Damascus says pact a ‘victory’ for Syria
Syrian reconciliation minister Ali Haidar says weapons deal would prepare way for negotiations between government and opposition
Free Syrian Army fighters hold their weapons while riding on a vehicle before heading to fight in Aleppo’s district of Salaheddine. Photograph: Reuters/Aref Hretani
Syria’s government has hailed as a “victory” a Russian-brokered deal that has averted US strikes, while President Barack Obama has defended the chemical weapons pact that Syrian rebels fear has bolstered their enemy in the civil war.
Jets and artillery hit rebel suburbs of the capital again yesterday in an offensive that residents said began last week when Mr Obama delayed air strikes in the face of opposition from Moscow and his own electorate.
Syrian reconciliation minister Ali Haidar yesterday welcomed the agreement, calling it “a victory for Syria”.
“On one hand, it will help the Syrians emerge from the crisis and, on the other, it has allowed for averting war against Syria. ”
He said the deal would prepare the way for negotiations between the government and the opposition.
It “gives the opportunity to solve . . . all the problems of Syria, not only the problem of chemical weapons.”
Rebel Free Syria Army chief Selim Idriss rejected the deal, but said Free Army units would facilitate the mission of UN experts tasked with dealing with the weapons while vowing to continue fighting “until the regime falls”.
The deal has averted the threat of air strikes Mr Obama made after poison gas killed hundreds of Syrians on August 21st, although he has stressed that force remains an option if Syria reneges.
Russia still opposes military action but is now backing possible UN sanctions for non-compliance.
French president Francois Hollande called for a UN resolution backed by the threat of punitive action to be voted on by the end of this week. He said the option of military strikes must remain on the table. US secretary of state John Kerry, on a visit to Israel, responded to widespread doubts about the feasibility of the “the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever” by insisting the plan could work. He and Obama sought to reassure Israelis the decision to hold fire on Syria does not mean Iran can pursue nuclear weapons with impunity. Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi welcomed the plan, arguing that it would help reach a political solution to the conflict.
– (Additional reporting Reuters)