At UN, Syrian FM accuses Israel of backing ‘terror gangs’

In speech, Walid Muallem says Syria committed to retaking Golan Heights despite toll of grueling civil war

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem arrives to address the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Bryan R. Smith)
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem arrives to address the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Bryan R. Smith)

Syria’s foreign minister accused Israel of supporting “terror gangs” fighting against the Syrian regime in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, while also saying that the ongoing civil war has not diminished Damascus’ desire to retake the Golan Heights.

In his speech, Walid Muallem called Israel a “usurper entity” and said Israel intervened in Syria as an extension of its “horrific crimes against innocent civilians.”

“It has publicly interfered in the Syrian crisis since its early days. Israel has provided all forms of support to Takfirist terrorist gangs, including funds, weapons, material, and communication equipment,” said Muallem, according to the official SANA news agency.

“Israel has also bombed Syrian Army positions to serve terrorist agendas. Coordination between the two was at its best when terrorist groups decided to target Syrian air defense assets used to defend Syria against Israeli aggression,” he added. “The unlimited Israeli support to terrorists in Syria did not come as a surprise. After all, the two share the same interests and goals.”

Muallem did not provide any specifics to back his allegations of Israeli support for terror groups, a term often used by the Syrian to describe all of its opponents.

Israeli warplanes early on Friday morning struck a Hezbollah weapons depot outside Damascus, Arabic-language media outlets reported.

According to reports and a monitoring group, the three separate strikes were carried out near the Damascus International Airport, an area known to be a stronghold of the Iranian-backed terrorist group.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The Syrian foreign minister said that despite the toll the over six-year-long civil war has taken on the country, Syria was still committed to reclaiming the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from its northern neighbor in the 1967 Six Day War.

“It is delusional to believe, even for a moment, that the crisis in Syria will take us for our inalienable right to recover the occupied Syrian Golan fully to the lines of June 4, 1967,” he said.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows smoke rising near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Addressing the fighting in Syria, Muallem said a military victory in the civil war was “now within reach” following a series of battleground gains by government forces.

“The liberation of Aleppo and Palmyra, the lifting of the seige of Deir Ezzor and the eradication of terrorism from many parts of Syria prove that victory is now within reach,” he said.

Muallem, who also holds the rank of deputy prime minister in Bashar Assad’s government, said Syrian government forces will be remembered as heroes for their role in the war.

“When this unjust war in Syria is over, the Syrian army will go down in history as the army that heroically defeated, along with its supported forces and its allies, the terrorists that came to Syria from many countries,” he said.

Assad’s forces have been accused by western powers of carrying out atrocities, targeting civilians and using banned chemical weapons, an accusation that Muallem again rejected in his address.

More than 330,000 people have died in the war and more than 5 million Syrians have fled across borders to become refugees.

A picture taken from drone video footage on September 20, 2017, shows massive destruction in a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which has been ravaged by the six-year-long conflict. (AFP Photo/Mohamad Abazeed)

The United Nations is planning to convene a new round of peace talks in the coming weeks between Syria’s government and the opposition, even though past negotiations have failed to yield more than incremental progress.

The UN-brokered negotiations have hit a wall over opposition demands for a political transition paving the way for the end of Assad’s rule.

The foreign minister laid out what he termed as a “red line” in UN-brokered talks on ending the war, suggesting Damascus will never bow to international pressure for a political transition to end Assad’s rule.

The Syrian government rejects “any external interference in political decisions regarding Syria’s future,” said Muallem. “Only Syrians have the right to make such decisions, whether now or in the future.”

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