Syrian PM, visiting ally Iran, says government winning civil war

BEIRUT Sat Nov 30, 2013 6:45pm EST

1 of 2. A resident walks his bicycle through damage and debris on a street Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria November 29, 2013.Picture taken November 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Prime Minister Wael Halki said on Saturday Syrian government forces were winning the war with rebels and would not rest while a single enemy fighter remained at large.

Maintaining Syria's unyielding response to Western calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, Halki said the era of "threats and intimidation has gone, never to return, while the era of victory and pride is being created now on Syrian soil".

He was speaking during a visit to Iran, which has provided military support and billions of dollars in economic aid to Assad during a 2-1/2-year-old civil war which has killed 100,000 people and shows little sign of being halted by diplomacy.

The United Nations said on Monday that a long-delayed "Geneva 2" peace conference would go ahead on January 22. The government and the political opposition have both said they will attend, but rebel fighters on the ground have scorned the talks.

Assad, whose forces have consolidated their hold around Damascus and central Syria this year, faces little internal pressure to make concessions to his opponents as long as he maintains military momentum and Iranian support.

"The Syrian government will not allow a single terrorist on Syrian territory," Halki told Iran's First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, according to Syria's state news agency SANA.

Jahangiri replied that Iran stood "in the same trench alongside Syria, supporting it at all levels against the aggressive axis of evil" aligned against Damascus, SANA said.

Iran has sent military commanders to Syria to help Assad's army, which is also bolstered by the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah militia and Iraqi Shi'ite fighters. They are battling rebels whose ranks are swollen by an influx of Sunni Islamist fighters from across the Muslim world.

The size of Halki's delegation, which included Syria's energy, electricity, health and foreign ministers, reflected the importance of the alliance between the two countries.

SANA said they discussed activating Iran's multi-billion dollar credit facility to Damascus, bringing Iranian companies back to Syria's war-ravaged economy and speeding up deals to provide oil products, medical equipment and food.

AIR RAIDS

Assad's forces, backed by Hezbollah and local militia, have been fighting to secure the mountainous Qalamoun region overlooking the main highway north of Damascus to the central city of Homs and Assad's Alawite heartland on the Mediterranean.

Activists said warplanes bombarded targets around Nabak, the main town on the road which is outside government control, dropping bomblets on parachutes which ignited fires.

"So far we have three martyrs in Nabak," said a local pro-rebel activist, speaking by Skype, who identified himself only as Abu Rakan. "In Rima, between Yabroud and Nabak, MiG and Sukhoi planes have carried out eight bombing raids."

SANA said the army had "eliminated a number of terrorists in Nabak and the surrounding area", and it also made gains in rebel districts to the east of Damascus, a mix of farmland and urban sprawl known as the eastern Ghouta, and suburbs to the south.

Casualties on both sides have been heavy, with Hezbollah losing at least 25 fighters in eastern Ghouta over the last week, according to security sources in Lebanon.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said more than 400 people had been killed across Syria since Thursday, many of them in the battles around Ghouta and Qalamoun.

Assad's force recaptured the town of Deir Attiyah on Thursday, a week after losing it in a rebel counter-offensive, but progress has been gradual and sporadic.

"At night we push them back. In the daytime, because of the planes and the air raids, the Free Syrian army retreats slightly but at night they return to their positions," Abu Rakan said.

The Observatory said fighting also erupted on Saturday in the old quarter of the ancient Christian town of Maloula, between Assad's forces and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which has been at the forefront of fighting around Qalamoun.

Amid the violence, weapons experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are trying to oversee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

The United States has offered to destroy the chemicals on a U.S. ship, the OPCW confirmed on Saturday, and is looking for a suitable Mediterranean port where processing can be carried out.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint UN-OPCW Syria team, said the mission was striving meet a tough deadline to get the most lethal chemical agents out of Syria by the end of the year.

She told reporters in Damascus the chemical arsenal, located at various sites across Syria, would be packed, sealed and moved to Syria's Latakia port.

"Then it will be transported to other ships by other member states that will send it to ... a U.S. vessel. It will not be (destroyed) in Syrian territorial waters," she said.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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Comments (1)
RobertFrost wrote:
The “Free Syrian Army” is not the main force fighting the Syrian Army to the east of Damascus or at the Lebanese border. The main contingents are made from the Al-Qa’ida “Nusrah Front” and the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” along with the Saudi sponsored “Islamic Front.”

One observes that the “Free Syrian Army” is almost non-existent, with most of its allied forces having joined these groups. But then, it never had a real existence as an army. Its “commanders” in the five-star hotels had little to do with managing and directing the fighting units. It was more or less a front to which armed groups claimed allegiance to, in return for funds and weapons.

The funds seem to be hardly enough to maintain the lifestyle of the “commanders” and provide for their, shall we say, “early retirements.” This drove the armed groups to change allegiance and join Al-Qa’ida and the new Saudi sponsored groups who revel in “adequate” funds provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as “private citizens” in Kuwait and other Gulf States fighting for “democracy” and “Freedom” from countries that do not even have a Constitution, and where the death sentence is issued as a command by the Shaikh or the Emir in the absence of a legal system!

That they are “our allies” is something we would rather not discuss often in public. Lately we forgave Saudi Arabia the ban on women driving cars which has been instituted since the import of the first car into that country. Secretary Kerry stated a couple of weeks ago, “We have to respect their traditions.”

Seemingly we do not respect “the traditions” of other peoples, like Syria, indeed. And wish to impose on it “democracy” and “Freedom” not dissimilar to what we did in Iraq!

If the United States had the funds and the media was given time to sway public opinion, as it did in the case of the invasion of Iraq, we certainly would have blown up Syria into smithereens the way we did Iraq before we ran out as the fire we lit became too hot for our white skins!

Nov 30, 2013 3:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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