RUSSIAN ATTACKS TARGETING SYRIAN REBELS OPPOSED TO ASSAD, NOT ISIS
DUBAI — Russian airstrikes in Syria had caused civilian casualties while failing to target the hard-line Daesh militants, a top Saudi diplomat said on Thursday as he sought an end to the raids.
In remarks at the United Nations in New York, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi suggested that both Russia and Assad’s other main ally Iran cannot not claim to fight Daesh “terrorism” while at the same time supporting the “terrorism” of the Bashar Assad regime.
Al-Mouallimi expressed “profound concern regarding the military operations which Russian forces have carried out in Homs and Hama today, places where ISIS forces are not present. These attacks led to a number of innocent victims. We demand it stop immediately and not recur.”
“As for those countries that have claimed recently to join in the fight against ISIS terrorism, they can’t do that at the same time as they support the terrorism of the Syrian regime and its terrorist foreign allies like Hezbollah and the Quds Force and other terrorist sectarian groups,” he added in comments broadcast by Al-Arabiya television.
ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIL. It is also widely known among Arabs as Daesh.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militia openly fights on behalf of Assad’s government, and the Quds Force, part of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, is also widely believed to be aiding Damascus.
Russia on Wednesday launched its first air strikes in Syria since the country’s civil war began in 2011, giving an hour’s notice to the United States, which has led a coalition of Western allies and regional states flying missions for a year.
Russia’s move looks likely to chill a tentative detente begun this year between Russia and Saudi Arabia despite their backing for opposing sides in Syria’s conflict and their differences over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
In June, the atmosphere appeared to improve when Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led a delegation of Saudi officials to Moscow and signed military and energy agreements.
The trip raised speculation about closer ties between the two countries. But that prospect now appears in question.
In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper published on Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said the two countries had many common interests on which to develop ties, but he noted continuing “lack of agreement” on Syria.
“I visited Russia, as did other Gulf officials. You know of the (positive) atmosphere that prevailed two months ago,” Jubeir was quoted as saying. “But all of a sudden Russia stepped up its military role in Syria and announced its political position backing Assad.”
Russia and China vetoed in February 2012 a UN Security Resolution drafted by Saudi Arabia and backed by the West that Assad should step down.
It remains unclear whether Gulf Arab states would want the Syrian rebels they fund to engage Russian forces in battle — a prospect that would further upset the regional balance of power.
“The solution (in Syria) does not depend on Russia,” Jubeir told Al-Hayat. “The principle is, firstly, that there is no role for Bashar Assad in Syria’s future. The second principle is to maintain the civil and military institutions in Syria in order to avoid chaos.”
A third point was to form a transitional council of all Syrians to help Syria move to a new stage, he said.
(Reporting by Noah Browning, William Maclean)