Syria’s president, Bashar-al Assad, has said that reports of a chemical weapons attack by his forces were “100% fabricated”. He told the AFP news agency that the Syrian government gave up its arsenal of chemical weapons in 2013, adding “even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them” and accused the West of making up events in Khan Sheikhoun so it had an excuse to carry out missile strikes on the government’s Shayrat airbase, which took place a few days after the alleged attack.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised more aid for Cairo’s counter-terrorism efforts and economic development plan during a meeting with Egyptian counterpart SamehShoukry in Washington on Monday, adding that the Washington considers Cairo a real partner in the Middle East. The two officials stressed during their meeting the special and strategic ties that have binded the two countries for decades, vowing more cooperation on all levels. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry updated his US counterpart on the latest economic and security developments in Egypt, as well as the country’s counter-terrorism efforts. The two ministers also discussed a range of regional issues, including the Syrian crisis, where Shoukry stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to the conflict in a way that preserves the country’s territorial integrity and national institutions and achieves the hopes of the Syrian people. Shoukry also spoke with Tillerson about Egypt’s political efforts to end the crisis in Libya in accordance with the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement of 2015. On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian FM stressed the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state, pointing to Cairo’s efforts to return both sides to the negotiating table.
Shoukry will also discuss with US officials preparations for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Donald Trump, which will be the first meeting between an Egyptian and US president in years. The last official meeting in Washington of the countries’ two leaders was between former presidents Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush in 2004.
Israeli warplanes struck Hizbullah and Syrian army targets in a number of hills in the Syria-Lebanon border region at dawn Wednesday, media reports said, drawing a rebuttal from Hizbullah sources. “Suspected Israeli warplanes fired at least six missiles at the al-Qutaifa mountainous region in Damascus’ northeastern countryside, targeting arms depots in an area where the regime forces’ Third Division is deployed”, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, quoting “a number of credible sources”. The bombing caused “destruction” but “there are no reports of casualties until the moment”, the Observatory added. “Hizbullah sources denied that the raids had targeted areas inside Lebanon”, Sky News Arabia added. The Hizbullah-affiliated Military Media arm meanwhile said “reports claiming that Israeli raids have targeted a region in Lebanon’s Eastern Mountain Belt and resistance posts in the belt and Syria’s Qalamoun are baseless”.
The three sides of Iran, Russia, and Turkey meeting in Kazakhstan’s Astana to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria, have drafted a document over a joint committee tasked with safeguarding a current ceasefire in the country. Strengthening the ceasefire, promoting trust-building measures by the conflicting Syrian sides, as well as discussing any issues that would help Syrian-Syrian talks are among the missions of the committee, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who had attended the Astana talks on behalf of Iran, told the IRIB on February 16.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Monday he stood firm against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s “crimes”, at an event marking the anniversary of his father’s assassination that he has blamed on Damascus. Hariri, whose father Rafiq Hariri was killed along with 22 other people in a February 14, 2005 bomb blast on the Beirut seafront, was elected as the prime minister in November for a second time, under an arrangement struck with the pro-Syrian Shiite group Hezbollah. “We negotiated and we made compromises to preserve stability” in Lebanon, he said in an address to a packed hall in Beirut. “We have not made, and will not make, any compromise on principles such as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, on our point of view on Assad’s regime, our stand on illegitimate arms and on Hezbollah’s implication in Syria”, he said to loud applause.
Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs SamehShoukry received a phone call from the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on Tuesday to discuss the latest updates regarding the situation in Syria. A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the importance of Egypt’s role in supporting the agreement by urging different Syrian parties to implement the ceasefire agreement. The statement also cited De Mistura who asserted Egypt’s leading role in the Arab world, especially after its membership in the UN Security Council. Egypt has supported the political solution in Syria several times; however, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in an interview with a Portuguese TV channel, said that Egypt is siding with the Syrian Arab army, which is affiliated with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. However, Shoukry denied this statement several times last December, saying that Al-Sisi was not referring to the current Syrian government when he spoke of Egypt’s stance on Syria. Shoukry argued that Al-Sisi had been saying that national armies would be better in taking responsibility for fighting terrorism in their countries instead of relying on foreign intervention.
General Security agents arrested overnight in the Choueifat area a Syrian young man suspected of plotting to carry out an act of terror. “The detainee was working as a delivery boy for one of the restaurants and he was plotting to prepare an explosive device”. On Wednesday, General Security announced the arrest of two Islamic State-linked men suspected of planning a suicide attack in central Beirut, confirming earlier media reports. The arrests come two weeks after an attempted suicide attack at Hamra’s Costa cafe. He “confessed that he monitored the movements and addresses of political figures and their convoys crossing the city center,” General Security said in its statement on Wednesday. He had worked with a Palestinian operative to plan a suicide attack in the center of the capital, it said.