Syrian envoy criticizes Turkish ‘aggression’ at peace talks
GENEVAThe head of the Syrian government delegation at the Geneva peace talks has criticized Turkey’s “aggression” and said his nation has the right to defend itself from foreign forces on its soil.
Bashar Ja’afari, who is also his country’s ambassador at the United Nations, said Damascus considers the presence of Turkish troops on Syrian soil “a military aggression,” The Associated Press reported.
He said on March 2 that the Syrian forces “reserve our right to use our all the means available ... to expel the Turkish forces from our territory.”
Ja’afari was referring to Turkey’s ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, which recently saw the capture of northern Syrian town of al-Bab from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) just last week.
Ja’afari had also lambasted an opposition delegation at the Geneva negotiations, saying it’s “holding the talks hostage” by refusing to have the issue of counter-terrorism on the agenda.
At a March 3 press conference, opposition delegation chairman Naser al-Hariri said his delegation’s talks with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura had focused largely on proposals for a period of political transition.
“Our ultimate aim is a safe and stable Syria,” al-Hariri said. “We will continue negotiations in hopes of creating a modern Syria that can serve as a model for other countries.”
Describing the talks as “constructive”, he went on to note that members of his delegation would meet with the U.N. envoy again midday on March 4 to discuss the same topic.
On the ground, the Syrian army said on March 2 that it had recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIL for the second time in a year, with help from allied forces and Russian warplanes.
ISIL seized Palmyra in a surprise advance in December last year, after having been driven out eight months before.
“With backing from the Syrian and Russian air forces, units of our armed forces recaptured the city of Palmyra, in cooperation with the allies,” the military said in a statement.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda confirmed that a U.S. airstrike in Syria earlier this week killed its deputy leader of, known as Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. The death brings a significant blow to the terror network and points to the central role Syria has taken in its operations.
Al-Masri, a veteran Egyptian militant, was the deputy of al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and the organization’s senior figure in Syria. He coordinated al-Qaeda’s work with other militant groups and played a direct role in developing external plots, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke on condition of anonymity.