Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

Hadi urges Yemenis to join fight against Iran-backed Houthis after Saleh killed — “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

December 5, 2017

 

Supporters of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the General People’s Congress party which is led by Saleh in Sanaa on August 24, 2017. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File)

JEDDAH: Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Monday rallied his countrymen in areas controlled by Houthis to rise up against the Iran-backed militia, who had just murdered their erstwhile ally former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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In a televised address, Hadi said the Yemeni Army, which has surrounded Sanaa, was ready to support all efforts that aimed to eradicate the Houthis. The legitimate Yemeni government had extended its hand to all sincere Yemeni citizens to start a new page in the country’s future and to establish a new Yemen, based on pluralism, democracy and freedom, he said.
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“Yemen is passing through a decisive turning point that needs our unity and steadfastness in the face of these sectarian militias,” Hadi said. “Let’s put our hands together to end this nightmare.”
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Saleh was assassinated on Monday by Houthi militias, two days after he broke ranks over disagreements with his allies.
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The militias overran Saleh’s home in the capital, Sanaa, and the former leader fled south toward his home village of Sanhan. Houthi gunmen halted his four-vehicle convoy 40 km from the city and opened fire.
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Saleh, 75, was killed along with Arif Al-Zouka, secretary-general of the former president’s General People’s Congress party, and Al-Zouka’s deputy Yasir Al-Awadi.
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Video posted on social media showed Saleh’s motionless body with a gaping head wound, his eyes open but glassy, and blood staining his shirt under a dark suit. The footage showed Houthis carrying the body in a blanket and dumping it in a pickup truck.
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Saleh ruled Yemen for more than 30 years, stitching alliances and playing off one tribe against another. He once described governing the country as like dancing on the heads of snakes.
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The former president was replaced in 2012 by his deputy, Hadi, against whom he joined forces with the Houthis to stage a coup. Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition in 2015 to restore Hadi’s internationally recognized government. On Saturday, Saleh had turned his back on the Houthis and offered talks with the Saudi-led coalition.
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Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for the Hadi government, said it was a sad day in the history of Yemen.
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He said the assassination was “yet another crime added to the bloody record of the Iran-backed Houthi militias. The gravity of the inhumane murder of Saleh should move all Yemenis to stand behind the legitimate government against the coup militias who have brought only chaos and destruction to Yemen, to the Yemeni people, and whose aim is to implement a sectarian Iranian agenda in the region.

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“The act is further proof that these militias adopt an ideology of exclusion. We call upon the Yemeni people to make the assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh a turning point in the country’s history and encourage all people to join ranks with the legitimate government and against the evil terrorists.”

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Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, said Saleh’s death was sad news but would unite all Yemenis against the Houthis.

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“It is very clear now that this is a fight between Arabs and Persians. All Arabs and Muslims will unite against the machinations of Iran,” he told Arab News. “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

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Al-Shehri said Saleh had miscalculated when he aligned himself with the Houthis. “He thought he could share power with them. He should have known better. The Iranians never share power. They want everything for themselves or else they kill — which is what happened with Saleh.”
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Saleh’s supporters “need a leader tonight to rally them and the Yemeni people against the Houthis,” Al-Shehri said. He suggested Saleh’s son, Ahmed, commander of the elite Republic Guard and former ambassador to the UAE, where he now lives.
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“There can be no better leader than Ahmed, who Saleh was grooming as his heir, and who will want to avenge the death of his father and restore stability to Yemen.”
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Saudi writer Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, writing in Arab News, said: “Saleh paid with his life for defying the Iranian-backed Houthi militias. Many Yemenis have met similar fates when they dared to stand in the way of the Houthi project.”
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Aluwaisheg said assassination was a favorite tactic of the Houthi militias and other pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria.
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“Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafiq Hariri met a similar fate in 2005, as did many prominent Lebanese political figures, journalists, writers and religious leaders,” he said.
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Meanwhile, fighting and air strikes have intensified in Sanaa, where roads were blocked and tanks were deployed on many streets, trapping civilians and halting delivery of vital aid including fuel to supply clean water, the UN said on Monday.
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Some of the fiercest clashes were around the diplomatic area near the UN compound, while aid flights in and out of Sanaa airport had been suspended, the UN said after its appeal for a humanitarian pause on Tuesday.
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“The escalating situation threatens to push the barely functioning basic services … to a standstill. These services have already been seriously compromised with the latest shock of the impact of the blockade,” it said, and fighting had also spread to other governorates, such as Hajjah.
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Report: Assad’s Syria Grateful For Iran’s Help But Fails to Embrace All of Iran’s “Demands” — Wanted permission to mine phosphates — including uranium — Wnated air bases, Naval base on Med

November 29, 2017

 

BY ERIC SUMNER
 NOVEMBER 29, 2017 06:47

 

Tehran outlined “the basic principles” of cooperation between the two partners.

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Iran fires missiles at militant groups in eastern Syria (credit: REUTERS)
About a month ago, Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Bagheri paid a rare visit to Damascus, according to Israeli media reports. It was intended as a show of unity between Tehran and the regime of President Bashar Assad, an expression of the excellent cooperation between the Shia allies in their fight against the Islamic State and opposition fighters — and, of course, “the Zionists.”

Bagheri and his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub, outlined “the basic principles” of cooperation between the two partners.

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Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Bagheri and his staff meet with Syrian military leaders, October 21, 217

But from Iran’s perspective, Bagheri’s visit to the Syrian capital wasn’t totally successful, Walla! News reported Tuesday. For all the support Assad received from Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, during his bitter fight against those who seek to overthrow him, the Syrian dictator wasn’t keen on Tehran’s list of demands.

The Islamic Republic demanded, according to Walla, a 50-year lease on a Mediterranean naval base, the establishment of air bases throughout Syria and permission to mine phosphates — including uranium. While Syria didn’t reject the Iranian requests outright, its besieged regime indicated it prefers to advance into Iran’s warm embrace with caution, in a move that runs counter to the Western and Israeli narrative that Assad is nothing but Tehran’s stooge.

This isn’t to say Assad has suddenly developed a backbone in his dealings with Iran. But the Walla report indicates the Syrian president understands that a strong Iranian presence in Syria could cost him a confrontation with Israel.

Israel has said it holds Assad responsible for any spillover fighting into Israel’s borders, and repeatedly indicated it

Tehran had reason to believe Assad would accept their proposal. More than 500 Iranian soldiers have been killed over the last six years in the Syrian civil war and conflict in Iraq, including 10 generals, as well as about 1,000 Hezbollah fighters.

Iran’s demands pale in comparison to what the Russians got out of Assad, including a naval base on the Mediterranean, according to the Walla report.

The Jerusalem Post has not yet independently confirmed the Walla report.

Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.

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Syria peace talks restart but Assad regime might be absent

November 28, 2017

Image result for syria, photos, destruction of war

A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district in the northern city of Aleppo.  After  years of fighting and shelling, Syrians are increasingly unable to escape their country’s war.

AFP

© Abdulmonam Eassa/ AFP | The Syrian rebel-controlled town of Mesraba, in the outskirts of Damascus, on November 27, 2017, following reported bombardment by government forces.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-11-28

The United Nations reopens its Syria peace talks on Tuesday but the Damascus government’s last minute announcement that it may not come to Geneva delivered a blow to the already faltering negotiations.

The eighth round of talks were seen as a chance for the UN to revitalise its push to end the six-year war, which has killed more than 340,000 people and left Syria in ruin.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has stressed the urgent need for progress towards a political solution and had been bolstered by the fractured opposition’s decision to form a unified negotiation team for the first time.

But on the eve of the talks reopening, de Mistura told the Security Council that President Bashar al-Assad‘s government had not yet committed to show up.

“The government did not yet confirm its participation in Geneva but indicated that we would be hearing from them soon”, he said.

Regime negotiators did not travel to Geneva on Monday, all but assuring they will be absent for the opening of the talks.

The UN envoy recalled Assad’s pledge to Russian President Vladimir Putin last week that he was “ready for dialogue.”

“Naturally we know and indeed expect that the government will be on its way shortly, particularly in light of President Assad’s commitment to President Putin,” he added.

Opposition unites

De Mistura had voiced hope the upcoming round will mark the first “real negotiation” on a possible peace deal.

For that to happen rival sides will need to overcome the hurdle that has derailed past discussions: Assad’s fate.

De Mistura has told the opposition that its longstanding demand for Assad’s ouster may no longer be tenable.

In September, he said the opposition it needed to be “realistic” and realise “they didn’t win the war”, a statement supported by facts on the ground.

Backed by Russia’s decisive military support, Assad’s government has regained control of 55 percent of the country, including major cities Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.

The rest is carved up between rebel factions, jihadists and Kurdish forces.

Same old deadlock?

The decision last week by Syrian opposition groups to send a single delegation to Geneva raised hopes of a possible breakthrough.

The new rebel negotiating team includes members of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which insists on Assad’s ouster, as well as representatives of groups based in Moscow and Cairo that have a more moderate stance on the president.

Speaking to reporters shortly after landing in Geneva, opposition delegation chief Nasr al-Hariri said his camp was united on the need to put an “inclusive” transitional government in place ahead of elections UN-supervised.

“That means that Bashar Assad will not be in power from the beginning… of the transition”, he said, in a sign that the talks may remain deadlocked over the president’s future.

That could spell more trouble for the UN’s peace push, which has been overshadowed by deals spearheaded by Moscow.

Russia, fellow regime ally Iran and rebel-backer Turkey have hosted negotiations in the Kazakh capital that led to the creation of four “de-escalation zones” which produced a drop in violence, though deadly air strikes and battles continue in some areas.

Western powers are concerned that Russia is seeking to take a leading role in the peace process and will carve out a settlement that will largely favour Assad.

“The UN must be front and centre” in the Syrian peace process, said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.

Speaking in London on Monday Turkey’s Prime Minister said their tripartite talks should be seen as complimentary to the UN’s peace process.

“This process is not competing with the Geneva process,” Binali Yildirim said during an address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

He also reiterated Ankara’s determination to see Bashar al-Assad leave power, something Moscow and Tehran remain staunchly opposed to.

“Look how things evolved in Syria, who caused Syria to be in the situation that it is today — it all happened because of the regime, because of Assad,” he said.

He added in the long-term, “Assad cannot possibly survive in Syria, we have to accept this”.

De Mistura said he would be meeting with the ambassadors from Security Council permanent representatives — Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States — in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming talks.

(AFP)

With new chief negotiator, Syria opposition poised for Geneva peace talks

November 26, 2017

AFP

© Xu Jinquan/Pool/AFP | High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Nasr al-Hariri arrives for a new round of negotiations with Special Envoy of The UN Secretary-General for Syria during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva on July 14, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-11-26

Syria’s main opposition group selected a new chief negotiator on Friday ahead of a new round of United Nations-backed peace negotiations with the Damascus government set to kick off next week.

Nasr Hariri said the opposition was going to Geneva on Tuesday to hold direct talks and was ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table”.

The UN will be trying to revitalise its flagging Syria peace process, buoyed by the prospect of hosting a unified opposition delegation in Geneva for the first time.

The UN-brokered talks to end the war that has killed more than 340,000 people since 2011 have achieved little through seven previous rounds, leaving them overshadowed by separate diplomatic pushes led by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, who describes himself as a “chronic optimist” and highlights incremental progress where others see stalemate, has voiced hope that this eighth round will mark the first “real negotiation”.

For that to happen rival sides will need to overcome the hurdle that has derailed past discussions: the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

De Mistura, typically a cautious diplomat, has bluntly told the main opposition High Negotiations Committee that its demand for Assad’s ouster may no longer be tenable.

In September, he said the HNC needed to be “realistic” and realise “they didn’t win the war”. Those comments infuriated the opposition.

But the UN envoy’s position is supported by facts on the ground.

Backed by Russian military support, Assad’s government has regained control of more than half the country, while the rest remains carved up between rebel factions, jihadists and Kurdish forces.

Assad role hurdle

The announcement of Hariri’s selection as chief negotiator came at a summit in Riyadh where, a day before, the opposition stuck by its demand that Assad play no role in an interim period, despite speculation that it could soften its stance because of the Syrian president’s battlefield strength.

The opposition groups met to seek a unified position ahead of Geneva.

Hariri replaces hardliner Riyad Hijab, who led the HNC at previous negotiations but abruptly quit this week, hinting that the committee under him had faced pressures to make concessions that favoured Assad.

Preparing for the next round of Geneva talks, De Mistura met on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow was working with Riyadh to unify the Syrian opposition.

For many years, Western and Arab countries backed the opposition demand that Assad leave office. But since Russia joined the war on behalf of Assad’s government it has become increasingly clear that Assad’s opponents have no path to victory on the battlefield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a congress of the Syrian government and opposition to draw up a framework for the future structure of the Syrian state, adopt a new constitution and hold elections under UN supervision.

But he has also said that any political settlement in Syria would be finalised within the Geneva peace talks process overseen by the United Nations.

Parallel diplomacy

The opposition has long been suspicious of the parallel diplomatic track pushed by Russia, which before the proposed Sochi congress included talks in Kazakhstan, and has insisted that political dialogue should only take place in Geneva.

Hariri said Sochi did not serve the political process and called on the international community, including Russia, “to concentrate all our efforts to serve the political process according to international resolutions in Geneva under UN auspices”.

Alaa Arafat, who represents the “Moscow Platform” political grouping, though, said he would attend Sochi and urged others to go too, reflecting lingering tensions within the diverse opposition.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, who opened the summit on Wednesday pledging his country’s support for unifying the opposition, praised the creation of “one negotiating team that represents everyone”.

Asked if there was any change in position towards Assad’s future, he told reporters that Riyadh continued to support a settlement based on the UN-backed process at Geneva.

“We support the positions of the Syrian opposition. We have from the beginning and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Syria’s six-year-old civil war has forced millions to flee in the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Turkey says Assad’s future up to Syrians to negotiate

November 23, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands at the start of the talks in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Pool Photo via AP)

ISTANBUL: Turkey supports a political solution for Syria but retains its “red lines” on the subject of Bashar Assad remaining president, a top Turkish ruling party official said on Thursday.

During a trilateral meeting with Russia and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday, Turkey made clear its “reservations” about Assad having any future role in Syria “after all these deaths,” Mahir Unal, the spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, told The Associated Press (AP).

Turkey also emphasized at the Sochi meeting, Unal said, that there must be negotiations between Assad and the opposition, which Ankara has supported from the start of Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year.

“It’s not within the logic of negotiations to have a precise position today on the political solution and on whether the transition will be with or without Assad,” Unal said, adding that Turkey, Russia and Iran would act as “facilitators” in negotiations.

He also said that Turkey remains adamantly opposed to Syrian Kurdish fighters participating in negotiations — another red line — while at the same time supporting Syria’s territorial unity, AP reported.

The US-backed Syrian Kurds have battled the Daesh group in Syria and control a significant stretch of territory. However, Ankara considers them a terror group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within Turkey’s own borders.

In Sochi, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran discussed ways to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria, including the return of refugees, humanitarian aid and exchange of prisoners.

Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that political settlement will require concessions from all sides, including Assad’s regime. The Syrian president had made a surprise trip to Sochi late on Monday for talks with Putin, which the Kremlin said were intended to lay the groundwork for Wednesday’s trilateral meeting.

“We have reached a consensus on helping the transition to an inclusive, free, fair and transparent political process that will be carried out under the leadership and ownership of the Syrian people,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the meeting.

However, the issue of the participation of Syrian Kurds’ main political party PYD still seems on the table of the trio as it is seen by Ankara as an existential threat on its border because of close links with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for more than three decades.

Erdogan emphasized that Turkey cannot share a platform with any terror organization that target Turkey’s domestic security, and added that “exclusion of terrorist elements from the process will remain among our priorities”.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, emphasized the importance of Moscow having convinced both Tehran and Ankara to become the guarantors of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative that was initially announced as a purely Russian project.

“Yet, it seems that the participation of the PYD representatives in this upcoming congress continues to be a thorny issue between Russia and Turkey,” Ersen told Arab News.

At the same time, however, Ersen said that in principle Ankara is not against the participation of the Syrian Kurdish groups in the peace process — provided that they have no links with the PYD.

“This might help Ankara and Moscow find a middle way regarding this issue,” he said.

“On the other hand, there are also rumors that one of Russia’s main goals is to start a rapprochement process between the PYD and the Assad regime. I think this was one of the important issues discussed in Assad’s recent visit to Sochi,” he said.

According to Ersen, if Moscow achieves this goal, the PYD representatives may be persuaded to join the delegation of the Assad regime in the upcoming congress.

“But eliminating the Turkish reaction will still be a difficult issue for Moscow even in that case,” he said.

Ersen thinks that Russia still believes the US should remain as a major actor at the Syrian peace talks, where both countries prefer a political solution. “Russia-US relations are simultaneously shaped by the dynamics of cooperation and competition, and they are jointly supporting Geneva talks,” he said.

In parallel to this, peace talks in Geneva will resume on Nov. 28 under the auspices of the United Nations.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst from ORSAM, an Ankara-based think-tank, said it seems impossible that PYD will take part in any political solution that involves Turkey.

“PYD’s eventual involvement may result in the collapse of Astana process, because the major reason for Turkey to develop its partnership with Russia and Iran is the US support for PYD,” Orhan told Arab News.

Orhan noted that any inclusion of PYD in the political settlement would bring up territorial integrity and federalism issues, something opposed by Turkey, Iran and the Assad regime. “Russia will rather extend this thorny issue to the time,” he said.

“Turkey would only give its consent to the leadership of Assad during the political transition process with one condition: organizing free, fair and transparent elections at the end of this process as well as getting some guarantees for a new constitution that takes into account the demands of the Syrian opposition,” Orhan said.

Putin Hosts Turkish, Iranian Presidents in Bid to Shape Syria — Sochi conference signals Moscow’s determination to mold Syria’s future in favor of Bashar al-Assad

November 22, 2017

Sochi conference signals Moscow’s determination to mold Syria’s future in favor of Bashar al-Assad

Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed his efforts to shape a postwar political settlement in Syria at a summit Wednesday with the leaders of Turkey and Iran in Sochi.

Russian state television showed Mr. Putin greeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a palatial Soviet-era sanatorium in the Black Sea resort city on Wednesday afternoon.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-hosts-turkish-iranian-presidents-in-bid-to-shape-syria-1511364822

Putin to talk with Saudi’s King Salman following Assad’s Russia meeting

November 21, 2017

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. (Reuters)

(Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

(Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

DUBAI: Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a telephone conversation with the king of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to inform him about his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Kremlin said.

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“Today there will be Putin’s telephone conversation with the king of Saudi Arabia, and one can certainly expect that Putin will inform his Saudi counterpart about yesterday’s meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.
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Putin had previously said he planned to talk to US counterpart Donald Trump on the telephone on Tuesday after the unannounced meeting with Assad in Sochi.
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Putin said he intended to “hold consultations” with the leaders of other countries.
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Assad visited Sochi in Russia on Monday to meet with Putin, the Kremlin announced on Tuesday.
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Russian state TV said the two leaders held bilateral talks on Monday and then met with Russian military chiefs.
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It was the second time Assad has traveled to Russia to meet with Putin in the course of the country’s six-year civil war.
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The first was in October 2015, shortly after Russia launched its military campaign in Syria to shore up Assad’s forces. The Russian intervention has turned the war in favor of Assad.
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According to the Kremlin, Assad said that Damascus is interested in promoting a political process after the government defeats “terrorists” in the country and added that he is interested in working with any party that seeks a political settlement. Assad also thanked Russia for its role in “saving our country.”
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Meanwhile, Putin hailed Assad’s apparent readiness to cooperate with all parties seeking a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and added that he plans to speak to US President Donald Trump and regional leaders about the Syrian issue.
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Putin also said that the visit by Assad came ahead of visits by the presidents of Turkey and Iran to Russia, planned for this week.
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The meeting in Sochi comes a week before UN-sponsored peace talks are to resume in Geneva.
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Assad’s office confirmed the visit on its Facebook page.(With AFP and Reuters)
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Netanyahu signals Israel will act with free hand in Syria

November 13, 2017

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem November 12, 2017. REUTERS-Abir Sultan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he has put the United States and Russia on notice that Israel will continue to take military action across the frontier in Syria, even as the two powers try to build up a ceasefire there.

“We are controlling our borders, we are protecting our country and we will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to members of his right-wing Likud party in parliament.

“I have also informed our friends, firstly in Washington and also our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria, including in southern Syria, according to our understanding and according to our security needs.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.

Israel has been lobbying both leaders to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan Heights frontier, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.

“RED LINES”

Netanyahu’s remarks echoed those on Sunday by Israel’s regional cooperation minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, who sounded circumspect about the ceasefire deal and said Israel has “set red lines and will stand firm on this”.

Israel’s military has said it has carried out around 100 strikes in Syria. Attacks have targeted suspected Hezbollah or Iranian arms depots or have come in retaliation for shelling from the Syrian-held Golan.

A U.S. State Department official has said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel, which captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war.

The move, according to one Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, is meant to keep rival factions inside Syria away from each other, but it would effectively keep Iranian-linked forces at various distances from the Israel-held Golan as well.

Those distances would range from as little as 5-7 kilometers (3-4 miles) and up to around 30 km (18 miles) depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian Golan, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Ori Lewis and Richard Balmforth

Iran’s Velayati says east Syria, Idlib to be cleared ‘soon’

November 8, 2017

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Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on international affairs, in Beirut May 18, 2015. REUTERS-Mohamed Azakir

LONDON (Reuters) – A top Iranian official said on Wednesday that forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad will start operations soon to retake the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib and eastern areas.

“Soon we will see eastern Syria cleared, and then the Idlib area in west,” Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin)

Russia denies postponing Syria peace conference

November 7, 2017

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Russia on Tuesday denied postponing a Syria peace conference while not confirming an earlier announced date of Nov. 18, after the plan gained a cool reception from Turkey and its Western allies.

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“This congress is being prepared now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.
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“No one has postponed it because the date of the congress has not been officially announced,” he added.
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Russia pledged during talks in Kazakhstan last week to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents together for a “congress” to push peace efforts in the city of Sochi on Nov. 18.
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Then on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the Kremlin had told Ankara it was postponing the event.
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Lavrov in Russia’s first public reaction since then said Moscow was in touch with Turkey, Iran, the Gulf nations and other countries to determine the conference’s agenda and date.
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He said Moscow was also in contact with the Syrian regime and a range of opposition forces as well as the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
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Lavrov said some opposition groups had refused to hold negotiations with Bashar Assad’s regime, but added that the “feedback is rather positive.”
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Russia last week unveiled its initiative to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents to the negotiating table in Sochi after peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana failed to gain much traction.
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The Astana talks have run in parallel to negotiations held in Geneva with the backing of the UN. The fate of Assad remains a huge stumbling block, preventing global players from reaching a peace settlement over Syria.
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Lavrov said Tuesday that global players should redouble efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the six-year war as the Syrian regime edges closer to victory after a string of Daesh’s losses.
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“As far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, the political process is becoming ever more important,” he said.
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“The fight against terror in Syria is coming to an end. There shouldn’t be any breaks in the efforts of the international community.”
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‘War does not end in Deir Ezzor’
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Syrian President Bashar Assad said the victories of the Syrian army and its allies against terrorist organizations do not end in Deir Ezzor province where Daesh has its last significant stronghold, his office reported on Tuesday.
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In a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Assad said the war waged by his military and its allies also targets those seeking to “divide and weaken states.”
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