DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s parliament speaker said Sunday that the US should work with Damascus to battle the Islamic State extremist group rather than allying with nations which he accused of supporting terrorism.
Speaker Jihad Laham was apparently referring to Saudi Arabia and other countries backing rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Obama is currently working to form a global coalition to confront the Islamic State group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. The US meanwhile has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq since August. Obama last week authorized strikes against the group in Syria.
US officials have ruled out direct coordination with Assad’s government, a move which has infuriated Syrian officials who say any airstrikes without their consent would be a breach of the country’s sovereignty.
They also appear to be concerned that an anti-Islamic State group coalition might ultimately shift targets to assist rebels in overthrowing Assad.
During a parliament session, Laham, the speaker, said those “who really want to combat terrorism, must cooperate with Syria in accordance with long-term plans and not by supporting terrorist organizations under false titles.”
The Assad government has repeatedly pitted the country’s conflict as a battle against terrorism. The armed, chaotic rebellion against Assad began after security forces violently cracked down on demonstrators during an uprising that began in March 2011. Syria’s rebel groups range from al-Qaeda linked extremists, to ultraconservative Muslims to relatively moderate groups.
Laham’s comments came as Syria’s Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that opposition fighters could use chemical weapons in order to blame government forces to create a pretext to call for international involvement.
The statement said that Damascus did not possess chemical weapons after it implemented its obligations regarding the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The OPCW said earlier this month that a toxic chemical, almost certainly chlorine, was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in attacks on villages in northern Syria earlier this year. But the OPCW did not apportion blame for the chlorine attacks on three villages in northern Syria. Rebels and government forces have blamed each other for using chlorine gas.
Last year, President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he was widely expected to announce punishing US airstrikes against Assad’s forces after blaming them for a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds. Damascus blamed opposition fighters for the attack.
“The Syrian Arab republic has repeatedly confirmed… that it will never use chemical weapons under any circumstance and warns simultaneously of the possibility that some regional and international parties … might supply armed terrorist groups with chemical weapons,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Meanwhile, at least 15 people in government-held areas across Syria were killed by rebel-fired mortar shells, state-run media said. Rebels often indiscriminately fire mortars into civilian areas controlled by the government, but such a high death toll is unusual, suggesting rebels have inched closer to government-controlled cities or improved their weaponry, much of which is made in local workshops.
State-run media said six people were killed in the southern Syrian province of Daraa, another three in Damascus and six in the northern city of Aleppo.
Another 17 people were killed in government airstrikes on the northeastern rebel-held town of Saraqeb, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said the number was likely to rise, as many civilians were still buried under the rubble of their destroyed homes.