Get your militia out of southern Syria, Russia’s Lavrov tells Iran

A tank with the Hezbollah banner operating in Syria (AFP)
Updated 29 May 2018
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Get your militia out of southern Syria, Russia’s Lavrov tells Iran

  • Israel and Jordan have repeatedly insisted that the Shiite militias that backed President Bashar Assad in the war, should not be allowed near their borders. 
  • The US has voiced concern about reports of an impending Syrian offensive in the south, warning Damascus it would respond to breaches.

LONDON: Iran came under pressure from both alies and enemies on Tuesday as Russia, Israel and Jordan all insisted there was no place for Tehran-funded militias on Syria’s southern border.

Israel and Jordan have repeatedly insisted that the Shiite militias that backed President Bashar Assad in the war, should not be allowed near their borders. 

A cease-fire brokered last year by the US, Russia and Jordan, reduced fighting in south-west Syria, where rebel fighters still control territory.

With Assad’s forces now in their strongest military position since the war began seven years ago, there are fears he may launch a fresh offensive to seize the area. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said on Monday only Syrian army troops should be on the country’s southern border.

“Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a mutual basis. This should be a two-way street,” Lavrov said.

“The result of this work, which should continue and is continuing should be a situation when representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic’s army stand at Syria’s border with Israel.”

Russia has also backed Assad in the conflict, with its air power regarded as one of the key turning points in the regime’s favor. 

But Moscow was also instrumental in the de-escalation deals that reduced fighting in certain parts of the country last year. 

The US has voiced concern about reports of an impending Syrian offensive in the south, warning Damascus it would respond to breaches.

Jordan said on Monday it was discussing south Syria with Washington and Moscow, and all three agreed on the need to preserve the cease-fire there.

“The de-escalation zone has produced the cease-fire that has held best in all of Syria. The parties to the agreement are all committed to preserving it,” a Jordanian official told Reuters.

Both Israel and Jordan have been seeking understandings with Moscow to push the  Shiite militias away from the area.

Israel has stepped up its military strikes on suspected Iranian targets across Syria in recent weeks.

Israel called for Tehran to be denied any military presence in Syria.

“We believe that there is no place for any Iranian military presence, anywhere in Syria.” 


Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

Updated 57 min 21 sec ago
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Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

  • Ali Haddad was earlier arrested in possession of two passports
  • Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire

ALGIERS: Algeria’s top businessman Ali Haddad, a key supporter of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was jailed for six months on Monday for holding two passports, in the first conviction in a string of corruption probes.

The business tycoon was arrested in late March on the border with Tunisia in possession of two passports and undeclared currency, days before Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests.

Haddad, who owns Algeria’s largest private construction company, is the first high-profile figure with ties to Bouteflika to be jailed since the president stepped down on April 2 after two decades in power. He was found guilty of the “unjustified procurement of administrative documents” and also fined 50,000 dinars ($420), state television reported.

Described by Forbes as one of Algeria’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire.

The businessman, a key election campaign funder for Bouteflika, had denied breaking the law and said he obtained his second passport legally after seeking an interview with then-Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

The ex-premier and Haddad are among many businessmen and former politicians caught up in a separate anti-corruption investigation launched since the president stepped down.

Earlier this month Haddad’s lawyer, Khaled Bourayou, decried a “political trial” and told journalists the passport case had no legal basis.

The sentence is significantly lower than the 18 months term and fine of 100,000 dinars requested by the prosecutor.

Hassane Boualem, then-director of titles and secure documents at the Interior Ministry, was given a two-month suspended sentence and fined 20,000 dinars for issuing Haddad’s second passport in 2016.

He told the court he was following the orders of his superiors — Interior Ministry head Hocine Mazouz, Sellal and Algeria’s current premier, Noureddine Bedoui — who were not investigated over the affair.

Last week, a judge placed in detention two former prime ministers, Sellal as well as Ahmed Ouyahia, who served four terms as premier.

An investigating magistrate on Sunday conditionally released former Finance Minister Karim Djoudi as part of the corruption probes. Karim Djoudi, finance minister between 2007 and 2014, appeared before the supreme court’s magistrate in connection with the disappearance of public funds and abuse of office.

The supreme court is the only judicial body with jurisdiction over offenses committed in public office by government members, local officials and high magistrates.

Former Transport Minister Amar Tou was also conditionally released after appearing before the investigating magistrate.

Djoudi and Tou are among 12 former Algerian officials subject to preliminary probes for alleged criminal offenses.

Former Trade Minister Amara Benyounes has been detained in El Harrach prison, in an eastern suburb of Algiers, and former Public Works Minister Abdelghani Zaalane has been conditionally released.

Army chief General Gaid Salah, the key powerbroker in post-Bouteflika Algeria, vowed Monday that no one would be spared from the corruption probes.

The judiciary must “bring to justice all the corrupt regardless of their function or their social rank,” he said. “The fight against corruption knows no limit and no exception will be made to anyone... it’s time to settle accounts,” Salah said, adding it was “time to clean up our country.”

The graft probes have also seen a dozen Bouteflika-linked businessmen placed in preventative detention.

Demonstrations have continued since the ailing head of state stepped down, as protesters demand the fall of regime insiders and the establishment of independent institutions.