Saudi minister visits north Syria for Raqqa talks

Updated 20 October 2017
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Saudi minister visits north Syria for Raqqa talks

BEIRUT: A Saudi official has visited northern Syria with a US envoy to discuss reconstruction of Raqqa, which Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led coalition, captured from Daesh on Tuesday.
Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan visited the area with Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition against Daesh, and met the Raqqa Civil Council said Amed Sido, an adviser to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The Saudi Okaz newspaper also reported on Thursday that Al-Sabhan had visited northern Syria and that Riyadh and Washington had discussed the reconstruction of Raqqa.
The Saudi officials who visited Raqqa to check the area were there to listen to discussions rather than take part, Sido said, adding that they met a reconstruction committee set up by the council.
“They promised that they would contribute to construction in Raqqa in the future,” Sido said. Sido is also an SDF coordinator with the coalition.
The main priority for the city’s reconstruction now is clearing land mines and bodies, and working on water and electricity projects, Sido said.
While no concrete plans were set in motion, Sido continued, “we consider it a first visit, a first step, that could be the beginning of future relations.”

Saudi Arabia is a member of the US-led international coalition against Daesh, set up in 2014.
The SDF’s four-month battle against Daesh in Raqqa, aided by coalition airstrikes, left much of the city in ruins and forced much of its population to flee to camps nearby. International charity Mercy Corps said on Thursday that most of the city was uninhabitable.
The SDF and its allies set up the Raqqa Civil Council to run the city after the fighting was over.
The international coalition’s 73 members also include European countries, other Arab countries and Turkey. Its work includes supporting stabilization and restoration of public services to areas taken from Daesh militants.
Meanwhile, US-backed militias in Syria have detained senior foreign Daesh leaders in months of fighting for Raqqa, but it is not yet clear if they will be repatriated after facing trial, Silo said.
"We have foreign emirs ... from all around the world. They were captured in special operations, and some of them turned themselves in to our forces."
US-backed forces are combing the ruins the city for survivors and bombs.


Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

US this week issued a list of demands to Iran including the pullout of its forces from Syria. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops, a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country.
  • srael has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

MOSCOW: Syria on Wednesday dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad’s government. Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.

Mikdad said in Wednesday’s remarks that Syria “highly appreciates” Russia’s military support as well as “advisers” from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that “we cannot let anyone even raise this issue” of the Iranian withdrawal. “Those who ask for something like that — and this is definitely not our Russian friends — are considering the possibility of intervention in all parts of Syria, including the support of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the region,” Mikdad said.

At a meeting with Assad, who visited Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops.

Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, later commented that the Russian leader’s statement was aimed at the US and Turkey, along with Iran and Hezbollah. It marked a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country. Russia has argued that its troops have deployed at the Syrian government’s invitation, while the military presence of the US and others has been illegal.

Lavrentyev’s statement appeared to reflect a difficult balancing act for the Kremlin, which hopes to maintain good ties with both Iran and Israel. 

Israel has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

During the talks with Assad, Putin also encouraged him to send representatives to a commission in Geneva that would work out proposals for Syria’s new constitution as part of a peace process.

Mikdad said, however, that Damascus is not ready yet to nominate its candidates to the body.

“It is too early to speak about (candidates), but there are many people who are able to represent Syria and the Syrian government in these talks,” he said.

In Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian military’s General Staff, pointed at the Syrian troops’ recent gains, saying Wednesday that “all the necessary conditions have been created for the revival of Syria as a single, unified state.”

He noted the government’s capture of the last remaining opposition enclave in southern Damascus from Daesh militants, which brought the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

The general also said Russia, Iran and Turkey set up nearly 30 checkpoints to monitor the de-escalation zone in the northern province of Idlib as part of a deal the three countries brokered.