Iran’s Velayati: “Soon we will see the eastern Syria cleared, and then the Idlib area in west”
In his third declaration in less than a week, the top aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader has said the Assad regime will retake much of the territory held by Kurdish groups and by the opposition in Syria.
Hours after meeting Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ali Akbar Velayati (pictured) said from Aleppo — Syria’s largest city, fully reoccupied by pro-Assad forces in December 2016 — “Soon we will see the eastern Syria cleared, and then the Idlib area in west.”
Both the Kurdish-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces and a pro-Assad offensive have taken almost all the Islamic State positions in eastern Syria this year. Almost all of Idlib Province in the northwest has been held by the opposition since spring 2015.
Velayati said after meeting the governor of Aleppo Province, Hussein Diab.
The terrorists’ proxy wars have caused great damage to Aleppo and other cities in Syria, but they also strengthened the people’s resolve and resistance against the armed terrorists and their allies….The presence of an Iranian delegation in Aleppo signifies the readiness of the Iranian nation to stand by Syrian people, whether during the time of war or during the restoration process.
Last week Iran said for the first time, through Velayati, that it would support a pro-Assad drive against the Kurds: “We will witness in the near future the advance of government and popular forces in Syria and east of the Euphrates, and the liberation of Raqqa city”, completely taken by the SDF from the Islamic State in early October after a four-month offensive.
On Tuesday the Supreme Leader’s aide listened to Assad proclaim that he would oversee “recovery of security and stability to all Syrian lands”, implicitly rejecting Kurdish autonomy as well as crushing the opposition and rebels.
Iranian media portrayed Velayati as generally responding, “Today, the enemies of the resistance front are at their weakest compared to the past,” as Assad decried the “foreign invaders” — the US and Turkey, who have backed the Kurds and rebels, respectively.
But yesterday Velayati, a former Foreign Minister, added substance with his reaffirmation that Tehran will support the pro-Assad forces if they choose to move against the SDF in Deir ez-Zor Province, where both sides have made substantial gains in the past two months.
With his reference to Idlib, the Supreme Leader’s aide is publicly setting Iran against Russia — the Assad regime’s other main ally — which officially is pursuing a “de-escalation zone” allowing the opposition to maintain control. Tehran formally joined Moscow last month in proclaiming the zone but has always been hesitant in supporting its implementation.
Velayati made no specific reference on Wednesday to the future of Raqqa, Syria’s seventh-largest city, after the SDF’s defeat of ISIS. The Assad regime has said that it will regain the city but the SDF has rejected handover to Damascus and said Raqqa, with a mainly-Arab population, will be run by a local council.
Tribal Leaders Intervene to Stop Conscription by Kurds-Led SDF
Residents have told Syria Direct that tribal leaders in several Arab-majority cities intervened to stop conscription of men by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic FOrces.
Kurdish governing authorities in northern Syria reserve the right to conscript able-bodied men above the age of 18 for nine months of “self-defense duty”. The law applies to all Syrians and foreign nationals in the cantons, although enforcement varies from area to area.
The Kurdish self-administration in the cities of Tabqa and Manbij had pursued mandatory conscription, leading to a general strike in Manbij earlier this month. But earlier this week the authorities switched to voluntary enlistment after negotiations with local Arab tribes, protesting the weekend detentions of dozens of men.