Arab states snub Syria over summit

Bashar Assad is also unlikely to be invited to the next Arab League summit in Tunisia
Updated 08 January 2019
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Arab states snub Syria over summit

  • Lebanon resists Hezbollah pressure to issue invitation, Arab League cancels talks on readmission
  • The Arab Economic and Social Development Summit will be held next week

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Monday resisted mounting pressure from Hezbollah to invite a delegation from Syria to an Arab economic summit next week in Beirut.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad is also unlikely to be invited to the next Arab League summit in Tunisia in March, after a planned meeting to discuss Syria’s readmission to the body was canceled.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 and imposed political and economic sanctions over the Syrian civil war. Three months later, the Gulf Cooperation Council states withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. 

However, as the Assad regime solidifies its military victory after seven years of war, with help from Russia and Iran, there is growing pressure to normalize relations.

In Lebanon, the campaign is being led by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. The group’s parliamentary bloc said it was “in Lebanon’s interest to invite Syria to participate in the Arab Economic
and Social Development Summit,” which begins in Beirut on Jan. 16.

Inviting Syria “would strengthen Lebanon and would be in its strategic interest, especially as current developments are creating a positive Arab atmosphere that is seeing Arab states rushing back to Damascus, and as Syria’s closest neighbor and considering the country’s interests, Lebanon should be at the forefront of efforts to reinforce and strengthen this atmosphere,” Hezbollah said.

If Syria were not invited the summit should be postponed, the group said, but Lebanon rejected both suggestions.

“Lebanon is hosting and organizing the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit but is not the one inviting states. Invitations remain the competence of the Arab League,” Rafiq Chlala, head of the summit’s media committee, told Arab News. 

“Syria had not attended the previous Arab summits upon the Arab League’s decision, but it can return to participating by a decision from the Arab League,” he said.

“Lebanon has nothing to do with this issue, and President Aoun has pledged not to postpone the economic summit and to hold it on time.”

President Michel Aoun confirmed that the summit “will be held on time,” and said Lebanon’s failure for the past eight months to form a Cabinet of ministers under Prime Minister Saad Hariri was no reason to postpone it.

“The current government is exercising its powers according to the constitution,” he said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, have already confirmed their attendance. Other Arab leaders are expected to do so in the next few days.

Delegates will meet initially on Jan. 16 to agree on the topics for discussion and draft a communique. Foreign ministers will meet on Jan. 18, followed by delegation chiefs and national leaders on Jan. 19, before the full summit on Jan. 20.


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 38 min 1 sec ago
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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.