Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Death of leading opposition negotiator is further blow to Syrian peace talks

January 15, 2018

Image result for Mounir Darwish, photos, syrian peace talks

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, second from right, at a meeting last year with a Syrian government delegation in Geneva. (Xu Jinqual/Pool/AP)
 January 14 at 12:31 PM
The Washington Post
 The death of a leading Syrian opposition figure who was wounded in a hit-and-run outside his Damascus home has left his allies shaken and appears to have poisoned an already fractious peace process.

Mounir Darwish, 80, was a leading member of Syria’s internationally backed opposition movement and a familiar figure at peace talks brokered by the United Nations. He was struck by a car Thursday and died Friday night after surgery on his ankle. Friends who visited him after the operation said he appeared to be recovering well and was looking forward to going home the next day.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for “those involved to be identified and brought to justice,” apparently referring to the hit-and-run and not Darwish’s treatment afterward. No official cause of death was announced.

De Mistura said late Saturday that Darwish had stayed in Damascus, rather than seek exile, “as he sought peace and a better future for his country.”

The death did not appear to have been mentioned in pro-government media, and a representative of the Information Ministry could not be reached for comment.

Colleagues said friends and family members who had visited the dissident in the hospital on Friday reported that he had been in good spirits and had been awaiting discharge.

“He even called me to tell me that he’d need to stay in bed for a month but that he was ready to receive any documents I needed him to read,” said Firas al-Khalidi, who heads the Cairo section of Syria’s political opposition, of which Darwish was a part.

The Cairo bloc is one of three that have signed on to an opposition platform as a way to present a united front at the U.N.-brokered talks in Geneva. The delegates have dropped all preconditions to the peace negotiations, relinquishing from a demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

Darwish had been concerned that the Syrian government was growing increasingly hostile to his activities, Khalidi said.

“When I called recently to ask about a meeting in Riyadh, he said he didn’t want to leave because he was worried,” Khalidi said. “He would tell me, ‘Be careful, Firas.’ ”

Six years into Syria’s war, a coalition of pro-Assad forces has reestablished control over most of the country, with rebel forces hemmed into pockets of the north and south.

Although hopes for an opposition breakthrough at the negotiating table are low — the two sides do not sit in the same room — Western officials say efforts to unify Syria’s opposition would increase pressure on Assad’s government.

“It is about removing the argument that the regime kept on making that it had no opposition to negotiate with,” one diplomat said.

Heba Habib in Stockholm contributed to this report.


Syria says US-led coalition’s plan to create a “border force” creates ‘traitors’ — Russia-Syria Already Supported by Iran and Turkey 

January 15, 2018


© AFP/File | Kurdish female fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqa’s iconic Al-Naim square on October 19, 2017, after retaking the city from IS
DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syria on Monday lambasted the US-led coalition’s plan to create a 30,000-strong border force in the country’s northeast, saying it would consider its members “traitors”.The alliance fighting the Islamic State group announced on Sunday that it was working with Arab and Kurdish fighters to establish a Border Security Force (BSF).

The BSF would be responsible for preventing a “resurgence” of IS in areas where the jihadists had been cleared by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

But an official source in Syria’s foreign ministry on Monday denounced the plan.

“Syria strongly condemns the US announcement on the creation of militias in the country’s northeast, which represents a blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity and unity of Syria, and a flagrant violation of international law,” said the source, cited by state news agency SANA.

“Syria considers any Syrian who participates in these militias sponsored by the Americans as a traitor to their people and nation, and will deal with them on this basis.”

Backed by the US-led coalition’s air strikes, advisers and weapons, the SDF has ousted IS from swathes of territory in the east and north, including IS bastion Raqa.

With the offensive winding down, the coalition and SDF said they were shifting their focus to border security to prevent a jihadist comeback.

“A strong Border Security Force will prohibit Daesh’s freedom of movement and deny the transportation of illicit materials,” the coalition said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

In a new emailed statement on Monday, it said it aimed to create the 30,000-strong force “over the next several years”.

About half would be SDF veterans, and another 15,000 would be new recruits.

“The Border Security Force will be stationed along the borders of SDF-held areas, to include portions of the Euphrates river valley and international borders to the east and north of SDF-liberated territory,” the coalition said.

Turkey reacted sharply to news of the border force on Sunday, saying it would “legitimise a terror organisation”.

Ankara is fiercely opposed to the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — considered by the Turkish government to be a “terrorist” group.

Both the US-led coalition and the SDF declined to comment on potential rules of engagement with Turkish or Syrian troops.


Turkey urges Russia, Iran to stop Syria offensive on Idlib — as the bombardments on Idlib intensified

January 10, 2018
© AFP/File | Ankara has stepped up pressure on Moscow and Tehran as the bombardments on Idlib intensified.
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey on Wednesday called on Russia and Iran, the two chief allies of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, to halt an air offensive on the rebel-held Idlib province near the Turkish border.Ankara has been working closely with Russia and Iran to end the Syrian conflict over the last months but has stepped up pressure on Moscow and Tehran as the bombardments on Idlib intensified.

“Iran and Russia should fulfil their responsibility. If you are guarantors — and you are — they should stop the regime,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the official Anadolu news agency.

“This is not a simple air offensive. The regime is advancing inside Idlib. They have a different intention.”

Cavusoglu emphasised that in efforts to bring peace to Syria, Russia and Iran were the “guarantors” of the regime side and Turkey of the opposition.

Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-government forces that are dominated by a jihadist outfit known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former fighters from the Al-Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

Ankara has already summoned the Russian and Iranian ambassadors, in the biggest public flare-up of tensions with Moscow and Tehran in months.

It conveyed “uneasiness” to the Russian ambassador Tuesday, calling the strikes a “violation of the borders of the Idlib de-escalation zone” established by Turkey, Iran and Russia, according sources at the foreign ministry.

Cavusoglu said 95 percent of the violations in Idlib were carried out by the regime and the groups backing the regime.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could speak by phone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation, he added.

“We cannot remain indifferent. We have exerted so many efforts and we cannot waste them.”

The escalation comes as Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 29-30 bringing together all the main parties in the conflict.

A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.

But in a major potential obstacle for Sochi, Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Syrian Kurdish militia the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror group.

Cavusoglu repeated Turkey’s red line over its presence in Sochi by saying that: “We have said we will not be in any environment… where the YPG is present.”

Turkey says Syria’s Idlib strikes risk wrecking peace talks

January 9, 2018


© AFP | Displaced Syrians fleeing the fighting in an area of Idlib, which is one of the deescalation zones
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey’s foreign minister on Tuesday accused the Syrian regime of striking moderate opposition forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border, warning it could torpedo talks aimed at ending the war.Ankara is working closely on Syria with Russia and Iran, President Bashar al-Assad’s main allies, but has stepped up criticism of the regime’s behaviour in recent days.

“Regime forces are striking moderate opposition with the pretext of fighting against Al-Nusra (Front),” Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

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Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-government forces that are dominated by a jihadist outfit known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former Nusra fighters.

“This attitude would scupper the political solution process,” Cavusoglu said.

“The parties that will come together in Sochi should refrain from” any action that could threaten the talks, he warned.

Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 29-30.

Meanwhile, US-brokered talks based in Geneva between the regime and the opposition are also going forward, albeit at a stuttering pace.

A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.

Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara views as a terror group.

In 2016, Ankara and Moscow brokered a fragile ceasefire in certain areas — which has been bolstered by the negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

Both Damascus and the rebel factions regularly accuse one another of violating the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones, including in Idlib.

A likely future sticking point between Russia and Turkey is the fate of Assad, who Ankara has vehemently opposed throughout the conflict.

Last month, Erdogan said it was impossible to advance with Assad in power, describing him as a “terrorist”.

Syrian regime forces on Monday pounded Idlib as well as the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus, the two last rebel bastions in Syria.

Over 2,000 Afghans sent by Iran killed in Syria: official

January 6, 2018


© AFP/File | A member of Syrian pro-regime forces fires a machine gun towards rebel-held positions in Idlib province on November 11, 2017


 More than than 2,000 Afghans deployed by Iran have been killed fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, an official in the volunteer force told Iranian media.

The Fatemiyoun Brigade of Afghan “volunteer” recruits has been fighting in Syria for five years, said Zohair Mojahed, a cultural official in the brigade.

“This brigade has given more than 2,000 martyrs and 8,000 wounded for Islam,” he said in an interview with the reformist Shargh newspaper published Saturday.

Iran rarely provides figures on the numbers fighting and killed in its operations in Syria and Iraq.

The last toll was provided by the veterans organisation in March, which said 2,100 volunteers had died without specifying how many were foreign recruits.

Iran denies sending professional troops to fight in the region, saying it has only provided military advisors and organised brigades made up of volunteers from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Fatemiyoun is reportedly the biggest military unit deployed by Iran in Iraq and Syria, made up of recruits from Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.

Iran has backed Afghan forces in the past against the Taliban in their own country, as well as mobilising them against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Some 3,000 Afghans died fighting Iraq in the 1980s, Mojahed said.

Tehran offers Iranian citizenship to the families of those foreign fighters “martyred” in the conflicts of Syria and Iraq.

Iranian media has reported on the funerals of volunteer “martyrs” and aired television features about their presence in Syria.

Protests put spotlight on Iran’s vast and shadowy Syria war

January 5, 2018


In this Sept. 27, 2017 file photo, thousands attend the state funeral of Mohsen Hojaji, a young Revolutionary Guard soldier beheaded in Syria by the Daesh group, in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
BEIRUT: In demonstrations across Iran, chants are going up against the military’s vast and shadowy war in Syria, one of Tehran’s closest allies and a frontline state in its confrontation with its archenemy, Israel.
Although the protests have focused on economic issues, demonstrators have also voiced strong opposition to the government’s policy of sending young Iranians to fight and die in Syria while spending billions of dollars on the military when they say the priority should be working to provide jobs in Iran and control the rising cost of living.
Their slogans include, “Leave Syria, think about us!” and “Death to Hezbollah!” the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group that has been a key instrument of Tehran in Syria’s war.
Syria saw its own domestic demonstrations morph into anti-government protests in 2011. They were met with a brutal crackdown by President Bashar Assad’s security services, sending the country into civil war.
But as cracks appeared in Assad’s military, with soldiers refusing to fire on protesters and defecting to the opposition, Iran and later Russia stepped in to support their ally.
Iran’s theocratic leadership has cast the effort as a religious war for Shiite Islam, an epochal struggle to defend the shrine of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter in Damascus from Sunni jihadis, and to deal a crippling blow to what it says is a US-Israeli conspiracy to destroy Syria. But it is motivated by geopolitical concerns, too. Syria, bordering both Israel and Lebanon, is a key node to Iran’s network of deterrence against Israel.
Tehran needs Damascus as both a conduit to and sponsor of Hezbollah, Iran’s vanguard force in the region.
Today, Iran’s military and an array of regional militias under its command operate with wide latitude in the war against rebels and Daesh militants in both Syria and Iraq. It is also invested in the Gaza Strip and is accused of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Military sacrifice
Across Iran, banners honoring the young men who have died fighting in Syria hang over public spaces as a reminder of the sacrifice that has been paid.
Imams memorialize the dead at Friday prayers, and media outlets pay tribute to the “martyrs” who have died “defending the holy shrine” of Muhammad’s daughter, Sayyida Zeinab, in the Syrian capital.
In September, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, prayed over the casket of 25-year-old Mohsen Hojaji at a funeral broadcast nationwide, followed by a large rally in Tehran — moves crafted to stir patriotism in a country growing weary of the military venture in Syria. An image of Hojaji depicted him being welcomed into heaven by the third Shiite saint, Hussein, Muhammad’s grandson.
Iran has not disclosed how many of its soldiers have been lost in Syria, but Mohammad Ali Shahidi, the head of the Martyr’s Foundation of the Islamic Revolution, which supports veterans and families of the dead, says more than 2,000 men have been killed, though roughly half of those are foreigners from Afghanistan and other nations fighting under militias organized by Tehran.
In November, the semi-official Fars news agency reported the death of an Iranian brigadier general in Boukamal, a Syrian town overlooking one of the country’s main crossings into Iran. Fars said the general was killed by a mortar shell in a battle with Daesh militants.
That same battle was directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ own Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was shown in videos published on social media addressing fighters in Farsi. He had under his command Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces’ militias, as well as Syrian army forces and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Syrian rebels say the Revolutionary Guard has directed several major battles on behalf of Assad’s forces and has bases from the south of the country to the north.
Iran spends more than $12 billion annually on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It is understood to spend millions more on subsidies and exports to Syria, which has seen its economy shattered by the war.
The protests now shaking Iran erupted after President Hassan Rouhani’s latest budget proposal disclosed cuts to local subsidies while preserving privileges for the military and religious institutions.
Hezbollah and others
Iran and Assad have depended on Hezbollah to do some of the toughest, special forces assignments in the Syrian war. But Tehran has also organized militias from Afghanistan, called the Fatimiyoun, and Pakistan, called the Zeynabiyoun, to fight in Syria. It promises Afghan refugees living in Iran wages and citizenship in exchange for a tour of duty in Syria.
Syrian rebels say they are battling not just Syrian government soldiers, but Lebanese, Iraqi, and Afghani fighters, too. And Associated Press reporters have seen the flags of Afghan and Lebanese militias flying over military points outside Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Syria’s rebels, boosted by calls for global jihad, are supported by scores of foreign fighters of their own.
Human Rights Watch says Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has recruited Afghan refugee children as young as 14 to fight in Syria, identifiable by their tombstones in Iran. It says Iranian media memorialized child soldiers and hailed Iranian fighters as young as 13 in the Syria battle.
Iran also leans heavily on the battle-hardened fighters of Iraq’s state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, which has been instrumental to defeating Daesh militants on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border and opening a corridor of Iranian influence that runs from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut.
As in Iran, there is a risk in Lebanon and Iraq of popular blowback against a grinding military effort in Syria that has stretched on for nearly seven years.
When Lebanese authorities pulled down illegal vendor stalls in a Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut in October, residents took to the streets to excoriate Hezbollah’s leadership for failing to stand up for them, despite their sacrifices over Syria.
“They should be planting a tree on each martyr’s grave,” a woman shouted to the cameras. “Every home has a martyr. Every home has a wounded veteran.”

Syria’s Assad replaces defence minister

January 1, 2018


© SANA/AFP/File | Ali Abdullah Ayoub, who was appointed Syria’s defence minister on Monday, announces the start of a major offensive against rebels on October 8, 2015 in his previous role as armed forces chief of staff

DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad replaced his defence minister for the first time since 2012 as part of a government reshuffle announced by the state news agency SANA on Monday.”President Assad issued a decree, the first of 2018, naming General Ali Abdullah Ayoub minister of defence,” the agency said, without providing any explanation for the surprise announcement.

The 65-year-old was until now the chief of general staff of the armed forces and replaces Fahd Jassem al-Freij.

Freij took over in July 2012 after predecessor Daoud Rajha was killed in the bombing of a command centre in Damascus, together with his deputy Assef Shawkat, who was Assad’s brother-in-law .

Ayoub was born in Latakia, a coastal city in the heartland of the Alawite community to which Assad belongs.

The reshuffle also saw two other changes: Mohammed Mazen Ali Yusef was given the industry portfolio and Imad Abdullah Sara, previously the head of the state broadcasting corporation, was named information minister.


Syria’s Assad names new defense and other ministers: state TV

January 1, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday issued a decree appointing new ministers for defense, industry and information, state television reported.

He appointed General Ali Abdullah Ayoub as defense minister, Mohammed Mazen Ali Yousef as industry minister and Imad Abullah Sarah as information minister, state television reported, citing the decree.

Ayoub, who was previously chief of staff in the army, is a member of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. He replaces Fahad Jassim al-Freij.

The new information minister, Sarah, was previously the head of Syria radio and television.

Changes of senior ministers are not unusual in Syria. The shake-up of senior military positions comes after a year of battlefield victories against anti-Assad rebels and Islamic State.

Assad now appears militarily unassailable, but relies heavily on his allies Russia and Iran, as well as regional militias backed by Iran. Some important parts of Syria remain out of his hands and the economy has been crippled by sanctions.

Russia is pushing a diplomatic track to seek a political settlement to the war.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall; editing by Kevin Liffey and Jason Neely)

Turkey’s Erdogan to discuss Syria with Macron in Paris – source

December 31, 2017

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FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference with Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi (not pictured) at Carthage Palace in Tunis, Tunisia, December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Paris on Jan. 5 to meet his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, with the conflict in Syria high on the agenda, a source in the French president’s office said on Saturday.

Among the regional crises the two leaders plan to discuss, there would be a particular focus on Syria as well as on the Palestinian situation, the source said, weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The move stirred concern among Western allies and outrage in the Arab World.

Erdogan earlier this week made some of his harshest comments in weeks regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling him a terrorist and saying it was impossible for peace efforts in Syria to continue if he did not leave power.

Macron, meanwhile, said recently that France would push for peace talks involving all parties in the six-year-old Syrian conflict, including al-Assad, and promised “initiatives” early next year.

The Elysee source said “the question of human rights will also be raised” when Erdogan and Macron meet.

A security crackdown in Turkey after a failed coup in 2016 has drawn criticism from campaigners as well as the European Union, which is overseeing Ankara’s halting bid to join the bloc.

(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, writing Sarah White; editing by David Evans)

Putin Tells Assad Again: “We Have Your Back”

December 30, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a new year’s greeting that Russia will continue supporting Syria’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

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Putin stressed that Russia would “continue to render every assistance to Syria in the protection of state sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, in the promotion of a political settlement process, as well as in efforts to restore the national economy,” the Kremlin said.

Earlier this month Putin ordered the Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing from the country, but said Russia would keep its Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province as well as its naval facility at Tartous “on a permanent basis”.

Russia first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.

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Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams