Syria Today – Quadripartite Meeting in Moscow; Assad Invited to Saudi Arabia; U.S. Probes Killing of Civilian

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

At the quadripartite meetings in Moscow, the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria met to discuss normalization between Ankara and Damascus. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad proposed a constructive approach based on principles and procedures consistent with international law and good dialogue relations to improve relations between Syria and Turkey. Meanwhile, the Saudi king as invited Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to attend an Arab summit next week in Jeddah. At the same time, the U.S. military is investigating reports that it killed a civilian in a recent strike in northwest Syria

Turkey steps up rapprochement talks with Syria as top diplomats meet

On Wednesday, a landmark quadripartite meeting of foreign ministers of Turkey, the Assad regime of Syria, Russia and Iran was held in Moscow. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu represented Turkey at the meeting, first at this level, Turkish The Daily Sabah reported.

Russia and Iran seek to convince Ankara and the Assad regime to restore their ties through the talks after the two neighbours’ relations soured after the 2011 unrest in Syria escalated into a civil war, the paper added.

During the meeting, according to the Turkish pro-Erdogan newspaper, the ministers were expected to exchange views on the normalization of Turkey-Syria ties and discuss counterterrorism, the political process to end the war in Syria, and humanitarian matters, including the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrians who left their home country due to the war and settled in Turkey.

Mekdad insists on “ending the illegitimate military presence”

Foreign Minister Mekdad affirmed that Syria’s main goal is to end the illegitimate military presence on its lands in all its forms, including the Turkish forces, stressing that without progress in this matter, no results were reached.

“We appreciated the efforts of friends in the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the holding of this meeting”, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Mekdad, was quoted to have said by SANA during the quadripartite meeting of Syria, Turkey, Russia and Iran held Wednesday in Moscow.

He expressed willingness to engage in dialogue with Turkey in a constructive manner, as long as it is based on mutual respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. 

Mekdad also emphasized the need for the end of the illegitimate military presence on Syrian territory, including the Turkish forces, and stated that there is an opportunity for Syria and Turkey to work together to achieve common goals and interests with the help of Russia and Iran. 

He called for a clear public acknowledgment from Turkey of its intention to withdraw its forces from Syria and for practical steps to be agreed upon to implement this in an organized, coordinated, and agreed-upon manner.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad proposed a constructive approach based on principles and procedures consistent with international law and good dialogue relations to improve relations between Syria and Turkey. 

The proposed principles include a full commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity, acknowledging the necessity for all foreign forces to leave Syrian territory, combating terrorist organizations, rejecting separatist projects, and joint cooperation and coordination to address security concerns and achieve sustainable security and stability. 

Mekdad suggested joint action and coordination to confront separatist organizations in northeastern Syria, addressing security concerns, supporting the safe return of Syrian refugees, and stopping the illegal seizure and transfer of Syrian oil and its revenues. These proposals are consistent with international law, the Charter of the United Nations, and the final statements issued by the Astana meetings.

In a tweet following the meeting, Çavuşoğlu said that at the gathering, he stressed the need for “cooperation in the fight against terrorism, working together to establish the basis for returns of Syrians, taking the political process in Syria forward and protection of Syria’s territorial integrity.”

The meeting was closed to the press while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an opening speech. Lavrov expressed hope that the meeting would pave the way to draft a normalizing road map. Lavrov said he sees Moscow’s task as “not only in consolidating politically the progress that has been made but also in determining general guidelines for further movement.”

King Salman invites Syria’s President Assad to attend Arab summit

The custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has invited Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to attend an Arab summit next week in Jeddah.

Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Nayef Al-Sudairi delivered the invitation to President Al-Assad during a meeting in Damascus, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah will host the next Arab League Summit on May 19th.

On Sunday, the Arab League Ministerial Council decided that delegations of the Syrian government could resume participating in meetings of the organization at all levels.

Ambassador Al-Sudairi conveyed the greetings of King Salman and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman to the Syrian president, and their wishes to the government and people of Syria to have security and stability.

The Syrian president conveyed his greetings and appreciation to King Salman and the Crown Prince and for the government and people of Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia decided to resume the work of its diplomatic mission in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Syria agreed on March 23 to resume diplomatic relations and open their embassies after a hiatus of more than a decade.

Contacts between Riyadh and Damascus had gathered momentum following a landmark agreement to re-establish ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Car explosion wounds five members of Syrian police in Damascus suburb

Five members of the Syrian regime police force were wounded when a car exploded at their station in the Barzeh suburb of the capital Damascus on Wednesday, state media reported.

The wounded, including one with the rank of officer, were taken to hospital with varying degrees of injuries, state news agency SANA said, quoting the interior ministry.

It said investigations into the source of the blast were still ongoing and did not say whether explosives had been placed in the car or were targeting anyone in particular.

Opposition militants were bussed out of the district, mostly to the northwestern province of Idlib – which largely remains under opposition control to this day.

Saudi Arabia, Syria to Reopen Embassies Restoring Relations 

Saudi Arabia and Syria will reopen diplomatic missions between the two countries now that relations have improved 11 years after the facilities were closed, the two nations foreign ministries said Tuesday, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The announcements came nearly a month after Syria and Saudi Arabia said they were moving toward reopening embassies and resuming airline flights. That had followed a visit by Syria’s top diplomat to the Kingdom, the first since Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012 and a visit by Syria’s foreign minister to Riyadh.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the reopening of its embassy in Damascus aims “to strengthen security and stability in the region.” It did not say when the embassy will reopen, adding that the move follows the Arab League’s decision to reinstate Syria’s membership.

Syria’s Foreign Minister later said that Damascus will resume work at its mission in Saudi Arabia.

Syria’s return to Arab League leaves opposition dismayed

The decision by several Arab League members to reinstate Syria’s membership, under President Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, after more than a decade of isolation has angered residents of opposition-held northern Syria and members of the country’s political opposition. 

In a long report by Al-Jazeera, the outlet said that the anti-government Syrians see it as a vindication of the government’s attacks against them during the 12-year war. Syria’s Arab League membership was revoked after al-Assad ordered a crackdown on protesters in March 2011 that spiralled the country into a war. 

Some Arab states have pushed to end al-Assad’s isolation and welcomed the decision, while others have opposed full normalization without a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The Arab League, according to the report, has formed a ministerial committee to continue direct dialogue with the Syrian government toward a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis, including issues such as drug smuggling, which has become a major worry for Gulf countries, as Captagon pills are mainly manufactured in Syria. 

However, the decision to readmit Syria to the Arab League has been criticized by opposition activists who see it as a vindication of the government’s attacks against them during the 12-year war. 

According to Al-Jazeera, while some Arab states have welcomed the decision, others have opposed full normalization without a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Saudi Arabia, which previously rejected normalization with the Assad regime, has shifted its position and become its primary supporter in returning it to the Arab League, following the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement earlier this year. 

The opposition plans to unify its efforts and intensify communication with Arab countries that have rejected normalization with the Assad regime until they achieve their demands for political change and reach a civil and democratic Syria.

U.S. probing reports it killed civilian in recent Syria strike

The U.S. military is investigating reports that it killed a civilian in a recent strike in northwest Syria that was meant to target a senior al-Qaida leader, a military official said in a statement Tuesday.

According to AP, relatives and neighbours of a 60-year-old man killed in the May 3 strike in the village of Qorqanya, a rural area in northern Idlib province, told The Associated Press that he was a farmer who raised sheep, chickens and cattle and had no involvement with armed groups.

In an initial statement released the day of the strike, U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, said its forces had “conducted a unilateral strike … targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader.” It did not provide any further details.

Maj. John Moore, a CENTCOM spokesperson, said Tuesday that U.S. forces “are in the process of confirming the identity of the individual killed in the strike.”

“We are aware of the allegations of a civilian casualty and the outcome of the confirmation process will inform if further investigation is necessary and how it should proceed,” he said.

Government, opposition mutual shelling in NW Syria causes casualties

On Tuesday, the de-escalation zone in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo in northwest Syria witnessed a resumption of mutual shelling and sniping between Syrian government forces and Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, leading to casualties from both sides, North Press reported.

Military opposition sources told North Press that the government forces targeted with artillery shells the positions of the opposition in the towns and villages of Teqad, Kafr Taal, al-Wasata, al-Qasir, and the outskirts of Kafr Nuran in the west of Aleppo, and the villages of Fatterah, Sfuhen, and the town of Kansafra in Zawiya Mountain in the south of Idlib.

The sources added that the shelling resulted in the killing of two members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) and the injury of another in the western countryside of Aleppo.

The HTS targeted with heavy artillery and mortars the positions of the government forces in Base 46, Basratun, the oil factory in the west of Aleppo, al-Malaja, and Kafr Battikh in the east of Idlib. They sniped three government soldiers in Base 46 and Afis, according to the sources.

FBI arrests Indian-American man charged with funding ISIS in Hawl Camp

Mohammad Azharuddin Chhipa, a 33-year-old Indian-American man living in the US state of Virginia, has been charged with wiring thousands of dollars to the Islamic State in Hawl camp, northeast Syria, North Press reported

According to the FBI, more than $18,000 “went to wallets known to be used by ISIS women located in Syria.” At least another $60,000 remained unaccounted for. Between 2019 and 2022, Chhipa held $172,000 in virtual currency and collected $15,000 from donors.

The funds were meant for “sisters” in Hawl camp, Chhipa reportedly said.  

Chhipa was apprehended after he met an undercover FBI agent in order to collect a donation. He made his initial appearance before a judge on May 5. If convicted Chhipa could face up to 20 years in prison for providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

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