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Syria not afraid of Israel, says FM Mekdad, welcoming closer Iran-Arab ties

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad makes a point in this undated photo by Al Mayadeen television.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has welcomed any move to foster closer relations between Iran and Arab countries, and reiterated that Damascus is not afraid of the Israeli regime and its backers.

In an interview with pan-Arab satellite television channel Al Mayadeen on Sunday, Syria’s top diplomat said his government supports efforts aimed at integration among regional countries.

He said the Islamic Republic of Iran has always supported the Arabs and sided with the people of Syria and Palestine, and welcomed any move toward rapprochement between Tehran and the Arab world.

“We must respond well to the good behavior of the Iranian side,” Mekdad said.

He also said the government in Damascus is “not afraid of Israel or its sponsors”, as he reaffirmed support for Lebanon, which has seen Syria serve as a conduit for shipments of Iranian fuel to the crisis-stricken neighboring country.

Earlier this week, the second Lebanon-bound shipment of Iranian fuel arrived in Syria's northwestern port city of Baniyas under an initiative by the Hezbollah resistance movement to ease the Arab country’s crippling energy crisis.

The fuel is being imported to sanctions-battered Lebanon via Syria in an effort to avoid entangling Lebanon in the US sanctions on Iran.

The humanitarian move by Iran has ruffled feathers in Tel Aviv. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last month dared the Israeli regime to stop the shipment.

“The vessel, from the moment it sails until it enters (Mediterranean) waters, will be considered Lebanese territory,” he said during a televised speech last month. “To the Americans and Israelis, I say: it’s Lebanese territory.”

Mekdad, echoing Nasrallah's words, said Syria is not afraid of the Israeli regime and its attempts to prevent the Iranian fuel from reaching Lebanon.

He also lashed out at Western countries for their “double standards” toward the government and the people of Syria.

“Syria does not trust the intentions of Western countries,” Mekdad asserted. “These countries created terrorism in Syria and financed it and they continue to send terrorists and assassins to Syria.”

The Syrian foreign minister also denounced the unilateral US approach, stressing that Washington has suffered on the account of its distance from international organizations.

“Syria is rich in natural resources, but the US and European sanctions have caused problems to the country’s economy,” he said, lambasting the sanctions regime against Syria.

Mekdad also called for the repeal of the Caesar Act, which blocks foreign investments in Syria’s reconstruction efforts, calling it a “crime against humanity" by the US government.

He said the law is “not in the interest of the people of Syria but in the interest of Israel.”

The top Syrian diplomat further called for the “dignified withdrawal” of US forces from the region, “not like Afghanistan.”

Reconciliation program in Dara’a

Several units of the Syrian army were deployed in the villages and towns in al-Yarmouk Basin area of ​​western Dara’a on Monday, according to the official news agency SANA.

The deployment took place after the surrender of dozens of armed men and fugitives in the village of Sahem al-Jawlan in the Hauran region of the Dara’a governorate.

Meanwhile, operations are underway to bring gunmen in the villages and towns of al-Shajra, al-Qusair, Abedin, Naf'a, Jama'a, Beit Areh and Koya in the northwestern province of Dara'a into the mainstream fold, in line with a reconciliation agreement reached by the Syrian government.

Many similar reconciliation programs have been initiated in recent days, starting from Dara’a al-Balad neighborhood and continued in other villages and towns of the governorate.

Last week, the Syrian army entered the towns of Tal Shihab and Zaizoun in Dara’a, where militants laid down their arms under a truce agreement proposed by the government last month.

The complete control over Dara’a is seen as a significant victory for the government in Damascus since the province borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The strategic territory’s return to the Syrian government could sever collaboration between the Israeli regime and militants and accordingly deal a blow to Tel Aviv’s plans to annex the Golan Heights.

Turkish reinforcements in northwest Syria

Meanwhile, Turkey has sent reinforcements to northwestern Syria where Russia has stepped up airstrikes, three days before Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan are due to meet.

Quoting several sources, Reuters said Russian jets bombed villages around the city of Afrin on Sunday, intensifying airstrikes on towns and villages held by Turkish-backed militants.

At least five militants from a Turkey-backed faction were killed while at least 12 civilians were injured in the attacks, the report said.

Erdogan and Putin are scheduled to meet in Sochi on Wednesday to discuss the situation in the war-ravaged Arab country.

Last week, Syria’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Turkish military’s ongoing operations in the northern part of the country, stressing that the offensives are in blatant violation of the Arab nation’s sovereignty and independence.

An unnamed official source in the ministry said that the operations were in line with the “hostile policies” of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.

The report said Syria calls on the UN Secretary General António Guterres and the Security Council to adopt a clear stance vis-à-vis the Ankara government’s “aggressive policies”, as Security Council’s resolutions reiterate respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

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