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.


UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

Updated 6 min 43 sec ago
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UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

  • Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000
  • The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa

DUBAI: The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis for control of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah will take a “calculated and gradual” approach to the battle, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Monday.

The comments came after witnesses said eight villagers had been killed and 15 others wounded when Houthi militia shelled a village in the center of the country called Haglan Maris.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE was taking into consideration a “fragile humanitarian situation,” avoiding civilian casualties in addition to military calculations.

Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000. He declined to reveal the size of coalition forces but said they had “numerical superiority.”

He said that the Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time.

Gargash added that the Hodeidah port is a “major artery” for weapons smuggling from Iran to the Houthis.

“The liberation of Hodeidah is a major step in freeing Sanaa,” the UAE minister said, adding that “the roads leading to the port are filled with mines.”

France is said to be helping the Arab coalition in demining the roads.

“We have opened the road from Hodeidah to Sanaa to allow the militias to flee without resistance,” Gargash said.

The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa for emergency talks.

Martin Griffiths was expected to propose to militia leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee and halt heavy clashes against advancing government troops backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

(With AFP, AP & Reuters)