The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Jordan and Syria reopen Nassib border crossing
Foreign minister says govt’s next target is the ‘vital’ oil-rich area east of the Euphrates
JABER, Jordan/BEIRUT: The border crossing between Jordan and Syria opened to people and goods Monday after being closed for three years, reopening a route that used to carry billions of dollars of trade for countries across the region.
The Nassib crossing opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), a Jordanian border official said. By 1130 GMT Reuters had seen a Syrian business delegation cross into Jordan, and a couple of dozen civilians leave Jordan, but no trucks in either direction.
“We are fully ready to receive passengers and transport of goods,” Imad Riyalat, head of the Jaber checkpoint on the Jordanian side, told Reuters. “We expect the traffic to be slow now at the start, but in coming days we expect passenger movement to pick up.”
Jordan’s state news agency Petra said 199 people crossed to Syria Monday, of whom 37 were Syrians and the rest Jordanians.
A Syrian business delegation arrived at the crossing saying the opening would herald a boost in trade. “We expect an improvement in both countries’ economies,” Mohammad Hamsho, a prominent Syrian businessmen, told Reuters.
The Syrian government retook the area in July during a Russianbacked offensive to drive rebels from their stronghold in southwest Syria.
The crossing’s closure in 2015 cut a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Turkey and the Gulf, and Lebanon and the Gulf, in multibillion-dollar annual trade.
While the crossing was closed, Syria’s only normally operating frontier crossing had been with Lebanon, which itself has no other functioning land borders.
Lebanon relies on Syria for overland connections to all other countries because its only other frontier is with Israel, with which it has no ties.
Petra said Syrians entering Jordan must first obtain security clearance from Jordanian authorities, as has been the case throughout the their country’s war.
Government officials who were absent from the opening said privately the move would not signify a thaw in political ties with Damascus which have long been cold.
Jordan, a staunch U.S. ally, supports its Arab Gulf allies in their tough stance against Iran’s role in the region.
Amman is concerned about the expanding influence of Tehranbacked militias in southern Syria, diplomats say.
Separately, Israel also reopened the Quneitra crossing on its occupied Golan Heights front with Syria. The Israeli military said only U.N. peacekeepers would be allowed across for now.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Before Syria’s civil war, which began more than seven years ago, Quneitra saw some traffic of Druze Arabs who live on both sides of the armistice line. Syrian government and allied forces took back that part of southern Syria from rebels in July. Syrian news agency SANA said the crossing had been closed for five years. –
BEIRUT: Syria’s foreign minister said Monday that Syrian forces stand ready to fight militants around the northwestern region of Idlib if a Russian-Turkish deal is not implemented there the same day, in keeping with a critical deadline.
The deal for Idlib sets up a buffer zone running 15-20 km deep into rebel territory that was supposed to be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all militants by Monday.
Foreign Minister Walid alMoallem said it was up to Russia now to judge whether the agreement, which staved off a government offensive on the last notable swathe of territory in insurgent hands after seven years of war, was being fulfilled.
“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Moallem said at a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus.
“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there [are] other options.”
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a militant alliance spearheaded by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, signaled Sunday that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it did not explicitly say so.
“We value the efforts of all those striving – at home and abroad – to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said in its statement. However, it added that HTS would not end its “jihad” or hand over its weapons.
Idlib’s other main rebel faction, a Turkish-aligned alliance of groups known as the National Liberation Front, has already expressed its support for the agreement.
Moallem further said the government’s next target after recovering Idlib from rebels would be the area east of the Euphrates, indicating territory held by the Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
“After Idlib our target is east of the Euphrates,” he said, adding that it is “impossible” for his government to give up on the “vital” oil-rich area.
Moallem said the Kurdish forces “must decide what they want,” and abandon “illusions” they’ll get a federal system. He says the government is determined to bring all of Syria under its control.
About 40 percent of Syria remains out of Damascus’ control now. The eastern part is controlled by the SDF, which chased Daesh (ISIS) militants out of there.
Jaafari meanwhile said Syria should not be isolated from its Arab neighbors and lauded Damascus for staying “strong” and united in the face of many adversities.
The 22-member Arab League froze Syria’s membership following the start of the civil war in 2011, which was followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties.
Jaafari added that “no one should isolate Syria” and that he has been advocating dialogue to restore ties.
Nearly 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the war, and the country has been devastated by the violence.
Jaafari said Syria and Iraq have been victorious in their fight against Daesh, which now only controls small pockets in Syria.