Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

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.


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.