Syria’s Assad discusses peace talks, trade with Russian envoys

President Bashar Assad (R) receiving Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP/SANA)
Updated 20 April 2019

Syria’s Assad discusses peace talks, trade with Russian envoys

  • The meetings focused on the next round of talks in Kazakhstan involving Syria, Russia Iran and Turkey
  • Russia has helped Assad’s forces to take back most of the country but the 8-year-long war continues

BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Syrian President Bashar Assad met senior officials from his strongest ally Russia in Damascus on Friday and Saturday to discuss upcoming peace talks and trade between the two countries, state media in Syria reported.
Russia has helped Assad’s forces to take back most of the country but the eight-year-long war continues. Swathes of the northeast and northwest are out of his control, while sanctions and a fuel shortage are constricting the economy.
Moscow has pushed for a political process involving talks on a new constitution and elections as a way to end the conflict, but Assad has played down the possibility that the Turkey-backed opposition or foreign countries might participate.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late on Friday that Assad had met Moscow’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and several Russian Defense Ministry officials.
However, while it said they had discussed the formation of a constitutional committee, which Syria’s opposition last year agreed to join under UN auspices after a Russian-hosted peace conference, Syrian state media did not mention it.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said meetings had focused on the next round of talks in Kazakhstan involving Syria, its allies Russia and Iran, and the rebels’ backer Turkey.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Syria’s war and about half the pre-conflict population of 22 million has been displaced.
Russia launched a military intervention to support Assad in 2015, turning the tide of the fighting in his favor.
On Saturday, SANA said Assad had met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov to discuss trade and economic cooperation, “particularly in the fields of energy, industry and increasing trade.”
It said Assad and Borisov discussed mechanisms to overcome obstacles including those “resulting from the sanctions which countries against the Syrian people imposed on Syria.”
The United States and European Union imposed tough sanctions on Syria early in the conflict over what they described as atrocities carried out by the government, which it denies.
This week, Syrian state media reported that a fuel shortage which has resulted in rationing and long queues at petrol stations came in the context of difficulty in importing fuel and the halting of a credit line from Iran.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem said in a statement on Saturday carried by SANA that “Syria is always coordinating with Iran.”


Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

  • Troops drive north toward Turkish border
  • Kurdish buffer zone ‘fully operational’

BEIRUT: Assad regime troops massed in northwest Syria on Saturday in preparation for a new drive north toward the border with Turkey.

The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition. Until last week, it was controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes captured the key town of Khan Sheikhun from the militants on Wednesday, and on Friday they overran the countryside to the south of the town.

“The day after they controlled the area south of Khan Sheikhun, regime forces began massing in the area north of it,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They were “preparing to continue their advance toward the area of Maaret Al-Noman,” a town about 25km north, he said.

Heavy bombardment hit the area on Saturday in preparation for a further push north. Thick gray smoke billowed up into a clear blue sky after a strike on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Noman. Like Khan Sheikhun, the town sits on the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, a key target for the regime to recapture.

However, the new offensive that began in April has heightened tension with Turkey, which fears an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting. Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region in an attempt to set up a buffer zone to protect civilians.

FAST FACTS

  • The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition.
  • Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region.

The regime accuses Turkey of using the observation posts to arm and supply the militants. Last week, airstrikes targeted a Turkish military convoy traveling south down the main highway toward one of the posts at Morek. The convoy was still stranded on Saturday north of Khan Sheikhun.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied the Morek observation post had been surrounded and said Turkish troops would not withdraw from the position.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east in Syria, a joint Turkish-US control center to establish and manage a safe zone is fully operational, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. 

“The command of the center is by one US general and one Turkish general,” he said, and the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone last week.

Syrian Kurds said on Saturday they would support the implementation of the buffer zone. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) played a key role in the battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as terrorists.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” said Mazloum Kobani, head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.