Syria, Iran say U.S. aid to rebels will extend war
Syrian troops regained control of several villages along a key highway in Aleppo, restoring stability to the city’s international airport.
The Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria and Iran said Saturday that the U.S. decision to provide aid to rebels will only prolong the fighting aimed at toppling President Bashar Assad, whose troops scored a major strategic victory in the country’s heavily contested north.
Syrian troops regained control of several villages along a key highway near the embattled northern city of Aleppo, restoring stability to the city’s international airport, the Army’s General Command said in a statement. The achievement has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Syria’s largest city where government troops have been locked in a stalemate for months.
In Tehran, Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused the U.S. of having a double standard on its policy regarding Syria. They said the U.S. decision to provide rebels with aid will only delay an end to the nearly 2-year-old conflict that has killed some 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The remarks by Syria’s Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, were the first official statements from the two nations after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement this week that the U.S. will provide, for the first time, nonlethal aid directly to Syria’s rebels, in addition to $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Tehran, the Syrian and Iranian diplomats emphasized that whether Assad stays or goes will be decided in presidential elections scheduled for next year.
“Assad is Syria’s legal president until the next elections. Individuals have the freedom to run as candidates. Until that time, Assad is Syria’s president,” Salehi said.
Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad throughout the conflict.
Kerry announced the aid at an international conference on Syria in Rome on Thursday. In coming days, several European nations are expected to take similar steps to work with the military wing of the opposition to increase pressure on Assad to step down and pave the way for a democratic transition.
Al-Moallem said it was it was inconceivable that the U.S. would allocate $60 million in assistance to Syrian opposition groups while it continues to “kill the Syrian people” through economic sanctions imposed against the country.
“If they truly wanted a political settlement, they wouldn’t punish the Syrian people and finance (opposition) groups with so-called nonlethal aid,” he said. “Who are they kidding?”
The Damascus official emphasized that Syria’s sovereignty is a “red line.”
“No one is allowed to infringe on Syrian national sovereignty,” he said, adding that the Syrian people will decide their own leaders through the ballot box. “We refuse to be a chess piece in the hands of the international community.”
He directly accused Turkey and Qatar and other countries he did not name of supporting and funding “armed terrorist groups” operating in Syria, using the terminology employed by the Damascus regime to refer to the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
His Iranian host, Salehi, said “double standards were being applied by certain countries that serve to prolong and deepen the Syrian crisis” and lead to more bloodshed.
Syrian rebels control large swathes of land in the country’s northeast, including several neighborhoods of Aleppo.
For weeks they have been trying to storm the Aleppo airport, a major prize in the battle for Syria’s commercial capital. The rebels ousted troops from several military bases protecting the facility and cut off a major highway the army used to supply its troops inside the airport complex.
Syrian army officials said troops regained control of several villages along a different strategic highway that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppo’s International airport, declaring that the facility was safe.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director the Britain-based anti-regime activist group the Observatory for Human Rights said the army’s victory Saturday was a “significant achievement” because the highway provides a lifeline to the regime.