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US illegitimate presence in Syria contributes to instability: Lavrov

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah are pictured before their meeting in Moscow, Russia, on February 18, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the illegal presence of US military forces in Syria is a source of instability in the conflict-plagued Arab country, stressing that any solution to the Syria crisis must be in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

“We share stance on Syria. The Security Council Resolution 2254 has no alternative. It should be fully implemented, and in this context we have informed our interlocutors about the efforts taken in this direction by the guarantor states of the Astana peace process – Russia, Iran and Turkey, including the outcome of the February 14 summit of the Astana format in Sochi,” Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah in Moscow on Monday.

Resolution 2254 endorses a road map for a peace process in Syria. It calls for a nationwide ceasefire in the Arab country, the formation of a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” government within six months and UN-supervised “free and fair elections” within 18 months.

Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara have been mediating peace negotiations between representatives from the Damascus government and Syrian opposition groups in a series of rounds held in the Kazakh capital city of Astana and other places since January 2017.

Russia has also hosted parallel talks in the resort city of Sochi aimed at solidifying the three countries’ cooperation towards returning peace and stability to Syria.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Lavrov noted that the presence of American troops in Syria is contributing to instability, and is impeding a political settlement of the nearly eight-year conflict in the country.

The top Russian diplomat went on to say that US forces are unlawfully deployed to al-Tanf region in southern Syria, training terrorists, who carry out acts of terror across Syria and prevent the return of displaced people in the Rukban refugee camp to their hometowns.

“We, along with the Syrian government, are calling for this to take place.  But the United States and the extremists, whom it sponsors and are in control of the camp, do not let people leave (the camp),” Lavrov said.

The senior Russian official also urged UN humanitarian envoys to “see that everything is far from being in order” in Rukban and report back their findings to the UN Security Council.

Russian officials have accused the US and Washington-backed militants of holding people in Rukban hostage.

“We call on the American command and leaders of illegal militant groups in the al-Tanf region to out an end to the forcible keeping of women and children, mostly affected by cold, illness and malnutrition in the camp. All of them will be given necessary assistance,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on February 15 as a humanitarian convoy of the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) delivered aid, including medical supplies and basic commodities, to Rukban.

Konashenkov added that Russia and Syria would jointly establish a temporary housing area for refugees from the camp.

The UN says about 45,000 people, mostly women and children, are trapped inside the Rukban refugee camp, where conditions are desperate.

Also in his remarks, Lavrov touched on Syria's suspension from the Arab League, emphasizing that Syria’s return to the organization will contribute to a political solution to the Syria crisis and normalization of relations between Damascus and Arab countries.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in November 2011, citing alleged crackdown by Damascus on opposition protests. Syria denounced the move as "illegal and a violation of the organization’s charter.”

Alawi, for his part, underlined the need for a political settlement of the ongoing crisis in Syria, lauding Russia’s efforts to work out a solution to the conflict and secure the return of all displaced Syrians back to their homeland.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.

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