Syria blasts U.S. for tying military presence to peace talks
DAMASCUS/MOSCOW: Damascus Tuesday blasted U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for saying a U.S.-led coalition would continue fighting in Syria until talks to end the conflict there make progress.
Mattis told reporters Monday that the U.S.-led coalition’s goal was to battle Daesh (ISIS) while finding a diplomatic solution to Syria’s 6-year-old war.
But Syria’s Foreign Ministry shot back Tuesday, saying it “categorically rejected” U.S. efforts to link peace talks to military action.
“Linking the U.S.’ presence in Syria to a settlement process is just a pretext and an attempt to justify this presence,” a source at the Foreign Ministry said, quoted by state news agency SANA.
“The United States and others will not be able to impose any solution with military pressure – on the contrary, this presence will only prolong and complicate the crisis,” the statement said.
It demanded the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces” from Syrian territory.
The U.S. and Russia issued a joint presidential statement Saturday saying there was “no military solution” to Syria’s grinding conflict.
Mattis said Monday that the coalition would keep fighting to “set the conditions for a diplomatic solution.” “We’re not just going to walk away right now until the Geneva process has traction,” he told reporters.
U.S troops and advisers are supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against Daesh militants in northern and eastern Syria. Kurdish officials want the U.S. troops to remain in the country to help prevent clashes with pro-government forces, which are also battling Daesh.
A new round of negotiations is scheduled to take place from Nov. 28, a process headed by the United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
Fears about how the messy array of forces active in Syria may collide have grown as Daesh loses its last major stronghold and the focus shifts back to Syria’s intractable conflict between regime forces and opposition groups.
Russia’s Defense Ministry posted satellite photographs Tuesday that it said proved the United States provided de facto air cover for Daesh in Syria and tried to hinder Russian airstrikes on militants, but social media users pointed out they included a still from a video game.
Hours later, the Defense Ministry said an employee had attached the wrong photos, adding that it would investigate the incident, which it said was caused by a civilian employee, but did not say how or why the pictures used were incorrect.
“However, the U.S. command’s refusal to carry out strikes on the convoys of ISIL [Daesh] terrorists retreating from Albukamal on Nov. 9 is an objective fact reflected in the transcripts of the talks and therefore, fully known to the U.S. side,” Interfax news agency quoted the ministry as saying Tuesday.
At least one of the photographs exactly matched a frame from a promotional video for a “AC-130 Gunship Simulator” computer game posted online in March 2015.
Asked about Russian allegations of the U.S. helping the militants around Albukamal, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh, said: “The Russian Ministry of Defense statements are about as accurate as their air campaign and I think that is a reason for them to start, you know, coming out with their latest barrage of lies.”
“I certainly can’t verify, but I’ve seen the report that one of the pictures came from a video game. So, again that is pretty consistent with what we have seen come out of Russian MoD, as being baseless, inaccurate and you know, completely false,” he told a briefing with Pentagon reporters Tuesday.
Separately, Syrian rescue workers continued their search for victims still under the rubble a day after airstrikes hit a busy market in a rebel-held town of Atareb, west of Aleppo, killing at least 61 people and wounding 90, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rescuers.
According to the Britain-based activist group, there were at least three airstrikes on the market in the town of Atareb Monday. Those killed included six women, five children and three police officers.
Atareb is inside what is known as a “de-escalation” zone under an agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran to reduce the bloodshed.
But despite the diplomatic efforts, fighting continues in many areas, including Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hama. – Agencies