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Syria claims Israel propping up rebel forces

At UN headquarters, Damascus envoy says Israeli strikes on Syrian soil aimed at backing opposition

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem (photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev)
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem (photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev)

Syria’s foreign minister on Friday accused Israel of assisting rebel forces fighting against the regime, Israel Radio reported, saying its intermittent strikes in Syrian territory were intended to prop up the weakened opposition.

Israel has carried out strikes in Syria from time to time, usually in response to shelling from across the border, or to prevent weapons from reaching Hezbollah forces.

It has admitted to providing medical aid to Syrian rebels, in exchange for promises to stay away from the border and avoid harming Syrian Druze. It has not admitted to military aid of any kind.

Addressing the summit of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, Walid Moallem said the so-called “Arab Spring” was such only for Israel, its allies and agents in the region.

Moallem said airstrikes against the Islamic State group “are useless” unless they are coordinated with the Syrian government.

He said Russia’s decision to start bombing targets was based on the Assad government’s request and was effective because it supported Syria’s efforts to combat terrorism.

“Terrorism cannot be fought only from the air, and all of the previous operations to combat it have only served its spread and outbreak,” Moallem said.

“Airstrikes are useless unless they are conducted in cooperation with the Syrian army, the only force in Syria that is combating terrorism,” he added.

Moscow, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, began launching airstrikes in Syria this week, adding another layer of tension over the war. The Syrian army had already been joined by fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group and other Iranian-backed militias.

Moallem pledged to continue the war against “terror” while also committing to a political track to end Syria’s civil war, which is now in its fifth year and has killed more than a quarter of a million people. An estimated 4 million people have fled.

Despite severe losses on the battlefield and his country’s growing reliance on Iran and Russia, Moallem also said that his country’s army “is capable of cleansing the country of those terrorists” and warned about the threat of a growing “caliphate state, which as you know, will not be limited to Syria or Iraq.”

Moallem announced Syria will participate in UN-led working groups toward a third round of peace talks in Geneva.

The UN’s envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has proposed four working groups on Syria as part of his latest efforts to bring Syria’s parties together toward a long-elusive agreement to end the conflict.

The groups are to hold simultaneous discussions among Syrian parties on issues such as protection of civilians, combating terrorism and political issues.

Moallem stressed that the working groups proposed by de Mistura are non-binding. The foreign minister described them as “brainstorming” sessions meant to prepare for new peace talks sometime in the future.

But he added: “How can we ask the Syrian people to head to the ballot box while they are not safe in the streets?”

He also said “no one should think that … they will achieve at the negotiating table what they failed to achieve on the ground.”

A UN spokeswoman said no date has been set yet for the beginning of the working groups’ sessions.

Asked about Moallem’s comments about the discussions being non-binding, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that “I wouldn’t interpret that as taking it not seriously.”

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