the push to declare their own referendum is only gaining traction. Last month, officials in the few remaining Baghdad churches even called for help in establishing an independent state — similar to that of the Vatican.

Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, stressed that in the wake of the genocide committed against them by ISIS, the only people they can trust are their own.

“When ISIS attacked the Nineveh Plain, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces escaped instead of defending the towns they were assigned to protect, leaving the Christians and Yazidis vulnerable,” she claimed. “What will keep the indigenous people of the land safe and thriving is to have the right to defend and protect themselves. The only way we will thrive as a society and ensure safety is by protecting ourselves.”

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A remaining Mosul church after ISIS.  (FoxNews.com )

The increasing tensions between the two governments and threat of military escalation has some Christians on edge that further fighting will only dwindle their numbers further.

“From the beginning, we in the Nineveh Plains asked to be kept away from the referendum because it will create tensions,” said Kaldo Oghanna, director of central media of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, which contends that the referendum does not represent the minorities. “Any problems will cause even more Christians to leave the country.”

And the well-known Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, acknowledged that the future for Christians in the wake of the autonomy push is now more uncertain than ever.

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Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White

“The results of this election have caused huge tensions between Kurdistan and Iraq,” he told Fox News, noting that both Iraq and Kurdistan have become foreign places for Christian communities. “There are a few Kurdish Christians, but not many. They do not see that they have any links with the Kurds there, however there are historic monasteries in places like Dohuk. But most Christians will not go back to Nineveh under any circumstances. Most of them have already fled, or are waiting to leave.”

AFTER VOTE, DEFIANT IRAQI KURDS SAY THEY ARE READY TO FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE

ISIS USED MOSUL CHURCH TO ABUSE YAZIDI GIRLS, WOMEN, IRAQI ARMY OFFICER SAYS

While the referendum was nonbinding, its purpose was to use as evidence that the Kurds – at least 92 percent of the six million in Iraq and in the diaspora worldwide – wanted their own mothership, and to use that card to ignite that process. However, any additional moves for independence are likely to roil the region even further.

Iraq’s Parliament requested that the country’s prime minister deploy troops to the borders of the disputed areas held by Kurdish forces after Iraqi troops abandoned the post when ISIS invaded, provoking concerns of an armed conflict. On Tuesday, joint drills were indeed undertaken by Iran and Iraq forces.

Furthermore, Baghdad has called the vote illegal and halted flights into the main Kurdish airports as well as insisting the region surrender oil revenues.

One Baghdad official told Fox News that they have received “various reports” of Kurdish officials and Peshmerga members “forcing Christians, Muslim Arabs and Yezidis to vote in favor of independence,” of which Taimoorazy concurred.

“Many individuals felt pressured that if they were not to vote for a Kurdish state, they would lose their jobs and livelihood,” she claimed.

A member from the Oil Police Force is seen at Nahran Umran field norh of Basra, Iraq September 8, 2017. Picture taken September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani - RC16F208ACD0

A member from the Oil Police Force is seen at Nahran Umran field norh of Basra, Iraq September 8, 2017.  (REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani)

However, KRG officials have vehemently dismissed such allegations and point out that the semiautonomous region has worked above and beyond to support and safeguard minorities and allow them religious freedom, especially since the majority of them are still being housed as displaced people at a great cost to the Kurdish community.

According to Kelsey Zorzi, New York-based U.N. Counsel for ADF International, whether or not Iraqi Christians — who are generally split between Syriac, Chaldean, Assyrian and Armenian sects — support the independence move simply comes down to which Christian you ask.

“Above all, they are all interested in peace and stability. They want to enjoy their right to religious freedom which the Kurdish government as well as the leadership in Baghdad are willing to grant,” she said. “But given that the Peshmerga were the fiercest opponents of ISIS, Christians living in an independent Kurdistan would not have to fear genocide perpetuated by ISIS.”

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Peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS

Yet Philippe Nassif, Executive Director of the nonprofit human rights group In Defense of Christians (IDC) told Fox News that of the 11 different Christian political parties in Iraq, most of them seem to be divided on the issue of Kurdish independence, but almost all “seek stability and want some form of autonomy over their own affairs.”

“What is important is that Christians are allowed to protect themselves and be given protection by whoever ends up governing these areas,” he added. “It is also important that they are allowed to rebuild their destroyed communities and economy unimpeded.”

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/10/03/kurdish-referendum-inspires-iraqs-christians-to-fight-for-their-own-independence-amid-fears-being-caught-in-crossfire.html

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Putin heads to Turkey for talks on weapons deal, Syria

September 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Raziye Akkoc with Stuart Williams in Istanbul | Turkey’s NATO allies have grown increasingly alarmed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deepening ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin

ANKARA (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday meets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on Syria and a key weapons deal, hoping to strengthen an increasingly active relationship that has troubled the West.Despite a regional rivalry that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and the Romanov dynasty, Russia and Turkey have been working closely since a 2016 reconciliation ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.

“Russia and Turkey are cooperating very tightly,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the one-day working visit by Putin to Ankara.

The two will hold a working dinner before a one-on-one meeting and a press conference at 9:30 pm (1830 GMT) at Erdogan’s palace, the Turkish presidency said on its website.

Turkey and Russia have been on opposing sides during the more than six years of war in Syria, with Russia the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey supporting rebels seeking his ouster.

But while Turkey’s policy is officially unchanged, Ankara has notably cooled its attacks on the Damascus regime since its cooperation with Russia began to heat up.

Both Moscow and Ankara are pushing for the creation of four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, in line with peace talks in Astana, to end the civil war that has raged since 2011.

With Moscow’s ally Assad now having the upper hand in the conflict, Russia will be hoping Turkey will bring the rebels it has supported into the political process.

Turkey, a NATO member, has signed a deal reportedly worth $2 billion (1.7 billion euros) to buy S-400 air defence systems from Russia, a move that has shocked its allies in the alliance.

Economic cooperation is also beginning to flourish, with Russian tourists returning to Turkey and the two countries working on a Black Sea gas pipeline.

– ‘Loaded with contradictions’ –

Yet analysts say that while both countries share an interest in seeking to discomfort the West by showing off close cooperation, their relationship falls well short of a sincere strategic alliance.

“Relations between Turkey and Russia may appear to be friendly, but they are loaded with contradictions and set to remain unstable in the near term,” Pavel Baev and Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution wrote in a study this month.

Russia’s stance on the non-binding Kurdish independence vote is also troubling for Turkey, for whom opposing Kurdish statehood is a cornerstone of foreign policy due to its own Kurdish minority.

The Russian foreign ministry said Wednesday that while Moscow supports the territorial integrity of Iraq, it “views the Kurds’ national aspirations with respect”.

“Russia has been trying to abstain from taking a clear stance on the issue and Turkey may be wanting to get some assurances and explanations,” Timur Akhmetov, Ankara-based Turkey expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, told AFP.

In public, Erdogan has shied away from attacking Russia’s stance on the Kurdish referendum, declaring that Israel was the only state that backed the poll.

Deliveries of the S-400s, meanwhile, could be years away due to orders from China, while Ankara’s insistence on a technology transfer as part of the deal may also create problems.

But both Moscow and Ankara are, for now, happy to send a message to the West that they are serious about defence cooperation.

“They are trying to utilise the issue of the S-400 for their respective political interests,” Akhmetov told AFP.

by Raziye Akkoc with Stuart Williams in Istanbul

Russian Jets Strike U.S.-Backed Forces in Eastern Syria: SDF

September 25, 2017

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian militias said Russian warplanes struck their positions in Deir al-Zor province on Monday, near a major natural gas field they seized from Islamic State in recent days.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, has been fighting Islamic State on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river with U.S.-led jets and special forces. The SDF on one hand, and Syrian troops with Russian air power on the other, have converged on Islamic State in separate offensives in Deir al-Zor.

Spokesman Mustafa Bali said the attack on Monday “by land and air” had wounded SDF fighters.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Syria’s Kurds to Hold Historic Vote in ‘Message’ to Assad — Syria moving toward partition?

September 21, 2017

BEIRUT — Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria will hold elections on Friday, a historic expression of free will and a message to President Bashar al-Assad as he seeks to reassert control over the whole country, a senior Syrian Kurdish politician said.

As Kurds in neighboring Iraq prepare to vote on secession from Baghdad, Hadiya Yousef told Reuters that Assad’s aim to take back all of Syria could lead to its partition, though Syria’s Kurds insist that independence is not their aim.

The three-phase vote set to begin on Friday is part of a plan mapped out by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies to set up a federal system of government that will shore up the autonomy they have enjoyed in the north since 2011, when Syria’s civil war broke out.

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Fighters from the Kurdish YPG militia alongside the group’s flag in northern Syria

The political structures expected to emerge from the process are inspired by the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who is in jail in Turkey for leading a three-decade insurgency. Turkey views Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria as a threat to its national security.

In Friday’s election, voters will be picking leaders for some 3,700 communities, or “communes”, spread across three regions of the north. The process will be followed in November by elections to local councils and culminate in January with the election of an assembly that will act as a parliament.

The Syrian government, which is regaining swathes of territory with Russian and Iranian support, opposes the plan and has repeatedly insisted that it will recover all the territory that has slipped from its grip during six years of war.

“The regime’s insistence on renewing this authoritarian, centralized regime will lead to a deepening of the Syrian crisis,” said Yousef, who co-chairs a constituent assembly at the heart of the plans for the new system of government.

“If (the government) insists on this position, the regime will steer Syria toward partition,” she said by phone. The people of northern Syria had the means to defend themselves, she noted, and urged Damascus to accept dialogue.

“THE SHADOW” OF THE BAATH

The main Syrian Kurdish groups and their militia, the YPG, have emerged as a major force in Syria since the onset of the war, and now control approximately a quarter of the country.

Damascus and its allies on the one hand and the YPG and its allies on the other have mostly stayed out of each other’s way in the war. But tensions are surfacing as the sides race to grab territory from Islamic State in Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria.

The YPG is the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and its area recaptured from Islamic State.

Though it backs the YPG, the United States last year declared its opposition to creation of autonomous zones in Syria. It has also come out against the Iraqi Kurdish independence vote set for Monday.

Yousef said the decision to hold the elections while the people of northern Syria were simultaneously fighting Islamic State reflected their determination to press ahead.

“At the same time, it is a message to the Syrian regime that we as the Syrian people have will and want our will to be represented in the election of our administration to run our regions and societies,” she said.

The elections will not take place in all the areas controlled by the SDF. There will be no vote in the city of Manbij, captured from Islamic State last year, for example, or in recently captured areas near the city of Raqqa, she said.

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Al-Dar Khalil

Critics say the governing structures set up so far in northern Syria are less democratic than they claim to be, and are dominated by officials committed to the PKK.

But senior Kurdish politician Al-Dar Khalil said a culture of democracy was being advanced in the region, after years of oppressive Baath Party rule. “In Syria, from ’63 … we were living in the shadow of the Baath Party – one party controlling all institutions and aspects of life,” he told Reuters.

“We want to change this mindset.”

(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Larry King)

Syria Warns Israel of “Dangerous Repercussions” After Israeli Attack on Chemical Weapons Site

September 8, 2017
BY JPOST.COM STAFF, ANNA AHRONHEIM
 SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 11:34

Syria accuses Israel of targeting a chemical weapons plant and killing two of its soldiers; Israel has yet to confirm or deny the allegations, but Israeli security officials are speaking out.

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People seen fleeing the alleged site of the Israeli attack on a Syrian post where chemical weapons are manufactured.  (photo credit:SOCIAL MEDIA)

Syria accused Israel on Thursday of carrying out an aerial attack on Assad posts overnight. The alleged Israeli attack hit a scientific research center where chemical weapons are manufactured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a statement, the Syrian army warned Israel of “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region” following the attack.

According to the reports, the attack was launched at 2:30 a.m. on targets located in central Syria, in the area of Hama, and also targeted several weapons convoys that were en route to Hezbollah strongholds in the area.

The Syrian army charged later on Thursday morning that Israel killed two of its soldiers during the aerial attack. An IDF spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports, saying that the army does not comment on operational matters.

Arab media claimed there are three casualties as a result of the attack, which centered on a regime post that belongs to the scientific research center on the outskirts of Hama, situated in the northwestern part of the country. In the scientific center, the regime reportedly develops munitions such as missiles and has developed chemical weapons as well.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that an airstrike on Masyaf in Syria hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility and an adjacent military camp where ground-to-ground rockets are stored.

https://maphub.net/embed/15678

The United States has imposed sanctions on employees of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which it describes as the Syrian agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons including chemical weapons, something Damascus denies.

Syrian social media activists reported that “Israeli airplanes infiltrated from the valley area in Lebanon and attacked the center.”

Lebanese media reported that around 4 p.m. IAF fighter jets were spotted circling above Lebanon.

Speaking to Army Radio early Thursday morning, Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, who previously served as the military secretary of the prime minister, said that Israel “must do everything to prevent Iran from getting a better stronghold than that which it already has on Syria.”

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This Sunday, April 30, 2017 photo provided by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), shows a fighter from the SDF carrying weapons as he looks toward the northern town of Tabqa, Syria.

He also said that he “assumes there’s a level of cooperation with the Americans following such an attack or beforehand, but we don’t have to ask for their approval.”

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence and Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) took to Twitter stating that the strike was not routine and targeted a Syrian military-scientific center that develops and manufactures, among other things, precision missiles.

“The factory in the attack also produces chemical weapons and barrels of explosives that killed thousands of Syrian citizens. If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” he wrote.

“The attack sent 3 important messages: Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”

While the IDF does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria. Jerusalem has repeatedly said that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s civil war, there are red lines that Jerusalem has set including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

Former Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes in the past five years,  against the transfer of advanced weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah, including the transfer of chemical weapons.

Just yesterday, the United Nations released a report affirming that the Syrian regime, governed by Bashar Assad, had indeed used chemical weapons (specifically Serin [sic] gas) to attack its own people when it had bombed the province of Idlib this past April.

The UN investigators confirmed that more than 80 civilians died as a direct result of the lethal attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

This is a developing story.

Yasser Okbi and Reuters contributed to this report.

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http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Initial-Israel-attacked-chemical-weapons-facility-in-Syria-Arab-media-claims-504455
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Syrian government behind sarin gas attack which killed 83 in April, say UN investigators
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Syria opposition slams ‘shocking’ UN envoy statement — Accuses Russia of “manipulating” UN, Syria, others — Calls for a new UN approach on Syria

September 7, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Successive rounds of peace talks have failed to reach a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Syria’s opposition on Thursday criticised the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura after he urged it to be “realistic” and said it had not won the country’s six-year war.”These statements are, to say the very least, shocking and disappointing,” said Nasr al-Hariri, head of the opposition’s negotiations delegation, at a press conference in Istanbul.

He said De Mistura was well aware “which party has cooperated positively to advance the political process and which is the obstacle,” in reference to Syria’s government.

De Mistura on Tuesday urged the still-fractured Syrian opposition to form a unified delegation ahead of a next round of peace talks tentatively scheduled to take place in Geneva next month.

“Will the opposition be able to be unified and realistic enough to realise they didn’t win the war?” he said.

He added that Syria’s government could not “simply announce victory” despite its recent advances, and that “the only answer is a political process”.

The main opposition camp, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), whose delegation Hariri heads, insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave office as part of any peace deal.

That stance has put the HNC at odds with two other opposition groups, known as the Moscow and Cairo platforms.

De Mistura has in recent weeks upped the pressure on the groups to unite and said he believed they would be meeting again in Riyadh in the coming weeks, after talks there last month failed to produce a compromise.

But Hariri said the so-called Geneva track was “losing its credibility because of the way it is being manipulated by some international parties, particularly Russia.”

Moscow is a close ally of Syria’s government and has developed another negotiations track in the Kazakh capital Astana that the opposition sees as an attempt to hijack international peace talks.

HNC chief Riad Hijab also slammed De Mistura’s comments, saying on Twitter that they reflected the “defeat of UN mediation.”

“Time after time, De Mistura implicates himself with unstudied statements that reinforce our call for a new UN approach on Syria,” he said.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Successive rounds of peace talks have failed to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Qatar restores full relations with Iran despite demands of Arab neighbors — “Qatar will not bow to this regional pressure.”

August 24, 2017

The Associated Press and France 24

© Atta Kenare, AFP | An Iranian man walks past a Qatar Airways branch in the capital Tehran on June 6.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-24

Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran early on Thursday and promised to send its ambassador back to Tehran — a move counter to the demands of Arab nations trying to isolate Doha as part of a regional dispute.

In announcing its decision, Qatar made no mention of the diplomatic crisis roiling Gulf Arab nations since June, when Doha found its land, sea and air routes cut off by the four Arab states.

Iran, which welcomed Doha’s decision, has sent food to Qatar and allowed its airplanes to increasingly use the Islamic Republic’s airspace.

Restoring diplomatic ties will undoubtedly anger those opposing Qatar in the regional dispute, chief among them Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival. Perhaps not unrelated, the move comes just days after Saudi Arabia began promoting a Qatari royal family member whose branch of the family was ousted in a palace coup in 1972.

“Qatar has shown it is going to go in a different direction,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University who lives in Seattle. “It could very well be calculated toward reinforcing the point that Qatar will not bow to this regional pressure placed upon it.”

Qatar pulled its ambassador from Tehran in early 2016 after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric sparked attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran, a move to show solidarity with the kingdom. A short Foreign Ministry statement issued early Thursday changed that, saying Qatar’s ambassador soon would return to Iran.

“The state of Qatar expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields,” the statement said.

In Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Qatar announced its intention to return its ambassador to Tehran in a phone with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“We welcome this measure by the Qatari government,” Ghasemi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Despite recalling its ambassador in 2016, Qatar maintained its valuable commercial ties to Iran. Qatar and Iran share a massive offshore natural gas field, called the South Pars Field by Tehran and the North Field by Doha.

That gas field’s vast reserves made Qataris have the highest per capita income in the world, as well as funded the nation’s Al-Jazeera satellite news network and secured hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Shiite power Iran also has incorporated the crisis into its regular criticism of the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, part of the two Mideast powers’ long-running proxy war.

However, those tensions may be easing as well, as Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying visas for both Iranian and Saudi diplomats to visit their respective embassies and consulates had been issued. Zarif said final steps to allow the visits likely would be taken after the annual hajj pilgrimage at the end of the month.

There was no immediate reaction from the Arab nations boycotting Qatar on its Iran decision. On Wednesday, the Central African nation of Chad announced it would close its embassy in Doha, accusing Qatar of trying to destabilize it from neighboring Libya.

The diplomatic crisis began on June 5, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut ties to Qatar over allegations it was funding extremists and being too close to Iran. Qatar long has denied funding extremists.

The boycotting countries later issued a list of 13 demands to Qatar, including that Doha shut its diplomatic posts in Iran. Qatar ignored the demands and let a deadline to comply pass, creating an apparent stalemate in the crisis. Attempts by Kuwait, the U.S. and others have failed to make headway.

In recent days, however, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow Qataris to make the annual hajj pilgrimage, which is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life. Saudi state media said that came in part due to an intercession by Qatari royal family member Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, who met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and later a vacationing King Salman in Morocco.

But Sheikh Abdullah has no role in Qatar’s government and his last position was as head of the equestrian and camel racing federation decades ago. Sheikh Abdullah’s grandfather, father and brother were rulers of Qatar until a palace coup ousted his branch of the royal family in 1972. There have been suggestions that the sheikh could be the start of a Qatari government-in-exile.

But Ulrichsen cautioned that so far, the Saudi moves appeared to be more needling than anything else.

“Given that a formal escalation in terms of sanctions is probably off the table for now, we’re seeing this informal pressure on Qatar … to try and perhaps stir the pot,” the professor said. “I think the informal pressure is increasing because of the lack of formal alternative measures they can realistically hope to place on Qatar.”

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

Qatar Restores Full Diplomatic Ties With Iran in Stark Message to Saudi Arabia, Gulf States — Is the Boycott a Complete Failure?

August 24, 2017

Qatar returns its envoy to Iran for first time since 2016; Qatar maintained oil ties with Iran throughout three-month diplomatic crisis with Gulf states over the former’s support of groups such as Hamas

The Associated Press Aug 24, 2017 8:33 AM

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File photo: Corniche Bay of Doha, Qatar on Jan 6, 2011. Saurabh Das/AP

Qatar has restored full diplomatic relations with Iran, ignoring the demands of Arab nations now trying to isolate the energy-rich country to downgrade its ties.

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Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announced early Thursday that the country’s ambassador would return to Tehran. Qatar pulled its ambassador in early 2016 after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric sparked attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran.

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In announcing its decision, Qatar did not mention the diplomatic crisis roiling Gulf Arab nations since June, when Qatar found its land, sea and air routes cut off by its neighbors over Doha’s policies across the Mideast.

Qatar said in a statement that the move to reestablish ties with Iran “expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields.” Iranian state media acknowledged the development, without elaborating.

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There was no immediate reaction from the Arab nations boycotting Qatar. On Wednesday, the Central African nation of Chad announced it would close its embassy in Doha, accusing Qatar of trying to destabilize it from neighboring Libya.

 

Qatar and Iran share a massive offshore natural gas field that requires communication between the two countries. Since the diplomatic dispute with Arab nations began in June, the two countries have maintained their valuable commercial ties, and Iran has sent food shipments to Qatar. Shiite power Iran also has incorporated the crisis into its regular criticism of the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, part of the two Mideast powers’ long-running proxy war.

However, the move comes just days after Saudi Arabia began promoting a Qatari royal family member whose branch of the family was ousted in a palace coup in 1972.

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“Qatar has shown it is going to go in a different direction,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University who lives in Seattle. “It could very well be calculated toward reinforcing the point that Qatar will not bow to this regional pressure placed upon it.”

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The diplomatic crisis began June 5, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut ties to Qatar over allegations including it funding extremists and being too close to Iran. Qatar long has denied funding extremists.

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The boycotting countries later issued a list of 13 demands to Qatar, including that Doha shut its diplomatic posts in Iran. Qatar ignored the demands and let a deadline to comply pass, creating an apparent stalemate in the crisis. Attempts by Kuwait, the U.S. and others have failed to make headway.

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In recent days, however, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow Qataris to make the annual hajj pilgrimage, which is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life. Saudi state media said that came in part due to an intercession by Qatari royal family member Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, who met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and later a vacationing King Salman in Morocco.

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But Sheikh Abdullah has no role in Qatar’s government and his last position was as head of the equestrian and camel racing federation decades ago. Sheikh Abdullah’s grandfather, father and brother were rulers of Qatar until a palace coup ousted his branch of the royal family in 1972 and a prominent Saudi columnist has suggested the sheikh could be the start of a Qatari government-in-exile.

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Ulrichsen cautioned that so far, the Saudi moves appeared to be more needling than anything else.

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“Given that a formal escalation in terms of sanctions is probably off the table for now, we’re seeing this informal pressure on Qatar … to try and perhaps stir the pot,” the professor said. “I think the informal pressure is increasing because of the lack of formal alternative measures they can realistic hope to place on Qatar.”

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Qatar’s vast gas fields have made Qataris have the highest per capita income in the world, as well as funded the nation’s Al-Jazeera satellite news network and secured hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

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read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.808702

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

Syria army encircles IS jihadists in desert

August 24, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Pro-government fighters hold up a Syrian flag in the central Syrian town of Sukhnah, situated in the county’s large desert area called the Badiya, on August 13, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes completely surrounded fighters of the Islamic State group in a vast central desert region on Thursday, a monitoring group said.

Advancing overnight, troops north and south of the Badiya desert area met up and seized Jabal Dahek, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

By encircling them, the government forces dealt a “strategic” blow to the IS jihadists, said the Britain-based Observatory.

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They have been battling for months to retake the Badiya, which stretches from the country’s centre to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders and has been held by IS since 2014.

Fighting was still raging between the two sides near Sukhnah, one of the main towns in the desert area.

Victory over IS in the region is seen as key to the army’s hopes of retaking Deir Ezzor, the last Syrian province that remains nearly completely under IS control.

The jihadists have long surrounded government forces in the province’s capital city, also named Deir Ezzor.

Analysts say the Syrian army needs to completely eliminate IS from the central part of the desert before it can attack Deir Ezzor, otherwise its troops would be exposed.

According to Fabrice Balanche, an expert on Syrian geography, the regime would have more than half of the country’s territory under its control if it can drive IS out of the Badiya.

More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

North Korea Shipments to Syria Chemical Arms Agency Intercepted, U.N. Says

August 22, 2017

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UNITED NATIONS — Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons programme were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another Member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” according to the report.

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KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. It was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang’s key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. In March 2016 the council also blacklisted two KOMID representatives in Syria.

“The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the U.N. experts wrote.

SSRC has overseen the country’s chemical weapons programme since the 1970s.

The U.N. experts said activities between Syria and North Korea they were investigating included cooperation on Syrian Scud missile programs and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defense systems.

The North Korean and Syrian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syrias northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (Getty)

The experts said they were also investigating the use of the VX nerve agent in Malaysia to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in February.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the Security Council has ratcheted up the measures in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

During the country’s more than six-year long civil war the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said the banned nerve agent sarin has been used at least twice, while the use of chlorine as a weapon has been widespread. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

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