Syria’s President Assad is fast “coming in from the cold” a recentAFP headlineconcluded.
This not unlike the history of Libya’s Gaddafi, suddenly going from international pariah status to beingcourtedby the Bush administration starting in 2004, culminating in Condoleezza Rice sharing alate night dinnerwith the late Libyan dictator during an official visit in September 2008 (though later returning to “pariah” in 2011, leading to a bloody field execution). But for Assad, who’s long long promised to “liberate every inch” of natural Syria — now a greater possibility given US plans to pull all troops out of the country likely within months— things could be moving faster than anyone expected.
An exclusive report by Middle East news site, Al Masdar, suggests the UK could be the next to reestablish official diplomatic relations with Assad, asthe British Embassy in Damascus appears to be undergoing constructionafter being shuttered for most of the conflict following the suspension of all services in 2012.Could Britain be readying to reopen its embassy in Syria following similar preparations by a spate of Arab nations, most notably the UAE?
The British Embassy in Damascus is undergoing construction, despite the fact that it was closed at the start of the Syrian conflict.
According to an Al-Masdar field correspondent who visited the site, the British Embassy in Damascus was indeed under construction, marking the first time since its closure that any work has been done to the building.
Syrian government officials, who would be kept apprised of any impending plans or construction works, declined to comment:
Al-Masdar reached out to the Syrian government about the mysterious construction; however, the official in Damascus declined to comment on the project.
The project reportedly began earlier this week and the construction focused on the front entrance of the building.
Iranian media is also currently circulating reports of renovations underway on the UK’s embassy to Syria, viaFars News:
The Arabic-language Rai al-Youm quoted informed sources as saying that the renovation process of the UK embassy in Damascus has begun on Thursday.
The sources pointed to the presence of an interior renovation team in Damascus, and said thatthe embassy is preparing for reopening in the near future.
In a relevant development in late December, as Arab states had rushed to resume ties with Damascus, former Britain’s Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford said“Washington is not powerful enough to block restoration of Arab states’ diplomatic relations”with Syria.
Crucially, news of construction on the embassy building comesthe same day UK’s Foreign Ministry has announced it’s officially given up on hoped-for regime changein Syria. From the start of the war UK intelligence has been at the forefront, alongside the CIA, of regime change efforts including funding, arming, and training opposition forces in Syria.
Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Minister, hasconceded that President Bashar al-Assad will remain in place for “a while”, reversing Britain’s long-held position to reflect the new reality on the ground in Syria.
“The British long-standing position is that we won’t have lasting peace in Syria with that (Assad-led) regime,” Mr Hunt said. “But regretfullywe do think he’s going to be around for a whileand that is because of the support that he’s had from Russia.”
The foreign minister further said in a television interview with Sky News,“Russia may think that it’s gained a sphere of influence. What we would say to them is: Yes – and you’ve also gained a responsibility.”
Hunt called on Russia to ensure no chemical weapons are used, something the West has long accused Assad of: “If you’re going to be involved in Syria then you need to make sure that there really is peace in Syria,” Huntsaid. “And that means making sure that President Assad does not use chemical weapons on his own people.”
Thus it appears Assad’s “normalization” with both Arab and increasingly even Western countries who were a short time ago enemies is moving fast.
First, a week ago the embassy of the United Arab Emirates was formally re-opened in a ceremony in Damascus – the first time a Gulf country re-established official relations with the Assad government since all GCC states first shuttered their embassies there in 2012. And more significant, following this Gulf nations are now reportedly leading efforts to readmit Syria into the Arab League after the organization expelled Damascus eight years ago when the conflict first began.
Should the British embassy in Damascus indeed announce that it will open in the coming months, this will mark the beginning of Assad’s acceptance once again by the West, and would further likely green light a Syrian and Russian attack on Idlib—which is the last large al-Qaeda bastion in the country.
The US troop withdrawal from Syria needs a “pause” in order to protect the Kurds, the potential interests of Israel, and to prevent Iran from scoring a big win in Syria, a top GOP senator has said.
The withdrawal of the US military from the country is currently in a“pause situation,”Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- SC) told reporters on Monday after having lunch with President Trump at the White House.
“We talked about Syria. He told me some things I didn’t know that made me feel a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria,”said Graham, who is an outspoken critic of Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria.
“I think we’re slowing things down in a smart way.”
Earlier this month, Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US contingent – believed to be some 2,000-strong – from Syria, yet again claiming victory over the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in the country. Graham believes the group was not actually defeated and the president promised to destroy it again.
“He promised to destroy ISIS. He’s going to keep that promise. We’re not there yet,”said the senator.
Apart from that, Trump is“worried”about the“potential dangers to Israel,”and will work with Ankara to ensure that“we don’t have a war between the Turks and our allies the Kurds,”Graham revealed.
“We still have some differences but I will tell you that the president is thinking long and hard about Syria – how to withdraw our forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests, which are to make sure ISIS is destroyed, they never come back. That our allies – the Kurds – are protected and that Iran doesn’t become the big winner of our leaving,”she said.
Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw from Syria has drawn bipartisan ire, as well as triggering a warmongering meltdown in the media. Graham himself has demanded hearings on the Syria move, as well as on Trump’s decision to scale down the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Russia has told Turkey to let the Syrian government take back areas vacated by US troops with Ankara preparing to clear Kurdish fighters from a town in the war-torn country.
The Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry said it expects the territory to be handed to Assad’s forces after US president Donald Trump announced a pullout from the country last week – a move that surprised allies and sparked the resignation of two of his top aides.
Turkey has said it is working with Washington to coordinate the withdrawal of US forces but remains ‘determined’ to clear US-allied Kurdish fighters from Manbij in northern Syria. Pictures have emerged today showing Turkish armoured military vehicles and troop carriers being dispatched to the border with Syria.
The news comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman revealed that American military officials are set to meet with their Turkish counterparts to discuss coordination on Syria following Washington’s decision to withdraw troops from the Arab Republic.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has commented on Paris’ plans to remain in Syria amid the withdrawal of US troops, saying that “there will be no benefit to anyone”, according to the Anadolu news agency.
Meanwhile, Hurriyet, another Turkey-based news outlet, reported that the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the country’s military is determined to enter northern Syria as soon as possible. Earlier, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Ankara had completed preparations for the operation.
The development comes on the heels of reports of the Turkish president inviting Donald Trump to Ankara, as well as reports stating that military officials of both states are set to hold a meeting to better coordinate their actions in Syria.
Donald Trump recently declared the US will be pulling out its nearly 2,000-strong military force from Syria as the Daesh* terrorist group had been crushed in the country. The decision was met with criticism from Washington’s European allies, including Germany and France.
Subsequent media speculation suggested that Trump made the move only after being reassured by Erdogan that Turkey would eliminate terrorist remnants in Syria.
In December, Erdogan announced that Turkish forces were prepared to kick off an offensive on the east bank of the Euphrates River against Kurdish formations as soon as possible. Later, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that the operation in northern Syria would be postponed until the Americans withdraw from the region completely. At the same time, Erdogan’s spokesman said that Ankara is going to coordinate its anti-Daesh campaign with Moscow.
*Daesh (also known as the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL) is a terrorist group banned in Russia.
The border crossing between Jordan and Syria will officially reopen on Monday after being closed for three years, the two countries said on Sunday, though it will not be open to normal traffic immediately.
Meanwhile, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign ministers discussed accelerating efforts to reopen the border between their countries, Syrian state media said.
The Syrian government retook the area around the border crossing with Jordan at Nassib in July during a weeks-long Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels from their stronghold in southwest Syria.
Jihadist factions including Syria’s former Al-Qaeda branch have pulled heavy weapons from parts of a planned buffer zone in the country’s northwest put forward under a Turkey-Russia deal, a monitor said Monday.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “and other less influential jihadist groups have withdrawn their heavy weapons from large areas of the demilitarised zone” ringing Idlib province, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
HTS has yet to comment on the reported withdrawal, which quietly began “two days ago”, according to Abdel Rahman.
Russia and the Syrian military blamed Israel for a pre-dawn missile attack Monday on a major air base in central Syria, saying Israeli fighter jets launched the missiles from Lebanon’s air space. A war-monitoring group said the airstrikes killed 14 people, including Iranians active in Syria.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli aircraft targeted the T4 air base in Homs province, firing eight missiles. It said Syria shot down five of them while the other three landed in the western part of the base. Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Israeli F-15 warplanes fired several missiles at T4. It gave no further details.
Israel’s foreign ministry had no comment when asked about the accusations.
Since 2012, Israel has struck inside Syria more than 100 times, mostly targeting suspected weapons’ convoys destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Most recently, Israel hit the same T4 base in February, after it said an Iranian drone that had violated Israeli airspace took off from the base. The base, which was used as a launching pad for counter offensive attacks against Islamic State militants who were at one point stationed close by, is near the Shayrat air base, which was targeted by U.S. missiles last year in response to a chemical weapons attack.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday reports of a gas attack in Syria were bogus and any military action taken based on such “invented and fabricated excuses” could lead to severe consequences.
“The spread of bogus stories about the use of chlorine and other poisonous substances by (Syrian) government forces continues. Yet another such fabricated piece of information about an alleged chemical attack in Douma appeared yesterday,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We have warned several times recently against such dangerous provocations. The aim of such deceitful speculation, lacking any kind of grounding, is to shield terrorists … and to attempt to justify possible external uses of force.”
Russia, Iran and Turkey have been drawn together in their support of Syria. Putin and Rouhani provide Assad with military support and Turkey has now joined their efforts because it wants to crush US-backed Kurdish forces massing on its border.
Putin supplies both countries with sophisticated military equipment. President Erdogan recently signed a $2.5 billion arms deal with Russia for S-400 sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, which has caused consternation among Turkey’s fellow Nato members.
And Russia helps both countries on energy. It is also building Turkey a $20 billion nuclear power station, which began construction yesterday, andlast year Putin signed a $30 billion energy co-operation deal with Iran.
Through these major deals Russia now finds itself in the position of having influence over Turkey as well as Iran. And these two countries in turn exert huge influence beyond their borders.
Turkey controls much of the flow of middle eastern refugees into Europe. It stemmed the influx after signing a deal with the EU in March 2016 – but if it reversed this agreement the political consequences in Europe would be enormous.
Iran has been accused of supplying arms to the Taliban by the government of Afghanistan and is fueling the conflict in Yemen.