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Iraq FM: Syria should return to the Arab League

BAGHDAD, IRAQ : Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari and Foreign Minister of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah (not seen) hold a press conference after signing an agreement on border gates, security and aviation cooperation in Baghdad, Iraq on 28 December 2016. [Murtadha Sudani /Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari holds a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq [Murtadha Sudani /Anadolu Agency]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari has urged the Arab League to accept Syria’s membership once again, as part of the intensified efforts of the Syrian regime and its allies to bring the seven year conflict to a conclusion.

“No one can isolate Syria,” Al-Jaafari announced yesterday during his visit to Damascus, in which he also praised the Syrian government “for being strong facing hardships”. He concluded by calling for dialogue in order to restore ties as soon as possible.

The Arab League, which includes some 22 member countries, froze Syria’s membership after the eruption of the civil war in 2011, which was followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties between regional governments and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The Syrian premier, who was also at the press conference, thanked the Iraqi government for its continuous support over the past seven years, attributing recent victories against fighters in Syria and Iraq to mutual cooperation between the two countries.

READ: Syria offers amnesty to deserters, draft dodgers

He stressed the importance of upgrading and consolidating bilateral ties, and advocated for a greater effort to reopen border crossings.

Yesterday, the Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria officially opened to civilians and trade, for the first time since it was closed three years ago. The Syrian government successfully retook the area around the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in July after a Russian-backed offensive expelled opposition groups from their stronghold in the southwest of the country.

The Quneitra border between Syria and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights was also reopened yesterday, bringing the crossing’s four year closure to an end. UN observers, who had fled the area in 2014, have slowly returned and restarted patrols, ensuring that both sides adhere to the 1974 agreement which established a buffer zone between the two states.

The opening of the crossing is a “signal of the return of stability to Syria and the failure of the efforts to divide the country”, Syrian army Brigadier Mazen Younes told reporters.

As the war winds down, the Syrian government has attempted to re-establish ties with regional and international actors to support its claims of victory over opposition fighters, who are largely confined to the northern province of Idlib.

READ: Assad: Idlib ceasefire deal is ‘temporary’

“We are now witnessing the early fruits of victory,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said at the press conference yesterday, adding that the “real victory” would come when the government recaptures its territory in full, citing areas in the north including Idlib, still outside government control.

Last month, a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey averted a regime offensive on the northern opposition stronghold, home to some three million people. Initially met positively by both sides, optimism drained following revelations that the 15 to 20 kilometre buffer zone was to be absorbed entirely by opposition-held territory in Idlib, with no military withdrawal on the part of the regime. Whilst heavy weaponry was withdrawn by all major factions in accordance with the deal’s stipulated deadline yesterday, the longevity of the deal remains uncertain.

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