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.


Hamas pledges Gaza rocket fire probe as calm returns

Updated 19 min 36 sec ago
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Hamas pledges Gaza rocket fire probe as calm returns

  • Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with its ally Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire
  • The risk of a new war, whether through miscalculation or design, remained

GAZA: Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas on Thursday pledged to launch an investigation into rocket fire at Israel the previous day, in an apparent bid to calm fears of a new war.
Israeli children returned to schools near the border with the Palestinian territory that had been closed on Wednesday after the pre-dawn rocket fire from Gaza badly damaged a family home in the southern city of Beersheba.
But the risk of a new war, whether through miscalculation or design, remained.
Three children had a narrow escape after their mother moved them into the safe room, as much of the rest of the house was destroyed, the army said.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with its ally Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire.
But Israel rejected their denial, saying they were the only groups armed with rockets of a range sufficient to reach Beersheba — 40 kilometers (25 miles) away — and the sea off Tel Aviv — 70 kilometers (45 miles).
Israel in any case holds Hamas responsible, as Gaza’s de factor ruler, for all fire from the territory regardless of who launches it.
“There are security service investigations in Gaza to uncover who is behind the rocket fire and there will be harsh measures against those (found guilty),” senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP.
He said the rocket fire “aimed to sabotage Egyptian efforts” to broker a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, which have fought three wars since 2008.
A video published by Hamas’s military wing on Thursday showed militants preparing rockets for launch, with the caption: “Read us correctly, a mistake would not benefit,” written in Hebrew.
Near daily protests along the border since March 30 against Israel’s crippling 11-year blockade of the impoverished enclave have sparked repeated clashes with the army.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, while one Israeli soldier has been shot dead.
Wednesday’s rocket fire triggered retaliatory Israeli air strikes that killed one suspected militant and raised fears of a new escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a meeting of the security cabinet lasting several hours on Wednesday evening.
But no statement was released afterwards and Israeli media reported that ministers had failed to agree on how to respond to the rocket fire and the persistent protests.
The mass circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper said the swift action of the mother in Beersheba to protect her family had probably prevented a new war.
“If the rocket attack had resulted in casualties, the political echelon’s manoeuvring room would have been reduced to zero, and Israel would have launched, just like it did four years ago, a military operation that it neither wants nor which it believes will be effective.”
Hamas seized control of Gaza from loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a near civil war in 2007 and the split has made peace negotiations with Israel harder.
Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker an agreement that would see Israel relax its blockade of Gaza in exchange for a prolonged period of calm from Hamas.
Abbas’s Fatah movement opposes any such deal, saying it amounts to a recognition of Islamist control in Gaza.
Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel had been expected in Gaza on Thursday for his first visit since taking up the post in January, fueling talk of a deal.
Hamas official Naim said the minister was forced to postpone because of a timetabling problem.
But an Egyptian delegation led by senior intelligence official Ayman Badea did travel to Gaza and met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.
An Egyptian official told AFP they were still hopeful of achieving a long-term deal to restore calm.
Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have official relations with Israel and plays a key role in indirect negotiations between the Jewish state and Hamas.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said those who fired the rockets wanted to prevent the Egyptian minister’s visit and “stop reconciliation and a truce.”
Fringe Islamist groups opposed to Hamas have previously fired rockets. Suspicion could also fall on factions within Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed to a truce deal.