Assad denies Russia makes decisions for him

Russian support has helped regime troops seize back opposition territory. AFP
Updated 11 June 2018
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Assad denies Russia makes decisions for him

  • Damascus has now set its sights on the opposition-held parts of southwestern Syria which border Israel and Jordan
  • HTS and its allies control around 60 percent of the province

BEIRUT: Syria’s Bashar Assad denied that military ally Russia was making decisions for him, but said it was natural for there to be differences of opinion between allies, in an interview published on Sunday by state media.

In an interview with British newspaper the Mail on Sunday, carried in full by Syrian state news agency SANA, Assad was responding to a question about whether Moscow now controls Syria’s diplomatic and military moves.
“They (the Russians) never, during our relation, try to dictate, even if there are differences,” he said, according to SANA’s transcript of the interview, given in English.
“It’s natural to have differences between the different parties, whether within our government or other governments; Russia-Syria, Syria-Iran, Iran-Russia, and within these governments, that’s very natural, but at the end the only decision about what’s going on in Syria and what’s going to happen, it’s a Syrian decision,” Assad said.
Iranian and Russian support has been critical to Assad’s war effort, but the different agendas of Assad’s allies in Syria have become more apparent of late as Israel presses Russia to make sure Iran and its allies do not entrench their military sway in the country.
On Tuesday Reuters reported that a Russian troop deployment in Syria near the Lebanese border had caused friction with Iran-backed forces, in what appeared to be a rare case of Russia acting out of sync with Assad’s Iran-backed allies.
Recent Russian calls for all non-Syrian forces to leave southern Syria have been seen as aimed partly at Iran, in addition to US forces based in the Tanf area at the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Assad also said he expects the war in his country to be over in “less than a year” and re-stated his aim to take back “every inch” of Syria.
He said the involvement of foreign powers such as Britain, the US and France was prolonging the conflict and had slowed down a resolution to the situation in opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria.

11 civilians killed
Eleven Syrian civilians were killed on Sunday in regime strikes in the country’s northwest, a monitor said, in apparent retaliation for a militant attack on two besieged government-held villages.
The bombing raids hit a string of towns and villages in the northwest province of Idlib.
“Nine civilians, including three children, were killed in the raids on the town of Taftanaz,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said strikes had also hit near a children’s hospital, putting it out of service.
Two more civilians, including a child, were killed in other raids nearby.
The airstrikes came a day after militants from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate launched an attack on Fuaa and Kafraya, two villages held by the regime but cut off by hard-line forces.
Late Saturday, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and allied fighters shelled Fuaa and Kafraya heavily and clashed with local fighters.
“This is the fiercest attack in around three years,” said Abdel Rahman.
Six Syrian pro-regime fighters and at least three from HTS were killed in the fighting, which continued on Sunday.
Syrian state news agency SANA also reported Saturday’s attack, and said local fighters were able to push back the militants.
Fuaa and Kafraya are the only two places in Syria currently designated as besieged by the UN after the government recaptured the Yarmuk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.
The villages are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shiite Muslims.
In recent months Syrian government and allied forces have taken back the last besieged opposition area in Syria, north of Homs, and crushed the last rebel pockets near the capital.
Damascus has now set its sights on the opposition-held parts of southwestern Syria which border Israel and Jordan.
“We were about to achieve reconciliation in the southern part of Syria only two weeks ago, but the West interfered and asked the terrorists not to follow this path in order to prolong the Syrian conflict,” Assad said. The Syrian government refers to all groups opposed to its rule as terrorists.
The US wants to preserve a “de-escalation” zone agreed last year with Russia and Jordan that has contained fighting in that area. Assad wants to being the area back under state control.

Syria strikes kill 11 civilians
Eleven Syrian civilians were killed on Sunday in regime strikes in the country’s northwest, a monitor said, in apparent retaliation for a militant attack on two besieged government-held villages.
The bombing raids hit a string of towns and villages in the northwest province of Idlib, which is almost entirely controlled by various militant and hard-line fighters.
“Nine civilians, including three children, were killed in the raids on the town of Taftanaz,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said strikes had also hit near a children’s hospital, putting it out of service.
Two more civilians, including a child, were killed in other raids nearby.
The airstrikes came a day after militants from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate launched an attack on Fuaa and Kafraya, two villages held by the regime but cut off by hard-line forces.
Late Saturday, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and allied fighters shelled Fuaa and Kafraya heavily and clashed with local fighters.
“This is the fiercest attack in around three years,” said Abdel Rahman.
Six Syrian pro-regime fighters and at least three from HTS were killed in the fighting, which continued on Sunday.
Syrian state news agency SANA also reported Saturday’s attack, and said local fighters were able to push back the militants.
Fuaa and Kafraya are the only two places in Syria currently designated as besieged by the UN after the government recaptured the Yarmuk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.
The villages are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shiite Muslims.
They came under siege in 2015, when fighters ousted regime forces from a vast majority of Idlib province.
Since then, the mainstream opposition’s influence has dwindled as militants solidified their grip on the province, and regime forces have recaptured an eastern sliver of Idlib.
HTS and its allies control around 60 percent of the province, its local rivals hold about a third, and the regime controls about 10 percent, according to the Observatory.
Now, even Daesh is conducting hit-and-run attacks in Idlib against its HTS rival.
Last week, clashes between HTS and a Daesh sleeper cell made up of Iraqi jihadists left more than two dozen fighters dead, mostly from Daesh.
In retaliation, the Daesh cell executed five HTS fighters it had abducted in Idlib, the Observatory said. HTS also killed six Daesh members it had captured in the clashes.
Siege tactics have been used throughout Syria’s seven-year conflict, mostly by the government.
Troops have employed the tactic alongside heavy bombing to cut off food and medicine to rebel-held areas, then coerce people to agree to leave in population transfers.
Idlib, which lies on the border with Turkey, has seen its population balloon to around two million people in recent years as fighters and civilians evacuated from other opposition areas are dumped there.
It was designated last year as a de-escalation zone, but violence has been creeping up again.


Qatar pledges to invest $15 billion into Turkey

Updated 16 min 29 sec ago
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Qatar pledges to invest $15 billion into Turkey

  • The promise of an investment package comes after Qatar’s Emir met with President Erdogan
  • The Turkish currency has lost nearly 40 percent against the dollar this year

ANKARA: Turkey has announced that Qatar has pledged to invest $15 billion into Turkish financial markets and banks, a government source told Reuters on Wednesday.
The promise of an investment package comes after Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani met with President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and as Turkey comes to terms with a collapse in the lira amid rising tensions with NATO ally the US.
The Turkish currency has lost nearly 40 percent against the dollar this year, driven by worries over Erdogan’s growing influence on the economy and his repeated calls for lower interest rates despite high inflation.
Following the announcement, the lira firmed briefly from 6.04 to 5.8699 to the dollar, but later eased back to 6.0200 on Wednesday afternoon.
It had rebounded some 6 percent on Wednesday after the central bank squeezed lira liquidity in the market, effectively pushing up rates and supporting the currency.
Erdogan’s spokesman praised the move on Twitter, tweeting: “The fundamentals of the Turkish economy are robust and Turkey will emerge stronger from this process,” Ibrahim Kalin wrote.
Qatar has moved closer to countries like Turkey and Iran after Saudi Arabia and other Arab states severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with the Gulf state last year, accusing it of financing terrorism.