Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check

Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check
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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 5, 2020 shows President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview with Russia Today in Damascus. (AFP/HO/SANA)
Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check
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A Syrian military defector using the pseudonym Caesar, while also wearing a hood to protect his identity, testifies about the war in Syria during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 12 August 2020

Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check

Caesar Act sends Syria’s Bashar Assad a stark reality check
  • Syria’s collapsing economy is set to suffer another blow as tough new sanctions come into force on Wednesday
  • The Caesar Act warns institutions, businesses and officials against engaging in business with Assad government

NEW YORK CITY: It all began in 2014, when a Syrian military police photographer, codenamed “Caesar,” testified in disguise before the US Congress. He provided the back stories for some of the 55,000 images of torture victims that he had helped to smuggle out of Syria.

The trove of photographs testified to a campaign of human rights violations, torture and murder by the government of President Bashar Assad.

The stage was thus set for the drawing up of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which did not pass until late last year as part of a Defense Spending bill.

FASTFACT

Caesar

Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act is named after “Caesar,” a Syrian military forensic photographer who documented torture by Assad’s regime.

The legislation warns Washington’s friends and foes alike, worldwide institutions, businesses and officials that engagement in any business with the government of Assad could lead to travel bans, denial of access to capital, and arrest.

“Any country or individual, if you’re supporting Assad, stop now! If you’re thinking of supporting Assad in the future, cancel your plans! Because the Caesar bill is an open-ended warning to everyone (who deals with Assad),” said Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of Syrian Emergency Task Force, dubbed “Caesar’s Godfather.”

He brought Caesar to testify in Congress, and then coordinated efforts to help in the drafting, passing and now implementation of the bill.

The legislation received rare bipartisan support. Top Republicans and Democrats from the congressional foreign affairs committees urged all nations to shun Assad, who “remains a pariah,” and called on the Trump administration to vigorously enforce the new measures.

“The regime and its sponsors must stop the slaughter of innocent people and provide the Syrian people a path toward reconciliation, stability and freedom,” said Representatives Eliot Engel and Mike McCaul and Senators Jim Risch and Bob Menendez.

“(Assad) will never regain standing as a legitimate leader,” added the joint statement.

While Assad appeared to be emerging victorious from the civil war and talk had turned to reconstruction, a spiraling economy is now threatening his grip on power.

“The Assad regime understands what most of the world doesn’t about the reality on the ground (where it) can detain and torture to death, displace or murder by airstrikes or chemical weapons,” said Moustafa.

“The world will just watch and make statements of condemnation. And the only solution that we have seen actually progressing over the last nine years is the military solution: that of the Assad regime and the Russian air force and Iran and Hezbollah and other terrorists.

“The Assad regime is counting that they’ll just kill, displace, and detain until he occupies all of Syria. And he thinks when he does that, he can claim victory, and then the world somehow is going to welcome him back.

“The Caesar Act pulls away that military victory from the Assad regime. It says that no matter what, any place that the Assad regime rules and governs cannot be worked with or dealt with or ever integrated into the international community, because Assad belongs in the International Criminal Court, not in the United Nations.”

Sanctions from the era of President Barack Obama already target the oil sector, and powerful Syrian individuals. The Caesar Act closes loopholes in these sanctions by adding secondary sanctions that target entities operating for the Assad regime’s benefit in four sectors: Oil/natural gas, military aircraft, construction and engineering.

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This includes indirect support to the regime, such as support to Iranian- and Russian-backed militias operating in Syria.

“This revision alone in the bill is worth the whole legislation, because (it) ensures that (individuals) who have been sanctioned in the past and have found creative ways, loopholes, to be able to (get around) the sanctions will now see secondary sanctions placed on them, meaning any company or individual that wants to have any relationship with these sanctioned individuals, will also have sanctions applied to them,” said Moustafa.

The bill’s backers want to stymie reconstruction because Assad is offering lucrative investment contracts to countries to re-establish diplomatic relationships with them.

“The regime is hijacking the private sector. They say they want reconstruction but what they really mean is they want to do another round of stealing the resources of Syria,” said Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen who is a member of the Caesar Act team.

Zakka, now global ambassador for peace and director for Program Development Peacetech Lab at the US Institute of Peace, endured torture in Iranian prisons for four years, and was asked to join the team as a voice for the victims of torture.

Moustafa says reconstruction deals also serve another purpose: Demographic change and what amounts to ethnic cleansing that the regime, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have conducted inside Syria.

“When a regime levels whole towns, destroys infrastructure, targets hospitals and displaces well over 10 million people, and then is asking for investments so people can pay for him to rebuild what he destroyed, land that he’s expropriated from millions of refugees that will never be allowed to return — the Caesar Act puts an end to that,” he said.

Syria’s economy has collapsed after a decade of war. Hyperinflation and a currency nosedive have raised the cost of food and medicine beyond the reach of most citizens and resulted in mass business closures and widespread food shortages.

The economic downslide is made worse by the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, where banks have served as a conduit to the world for Syria’s business community.

The Syrian government called the sanctions “economic terrorism,” and said the US will “bear main responsibility for the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Critics of the legislation claim it is being used for US strategy, which aims to crush two of the regime’s main backers, Iran and Hezbollah, and could push Syria and the region to the brink of a dangerous new stage of the conflict.

Moustafa dismisses those accusations as mere conspiracy theories.

“First of all, the United States and the international community (should) be ashamed of themselves for allowing that never-again moment in Syria to go on for so many years with the worst sadistic types of crimes happening.

“The Caesar act is the reaction of Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress. It’s the reaction of regular American people that saw photographs they have (only seen the likes of) in history books about the Holocaust or the Rwandan (genocide.)




People wave Syrian national flags and pictures of President Bashar Assad during a demonstration in support of Assad and against US sanctions on the country, at the Umayyad Square in the centre of the capital Damascus on June 11, 2020. (AFP)

The bill “is meant to do exactly what the letter of the law says: Protect civilians and punish the criminals.

“It’s the very least the US can do, but it is a very positive step meant to fix the many mistakes of the previous administration and this administration and anyone that hasn’t done enough to help Syria,” Moustafa said.

The Caesar Act establishes criteria that Assad and his allies must meet before sanctions can be lifted.

They include halting the Syrian-Russia air campaign and its targeting of civilians; allowing unfettered humanitarian access to areas under regime, Russian or Iranian control; releasing thousands of political prisoners, facilitating the return of refugees; a genuine political process leading to some form of power sharing; constitutional reform; and ensuring that war criminals are held accountable.

The first group of sanctions will be revealed on Wednesday. More will be gradually unveiled over the summer.

“This is to give those who are dealing or thinking of dealing with Assad the time and option to stop. It is a delicate process. If you immediately put sanctions on people, you are going to lose them to the other side. That is in no one’s interest right now,” said Zakka.

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@EphremKossaify

Decoder

What is the Caesar Act?

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which entered into force on June 17, 2020, is a US legislation that sanctions the Syrian government, including President Bashar Assad, for war crimes. It is named after “Caesar,” a Syrian military forensic photographer who documented torture of civilians by the regime. The verified evidence became known as the 2014 Syrian detainee report or Caesar Report.


Jordan tourism expected to boom by 2023, tourism officials say

The tourism sector in Jordan has gradually started to signs of a positive trend after a near collapse. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
The tourism sector in Jordan has gradually started to signs of a positive trend after a near collapse. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Updated 10 min 2 sec ago

Jordan tourism expected to boom by 2023, tourism officials say

The tourism sector in Jordan has gradually started to signs of a positive trend after a near collapse. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
  • Regional tourism has started picking up and international tourists are expected to return in August, September and October
  • King Abdullah II directed the government to work intensively, through its ambassadors, to depict Jordan as a ‘green’ country for traveling

AMMAN/LONDON: The tourism sector in Jordan has gradually started to show signs of a positive trend after a near collapse due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, tourism officials said.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) began opening up to domestic tourism, and then to Gulf and neighboring countries, in order to facilitate border movement, Dr. Abed Al-Razzaq Arabiyat, the managing director of the JTB told Arab News.
“We expect the return of international tourism during August, September and October after overcoming several obstacles,” Arabiyat added.
Jordan stood out for its low COVID-19 rates at the start of the pandemic but then saw an exponential rise in confirmed cases, and by November recorded the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths per capita in the Middle East. Authorities declared a state of emergency and imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, hitting the tourism sector hard.
Jordan has since managed to flatten the epidemiological curve, has moved from a UK “red list” country to an “amber” one, and in February significantly accelerated its inoculation campaign.

 


“Societal immunity is high and our epidemiological situation gives positive indications that a complete breakthrough for tourism in the kingdom is near,” Arabiyat said, adding that Jordan has eased more restrictions compared to many other countries, which will play a major role in attracting tourists.
He said King Abdullah II directed the government to work intensively, through its ambassadors, to depict Jordan as a green country, and that it is “clearly moving in that direction.” Marketing campaigns are in place and tourism offices are ready to cooperate, as some countries have already moved the kingdom to their “green” lists. Jordanian hotels and resorts have also begun receiving international bookings from September to November.

The tourism sector in Jordan has gradually started to signs of a positive trend after a near collapse. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

Minister of Transport Wajih Azayza said that Queen Alia International Airport received 9 million passengers in 2019, and hopes to return to these numbers after the pandemic.
The airport said on July 17 it welcomed over 1.2 million passengers during first half of the year, with the highest number recorded in June with more than 389,000 passengers. The airport’s total economic contribution exceeded $3.53 billion (about 8.9 percent of GDP).

The government has also implemented subsidization programs and launched a tourism risk fund valued at $28.2 million to support the sector and alleviate damages. In 2019, Jordan received a record 3 million visitors, bringing in $5.78 billion, which fell to $1.41 billion in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster for Jordan’s tourism industry, which suffered its worst contraction in decades last year. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

Last month, the king called for unified efforts to help the tourism and travel sector recover, which accounts for about 20 percent of GDP, and promote tourism to the “Golden Triangle” of Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.
Arabiyat said that Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, was most affected due to its high dependence on international tourism, but expects to “hear positive news by September, as there is a demand for the ‘Golden Triangle.’”
From July 1, authorities implemented the second phase of Jordan’s strategy to return to normal life, with tourist facilities permitted to reopen at full capacity. The curfew in the areas of the “Golden Triangle” in the south were lifted, and fully vaccinated visitors may enter as they have been declared COVID-free zones. Phase 3 will begin on Sept. 1, provided that cases remain low and the government reaches its immunization target.

Jordan has greatly eased restrictions compared to many countries, which will play a major role in attracting inbound tourism. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

Arabiyat said JTB has also launched the “Breathe” summer marketing campaign to target tourists, particularly families, from Gulf countries.
He said after enduring two exhausting years of the pandemic, “returning to life as we knew it became a dream that everyone was yearning to live once more; yearning to travel and enjoy life, yearning to feel alive again, hence the name of our campaign ‘Breathe’… where people can enjoy life and just breathe.”
Fawzi Al-Hammouri, chairman of Jordan’s Private Hospitals Association, said there had been a remarkable increase in the number of patients arriving for treatment in Jordan in June, specifically from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, after witnessing a decrease during the past year.
Arabiyat said, however, the greatest concern was preserving employment within the tourism sector.

Jordan is taking several steps to get the number of foreign tourists back to the record 3 million visitors in 2019. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

Layali Nashashibi, director of communications and public relations at Movenpick Hotels and Resorts, said they did not let go of any staff throughout the pandemic, even though they had to close both hotels in Petra and one in Aqaba, while the hotel in the Dead Sea was taken over by the government and used for quarantining when it started to bring Jordanians home from abroad.
“Aqaba, at the beginning, it was clean from COVID-19, but Aqaba has tourism and the port. So, if both closed, then the economy will suffer, so they decided that Aqaba would remain open from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Nashashibi told Arab News.
“I had to interfere with the government to extend some hours of the (hotels and) restaurants, as well as to have more facilities open,” she said, adding that after speaking with the prime minister, they managed to extend opening hours until 10 p.m. across the whole kingdom.

Government efforts to revive the tourism sector appear to be paying off but officials expect two years of recovery. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

“Now we are depending on international tourism to come back to Jordan … We are optimistic and we have been promised by the government, the Ministry of Tourism, and Jordan Tourism Board that Ryanair and EasyJet will resume flights (to Aqaba) by October,” she added. EasyJet has started taking bookings for Aqaba from November, while cruise ships have also began to trickle in with one from Jeddah expected to arrive in Aqaba at the beginning of August.
Nashashibi said they also hosted familiarization trips for tour operators. Authorities are offering different types of tax reductions and discounts on landing fees, and tourists from Eastern Europe started coming to Aqaba from the end of June, with planes from Russia expected to increase in the coming period.
The city is regulated by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, which has turned it into a low-tax, duty-free city, attracting several mega investment projects like Ayla Oasis, Saraya Aqaba, Marsa Zayed and the expansion of the port, all of which were greatly affected.

Officials announced special measures for Jordan’s ‘Golden Triangle’, which includes Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba, and fully vaccinated visitors may enter as they have been declared COVID-free zones. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

“Hopefully, COVID-19 will disappear and we return like before or better than before,” Nashashibi said, adding that she does not see tourism improving until the third quarter of 2022, and expects a boom in the tourism and economic sectors by 2023.
Sally Abu Hijleh, from Montana Travel and Tourism agency, also said it will take about a year for tourism to return, adding that they are working on offers and discounted prices to encourage travel.
For Marwan Eid Abo Al-Adas, owner of souvenir shop Bazaar Al-Wadeeh in Jarash, even if tourists return this summer, all the tourism sectors have suffered such heavy losses that, he believes, they will still struggle.“The compensation will be greater after two or three years (as) there must be continuity in the tourism sector,” he said.
Marwan Soudi, a Jordanian living abroad, who was not able to return home last year, said: “The way they are handling the pandemic here in Jordan, and the way they rolled out vaccines really fast, the authorities are saying that the tourism and just everything being back to normal by 2022-2023, I would say that sounds like a reasonable aim.”

 


Saudi tourist Abdul Aziz Al-Shalawi said due to Jordan having one of the lowest rates of infections, tourists from Saudi Arabia prefer to visit this summer more than any other country, especially Europe, as its “safety is excellent.”
He said Jordan was beautiful and diverse and that Saudis were also attracted to the kingdom for its medical options. “Jordan has potential and very good doctors and is focused on attracting tourists for treatment, whilst also enjoying their time,” he added.
American tourist Tom Langdon said he hoped tourism would open up more from July to help the Bedouins in Petra, and the people that rely on tourism.
“It’s pretty unfortunate. I went to Petra, and I think there was like maybe 20 people there, and one of the vendors showed me a video, and it looked like a rock concert, it looked like you could barely move without touching someone and he said that that’s how it used to be before COVID-19,” Langdon said.
“I think (Jordan) is an untapped source, I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of this isn’t known to more people. Pretty much every place that I’ve been here in Jordan has been absolutely beautiful (and) I’ve been having a pretty good time.”


US to hit Iran with more sanctions for missile, drone program

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

US to hit Iran with more sanctions for missile, drone program

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • They will make it harder for Iran to illicitly import parts necessary for the manufacturing of drones and missiles
  • US allies, including Saudi Arabia, have seen an uptick in attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen

LONDON: The Biden administration is planning a sanctions campaign against Iran’s growing precision drone and missile strike capability, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents a more immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability than Iran’s nuclear enrichment and ballistic missile programs.

While some elements of Iran’s missile program have already been sanctioned, the new measures will cast a wider net by targeting its procurement networks, such as part-providers.

“It’s part of a comprehensive approach so we’re dealing with all aspects of the Iranian threat,” a senior U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.

The new measures come as US forces and allies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East have increasingly found themselves on the receiving end of drone and missile attacks by Tehran’s IRGC-aligned regional proxies.

“Iran’s drones are becoming an increasing threat to our allies in the region,” said another U.S. official.

The planned sanctions come as the Biden administration considers tightening enforcement of existing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry amid a stall to nuclear negotiations ongoing in Vienna.

Biden has offered a reduction in sanctions if the Islamic Republic returns to the terms of the 2015 deal, which saw curbs to Iran’s nascent nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

However, the issue of Iran’s sub-atomic weaponry, including ballistic missiles, guided missiles and drones has increasingly become a bone of contention between the two longtime enemies.

Iran’s pursuit of further-reaching, more accurate and more powerful missiles earned it a suite of US sanctions, and the Biden administration has made clear that those sanctions are outside the scope of the ongoing nuclear negotiations.

Tehran said it would only return to the 2015 deal if all sanctions on its missile program are lifted, as well as the terror designation the US and others have placed on the IRGC.

The US Treasury department, which is in charge of implementing sanctions, has already placed a variety of restrictions on the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist group in Yemen. The Houthis have used Iranian weapons to wage their ongoing war against the UN-recognized Yemeni government, as well as to target Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

In 2019, drones were used to target an important oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, seriously damaging the facility and disrupting the global oil market.

Saudi Arabia alone has been attacked over 100 times in recent months by Iran’s proxies in Yemen, using Iranian equipment including large and small drones, ballistic missiles, and precision missiles.

Iran’s growing domestic arms and drone manufacturing base has proved useful in supplying its proxies, and the new sanctions will aim to disrupt elements of the industry that rely on illicit imports from abroad.

Robert Czulda, an assistant professor specializing in Iran at Poland’s University of Lodz, told the Wall Street Journal that the sanctions “would notably disrupt Iran’s defense supply chain.”


Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy
Updated 30 July 2021

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy
  • Whether aid operations will be extended depends on 'things the security council and international community need to be doing in the run-up to the possible renewal’
  • Other countries’ efforts to reach a settlement in Syria are welcome but only if they ‘proceed from the respect of territorial integrity'

NEW YORK: When the UN Security Council agreed to extend a cross-border humanitarian operation into Syria earlier this month, concerns were raised over the wording of the resolution as some considered it ambiguous.

Resolution 2585 stated the mandate for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border had been extended for six months until Jan. 10, “with an extension of an additional six months, until July 10, 2022, subject to the issuance of the secretary-general’s substantive report.”

Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, was adamant that the US saw the resolution “being automatically renewed following the (secretary-general’s) report. No vote will be required and the council will work with the secretary-general’s office to ensure that once he puts his report on the table, that it will be accepted by all council members.”

However, in his first encounter with journalists since the vote took place, the charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation at the UN, Dmitry Polianskiy, quickly debunked the American interpretation and media reports that adopted it.

“This is not the case,” Polianskiy said. “Whether or not the mechanism will be prolonged for another half year, like what the ambassador said, is dependent on how transparent the secretary-general’s report will be. There are a lot of conditions in the text of the resolution. It is very significantly beefed up with a lot of things that the security council and the international community are supposed to do in the run-up to this possible prolongation in six months.

“So, there is no automatism in this part.”

The unanimous vote to extend the mandate for the transport of aid to Syria through a crossing on the border with Turkey came after Russia finally agreed to a compromise with the US.

It followed months of intransigence on the part of Moscow, which argued that all aid should be channeled through the regime in Damascus. Russia also blamed the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country on international sanctions imposed on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Polianskiy reiterated this position and said Moscow hoped to see “a dramatic increase in cross-line deliveries and in the efforts to assist in the reconstruction of Syria.”

Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped directly to those areas by other nations.

“Our position is that the cross-border mechanism belongs to history,” Polianskiy said. “It was adopted when the Syrian government was not in control of its territories, and it goes contrary to the principles of humanitarian assistance, which call first for the consent of the receiving country. Syria refused cross-border aid from the beginning.

“Now, our international partners should prove that they are sincere in their pledges to us that they will work through cross-line deliveries as well. For the initial period, we will want (the latter) to supplement cross-border deliveries, for them to work as a single package because if it is about helping people living there, then it does not matter how you deliver humanitarian aid, cross-border or cross-line. But if you have political reasoning, yes this matters very much. So we think that political reasoning should not be (factored in) our decisions on Syria.”

The Russian envoy repeated his country’s claim that the economic suffering in Syria is a result of western unilateral sanctions and “coercive measures.”

“It is very hypocritical, on one hand, to increase the assistance to Syrians, and on the other hand, to keep unilateral sanctions and coercive measures,” Polianskiy said.

Russia continued to defend the Assad regime at the security council and called on nations to take part in the reconstruction efforts of the war-ravaged country. At the same time, Western council members and others reiterated that they will not support any reconstruction aid that benefits the regime absent progress in achieving the political reforms called for in Resolution 2254.

During his meetings in Moscow this week, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, expressed hope that the common understanding seen in adopting the humanitarian resolution could be developed “into more of a unity when it comes to the political process.”

In order for that to happen, Pedersen said “we need to sit down together and discuss what all of us can bring to the table.”

Polianskiy said: “I do not know what magical solution Mr. Pedersen has to accommodate these concerns and how he will bring all the parties, including the government, to the negotiations table.

“Let us see. He is a very talented and experienced diplomat. We respect him very much. But so far, we think that the only working format is the constitutional committee which is taking place in Geneva. We hope there will be another meeting and we are trying to assist as much as we can in a settlement for Syria and to get up to speed with the constitutional committee.”

The Russian diplomat welcomed other countries’ efforts but only if they “proceed from the respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty in Syria. But the devil is in the details, so let us see what comes out of it.”

He added: “It is not that we want to monopolize some kind of negotiation track on Syria. We were from the very beginning advocating for a dialogue to find a solution. But the fact is there are certain states that still do not want to engage with the current Syrian government, which is legitimately recognized by the whole world.”


Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes
Updated 30 July 2021

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

BEIRUT: Six civilians including several children were among 19 people killed on Thursday in the fiercest clashes to rock Syria’s Daraa province since it was captured by the government, a war monitor said.
Artillery shelling by regime forces on the village of Al-Yadudah, northwest of Daraa city, killed a woman, her child and three other youngsters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime artillery fire also killed a sixth civilian in the district of Daraa Al-Balad further south, according to the Observatory.
The deaths bring the toll for Thursday’s clashes to a total of 19 across the province, which is located in southern Syria.
The figure includes at least eight Syrian regime fighters and five gunmen affiliated with former opposition groups, the monitor said.
The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied forces recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011.
State institutions have returned but the army still has not deployed across the whole province, and tit-for-tat bombings and assassinations between former opposition figures and regime forces have since become routine.
Tensions flared on Thursday, leading to the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa since it came under regime control.”
The fighting started when regime forces fired artillery shells toward the former opposition hub of Daraa Al-Balad in tandem with a ground push, the observatory said.
In response, gunmen launched a counterattack across many parts of the Daraa countryside, where they seized several regime positions and captured over 40 regime fighters.


Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken
Updated 30 July 2021

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”

KUWAIT CITY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that nuclear talks with Iran “cannot go on indefinitely” but that Washington was “fully prepared” to continue negotiations.
The US is indirectly involved in Iran’s talks with world powers to revive a nuclear deal that gave Iran some relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
The deal was torpedoed in 2018 by then US President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.
“We’re committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely ... we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do and remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations,” Blinken said during a visit to Kuwait on Thursday. “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government has been holding talks with major powers in Vienna since April on bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But a deal now seems unlikely until after he hands over to President-elect Ebrahim Raisi early next month. Raisi is an ultraconservative but has expressed support for the nuclear talks, arguing Iran needs an end to US sanctions.

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Iran’s ultraconservative camp, which deeply distrusts the US, has repeatedly criticized Rouhani over the 2015 deal.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that experience has shown “trusting the West does not work,” referring to the US withdrawal from the deal and its fallout.
Raisi has said his government will support talks that “guarantee national interests,” but will not allow negotiations for the sake of negotiations.
One of the major criticisms of the 2015 deal raised by Trump was its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its alleged interference in regional affairs.
But Tehran has always rejected bringing non-nuclear issues into the agreement, which is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Khamenei also criticized the US for refusing to “guarantee that (it) will not violate the agreement in the future” by pulling out unilaterally, as Trump did in 2018.
Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi said this month that the talks must “await our new administration” as Tehran is “in a transition period.”
Rouhani, in office since 2013 and preparing to leave after the maximum two consecutive terms, had repeatedly promised to secure relief from sanctions before the end of his term.
But earlier this month, he expressed hope that his successor can clinch a deal to lift sanctions, insisting that from his administration’s side, “the work was ready” to be done.