Assad regime ‘to accept Syria’s de facto partition’

Updated 25 May 2015
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Assad regime ‘to accept Syria’s de facto partition’

Beirut: Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and extremists, experts and diplomats say.

The strategy was in evidence last week with the army’s retreat from the ancient central city of Palmyra after an advance by the Islamic State group. “It is quite understandable that the Syrian army withdraws to protect large cities where much of the population is located,” said Waddah Abded Rabbo, director of Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the regime.
“The world must think about whether the establishment of two terrorist states is in its interests or not,” he said, in reference to IS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front’s plans for its own “emirate” in northern Syria.
Syria’s government labels all those fighting to oust President Bashar Assad “terrorists,” and has pointed to the emergence of IS and Al-Nusra as evidence that opponents of the regime are extremists.
Since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests, the government has lost more than three-quarters of the country’s territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
But the territory the regime controls accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of the population, according to French geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.
He said 10-15 percent of Syria’s population is now in areas controlled by IS, 20-25 percent in territory controlled by Al-Nusra or rebel groups and another five to 10 percent in areas controlled by Kurdish forces.
“The government in Damascus still has an army and the support of a part of the population,” Balanche said.
“We’re heading toward an informal partition with front lines that could shift further.”
People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to “useful Syria.” One Syrian political figure close to the regime said: “The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus.”
He added: “The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartus.”
The coastal Latakia and Tartus provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country’s Alawite community.
For now the regime’s sole offensive movement is in Qalamun along the Lebanese border, but there its ally, Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, is taking the lead in the fighting.
“The Syrian army today has become a Praetorian guard that is charged with protecting the regime,” said a diplomat who goes to Damascus regularly.


Gargash: UAE not leaving war-torn Yemen despite drawdown

Updated 23 July 2019
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Gargash: UAE not leaving war-torn Yemen despite drawdown

  • The UAE announced earlier this month it was drawing down and redeploying troops in Yemen
  • UAE minister Gargash said the Houthis should see the UAE move as a confidence-building measure

The United Arab Emirates, part of a Saudi-led military coalition, is not leaving war-torn Yemen despite an ongoing drawdown and redeployment of Emirati forces, a UAE minister has said.

“Just to be clear, the UAE and the rest of the coalition are not leaving Yemen,” minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post.

“While we will operate differently, our military presence will remain. In accordance with international law, we will continue to advise and assist local Yemen forces.”

The UAE announced earlier this month it was drawing down and redeploying troops in Yemen, where a years-long conflict between government forces - backed by the Saudi-led coalition - and Iran-backed Houthi militia has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The UAE is a key partner in the military coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015 to back the internationally-recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against the Houthi.

Gargash said the Houthis should see the UAE move as a “confidence-building measure to create new momentum to end the conflict”.

“As the United Arab Emirates draws down and redeploys its forces in Yemen, we do so in the same way we began - with eyes wide open,” he said.

“There was no easy victory and there will be no easy peace.

“But now is the time to double down on the political process.”

The warring sides have fought to a stalemate, and several rounds of UN-sponsored talks, the last held in Sweden in December, have failed to implement any deal to end the war.

Since 2015, tens of thousands of people - mostly civilians - have been killed in the conflict described by the United Nations as the world’s worst manmade humanitarian crisis.