US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 December 2018
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US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

  • James Jeffrey said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war
  • Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”

James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria.

“We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change —  we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

Estimating that Syria would need $300-400 billion to rebuild, Jeffrey warned that Western powers and international financial institutions would not commit funds without a change of course.

“There is a strong readiness on the part of Western nations not to ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea that the government is ready to compromise and thus not create yet another horror in the years ahead,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama had called for Assad to go, although he doubted the wisdom of a robust US intervention in the complex Syrian war. and kept a narrow military goal of defeating the Daesh extremist group.

President Donald Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in October that the US would not provide “one single dollar” for Syria’s reconstruction if Iran stays.

Jeffrey also called for the ouster of Iranian forces, whose presence is strongly opposed by neighboring Israel, although he said the US accepted that Tehran would maintain some diplomatic role in the country.

Jeffrey also said that the US wanted a Syria that does not wage chemical weapons attacks or torture its own citizens.

He acknowledged, however, that the US may not find an ally anytime soon in Syria, saying: “It doesn’t have to be a regime that we Americans would embrace as, say, qualifying to join the European Union if the European Union would take Middle Eastern countries.”


Netanyahu to cut US trip short after rocket attack near Tel Aviv

Updated 16 min 2 sec ago
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Netanyahu to cut US trip short after rocket attack near Tel Aviv

  • Netanyahu said the incident will evoke a strong Israeli reaction
  • Palestinian rockets rarely reach an area at that distance from Gaza

MISHMERET/JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he is to cut short his trip to the United States after a rocket attack near Tel Aviv.

“In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the US,” Netanyahu said, calling the attack a heinous crime that would draw a strong Israeli response.

He said he would meet with President Donald Trump in the coming hours and then fly back immediately.

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv and caused it to catch fire, wounding seven Israelis, authorities and medics said.

Israel’s army said the rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, raising the risk of another escalation between the two sides just ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, police said. Medics said they were treating one Israeli with moderate wounds and four others injured lightly.

Mishmeret is more than 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at that distance is rare.

Monday’s incident comes after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv — also rare — on March 14.

No damage or injuries were caused, but Israel responded to that and further rocket fire by hitting what it said were around 100 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.

Four Palestinians were reported wounded in those strikes.

Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad denied they were behind the March 14 rocket fire toward Tel Aviv, raising the possibility they were launched by fringe groups.

Israel’s military said they were launched by Hamas, but later there were Israeli media reports that the army’s preliminary assessment was that they had been fired by mistake during maintenance work.

The reports were a sign that Israel was seeking to calm tensions. The military had refused to comment on the reports at the time.

Monday’s rocket comes just days ahead of the March 30 one-year anniversary of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border of the blockaded strip, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.