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September 25, 2016

Syria making ‘great strides’ in war


September 25, 2016

Syrian rebel sees more arms from Assad foes

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Syria´s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the United Nations on Saturday that the Syrian army was making "great strides" in the five-year war, with help from "true friends" Russia, Iran and Lebanon´s Hizbullah.

Muallem also used his address at the General Assembly to reject US claims that a coalition strike on Syrian soldiers a week ago was unintentional, saying it was "not an error".

"Our belief in victory is even greater now that the Syrian Arab Army is making great strides in its war against terrorism, with the support of the true friends of the Syrian people, notably the Russian federation, Iran and the Lebanese national resistance," Muallem said.

The Syrian foreign minister, who is also deputy prime minister, took the podium at the United Nations after a week of intense diplomacy failed to revive a ceasefire deal negotiated between the United States and Russia.

Air strikes pounded the battleground city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 32 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which expected the death toll to rise as rescuers recovered bodies trapped under rubble.

Muallem hit said his government "holds the United States fully responsible" for the September 17 coalition strike on a Syrian army base "because facts show that it was an intentional attack, and not an error, even if the United States claims otherwise."

Dozens of Syrian soldiers were killed in the bombing of the Syrian air base near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, which is controlled by Islamic State (IS) Jihadists.

The United States has expressed regret for the loss of lives, saying the coalition believed it was hitting an IS target and has promised to investigate the incident.

Muallem said his government was committed to the UN-led peace process, but slammed Western-backed opposition fighters for crimes that "are no less barbaric" than those carried out by IS and al-Qaeda Jihadists.

More than 300,000 people have died in the conflict in Syria and millions have been driven from their homes.

The minister hit out at Qatar and Saudi Arabia, accusing them of "sending into Syria thousands of mercenaries, equipped with the most sophisticated weapons" to fight President Bashar al-Assad´s government.

He said Turkey was allowing "tens of thousands of terrorists from all around the world" to cross its border into Syria, providing them with logistical support and training camps "under the supervision of Turkish and western intelligence".

"We, in Syria, are combating terrorism on behalf of the whole world," he said.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels expect to receive new types of heavy weapons from their foreign backers in response to the collapse of a truce and a Russian-backed government offensive, but nothing amounting to a major shift in support, a rebel leader said on Saturday.

Colonel Fares al-Bayoush, head of the Northern Division group, told Reuters he expected rebels to get new types of Russian-made rocket launchers and artillery, but there was no sign of foreign states agreeing to the rebels´ long-held demand for anti-aircraft missiles. Any increase would be "slight".

While Bayoush indicated rebel capabilities could be enhanced to a degree, he said a more significant shift would be in their tactics, though he gave no details.

The collapse of a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia this week has been followed by a major new government offensive against rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

States opposed to Assad, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States, have been channelling military support to some rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army for several years.

In some cases this has included US-made anti-tank, or TOW, missiles.  The rebels have long complained however that foreign support has been inadequate to effectively confront Damascus, which has received strong military backing from Iran and Russia. Speaking to Reuters from Syria, Bayoush said "there are indications and promises" of more weapons, though he only expected "a slight increase".  He expected the delivery of more "heavy weapons, such as rocket launchers and artillery".