U.S. rejects Bashar al-Assad’s offer to cooperate with West against terrorism

Damascus will cooperate with the West and the international community to combat terrorism, its Foreign Minister said on Monday, but warned that any attacks against militants within its borders would be considered acts of aggression.

“Whoever wants to coordinate and cooperate with us should be taking the matter seriously, and not with double standards,” Walid al- Moallem told reporters in Damascus.

The United States has repeatedly rejected any cooperation with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in combatting Islamist terrorists in Syria, saying the leader was responsible for the current civil war, which arose after pro-reform protests were brutally put down.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday that any action in Syria must involve Arab countries, and come “from multiple directions in order to initially disrupt and eventually defeat them. It has to happen with them, much less with us”. That could put any action at odds with the stance laid out in Mr. al-Moallem’s speech, during which he welcomed this month’s U.N. Security Council condemnation of radical Islamists operating in Iraq and Syria, “even if it was late”. He made clear that any action against the Islamic State — a militant Sunni group that has carved out a self-declared caliphate in territory overrun from Syria and Iraq — within Syrian territory would be considered an aggressive act.

“We are committed to implementing the international resolution against terrorism, and the resolution does not give a mandate to anyone” to breach the sovereignty of any country, Mr. al-Moallem said.

Washington has sharpened its tone against Islamic State terrorists in Syria since the August 19 release of a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.

The White House on Friday deemed it a terrorist attack upon the U.S., but on Monday Mr. Dempsey said there was no evidence that Islamic State militants were actively “plotting against the homeland”. Dempsey last week said the militants could not be defeated without action against their strongholds in Syria. The White House has said it would not be “restricted” by borders.

U.S. not decided on military option against ISIL

On Monday, President Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest backpedalled, saying, “What you shouldn’t necessarily do is jump to the conclusion that that means robust American military action is required in Syria to further or accomplish that goal.” Mr. Earnest said Mr. Obama would not hesitate to use military force to protect Americans and would continue to consult with Congress about military actions. The Defence Department is always planning for a range of options, he said.

“The President has not made a decision to pursue any sort of military action in Syria,” Mr. Earnest noted.

The Islamic State has been fighting rival rebels and Kurdish forces, and, to a lesser extent, the Syrian Army.

The U.N. resolution called on member states to take measures to prevent residents from travelling to join terrorist outfits and to block the movement of terrorists and their supply with arms or financial support.

Mr. Al-Moallem said Syria should be “inside the international coalition to fight terrorism” and charged there had been no “seriousness” as yet by the West to fight terrorism.

Syrian authorities term all rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad “terrorists”. They have repeatedly portrayed the conflict in Syria as one between a legitimate government and Islamist extremists.

Mr. Al-Moallem confirmed that military personnel withdrew from the Tabqa military airport “to secure their safety”. Islamic State militants seized full control of a major Syrian airbase, the last government outpost in the north-eastern province of al-Raqqa, a watchdog group said on Monday.

“The Tabqa military facility has fallen in the hands of the IS fighters, but the Syrian Army Air Force has carried several airstrikes on the base earlier Monday,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.

“There are 150 Syrian Army soldiers whose fate is still unknown,” he said, noting that the missing soldiers were mainly from Mr. al-Assad’s Alawite sect.

The Observatory said at least 346 extremists have been killed and hundreds more wounded since the Islamic State launched its Tabqa offensive a week ago. The watchdog said more than 170 Syrian Army soldiers were killed.

Most government troops withdrew into the desert, west of the Tabqa military airport after the jihadists left the road open for them to evacuate, the Observatory said.

Islamic State, which has captured swathes of northern Iraq since June, had previously established full control last year of al-Raqqa province, with the exception of three heavily defended military bases. The other two both fell in recent weeks.

The jihadists have made considerable territorial gains in eastern Syria in recent months, capturing most of Deir al-Zour province to link its strongholds in al-Raqqa and across the border in Iraq.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 7:15:55 AM |

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