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Mission accomplished in Syria, says Russia
December 08, 2017
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MOSCOW/ DAMASCUS:  Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday said its mission to oust Daesh militants from Syria had been “accomplished” with the country “completely liberated” from the extremist group.

“The Russian armed forces’ goal to defeat armed groups of the Daesh terrorist organisation in Syria has been accomplished,” said senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“There is not a single village or district in Syria under the control of Daesh. The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organisation,” he told reporters.

There has been an “unprecedented” involvement by Russia’s airforce in recent days, he said, with warplanes making 100 sorties and staging up to 250 strikes daily.

At the same time, special forces were active on the ground directing planes and “destroying the most odious leaders of militant groups behind enemy lines,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said Thursday that Daesh still holds about eight percent of Deir Ezzor province.

Rudskoi said “separate sabotage bands of Daesh” could still be operating but would be fought by Syrian government troops, indicating that Russia’s involvement would be scaled down.

“With the liquidation of armed bands of the Daesh terrorist group in Syria, the Russian contingent will concentrate its main efforts on providing aid to the Syrian people in rebuilding peace” and ensuring ceasefire commitments were met, he said.

Menawhile, the UN envoy said on Thursday that Syrian government negotiators will return to Geneva this weekend to rejoin United Nations-backed peace talks, after leaving the city in protest last week. “The government has informed us that they would fly back to Geneva on Sunday the 10th of December”, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura told reporters, confirming information reported by the Syrian state news agency SANA.

The government delegation is scheduled to stay until Dec.15, when the eighth round of the faltering UN-brokered talks is due to wrap up.

The negotiations aimed at ending nearly seven years of bloodshed in Syria reopened last week.

The talks were halted over the weekend before resuming on Tuesday, but without the government team headed by Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Al Jaafari.

Jaafari had criticised the talks before his departure, saying there were “big problems in this round”, a reference to the opposition’s insistence on President Bashar Al Assad’s removal.

De Mistura said he expected both sides to “seriously engage” in negotiations next week, which will be focused on shaping a new Syrian constitution and organising UN-supervised elections.

He also issued a thinly veiled warning over a new diplomatic track being pushed by Syria’s key ally Russia, which has announced plans to host a new peace conference at the Black Sea resort of Sochi in coming months.

The opposition and Western diplomats are concerned that the Sochi meeting might be part of an effort by Moscow to circumvent the UN talks and impose a solution favourable to Assad.

“There are many initiatives that are being planned and can be planned in the future, but we shall assess the behaviour of both sides -- government and opposition -- in Geneva,” de Mistura said.

He underscored that the UN would be watching to see if these other initiatives were supportive of the UN talks, “or a sabotage.”

“If, God forbid, because it would be very bad news, we draw the conclusion that one of the two sides is facto sabotating the progress and the process of Geneva, that would have a very bad impact on any other political attempt to have processes elsewhere,” Staffan de Mistura said.

Also on Thursday Syrian government troops and allied militia have cleared the last pockets held by the Daesh group on the west bank of the Euphrates River.

But the militants still hold areas on the east bank in the north of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Daesh no longer has a presence on the western side of the river,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“Its biggest presence is on the eastern side of the Euphrates, where it still holds around eight percent of Deir Ezzor province,” he said.


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