GCC-Russia pact ‘will help resolve Mideast crises’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens to his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir (R) during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 May 2016
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GCC-Russia pact ‘will help resolve Mideast crises’

MOSCOW: Russia’s pact with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council will help solve the crises facing the Middle East, particular Syria, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said here Thursday.
Al-Jubeir made the comments following a meeting between the GCC’s foreign ministers and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the fourth GCC-Russian strategic dialogue gathering.
At a press conference with Lavrov, Al-Jubeir said the GCC and Russia have enjoyed solid ties over the years and share common interests. He said Russia also respected the sovereignty of nations and was committing to international law.
Al-Jubeir said the meeting was fruitful and that there had been intense discussion on seeking a cease-fire in Syria and tackling extremist and terrorist groups. “We are working with Russia to confront the challenges facing the region.” He also praised Moscow for supporting the Palestinian cause.
Lavrov said that Russia, under the auspices of the UN Security Council, supports attempts to seek peace in the Middle East and North Africa. He said the discussions focused on Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq among others.
Lavrov said the Russian government supports Saudi Arabia’s formation of an Islamic alliance to tackle terrorism globally. He said Russia was seeking to consolidate agreements with Saudi Arabia in the oil and nuclear fields.
Thursday’s meeting comes as rebels in northern Syria reportedly continue to make slow progress in their campaign to evict Daesh from its stronghold in the Iraqi city of Raqqa.


US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

Updated 20 July 2018
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US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

  • US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria
  • Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps

WASHINGTON: US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.
The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”
The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.
Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.
Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.
Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by a Daesh-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.
They have continued to receive US support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.
In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.
In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.