PHOTO: US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday


UPDATE 1815 GMT: Complementing Russia’s latest line proposing early Parliamentary and Presidential elections, Bashar al-Assad has told a visiting Russian delegation that “eradicating terrorist organizations [will] lead to the political solution that we, in Syria and Russia, seek in a way that satisfies the Syrian people and protects Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”.

Assad made the remarks at a photo opportunity with MPs and “social figures”, including Sergei Gavrilov, the Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Property Affairs.

The delegation “stressed that the Russian people support the efforts exerted by President al-Assad in counter-terrorism, which sets the foundations for bringing back peace and stability to Syria, as they would form a new world system based on a just ground”.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Pushing back against Russia’s initiative to keep Bashar al-Assad in power during a political transition, Saudi Arabia has repeated that Syria’s President must step down.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir set out Riyadh’s line on Saturday, a day after talks with Russia, Turkey, and the US in Vienna and as US Secretary of State John Kerry — travelling directly from Austria to Saudi Arabia — met King Salman.

Following Moscow’s bombing campaign inside Syria, the US, Britain, and Germany have all said that Assad can rule for up to six months during a transition. Turkey joined that position last week.

Saudi Arabia, a leading backer of Syria’s rebels, finally said that it would consider Assad’s short-term presence but did not put a time on how long he could remain. Riyadh immediately said after Friday’s meeting in Vienna that the talks were inconclusive, although consultations would continue.

Jubeir also moved on Saturday to block any Iranian presence at the negotiations, saying that Tehran was a supporter of “terrorism”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Iran and Egypt could both soon join the discussions. Kerry said the moment was not right for the Islamic Reublic to sit at the table, although he referred to an “expanded” negotiations with more talks as soon as this Friday.

Free Syrian Army Rejects Russian Offer of “Cooperation”

The Free Syrian Army has rejected Russia’s latest political move, an offer for cooperation with the Assad regime against “terrorists”.

“Russia is bombing the Free Syrian Army and now it wants to cooperate with us while it remains committed to Assad? We don’t understand Russia at all,” Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, a spokesman for the FSA’s Division 13, said on Saturday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was ready to provide air support to the FSA if the US helped Moscow identify “the patriotic opposition”.

Moscow has repeatedly said it will bolster an anti-terrorist force while doubting whether that force exists among Syria’s rebels. At the outset of Russia’s bombing campaign, Lavrov declared that the FSA was a “phantom”.

Samir Nashar, a member of the externally-based opposition Syrian National Coalition, noted that 80% of Russia’s airstrikes since September 30 have hit the FSA and other rebel factions: “Instead of talking about their willingness to support the Free Syrian Army, they should stop bombing it.”

Fares Bayoush, the head of the FSA-affiliated group Fursan al-Haq, echoed, “Russia must firstly stop bombing the headquarters of the Free Army before offering air support that we haven’t asked for.”

He added that Russia’s call for Presidential and Parliamentary elections was insincere: “It means they are asking for Assad to stay in an interim period.”

Tribute to Journalist Wasim al-Edl, Killed in Idlib Airstrike

Zaina Erhaim has paid tribute to fellow journalist Wasim al-Edl, who was killed last week in an airstrike in Idlib Province in northwest Syria:

The moment that al-Edl was struck:

Reports: Rebels Cut Regime’s Only Supply Route Into Aleppo

Reports say rebels have cut the regime’s last supply route into Aleppo city, including access from Aleppo International Airport and from Hama.

Last week, the Islamic State cut the Khanasir-to-Aleppo road to the east of Syria’s largest city, while rebels threatened it to the south.

However, citizen journalist Abdurahman Harkoush points out that the Syrian military can still construct dirt roads into Aleppo. A local source adds, In “The regime has reserves and can hold out for a long time. Not so civilians.”

Israel Military: Border Alert Caused by Israeli Arab Paragliding Into Syria To Join Rebels

Israel’s military has said that an alert on Saturday night — with widespread rumors of its airstrikes on Syrian regime positions — was caused by an Israeli Arab para-gliding into Syria from the Golan Heights to join a Syrian rebel faction.

Brigadier General Moti Almoz said on Sunday that the Israel Defense Forces spotted the para-glider about 5 p.m. on Saturday, and that the 23-year-old man was picked up by a contact inside Syria: “From the moment we spotted him, a large operational and intelligence search and investigation by the Northern Command, which was joined by the [domestic intelligence service] Shin Bet, began.”