Syria’s Assad says war still not won but West’s plots foiled

Syria’s President Bashar Assad in a handout picture taken on January 8, 2015. (Syrian Arab News Agency via Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2017
0

Syria’s Assad says war still not won but West’s plots foiled

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday his country had foiled Western designs to topple him but his army had not yet won the fight to end Syria’s six-year-old insurgency.
In an televised address, Assad said that even though there were signs of victory after six-and-a-half years of civil war, the “battle continues, and where we go later and it becomes possible to talk about victory...that’s a different matter.”
He did not elaborate on that point.
However, he said the assistance extended by stalwart allies Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement had enabled the army to make battlefield gains and reduce the burden of war.
“Their direct support — politically, economically and militarily — has made possible bigger advances on the battlefield and reduced the losses and burdens of war,” Assad added.
Assad vowed to pursue an offensive in Syria’s vast deserts, where he is backed by Iranian-funded militias and heavy Russian air power that have allowed his troops to capture significant ground from Daes insurgents on several major fronts.
His government hopes to steal a march on US-backed militias in the attack on Daesh’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir Al-Zor region that extends to the Iraqi border. The eastward thrust, unthinkable two years ago when Assad seemed in danger, has underlined his ever more confident position and the dilemma facing Western leaders who still want him to leave power in a negotiated transition.
“Our army is achieving one gain after another every day to eliminate terrorists...We will continue to attack terrorists until the last terrorist on Syrian land,” Assad said.
He said his country welcomed Russian-brokered local cease-fire deals that Moscow is seeking to extend elsewhere in Syria as these would end bloodshed and bring an end to the insurgency and pardoning of rebels who agree to lay down arms.
“RETURN TO NORMALCY“
“The idea of these de-escalation zones is to stop the bloodletting ... and the eviction of the armed groups handing over their weapons and the return of normalcy,” Assad said. “We have an interest in the success of this initiative.”
Russia has since last month deployed military police beside army checkpoints in southwest Syria and in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus to help ensure calm in deals it has worked out with Syrian rebel groups.
Negotiations are under way with mainstream armed groups and local councils to broker a truce in the besieged northern Homs countryside enclave, where rebels have sought the intervention of Moscow to get humanitarian aid to trapped civilians.
Rebel leaders are also calling for the release of thousands of detainees held in government security prisons.
Many mainstream rebel groups have been skeptical about Moscow’s ultimate aims in Syria and cast doubt on its readiness to put genuine pressure on Assad to abide by local truces.
They also worry that these cease-fire deals are a means for Assad’s army and its allies to redeploy in other areas to recover territory by using firepower freed by the truces.
Rebel factions have already accused the army and Iranian-backed militias of cease-fire violations in Eastern Ghouta. The army continues to pound residential areas in rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus, witnesses say.
Assad, whose government brands many of the Western backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups that Moscow has reached truces with as “terrorists,” has said his army retained the right to continue to attack insurgents.
However, Assad has condemned US-inspired “safe zones” which President Donald Trump earlier this year said he hoped to achieve with Russia, saying such a plan would only “give cover to terrorists.”


Libyan coast guard picks up almost 1,000 migrants in one day

Updated 43 min 35 sec ago
0

Libyan coast guard picks up almost 1,000 migrants in one day

  • The western coast of Libya is the main departure point for thousands of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe
  • A witness watching the arrival of another coast guard ship at Tripoli’s Abu Sittah naval base said a third group included 490 migrants picked up off Qarabulli town

TRIPOLI: Libyan coast guards picked up 948 African migrants on inflatable boats in several operations and also recovered 10 bodies on Sunday, officials and a witness at a naval base said.
The operations brings the number, since last week, of mainly African migrants trying to head to Italy but brought back to Libya to almost 2,000.
The western coast of Libya is the main departure point for thousands of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe.
The number of crossings has dropped sharply since July 2017 when an armed group expelled human traffickers from a smuggling hub after an Italy-backed deal.
“The coast guards picked up illegal migrants in different groups. The first group is 97 on one inflatable boat and the second group is 361 migrants on two inflatable boats,” Naval forces spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.
“The second group was taken to Khums town,” Qassem said, adding that the two groups included 110 women and 70 children.
A witness watching the arrival of another coast guard ship at Tripoli’s Abu Sittah naval base said a third group included 490 migrants picked up off Qarabulli town. Among them were 75 women and 20 children.
Libya plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.
Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.
Earlier this month, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe harbor.
Italy criticized Malta on Sunday over its refusal to take in a Dutch-flagged aid vessel with more than 230 migrants on board.