UNITED NATIONS – Syria’s foreign minister told world leaders Saturday that his country is “marching steadily” toward the goal of rooting out terrorism—and “victory is now within reach.”
Walid Muallem pointed to “the liberation of Aleppo and Palmyra,” the end to the siege of Deir ez-Zour by the Islamic State extremist group, “and the eradication of terrorism from many parts of Syria” by the Syrian army and its supporters and allies, including Russia and Iran.
Russia’s military said about two weeks ago that Syrian troops have liberated about 85 percent of the war-torn country’s territory from militants, a major turn-around two years after Moscow intervened to lend a hand to its embattled long-time ally.
Muallem heaped praise on the army and the country’s allies and looked ahead to victory, though fighting still continues in many areas of the country.
“I am confident that when this unjust war on Syria is over, the Syrian army will go down in history as the army that heroically defeated, along with its supporting forces and its allies, the terrorists that came to Syria from many countries and received large support from the most powerful countries of the world,” he said.
Israel, he said, was one of the countries supporting the rebels. “It gave them various forms of support—money, equipment, weapons, means of communications—and even bombed Syrian army posts in aid of the terrorist plans,” Muallem charged. “The unlimited Israeli aid to the terrorists does not surprise. They share interests and the goals.”
While the army and its supporting forces and allies “are making daily achievements, clearing out territories and uprooting terrorists,” Muallem said, “the threat of this plague persists.”
On the political front, he said local reconciliation agreements have allowed tens of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees to return home. He said “Syria is determined to scale up reconciliation efforts, whenever possible.”
Russia, Turkey and Iran have been negotiating separately for months in the Kazakh capital Astana to try to reduce violence on the ground by creating de-escalation zones across the country, although those talks do not cover a long-term political solution to the six-year civil war.
Muallem said Syria is encouraged by talks in Astana and expressed hope that these talks “will help us reach an actual cessation of hostilities and separate terrorist groups” like ISIS from groups that have agreed to join the Astana process.
Nevertheless, he said: “Syria reserves the right to respond to any violation by the other party. Syria also stresses that these zones are a temporary arrangement that must not violate the territorial unity of Syria.”
Earlier this month Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to deploy observers on the edge of a “de-escalation” zone in Syria’s Idlib province, which is largely under the control of Islamist insurgents.
The move falls under a broader deal in which they would set up four such zones across Syria.
The de-escalation plan has eased fighting in parts of western Syria between rebel factions and government forces loyal to Assad.
Assad has gained the military upper hand against an array of rebel groups, including some that have received backing from the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.
Critics have described the de-escalation plan as de facto partitioning of Syria after years of multi-sided conflict. Moscow, Tehran and Ankara deny this and say the zones will be temporary, although they could extend beyond the initial six-month term.
Muallem reaffirmed the Syrian government’s commitment to further progress in Geneva talks, which are aimed at establishing a transitional government, drafting a new constitution and holding elections in Syria.
“This process has yet to bear fruit in the absence of a genuine national opposition that can be a partner in Syria’s future,” he said, “and as countries with influence over the other party continue to block any meaningful progress.”
Talks among Syrian opposition groups are expected to take place in early October in hopes of producing a unified delegation in Geneva.