Macron, Aoun discuss terrorism, Syrian crisis

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the Elysee Palace at a start of a state visit in Paris, France, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 25 September 2017
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Macron, Aoun discuss terrorism, Syrian crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from regional conflicts is the best way to maintain the country’s stability and sovereignty, French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday after meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun in Paris.
“In order to solve the problem of displaced people and terrorists, and to be able to provide a dignified future for the people of the region, we need a political solution… to the Syrian crisis,” Macron said.
He expressed hope that “together, in the coming weeks, we’ll be able to redesign a contact group and work together with partners in the region.”
Paris is keen on Lebanon’s unity, integrity and stability, Macron said at a joint press conference.
“Lebanon faces terrorism, as is the case in Europe. I commend the efforts of the Lebanese Army and its courage in fighting terrorism,” he added.
France will strengthen its support for Lebanon in its fight against terrorism, Macron said, adding: “France’s goal is to confront the dangers that undermine peace in Lebanon by strengthening the capabilities of the army so the Lebanese government can take control of the entire territory.”
Lebanon must remain a model of pluralism, tolerance and democracy, he said, promising to work on “organizing a donor conference for investors to help Lebanon and to relaunch the economy.”
Macron added: “We’re working together to develop a road map… aimed at promoting the French language and French culture in Lebanon in education, culture, newspapers, media and art.”
Aoun said he had agreed with Macron to strengthen bilateral relations at various levels, adding: “France supports the Lebanese Army, which has achieved victory over terrorism.”
On the issue of displaced Syrians, Aoun said “We’ve confirmed that those people don’t have refugee status and their presence in Lebanon is facing difficulties, despite our support for them.”
He said the two leaders discussed the Syrian and Palestinian crises. Aoun also hailed France’s role in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 29 min 16 sec ago
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.