Arab leaders say Syria crisis can only be solved politically

Need to pursue normal relations with al-Assad’s government is stressed at Cairo summit

The Arab ministerial contact group on Syria has said the crisis in that country can only be resolved by political means and has stressed Arab determination to pursue normal relations with the government.

A meeting in Cairo this week was attended by the Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Saudi foreign ministers and Arab League secretary general Ahmed Abol Gheit.

Mr Abol Gheit’s spokesman Jamal Rushdy said the meeting “reflects the seriousness of Arab countries in playing a major role in resolving the crisis in Syria and [avoiding] its dangerous repercussions”.

Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told the gathering that Syria’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, non-intervention in its domestic affairs” must form the basis for addressing the country’s problems.


The group, established on May 6th, welcomed Syria’s agreement with the UN to permit humanitarian access to jihadi-held northwest Syria and called for withdrawal from Syria of “all unauthorised foreign forces”.

While Russian and Iranian forces have intervened on the government’s side during Syria’s civil and proxy wars, “unauthorised” Turkish troops have backed insurgents and occupied northern enclaves while US soldiers have established bases in eastern territory held by Syrian Kurds.

The ministers urged the UN and the international community to aid Syria’s recovery after a decade of conflict and create a secure environment for the return home of millions of Syrian refugees. They also called for a co-ordinated campaign to eliminate terrorism.

The Cairo meeting coincided with explosions at Syrian arms depots near Damascus allegedly carried out by Israel and escalating attacks on the Syrian army by jihadi fighters of Islamic State. This week 10 Syrian troops were killed in an attack near the central city of Raqqa and last Friday 33 were killed in an ambush on a military bus in the east. In the northwest, al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has stepped up raids on Syrian military posts and convoys.

Turkish defence minister Yasar Guler has rejected Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s demand for Turkey’s withdrawal from Syrian territory. Ankara argues US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces are tied to Turkey’s secessionist Kurds and threaten Turkey. Mr Guler said: “It is unthinkable for us to withdraw without ensuring the security of our borders and our people.”

In response to Turkey’s stand, Mr Mekdad told the meeting: “We believe that the Turkish occupation does not pose a threat to Syria only, but it also threatens Arab national security and Arab interests in general. Therefore, it is necessary to intensify efforts and take practical steps to put an end to it in line with our common interests, and the firm foundations of international law.”

Since unrest erupted in Syria in 2011, more than 350,000 have been killed and half the population has been domestically displaced or driven outside the country.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times