Monday, February 26, 2018

Russia 'Seriously Alarmed' By U.S. Threat Of Military Action Against Assad

A leading Russian diplomat has condemned those advocating military intervention against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose war against rebels and jihadis has recently escalated in the last insurgent-held suburbs of Damascus.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Monday that such military action would violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2401, which was passed Sunday. 

It calls for a 30-day cessation of hostilities among warring parties in the eastern Ghouta region outside the Syrian capital. Before it was passed, Russia successfully lobbied to include language in the document that exempted operations against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (successor to former Al-Qaeda branch the Nusra Front) and other groups considered terrorist organizations by the council.

"We are seriously alarmed by the reports that amid the overall increase in the rhetoric against Damascus and anti-Russian rhetoric in Washington threats are heard again of using force, which is unlawful," Ryabkov said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

Russia's 2015 military intervention in Syria has not only allowed Assad's forces and their allies—which included a number Iran- backed militias—to overcome rebels and jihadis trying to oust him since 2011, but has also largely shielded the Syrian military from Western powers trying to unseat the Syrian leader. 

Most of the rebel-held outskirts of Damascus have since entered into reconciliation deals with the Syrian government, but parts of eastern Ghouta remained under the control of Islamist rebels groups Ahrar al-Sham, Failaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam, as well as jihadi alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which formed the dominant faction also fighting the Syrian military and its allies in the northwestern province of Idlib.

As a Syrian military offensive and a separate campaign by a U.S.-led coalition and its mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces allies largely defeated jihadis in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Syrian military has again focused on reclaiming the restive region of eastern Ghouta. Growing violence there has attracted international attention. The West has blamed the Russian and Syrian militaries for mounting civilian casualties, while the two allies have laid the responsibility on local militants who have frequently shelled the nearby, heavily populated city of Damascus.

The U.S.-led coalition declared a deconfliction zone in the southern Syrian region of Al-Tanf over and occasionally bombed pro-Syrian government militias it claimed had approached the self-proclaimed boundary. In what was likely the most deadly incident yet, the U.S.-led coalition earlier this month killed up to 100 pro-Syrian government forces, including Russian nationals, that it claimed had attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces also fighting ISIS in Deir Ezzor. Russia and Syria have claimed the U.S. was the aggressor.

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