Emboldened by civil war gains, Syria says it will recapture Golan too

Emboldened by civil war gains, Syria says it will recapture Golan too

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem at UN also accuses Israel of supporting and protecting terrorists in southern Syria

File -- Walid Al-Moualem, Foreign Minister of Syria, addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 24, 2016 (AFP/Kena Betancur)
File -- Walid Al-Moualem, Foreign Minister of Syria, addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 24, 2016 (AFP/Kena Betancur)

Syria’s foreign minister on Saturday said his country aims to reoccupy the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and accused the Jewish state of sponsoring “terrorist organizations” fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, declaring that victory after seven years of civil war was almost at hand.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus aimed to recapture the Golan Heights just as it had recently reasserted control in the Syrian Golan in a Russian-backed offensive.

“Just as we liberated southern Syria from terrorists, we are determined to liberate fully the occupied Syrian Golan to the lines of June 4, 1967,” he told the high-level UN meeting.

The Golan was captured by Israel in 1967 when it fought Egypt, Syria, and Jordan during the Six Day War. It was later annexed by Israel in a move not recognized internationally.

A picture taken on July 19, 2018 from the Golan Heights shows smoke rising in an area where Russian-backed government forces in Syria have been carrying air strikes near the village of al-Rafid in the southern Syrian province of Quneitra. (AFP/ JALAA MAREY)

Muallem also accused Israel of backing terror groups in southern Syria, likely a reference to support Israel has provided rebels groups, according to foreign reports, as well as aid given refugees who have fled to Israel’s border during the years of war.

He said Israel had “protected them through direct military intervention and launching repeated attacks on Syria.”

A picture taken on July 17, 2018 from the Golan Heights shows refugees coming to fence border between Syria and Israel by a camp for displaced Syrians near the Syrian village of Burayqah in the southern province of Quneitra. (AFP /JALAA MAREY)

Syrian state media often describe Israeli air strikes against Syrian or Iranian military sites as support for terror groups.

Muallem’s upbeat speech praised the army and the Syrian people for remaining “defiant” during the war, “fully convinced that this was a battle for their existence.” He bashed Western and other countries supporting the opposition, alluding to their failed effort to install a transition government and get rid of Assad.

“To the disappointment of some, here we are today more than seven years into this dirty war against my country, announcing to the world that the situation on the ground has become more secure and stable, and that our battle against terrorism is almost over,” Muallem said.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have retaken most of the territory rebels seized during the war that has killed over 400,000 people and driven millions from their homes. President Bashar Assad’s government refers to all armed opposition and rebel groups fighting Syrian forces as “terrorists,” not just Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

The Syrian statesman denounced US, French, and Turkish forces operating in his country as “occupying forces” and demanded that they leave immediately.

Moualem said the foreign forces were on Syrian soil illegally, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and “will be dealt with accordingly.”

“They must withdraw immediately and without any conditions,” he told the assembly.

A US soldier sits on an armored vehicle at a newly installed position in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Last week, Russia and Turkey agreed to a deal which stopped an imminent Syrian government offensive to retake the last major rebel stronghold in the northern province of Idlib. It calls for setting up a demilitarized zone around Idlib to separate government forces from rebels, including those from the al-Qaeda-linked group formerly known as the Nusra Front.

“We hope that when the agreement is implemented, the Nusra Front and other terrorists will be eradicated, thus eliminating the last remnants of terrorism in Syria,” Muallem said.

A Syrian rebel fighter from the recently-formed “National Liberation Front” takes part in combat training at an unknown location in the northern countryside of the Idlib province on September 11, 2018, in anticipation for an upcoming offensive by government forces. (AFP Photo/Aaref Watad)

He offered no hard evidence to back up his assertions that victory was near. Emails seeking comment from the US, France and Turkey weren’t immediately answered.

Muallem said Damascus would continue “fighting this sacred battle until we purge all Syrian territories” of both terror groups and “any illegal foreign presence.”

The United States has some 2,000 troops in Syria, mainly training and advising both Kurdish forces and Syrian Arabs opposed to Assad. France has more than 1,000 troops on the ground in the war-wracked country.

The situation on the ground “is more stable and secure thanks to combating terrorism” and “all conditions are now present for the voluntary return of refugees,” he said.

Muallem blamed the international community for “spreading irrational fears” that prompted refugees to stay away.

“We have called upon the international community and humanitarian organizations to facilitate these returns,” he said. “They are politicizing what should be a purely humanitarian issue.”

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