PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with President Assad on Wednesday



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Iran’s Foreign Minister paid a quick visit to President Assad in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, amid signs that a Russian-Iranian “peace initiative” — possibly hoping to save Assad from military defeat or departure from office — has collapsed.

Mohammad Javad Zarif came to Damascus directly from the Lebanese capital Beirut, where he saw Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday. However, Zarif postponed a journey to Turkey following Saudi Arabia’s blunt, public rejection of the Russian-Iranian plan.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, after their meeting in Moscow: “Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution to the Syrian crisis….There is no place for Assad in the future of Syria.”

Lavrov was caught muttering on an open microphone during Jubeir’s statement, “Morons.”

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah have been essential to Assad’s survival in the 4 1/2-year Syrian conflict, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey are key supporters of the opposition and rebels.

Zarif and Iranian State media said little about the meeting with Assad. The Foreign Minister said it was a “good discussion” and that “the time has come for everyone to respect the will of the Syrian people in fighting terrorism”.

Syrian State news agency SANA posts a longer report about the meeting, but makes no reference to the peace initiative, launched by Russia in late June in a talk between President Vladimir Putin and the Saudi Defence Minister Crown Prince Mohammad:

The two sides exchanged views on the best means to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria.

Zarif stressed that the Syrians’ will must be the compass of any ideas for resolving the crisis away from any foreign interference and in a way that preserves the Syrian territorial integrity and its independent decision.

He also stressed Iran’s determination to support the steadfastness of Syrian people and ease their suffering due to the fierce war waged against them.

President al-Assad thanked the Iranian government and people for their enduring support for Syria in the face of terrorism and the sincere efforts made by Iran and friendly countries to stop the war on Syria and preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Iran did achieve a small success on Wednesday with 48-hour ceasefires for both the six-week Hezbollah-regime offensive on Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, and rebel attacks on two regime enclaves in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Both Iranian and Turkish mediators were reportedly involved in the talks, led for the rebels by the Ahrar al-Sham faction.

Hezbollah and the Syrian military had hoped to offset recent rebel advances across Syria with a quick victory in Zabadani, held by the opposition since January 2012. However, the attackers have faced stiff resistance from rebels holding out in the town.

Earlier this month, rebels launched heavy attacks on the villages of Fu’ah and Kafraya, two of the last regime positions in Idlib Province, to press for a halt to the Zabadani offensive.

On Wednesday, the rebels claimed a short-term victory. An Ahrar al-Sham spokesman said, “Iran and Hezbollah [suffered] heavy losses, which caused them to enter into a temporary truce to stop the attacks on Zabadani in exchange for [a ceasefire over] al-Fu’ah.”

Assad supporters maintained that Hezbollah and the Syrian military had reached the center of Zabadani, even if they had not completed their capture of the town, 31 km (19 miles) northwest of Damascus.

Regime troops facing local rebels in a nearby building after the ceasefire:


Video: Death Toll from Wednesday’s Regime Strikes Near Damascus Rises to Almost 70

The death toll from Wednesday’s regime airstrikes on the East Ghouta area near Damascus is now 68, according to the Local Coordination Committees.

The LCC said the casualties were among 114 across the country yesterday.

Syrian warplanes hit rebel-held suburbs such as ‎Douma‬, ‪Saqba‬, ‪‎Hamouriyeh‬, and ‪‎Kafrbatna‬.

The attacks have continued today. Footage of an attack on a market of Kafrbatna, with rescuers retrieving the injured:

US Criticizes Turkey for Not Attacking Islamic State…But Tells Turkey, “Don’t Attack Islamic State Yet”

[UPDATE 1215 GMT: This news appears to have been overtaken by reports of the first US-led coalition airstrikes, from Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase, in support of rebel ground operations against the Islamic State in northern Syria.

See Syria Developing: Supported by Coalition and Turkey, Rebels Advance Against Islamic State]

In a classic “Catch 22”, US officials are criticizing Turkey for not attacking the Islamic State in northern Syria — while also telling Ankara that the time is not right to attack the Islamic State.

This interesting position is set out in a Wall Street Journal article on Thursday. “U.S. Concerns Grow About Turkish Bombardment of Kurdish Separatists”:

Some U.S. officials suspect Turkey is using its recent agreement with the U.S. to fight Islamic State as cover for a new offensive against Kurdish separatist group PKK.

A senior U.S. official said Turkey gave American officials assurances last week that it planned to wrap up attacks on the Kurds in short order, but it has kept up the bombardments focused on the group’s bases in northern Iraq near the Turkish border.

“It’s clear that ISIL was a hook,” said a senior U.S. military official, referring to Islamic State. “Turkey wanted to move against the PKK, but it needed a hook.”

However, two paragraphs later, the sources explain a delay in operations in northern Syria:

Turkish and U.S. officials [said] their countries were still working out the details of joint air operations. Until those details can be finalized, the U.S. military has asked Turkey not to carry out any strikes against Islamic State.

The article does not offer any information about the details.

However, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said there had been discussions over the relationship between Turkey’s proposed “safe zones” inside Syria and the area controlled by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The official said agreement had been reached:

There is no hesitation from the beginning regarding the understanding we have reached with the US. They [PYD] will not cross to the west of the Euphrates [River]. They will not perform ethnic cleansing and demographic surgery.

He added that the PYD is “aware where they must stop”, as the message was conveyed to the group by the US and other channels.

Turkey’s plan is for “ISIL [Islamic State]-free zone” of 98 km (61 miles) along the Turkish between Mare’ and Jarablus, extending 40 km (25 miles) inside Syria.

Ankara had called this a “safe zone”, but US officials said the term was inappropriate, as the mission is only to clear the Islamic State from the area.

Did Assad’s Military Use Napalm in Attack on Damascus Suburb?

The Syrian opposition has asked for an enquiry into alleged use of napalm by Assad forces on the Damascus suburb of Darayya.

Rescue workers said the Assad regime dropped four barrel bombs containing napalm on Tuesday afternoon, triggering huge fires which were only brought under control early Wednesday morning.

The Darayya Media Center said fires spread to civilian areas but injuries were limited because many people fled to designated shelters when the attacks began.

The Syrian air force has stepped up bombardment of Darayya as ground troops have come under increasing pressure by rebels, who control most of the town. It carried out more barrel-bombing on Wednesday night:

A former commanding officer of Britain’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear regiment said video of Tuesday’s attacks appeared to support the claims of the rescue workers.

“It is likely that it is napalm,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said. “Napalm seems to fit the bill.”

Napalm is an incendiary weapon that includes both fuel and a gel substance that adheres to skin and burns intensely when it combusts. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of incendiary weapons on civilian targets and on military targets surrounded by concentrations of civilians.