Lavrov: US Plan on Arab Troops Deployment in Syria 'Sovereignty Violation'

Russia and Egypt are united in their belief that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Moscow and Cairo will coordinate actions on this issue, Lavrov said after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Moscow.

Acting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss topical issues on the international agenda, including the situation in Syria and the Iran nuclear deal, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We are convinced, like our Egyptian friends, that there is no military solution to this conflict. The adjustment of disputes can be achieved exclusively through political means through a comprehensive cross-Syrian dialogue in full accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the outcome of the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue, which was held in Sochi on January 30," Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, the parties reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the close coordination of Russian-Egyptian actions in the Syrian direction.

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Russia & Syria call for on-the-ground probe in Douma, pledge to provide security to OPCW experts

Moscow has proposed to create an independent investigative mechanism into the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, promising, along with the Syrian army, to guarantee prompt access for experts to the site.

Russia's envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, has reiterated that Russia will support a thorough investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend.

"Let us recall that our draft resolution to set up such a mechanism is in blue. And we stand ready to adopt it today if necessary," Nebenzia said, referring to the Russia-sponsored UNSC resolution to establish an independent investigative mechanism under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

A photo showing a child being washed after what the White Helmets and other anti-government groups in Syria claim was a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on April 7. The Russian military says the photos were staged. © Reuters

Moscow is ready to serve as a guarantor of security for those OPCW experts who would inspect the site of the incident, Nebenzia added, stressing the need for the probe to be carried out without delay. The experts may "immediately, tomorrow, fly to Damascus," the diplomat said.

"There, the Syrian authorities and Russian troops will provide conditions to travel to the area of the alleged incident for them to familiarize themselves with the situation," Nebenzia said, reminding the UNSC member-states' representatives that "that is what President Trump and other western leaders called upon us to undertake."

The Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari said his country is also ready to welcome the OPCW team as soon as possible and to provide them with everything necessary for a comprehensive investigation.

"My country, Syria, stresses its unlimited cooperation with the OPCW to fulfill the commitments stated in the convention of the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons," he said.

Highlighting the importance of a swift investigation, Nebenzia noted that it should be conducted on the ground, and not through third parties. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the OPCW investigation into last April's Khan Sheikhoun incident as "unprofessional." One of the major flaws of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), as pointed out by Moscow, was that the whole investigation was conducted remotely. As a result, the findings of the OPCW report, that blamed the attack on the Syrian government, were mostly based on speculation by analysts, accounts by unidentified witnesses and material evidence submitted by third parties with no chain of custody being implemented.

In November, the mechanism's mandate expired and Moscow vetoed a resolution to extend its authority, arguing that it was effectively "dead" and couldn't be revived, stressing a need for a new, "professional, objective and unbiased" mechanism to replace its discredited predecessor. Moscow at the time proposed a resolution to create one but it was not passed by the UNSC.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Nebenzia did not specify if Russia would put the resolution to a vote on Tuesday. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she is looking forward to the Security Council voting on the resolution proposed by the US.

 

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian man collects and bags the body of a dead bird, reportedly killed by a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province © Omar haj kadour

The US draft, leaked to the media, implies that Syria might be found in violation of UNSC Resolution 2118 as a result of the investigation by a proposed "Independent Mechanism of Investigation."  The resolution, adopted in 2013, provided for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Damascus has repeatedly stressed its compliance, denying allegations of the use of toxic agents in the offensives on rebel-held regions.

"The Syrian Arab Republic stresses once again it does not possess any chemical weapons of any type, including chlorine," Jaafari said at Monday’s UNSC meeting.

The US-sponsored draft "condemns in the strongest terms the continued use of chemical weapons" and also stipulates that measures might be taken against Syria under the UN Charter Chapter 7, which paves the way for the use of force.

Nebenzia denounced the draft, saying that it contains "some unacceptable elements." "There is nothing there that would meet the high standards of the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention," he said.

The UNSC President, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations, said that he expects the countries' delegations to continue to work on the draft for the rest of Monday and on Tuesday, describing the situation as "very difficult."

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Will Syria peace trio succeed given all three have different agendas?

Although Russia, Iran and Turkey have different objectives in Syria, the summit in Ankara showed that they all seek the territorial integrity of the country, experts told RT, warning however that the region is in serious turmoil.

Three of the power brokers of peace in Syria met in Ankara on April 4 in an effort to reduce the violence in the war-torn country: Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani met for a trilateral summit hosted by their Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

RT discussed the results of the summit with Middle East experts.

Asked about the three-way cooperation and how it is going to work, given that Russia, Iran and Turkey have their own plans and are supporting different sides in the conflict, Abdel Bari Atwan, an author and Middle East analyst, said “there is a common ground which makes three leaders work together, especially on Syria.” 

 
© Umit Bektas

“I have looked at the final communiqué of their meeting during the summit in Ankara. It was very clear that they have agreed on a lot of things,” he said.

In particular, the joint statement says that the three leaders “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighboring countries.”

According to Atwan, this means that there is no chance for a Kurdish entity to be established in Syria.

Another important point mentioned in the statement was that “they agreed that there should be stability and security in Syria in order to allow the Syrian refugees to go back to Syria.”

“The third one, which is also extremely important, [is] not to use the terrorist as a pretext to keep foreign forces in northern Syria, which is a clear reference to the American 2,000 troops based there,” he added. 

Emre Caliskan, co-author of ‘The 'New Turkey' and its Discontents,’ told RT that although three countries have different agendas, in terms of the future of Syria, they agreed on one thing: “They all want to respect the territory unification of Syria, they all want not to have American influence in the region.”

Joshua Landis, director at the Center of Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma, argues “it is going to be very difficult” for these trilateral efforts to rebuild Syria, considering US troops are still stationed there.

 
FILE PHOTO: Refugees is a camp near Gaziantep, Turkey, April 23, 2016. © Umit Bektas

“What we are seeing today is that Syria is increasingly being divided into three zones: a Russian and Assad zone, an American and Kurdish zone and a Turkish zone where the rebel militias hold sway,” he noted. Landis said that “this is a period of great turmoil.”

“As we’ve seen, President Trump wants to bring the troops out of Syria, he doesn’t believe that America has long-term interests in Syria. Of course, America’s allies have a lot of interests: Saudi Arabia, Israel, they do not want to see the US leave Syria. They want the US to turn up the pressure on Iran and to hurt Persia as much as they possibly can,” he explained.

“The US holds about 50 percent of Syria’s oil and much of its best agricultural lands. To give those back in a sense to the Syrian government or to allow Turkey and Syria to take over its northern section of Syria would be a blow to those two countries who don’t want to see Syria back on the stage, particularly, now that Assad and Iran still have influence there, and now that Russia has influence there,” Landis pointed out, adding that “they want to hurt Russia.”

“And we saw McMaster, the national security adviser, who was just fired, say the Russia has not paid a high enough price. There are many policy advisers who want the US to make Russia pay a higher price, to make Iran pay a higher price. This confusion goes right through the policy-making community in the US. And it does make the US look very disorganized indeed.”

According to political analyst Seyyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, “the US has grown so weak in Syria and in the region that we heard just very recently that Donald Trump said that they want to pull out unless the Saudis pay for their stay in Syria.”

“The US has grown so weak that they cannot have any major say or any say in Syria, so what they are doing is that they are playing negativism, they are trying to sabotage peace and welfare of the Syrian nation. And they are trying to sabotage the restoration of stability in Syria and in the region in order to be given a part in there,” he told RT.

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‘Syrian ceasefire problematic because of sponsors fueling violence’

Terrorist groups have instructions to escalate violence in Syria, and are so desperate that they could resort to using chemical weapons, political science professor Maged Botros told RT.

Syria's ceasefire agreed upon by the UN Security Council on Saturday appears already to be unraveling with reports of violations in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

The Western media was quick to point the finger at the Assad government. Damascus has been bombing Eastern Ghouta for a week, targeting Al-Nusra Front terrorists – something which is allowed under the UN resolution.

However, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, it was militants in Eastern Ghouta who violated the truce. Moscow says Damascus was shelled several times after the ceasefire came into force.

Political science professor Maged Botros says the violence is unlikely to end soon.

 

FILE PHOTO © Bassam Khabieh

In his view, while the ceasefire could break the “vicious circle of seven years of human atrocities,” no government would “allow its capital to be shelled all the time.” Besides that, he told RT, the Syrian government is alleging that the terrorists are using human shields in Ghouta.

He is also skeptical that the truce will work “simply because there are sponsors of violence, they are fueling violence: you have Qatar, you have Turkey, you have other states, they have interests in Syria.”

Following the vote, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said that “it would be naive to think that internal Syrian questions can be solved by a resolution.” He added that Moscow had “supported the intentions” behind the document, but that no ceasefire was possible “without agreement from warring parties.”

According to Botros, “all the parties involved have interest to continue on with this violence.”

In a joint telephone call with the Kremlin on Sunday, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure the ceasefire was fully implemented as soon as possible.

Botros argues though that it is not in Russia's hands as Moscow cannot put pressure on terrorist groups.

“Terrorist groups have instructions to escalate violence. Terrorist groups are in the state of desperation. They are so desperate that I can believe that they use chemical weapons as the last card on the table,” he told RT.     

‘It is imperative for the Syrian govt to take over Eastern Ghouta’

Dr. Jamal Wakeem, professor of history and international relations at Lebanese University in Beirut, told RT that “the US thinks that the ceasefire was meant not for the Syrian government to take control of Eastern Ghouta, which should remain a region to direct a threat to the capital, to Damascus.”

RT: Do you think this ceasefire will be possible to implement?

 

Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria. February 22, 2018. © Bassam Khabieh

Jamal Wakeem: I believe that the ceasefire is conditional and this is noted in the UN resolution because the Syrian government and its Russian ally will continue its operation against Al-Nusra and ISIS (Islamic State/IS) which are on the terrorist lists. This is on the one hand. And on the other hand, I believe that we need to see what would be the reaction of the US because the US was the one to call for the UN resolution, for the ceasefire at the beginning. However, the Russian intervention amended this ceasefire to fit the needs for fighting terrorism in Syria. While the US thinks that the ceasefire was meant not for the Syrian government to take control of Eastern Ghouta, which should remain a region to direct a threat to the capital, to Damascus. And there were plans to link Eastern Ghouta to Al-Tanf region controlled by the US, to open a corridor that would allow US troops and US-backed terrorists to reach the outskirts of Damascus. I don’t trust the American intentions.      

RT: Turkey claims the resolution doesn’t affect its operation against Kurdish groups in Afrin. Is this a fair interpretation of the ceasefire agreement?

JW: The Turks are manipulating the resolution the way they want because so far after one month of military operation they didn’t achieve tangible results in the outskirts of Afrin. They couldn’t take hold of the city. The Kurdish parties mended fences with the Syrian government. And the city went back to government control in Syria. Erdogan wanted that a certain situation would be imposed in northern Syria that could fit his own interests and that he could present it as a gain to the Turkish public. And that is why the Turkish government declared that… it will continue its military operation.  

RT: With parts of Eastern Ghouta occupied by terrorist groups that are not party to the ceasefire, how can any safe humanitarian access be guaranteed?

JW: I believe that the humanitarian aid that the US called for is a mere pretext for it to open the corridor to the terrorists and to supply them with ammunition and with other logistics. I believe that this was the true intention of the US. That is why I believe that Russians has to intervene and to amend the resolution as to fit the strategy of fighting terrorism, mainly ISIS and Al-Nusra. We need to admit the fact that the US is using terrorist groups as tools for its war by proxy on the Syrian government and on Syria and also on the Iraqi government to control these two countries that are highly strategic for American geopolitical strategy in the region.  

Eastern Ghouta is the last stronghold for the terrorists to direct attacks on the Syrian capital. The insurgents or the terrorists are launching continuous attacks on civilians in the eastern part of the city. And many civilians have died so far. That is why for the Syrian government it is imperative to take over Eastern Ghouta.

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Moscow slams ‘illegal’ US presence in Syria as Pentagon reserves right for ‘defensive’ attacks

Russia has reminded the US that its presence in Syria is illegal after the coalition struck pro-government militias. Washington however reserved the right for “defensive” attacks to achieve peace “from a position of strength.”

The US presence in Syria is “actually illegal,” the Russian Ambassador to the UN reminded his Western counterparts on Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council. “Nobody invited them there,” Vasily Nebenzya stated, emphasizing that a hard fought for stability in Syria is being jeopardized by US actions.

On Wednesday, the US-led coalition said it carried out several “defensive” airstrikes on Syrian forces in Deir Ez-Zor province in retaliation for what they described as an “unprovoked” attack on the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and foreign military “advisers.”

 
FILE PHOTO. Oil well on the outskirts of the city of Deir ez-Zor. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Syrian militia unit was advancing against a “sleeper cell” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists near the former oil processing plant of al-Isba, when it suddenly came under massive air strikes. At least 25 militiamen were injured in the attack, the Russian MoD noted, clarifying that pro-government troops targeted by the coalition did not coordinate their operation with the Russian command.

The US, however, maintains that the militia attacked the SDF. The Pentagon said Syrian forces moved “in a battalion-sized unit formation, supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.” The battle which lasted over three hours, the US claims, began after 30 artillery tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF unit’s location.

“At the start of the unprovoked attack on Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers, coalition aircraft, including F-22A Raptors and MQ-9B Reapers, were overhead providing protective overwatch, defensive counter air and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] support as they have 24/7 throughout the fight to defeat ISIS,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Military.com.

“Following a call for support from Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” he said in a statement Thursday. “These aircraft released multiple precision-fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the advancing aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks.”

@RT_com 'Actions of the US coalition do not comply with legal norms. Beyond all doubt, it is aggression' https://on.rt.com/8yo4

Damascus called the attack a “war crime,” while the Russian military asserted that Washington’s true goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova affirmed that the US military presence in Syria poses a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the strike another violation of Syria’s sovereignty by the US.

The US, however, remained unmoved, promising to continue to support the US-allied forces in Syria at any cost. “We continue to support SDF with respect to defeating ISIS... ISIS is still there, and our mission is still to defeat ISIS,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday. “We will continue to support them. Our goal is to ensure that our diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength, with respect to the Geneva process.”

@RT_com 'What right does the US have to defend illegal formations in Syria?' - former US diplomat @JimJatras https://on.rt.com/8yow

“They [US] constantly assert that they are fighting international terrorism there, but we see that they go beyond this framework,” Nebenzya told the UNSC. He warned the US-led coalition members that it is “criminal” to engage the only forces “who actually fight” international terrorism in Syria.

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‘US Stinger or Soviet Strela’: Heat-seeking missile that downed Su-25 jet probed by Moscow

A Russian Su-25 warplane was likely shot down by a heat-seeking missile, senior official Vladimir Shamanov said. As Syrian forces try to reach the crash site, Moscow has launched a probe into the origins of the fatal weapon.

The existing evidence clearly indicates that the Russian Su-25 plane, shot down over Syria on Saturday, was hit by a heat-seeking missile, the head of the Russian lower house Defense Committee and former chief of airborne troops said. The exact type of man-portable air-defense (MANPAD) system used, however, could be only determined upon examining the remains of the plane, which crashed in a militant-controlled area.

 

A still from a video uploaded to the YouTube channel

“It’s impossible to determine which MANPAD it was until the crash site is secured – an old ‘Strela’, a newer ‘Igla’, or an American ‘Stinger’,” Shamanov told reporters on Monday. “It’s only clear, looking at the trajectory of the plane’s fall, that its right engine was burning. It means that a heat-seeking missile hit the engine.”

The Syrian military has been trying to reach the crash site, according to Shamanov.

“Syrian special forces are trying to get there for the third day straight. Regular Syrian troops are also conducting their operation in the area,” the official said. Russia, meanwhile, has launched its own investigation into the incident.

The Su-25 was downed over a territory in Syria’s Idlib governorate, controlled by the terrorist group Tahrir al-Sham, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. The pilot, Major Roman Filipov, managed to eject safely, but landed in the terrorist-controlled territory. The pilot engaged in a gun battle with the militants and detonated a grenade when surrounded.

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US anti-ISIS Coalition Claims to Have Killed 800 Civilians

The coalition, which has been operating in Syria in breach of international law, has claimed responsibility for around 800 civilian deaths.

The U.S.-led international anti-Islamic State coalition acknowledged that its attacks in Syria and Iraq against the so-called Islamic State group have killed 801 civilians since 2014.

ANALYSIS: Raqqa Offensive Highlights US Human Rights Hypocrisy

A coalition report found that at least 801 civilians were killed inadvertently during operations in the two countries. The coalition is allegedly investigating the deaths of 695 more civilians.

The U.S.-led coalition includes more than 70 members and has been operating against the Islamic State group since 2014 without the approval of the Syrian government.

Along with this, the coalition operates a military base in the Syrian city of al-Tanf near the Jordanian border to “fight the terrorists.” The coalition also holds positions in Iraq to assists in operations in the country, which borders Syria.

On November 19, the United Nations (UN) coordinator for Syrian humanitarian affairs, Ali al-Zaatari, asked the participants in the conflict to stop bombings in residential areas where civilians have seen massive casualties.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has loosened the rules of engagement, making bombings less discriminate in both Iraq and Syria, with many blaming his administration for a spike in civilian casualties, particularly in Raqqa and Mosul.

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No more ‘fighting ISIS?’ US to stay in Syria to prevent ‘win’ for Assad and Iran – report

The US plans to keep its troops in Syria long after the defeat of ISIS – the goal used to justify their illegal presence in the first place – because the Syrian government and its ally Iran would “win” if they were withdrawn, the Washington Post reported.

The Trump administration is “expanding its goals” in Syria to include a “potentially open-ended commitment” to support the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing several anonymous US officials. The change comes as the defeat of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria seems imminent.

 
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis © Aaron P. Bernstein 

Washington has been justifying its deployment of ground troops in Syria, which violates the embattled nation’s sovereignty, by citing the need to fight IS. US Defense Secretary James Mattis last week went so far as to erroneously claim that the US had been given a mandate to be in Syria, stating: “You know, the UN said that … basically we can go after ISIS. And we're there to take them out.”

While Washington has a history of skipping UN approval for its military interventions, be it in Syria or in other sovereign states, it appears that the semblance of legitimacy for keeping hundreds of troops in Syria is about to be dispelled. WaPo sources say that Washington actually sees its boots on the ground as a source of leverage in dealing with the government of President Bashar Assad and his allies.

“An abrupt US withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival – an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally. To avoid that outcome, US officials say they plan to maintain a US troop presence in northern Syria… and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas,” the newspaper said.

If true, it means Washington will be actively promoting Kurdish separatism to spite Damascus and Tehran, while paying lip service to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity.

“The conditions are there for the counter-ISIS campaign to morph into a counter-Iran campaign,” Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security told WaPo. “By placing no timeline on the end of the US mission… the Pentagon is creating a framework for keeping the US engaged in Syria for years to come.”

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