‘ANY peaceful solution to the fighting in Syria must involve President Bashar al-Assad,’ the United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said Friday.
‘President Assad is part of the solution,’ de Mistura told a joint press conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Vienna.
‘I will continue to have very important discussions with him,’ he added, noting that ‘the only solution is a political solution.’
De Mistura, who was in Damascus this week where he met with Assad, is due to deliver a report on his mission to the UN Security Council on February 17th.
If no solution to the conflict is found, ‘the only one who takes advantage of it is (the Islamic State group) ISIS Daesh,’ de Mistura said, referring to the jihadists who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.
The group is a ‘monster waiting for this conflict to take place in order to be able to take advantage,’ he said.
Kurz meanwhile agreed that ‘in the fight against IS it can be necessary to fight on the same side’ but insisted that ‘Assad will never be a friend or even a partner.’
Human rights groups have accused Syria’s government of indiscriminate bombardment of civilians in rebel-held areas, including with crude ‘barrel bombs; – allegations Assad denied in a BBC interview this week.
In the interview, he also complained that in the fight against IS, ‘there is no dialogue’ with the US-led coalition, which began airstrikes in September.
‘There’s, let’s say, information, but not dialogue,’ the embattled leader said.
In a poll on Thursday, 53 percent of residents in opposition-held areas of Syria’s second city of Aleppo – which has seen some of the country’s worst violence since July 2012 – said they favoured de Mistura’s October proposal of a ‘freeze’ in fighting.
But a great majority also said they were sceptical that a truce would hold.
Syria’s war, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011, has since killed more than 210,000 people, with the western powers turning it into a crusade against Assad and the Ba’athist regime.
Meawhile, according to the official Jordanian Government categorization lists, Qatar, contrary to the customary practice in inter-state relations, has topped the list of brotherly Arab countries that abstained from showing true solidarity with Jordan following the immolation and execution of the martyred pilot, Mu’adh al-Kasasibah.
This categorization reflects the depth of the crisis, and of the differences between Jordan and Qatar whose relations were ‘chilly’ even before Amman declared war on DA’ISH [Arabic acronym for ISIL].
Jordanian parliamentary sources have blamed Doha for not showing any solidarity with the Jordanian people, who suffered the ordeal of the pilot’s execution.
A ministerial official said that contrary to the stands of most Arab countries, Qatar did not mourn the death of ‘martyred pilot Al-Kasasibah,’ and it did not issue a statement denouncing ISIL’s terrorism or expressing solidarity with the Jordanian people.
This position was thoroughly scrutinized behind the scenes, and it reflects the extent of chill in bilateral ties.
Amman is also upset by the Al-Jazeera Channel’s negative role, since it was the first to broadcast the infamous video of the immolation of the martyred pilot, Mu’adh al-Kasasibah; and it is this video that hurt the Jordanian people.
Social media activists have expressed this displeasure in a famous post that has been circulated even by Jordanian MPs.
This post identifies ‘Israel, DA’ISH, and the Qatari Al-Jazeera Channel’ as the three enemies of the Jordanian people.
This happened after Al-Jazeera had interviewed MP Ali al-Dala’in, who criticized the dispatch of Jordanians to fight DA’ISH in Iraq and Syria.
Broad criticisms of this nature were also directed at Hasan al-Shawbaki, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Amman, because of his reports that covered popular events, as well as the condolence gatherings held following the execution of Al-Kasasibah.
Saudi Arabia sent a delegation headed by Prince Turki Bin-Talal to the city of Al Karak in southern Jordan to offer its condolences over the execution of Al-Kasasibah, and so did Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE.
This is what Qatar, whose actions are being watched during the current crisis, failed to do.
This ‘negative’ Qatari position was the topic of intensive behind-the-scenes discussions between Jordanian MPs and politicians.
Some officials recalled Qatar’s failure to comply with the GCC decision to provide financial support to Jordan. The differences between both sides go beyond the financial issue, and they also include differences over the Syrian and Egyptian issues. However, the Al-Kasasibah crisis reflected the recent level of deterioration in their relations.
l The Bahrain Shura Council Chairman Ali Bin Salih Al Salih has received the newly-appointed French Ambassador to Bahrain Bernard Regnauld-Fabre.
He emphasised the good relations between both countries and growing bilateral cooperation at all levels, wishing the new ambassador success in his diplomatic duties.
However, it is the UK that has the pride of place in Bahrain. The Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Field Marshal Shaykh Khalifah Bin-Ahmad Al Khalifah met yesterday the British Chief of the Naval staff of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir George Zambellas and his accompanying delegation, currently on a visit to Bahrain.
The BDF Commander-in-Chief lauded the deep-rooted Bahraini-British ties, highlighting the cooperation in all fields, especially regarding exchange of expertise and military collaboration.
He commended the exerted bilateral efforts regarding military coordination and defence cooperation.
He expressed hope that joint military coordination and cooperation will continue in order to boost friendly bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, fierce struggles are taking place in southern Syria close to the Golan Heights.
Battles raged on, Wednesday 11th February, on all fronts in southern Syria, particularly in the Al Qunaytirah-Dar’a-Rif Dimashq triangle, where Hezbollah, in cooperation with Syrian regular forces and Iranian officers, has been launching a large-scale military campaign for three days to control strategic regions and hills, particularly those overlooking the occupied Golan Heights.
Rami Abd-al-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Al-Sharq al-Awsat that Hezbollah is leading this battle, using elite forces.
He said the party was assigned to handle this region after the Israeli raid that targeted a convoy in Al Qunaytirah last month and killed five Hezbollah members and an Iranian general.
He said Hezbollah was in fact preparing to bring the border region under its control before the Israeli raid. He said Hezbollah is now trying to link the Al Qunaytirah-Dar’a-Rif Dimashq triangle geographically to Lebanon, which would largely facilitate the party’s movement against Israel.
‘But the battle will be long and not easy at all, especially since the opposition forces control 70 per cent of Dar’a countryside and 70 per cent of Al Qunaytirah region,’ Abd-al-Rahman said.
He said Hezbollah will likely try to control the strategic hills overlooking the occupied Golan first. Abd-al-Rahman said the opposition was the party that used to launch attacks in that region, but the campaign that Hezbollah started at the beginning of the week surprised the opposition and allowed the party to make fast progress on more than one front.
The military campaign came after the big progress that the Free Syrian Army and the AlQaeda supporting Al-Nusrah Front made over the past few weeks in large areas in southern Syria, notably in the countryside of Dar’a and Al Qunaytirah, two governorates close to Damascus, Jordan, and the Golan Heights.
It was interesting that the official Syrian television yesterday cited a field commander saying that: ‘The military operation that the Syrian Army started in the south is continuing under the leadership of the Syrian president and in cooperation with the resistance axis, such as Hezbollah and Iran.’
A Syrian military official said that the Syrian Army’s operations in Dar’a countryside and Al Qunaytirah are aimed at ‘securing the border with the neighbouring countries and breaking the strip they are trying to establish.’ The officials added: ‘Any region retaken from the gangs adds to security in that region.’
Retired Brigadier General Amin Hutayt, a military and strategic expert close to Hezbollah, said the Golan region is now ‘the primary model field where the entire three-member resistance axis is operating.’
He said this axis is currently testing its ability to engage in common field action. ‘The initial results have apparently gone beyond all expectations, as we realized in 48 hours objectives for the realization of which we had set 10 days,’ he said.
Hutayt added: ‘Syrian aircraft and armoured vehicles, as well as joint special Hezbollah and Syrian forces and Iranian quality groups and units with specific missions, are participating in the operation.’
He talked about: ‘Four strategic objectives for the operation that the resistance axis is launching in southern Syria. The first objective is to abolish the Israeli security strip that Al-Nusrah Front secures.
‘The second is to strengthen protection around the capital, Damascus.
‘The third is directly related to the Lebanese resistance, which is trying to prevent the opening of the south-eastern front, which would largely exhaust it and push it into a war of attrition. The fourth objective is to confront the fourth American plan for the war on Syria, which is summed up by the Jordanian option.’
Hezbollah military leaders use the headquarters of the Syrian Army’s 9th Division in As Sanamyan north of Dar’a as their base and the venue of the operations room for this military campaign, according to Syria News Office.
Al-Manar Television, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, showed live pictures from Dayr al Adas.
The television correspondent was seen roaming the town while sounds of explosions were being heard in the background.
Footage also showed ammunition the correspondent said was seized after the fall of the town.
The channel described the attack as ‘the largest pre-emptive operation in the countryside of Al Qunaytirah, Dar’a, and southern Damascus since the armed men entered the region.’