The US is enabling former Al-Nusra jihadists to subvert the Astana peace process, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said after a meeting with Sergey Lavrov. The Russian FM in turn vowed to respond to any provocations from the US’s rebel “friends.”
Speaking to journalists following talks with Russia’s top diplomat on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Friday, Muallem accused the US military of enlisting the help of terrorists to wreak agreements on de-escalation zones secured within the Astana reconciliation process.
“They are dissatisfied with the successful outcome of Astana peace process, that’s why they use their [assets], including Jabhat al-Nusra [Al-Nusra Front] to impede the agreements that had been negotiated,” Muallem said, as cited by TASS.
At the latest round of the international talks in the Kazakh capital, backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as the guarantors of the Syrian ceasefire, the parties agreed on the boundaries of a final de-escalation zone in Idlib province.
The initiative, championed by Moscow, is aimed at separating jihadists, such as Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front, from moderate opposition in the areas designated in the agreement. The deal envisages creating a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire in four de-escalation zones, which include eastern Ghouta, parts of Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo and Idlib provinces as well as territories in southern Syria.
The creation of four de-escalation zones, which has been in process since the initial idea was approved by the Syrian government in May, was hailed by Russia’s special envoy for Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, as a “turning point” in solving the Syrian crisis.
Muallem went on to note that thanks to a fruitful cooperation between Syrian and Russian forces the fight with extremists is nearing its end. More than 87 percent of Syria’s territory has been freed from jihadists’ control, according to the latest data from the Russian Defense Ministry released Friday.
The Syrian people “are getting more and more confident that they are writing the last chapter of the crisis,” the Syrian Foreign Minister pointed out, as cited by RIA Novosti.
Denouncing the US role in Syria, Muallem alleged that Washington intentionally aims to curb the offensive by the Syrian troops in Deir ez-Zor.
“The Americans have not changed their approach so far. In Deir ez-Zor they attempt to impede our army’s advances against ISIS,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov lamented the lack of broader cooperation between the US and Russian forces in Syria, arguing that “to deal a final blow to terrorists in fact, not just deconflicting is needed, coordination is necessary.”
The top Russian diplomat noted that Moscow has made it clear to the State Department and the Pentagon that it would not stand still if Washington-backed militias based in the areas adjacent to the ongoing Syrian army offensive attempt to cause a stir.
“We have sent a clear message that if there are attempts to complicate the end of the counterterrorism operation from the areas that are close to American ‘friends’…it will not be left without reaction,” Lavrov warned.
The strong words from Lavrov came on the heels of the report by the Russian Defense Ministry citing intelligence data, that the latest offensive by Al-Nusra Front in the north and northeast of the city of Hama targeting the Syrian troops and, in particular, the Russian military police unit, was likely instigated by the US security service.
According to Russia’s General Staff, the militants tried to capture the Russian servicemen as they were monitoring a ceasefire in the designated de-escalation zone in the Idlib province. The offensive was swiftly repelled by the Syrian and Russian special operation forces on the ground backed from the air. Some 850 militants were killed as a result of the operation. The special operation forces suffered three injuries but no casualties.
Asked about reports of US alleged indirect involvement in the attack, US-led international coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon appeared to dodge the question, saying said he “had no information” on that issue and “would not entertain that question.”