Chairman of the Syrian Democratic Council Rezan Hiddo said that the council is awaiting for the reaction of Syria and Russia to Turkey’s alleged training of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants to launch an operation in the Northern Syrian city of Afrin, in the wake of the US’ decision to arm the Syrian Kurds. “According to the received intel, Turkey is training FSA forces in order to carry out an operation in Afrin. Turkey decided to conduct the operation after the United States made the decision to supply weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey cannot conduct ground operations in Kobani and Qamishli, as there are US troops there, but there are none in Afrin, that is why Turkey plans to carry out the operation here… We are waiting for the reaction of the Syrian and Russian governments in response to the Turkish plans,” Hiddo told Sputnik.
Second rounds of trilateral meetings between Iranian, Russian and Syrian defense ministers was held in Moscow on the sidelines of the 6th Conference on International Security. During the meeting, Hossein Dehqan, Sergey Shoygu and Fahd Jassem al-Freij underlined convergence among Tehran, Moscow and Damascus against terrorism. They discussed latest field developments in Syria and explored avenues for fighting against terrorism. The three defense minister also underlined continuation of joint full-scale action to eliminate roots of insecurity and violence in the region. They condemned recent US attack against an airfield in Syria, noting that such treachery attacks in support of terrorists should be halted. They stressed joint decisive action against terrorists to prevent terrorist’s reinforcement and to help establishment of peace in the war-torn region. The first round of the trilateral talks was held in Tehran in 2016.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis landed in Israel on Thursday as part of his first official visit to the Middle East. Mattis met Friday with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Tel Aviv, before heading to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Pentagon chief was also scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin. While in the country, Mattis plans to discuss U.S. Israel ties and the challenges facing the Middle East, chiefly Iran and its attempts to consolidate its regional dominance.During a press conference in Tel Aviv, Mattis said Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 agreement to get rid of its entire stockpile. He reiterated the U.S.’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and its qualitative security advantage over Iran”, adding that Washington looks forward to increasing its defense ties with Israel and to “strengthen our alliance with Israel as a cornerstone of our cooperation with Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states. My goal is to increase regional cooperation.”Lieberman thanked Mattis for his “friendship, support and understanding of the complexities and challenges Israel faces. There is no doubt that the main problem is the axis of evil from North Korea to Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah in Beirut. The common thread is Iran, which is trying to erode stability throughout the Middle East. We [Israel and the U.S.] share the same positions and values, and we hope that with your support we will be able to overcome the threats and bring stability to the region”. Lieberman went on to say that “on behalf of the Israeli public and myself, I would like to express my appreciation to the Trump administration. We are delighted to see the first visit by a [Trump] cabinet member, and we hope President Donald Trump visits Jerusalem this year as well”.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that the idea of laying blame for the suspected chemical weapon attack in Syria’s Idlib province on Damascus did not receive wide support at the conference in Brussels. The idea of laying blame for the suspected chemical weapon attack in Syria’s Idlib province on Damascus did not receive wide support at the conference in Brussels, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, warning against the use of the incident to disrupt Syria peace talks. The UN Security Council (UNSC) is held an emergency meeting to discuss the suspected chemical attack in Syria’s province of Idlib. The United Kingdom, France and the United States introduced a draft resolution in the UNSC claiming that the alleged April 4 chemical attack in Idlib was carried out by the Syrian army. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow categorically rejected the draft resolution. The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and some other sources reported on Tuesday that some 80 people were killed and 200 injured in a chemical weapon attack in Idlib, blaming the Syrian army for the incident. The Syrian Armed Forces rejected the allegations.
Fighting around Syria’s capital Damascus has cut 300,000 people off from humanitarian aid and pauses in the conflict are needed to let aid convoys in, Jan Egeland, U.N. humanitarian advisor on Syria, said on Thursday.”They are totally dependent on our supplies. Starvation will be just around the corner unless we get there in the coming weeks,” Egeland told Reuters in an interview after chairing the weekly Syria humanitarian taskforce meeting in Geneva.
Jihadists and other rebel groups made advances against the Syrian army north of Hama on Thursday, a war monitor said, part of their biggest offensive for months, underscoring the bleak prospects for peace talks which resume later in the day. The assault coincides with clashes in the capital Damascus, where rebels and the army are fighting on the edge of the city center in the Jobar district for a fifth day amid heavy bombardment, state media and the war monitor reported. Increased fighting, despite a ceasefire brokered in December by Russia and Turkey, casts further doubt on peacemaking efforts in Geneva, where talks resume on Thursday after making no progress towards peace in recent rounds. “We hope to see some serious partner on the other side of the table”, Salem al-Muslet, spokesman for the opposition’s High Negotiating Committee (HNC), said in Geneva.
Syrian rebels stormed a government-held area in northeastern Damascus on Tuesday for the second time in three days, sources on both sides said, pressing the boldest assault on the capital by opposition fighters in several years. The rebel groups have launched the assault from their Eastern Ghouta stronghold to the east of the capital. Wael Alwan, the spokesman of rebel group Failaq al Rahman, told Reuters: “We launched the new offensive and we restored all the points we withdrew from on Monday”.
Syrian government forces have retaken the areas lost yesterday in Damascus during an anti-regime offensive, according to state news agency SANA, citing the General Staff of the Armed Forces. According to the General Staff, loyalist forces retook control of the “points where terrorists had infiltrated”, referring to opposition militants. Members of al-Qaeda also participated in the anti-government offensive on Sunday in the Jobar quarter.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura has condemned Wednesday’s terrorist attacks in Damascus saying they are plainly designed to spoil attempts to sustain political talks. “The Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura condemns the terrorist attacks in Damascus which have claimed the lives of innocent civilians. These attacks are also plainly designed to spoil attempts to sustain political talks”, de Mistura’s office said in a statement on Wednesday.
Peace efforts for Syria floundered on March 15 as a third round of talks that were sponsored by Russia and Turkey ended with no progress after rebels refused to show up to a meeting in Kazakhstan. Regime supporters Russia and Iran along with rebel-backer Turkey have been pushing negotiations in Astana since January after gains on the ground by Damascus turned the tables in the six-year war. The latest two-day meeting saw a delegation from Damascus meet with representatives from the three powers, but leaders of armed rebel groups stayed away for the first time over alleged violations of a fragile cease-fire deal.