US pullout from Syria risks boosting Russia, Iran influence: Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 February 2019
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US pullout from Syria risks boosting Russia, Iran influence: Merkel

MUNICH: German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Saturday that Washington's plan to swiftly pull its soldiers out of Syria risks allowing Russia and Iran to boost their role in the region.
Daesh group fighters have been boxed in to a scrap of land in the battle for their last remaining territory in northeastern Syria and their final defeat is expected imminently.
Once they are defeated, US forces are set to soon withdraw after President Donald Trump in December announced the pullout of around 2,000 troops.
But Washington is struggling to convince allies to stay on in Syria after it leaves and Merkel warned of the risks of leaving a vacuum in the region.
"Is it a good idea for the Americans to suddenly and quickly withdraw from Syria? Or will it once more strengthen the capacity of Iran and Russia to exert their influence?" Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference.
Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan on Friday pledged ongoing backing for the fight against Daesh -- but kept allies guessing as to how that would be achieved once US forces pull out, and won no solid pledges of support.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the US had told partners in the global anti-Daesh coalition that its soldiers would leave in "weeks rather than months".
The decision has stunned allies including France, which contributes artillery and about 1,200 forces in the region, including soldiers who train Iraqi troops.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asked why the US would create a vacuum in Syria that could benefit its enemy Iran, calling the approach a "mystery".
A French government source told AFP it was "totally out of the question" to have French troops on the ground without US forces.


Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

Updated 13 min 36 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

  • Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981
  • US President Trump officially recognized Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights on March 25, 2019

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joined Arab states on Tuesday in condemning a decision by the United States to recognize the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Breaking decades of international consensus, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation at the White House on Monday recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the border area that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. 

Saudi Arabia firmly rejected the decision and affirmed its position that Golan Heights was occupied Syrian Arab land in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The declaration, made by the US, is a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the report said.

The US decision was a violation of Security Council resolutions 242 of 1967 and 497 of 1981, and would have devastating implications on the peace process in the Middle East, as well as security and stability in the region, Saudi Arabia’s official statement said.

Saudi Arabia called on all parties to respect the decisions of international legitimacy and the charter of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that the decision “does not change the area’s status” as illegally occupied territory,

Syria said the decision was a blatant attack on its sovereignty. 

“Trump does not have the right or the legal authority to legitimize the occupation,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Opposition chief Nasr Al-Hariri said Trump’s decision would “lead to more violence and instability, and it will have negative effects on efforts to engineer peace in the region.”

Lebanon said the move “violates all the rules of international law” and “undermines any effort to reach a just peace.”

“The Golan Heights are Syrian Arab land, no decision can change this, and no country can revisit history by transferring ownership of land from one country to another,” the Foreign Ministry said.