Russia denied on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to blame for a poison gas attack and said it would continue to back him, setting the Kremlin on course for its biggest diplomatic collision yet with Donald Trump’s White House. Western countries, including the United States, blamed Assad’s armed forces for the worst chemical attack in Syria for more than four years, which choked scores of people to death in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in a rebel-held area on Tuesday. Washington said it believed the deaths were caused by sarin nerve gas dropped by Syrian aircraft. But Moscow offered an alternative explanation that would shield Assad: that the poison gas belonged to rebels and had leaked from an insurgent weapons depot hit by Syrian bombs.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Monday it was too early to assess results of the fifth round of the Geneva talks on Syria. Gatilov’s remarks came upon his arrival to Geneva accompanied by Sergey Vershinin, the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry. He is expected to hold two meetings with the official delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic and representatives of “Moscow platform” opposition on Tuesday and a meeting with al-Riyadh opposition delegation on Wednesday.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated two villages from Islamic State (ISIS) control during the third phase of the Operation Wrath of Euphrates to isolate the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa. The two villages are situated near Swediyah al-Kabirah to the west of Raqqa. The SDF are currently advancing towards Raqqa on three fronts, and while progress during the third phase has been rapid, some fierce clashes have broken out as ISIS militants look to stem the SDF’s advance. After cutting several strategic roads, the SDF are moving closer to their aim of surrounding and isolating the Syrian city entirely, in anticipation of an operation to liberate the city from the jihadist group. That operation is believed to start within the coming weeks. The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters who have been successfully fighting ISIS in northern Syria, has been steadily moving in on the jihadist group in Raqqa for the past five months. The operation to isolate the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqa began on November 5, 2016.
Iran’s permanent representative envoy to the UN said Iran together with Russia and Turkey as Guarantor States will spare no efforts to guarantee the Ceasefire Regime in Syria, agreed on 30 December 2016. Here a citation: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, with the aim of ending the ongoing crises in Syria and within the framework of its principled policy based on respecting the Syrian territorial integrity and sovereignty, finding a political solution to the crisis through intra-Syrian talks and objection to the instrumental use of terrorism for political gains; has taken effective measures upon the request of the Syrian Arab Republic in different political, humanitarian and anti-terrorism areas, including sending humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians”.