Syria blasts U.S. for ty­ing mil­i­tary pres­ence to peace talks

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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