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United Nations

Syria demands all foreign ‘occupying forces’ withdraw immediately in UN address

Speaking at the United Nations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said US, French and Turkish troops needed to leave his country

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 12:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 12:17am

Syria’s foreign minister on Saturday denounced US, French and Turkish forces operating in his country as “occupying forces” and demanded that they leave immediately.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also called on Syrian refugees to come home, even though the country’s war is now in its eighth year.

Moualem said the foreign forces were on Syrian soil illegally, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and “will be dealt with accordingly”.

“They must withdraw immediately and without any conditions,” he told the assembly.

Moualem insisted that the “war on terror is almost over” in Syria, where more than 360,000 people have died since 2011, with millions more uprooted from their homes.

He said Damascus would continue “fighting this sacred battle until we purge all Syrian territories” of both terror groups and “any illegal foreign presence”.

The United States has some 2,000 troops in Syria, who are said to be training and advising Kurdish forces and Syrian Arabs opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

France has more than 1,000 troops on the ground in the war-wracked country.

On the issue of refugees, Moualem said the conditions were fine for them to return, and he blamed the international community for “spreading irrational fears” that prompted refugees to stay away.

“We have called upon the international community and humanitarian organisations to facilitate these returns,” he said. “They are politicising what should be a purely humanitarian issue.”

Moualem spoke at a time when Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have retaken most of the territory rebels seized during the war that has killed over 400,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

A military offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold, was averted last week in a deal reached between Russia and Turkey to set up a demilitarised zone around the province. Still, there is uncertainty over how the deal will be implemented; two insurgent groups have rejected it.

Trump, speaking before the UN Security Council Wednesday, warned Assad against a far-reaching offensive on the northeastern region: “I hope the restraint continues. The world is watching.”

Moualem also denied again his government has used chemical weapons in the fight.

“We fully condemn the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances,” Moallem said. He said countries have lobbed “ready-made accusations” at Syria without what he described as any investigation or evidence.

The US has twice carried out its own air strikes in response to alleged chemical attacks.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse