Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s Remarks on the Situation in Syria
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Koktebel, October 10, 2018

Syria update

The overall situation in Syria remains tense. Meanwhile, the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Stabilisation of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Zone is ongoing (as you may recall, this was signed following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talks with Turkish President Recep Erdogan in Sochi on September 17).

In compliance with the document, all tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and mortars of the conflicting sides were to be withdrawn as of today, while the withdrawal of all radical terrorist groups was to be completed by October 15.

A few hours ago Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a detailed comment on the situation after his talks with his Andorra counterpart. You can see the video and text on the Foreign Ministry site.

We have already noted that some armed Syrian opposition groups in Idlib have stated their support for the Sochi agreements. As of now over a thousand militants have vacated the demilitarised zone and over a hundred units of military equipment were withdrawn. Yesterday, on October 9, Turkish media reported that the withdrawal of heavy equipment had been completed. We are in the process of checking this information with our experts.

Radicals, primarily those from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, continue to try to break up the implementation of the September 17 memorandum. Shelling of residential areas to the west of Aleppo continues. Ceasefire violations by the terrorists in the north of Latakia and Hama provinces are being recorded.

Concurrently, the infighting continues in the Idlib zone between the various radical groups. At least 12 al-Nusra militants and 8 leaders of other illegal armed groups have been killed there in the past 30 days. Again, that’s about two dozen extremist organisation members!

Unfortunately, developments on the eastern bank of the Euphrates are cause for increasing concern. In reality, the Americans are in charge of this area, relying on their allies from among Kurds. The efforts they are making to set up a sort of special administration that is unrelated to the current Constitution of Syria are yielding results that are far from positive, judging by the developments we see “on the ground.” Such quasi statehood activities cause irritation among the non-Kurdish population – the Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomans. The local people are expressing special concerns about the lawlessness of the Asayish security service managed by the Americans. The media gets an increasing number of reports on armed attacks or terrorist assaults on these territories including the area of Raqqa which had been liberated form ISIS some time ago. According to media reports, the terrorists who survived and are rising again in the absence of legitimate power, and also those who for various reasons came into conflict with the administration established by the US across the Euphrates, are taking part in “guerilla” attacks.

For example, on October 3, three Kurdish security personnel were killed and two civilians were wounded in an explosion outside the Asayish checkpoint in Manbij. On the same day, in the vicinity of Raqqa, Islamists from the Popular Resistance of the Eastern Areas movement attacked a stronghold of the Syrian Democratic Forces killing four Kurdish militiamen. In this connection, we note the deployment of additional Kurdish self-defence units to the above areas.

An “odd war” of Kurdish units supported by the US with ISIS has been going on for several months in the south of the Trans-Euphrates area in Hajin and Sousa in the Euphrates valley. The media release daily reports of this, symbolically speaking, “epic battle,” as it is presented, but an end is nowhere to be seen. The purpose behind this petty propagandistic fiddling, not even a campaign, is apparent − to drive home to the public the theme of a continued ISIS presence on Syrian soil. Consequently, the conclusion is drawn that the US military presence in Syria, which is, I repeat, illegal, needs to continue to keep fighting terrorism, as it is presented.

Russia’s assessment of the armed foreign presence in Syria remains the same. You are aware of this, but let me repeat: those service personnel who were invited and accepted by the Syrian government, including the Astana process, are legally present on the territory of the country, as are the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights, which is acting under UN mandate. All other foreign armed forces are there in violation of Syria’s sovereignty. As the above developments in the Trans-Euphrates area indicate, such actions do not entail long-tern normalisation of the situation, on the contrary – they hinder reaching this key goal.

Syrian President’s decree on amnesty for military deserters

I would like to note that on October 9, the official Syrian news agency SANA published a report that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had issued Legislative Decree No. 18 granting general amnesty for those who hid from military conscription. The document exempts from criminal liability for crimes included in the Military Penalties Law issued by Legislative Decree No. 61 of 1950 and its amendments.

The decree automatically covers the respective category of Syrian residents inside and outside the country. An exception is made for individuals hiding from justice and those who are on the wanted list. In order to be granted amnesty, those remaining inside the country must turn themselves in within four months after the issuance of the decree, and those outside the country – within six months.

Moscow welcomes the decree and views it as another very important step of the Syrian government towards overcoming the aftermath of the armed conflict in the country and the long-term stabilisation of the situation. This measure is to play a special role in creating favourable conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.

Russia, on its part, will continue close coordination and interaction with Syrian authorities as well as all other parties concerned within the initiative to ensure a prompt return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons.

Violations of UNSC counter-terrorism resolutions by US and British humanitarian agencies shipping humanitarian aid to northern Syria without consent of the Syrian authorities

Last week a number of Western media outlets reported that a ‘toll” is levied on all cargoes from abroad for the terrorists’ treasury in the regions outside government control in the north of the country, including at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, where the situation is controlled by terrorists, in particular, those of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist organisation (let me remind you that it is the former Jabhat al-Nusra). In particular, London’s The Telegraph reported that 5,000 to 7,000 lorries a month are levied with such a tax at this checkpoint alone. According to the newspaper, such illegal “taxing” gives terrorists around £3 million every month.

The UK’s Department for International Development and the US Agency for International Development are reported to have stopped humanitarian aid deliveries through the above border checkpoint following the scandalous developments.

Let me reiterate that we use the data published in the media. We would also like to hear official statements in this regard.

Jabhat al-Nusra is on the UNSC terrorist sanctions list, and remittance of any financial funds in any form is a direct violation of the Security Council resolutions, of which Moscow reminded its international partners more than once. Those who fund terrorists should themselves be included on the sanctions list. We expect that these actions will, for a start, be thoroughly investigated by UN experts.

The Americans and the British, who by the way never miss a chance to criticise the Russian side for alleged non-compliance with certain UNSC sanction regimes, made a long overdue decision to stop state-funded humanitarian deliveries to the Idlib area. The dues charged by the terrorists had always been there, and we spoke about it and cited facts, and we continue to do it. In particular, we spread that information in the UN Security Council. Regrettably, some non-governmental organisations keep working in that area, carrying their humanitarian aid directly to the regions out of the government control in the north of Syria, thus continuing to nourish terrorists. Who delivers what via border checkpoints managed by the militants is something yet to be determined since the international community does not have the exact data. However, the developments are becoming clearer. But we need solid facts to come to conclusions. This is exactly what we would like to see.

We have been and continue urging the UN Secretariat and Security Council members to cancel the 2014 mandate on the so-called trans-border deliveries of humanitarian aid through a number of checkpoints including Bab al-Hawa. Let me explain why: the point is that the Syrian government only has to be informed but it is not necessary to wait for any authorisation, which also runs contrary to the UN principles of rendering urgent humanitarian aid. This measure was introduced during the acute stage in the Syrian crisis, when there was no other way to deliver help to those in need. Whereas today, when the situation has largely normalised in the greater part of the country’s territory, there is no need for these trans-border deliveries.

We believe relevant conclusions should be made from the facts of financial backing of the terrorists via trans-border humanitarian aid deliveries, when the issue of extending the trans-border mechanism comes up at the UN Security Council at the end of the year.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation