Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s Remarks on the Situation in Syria

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Update on Syria

We have noted the dangerous escalation of tensions around the Idlib de-escalation zone since late April and up to present where the largest group of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists is deployed. The Russian Defence Ministry regularly covers developments “on the ground,” including in Idlib.

We would like to add to these reports. The aggressive activities of the HTS terrorists in Idlib – firing at towns and villages and attacks against Syrian government forces positions – create a security threat for the civilian population and lead to civilian casualties, including women and children. Thus, four children and one woman died and about ten children were wounded on May 12 after a strike on the pre-school centre in the Christian city of Suqaylibiyah in the northwest of Hama Province.

Also, the jihadists’ regular attempts to attack the Russian air base at Khmeimim with multiple launch rocket systems and combat drones pose a direct threat to the safety of Russian service personnel. The last terrorist attempt of this kind was recorded on May 19, when the air defence system shot down six missiles and destroyed two combat drones.

The Russian Aerospace Forces provide the Syrian government forces with necessary backup in order to crush the hotspots of terrorist activity in the southern parts of the Idlib de-escalation zone. Such measures are limited in scope. I would like to stress again that the Syrian armed forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces deliver strikes only on terrorist facilities, which are confirmed by reconnaissance data. Any talk of a peaceful coexistence with terrorists is out of the question. Meanwhile, the Russian side remains committed to the full implementation of the respective Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib, including the September 17, 2018 Memorandum.

The latest developments in Idlib and around it have, predictably, prompted a negative response from the Western nations, including at the UN platform. Over the past two weeks, the UN Security Council met twice to discuss the situation in Syria, focusing on Idlib. Recent discussions once again showed the West’s policy of double standards and the selective approach to the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Syria. In this connection, we would like to ask the Western representatives who are concerned so much about the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Idlib – why, for instance, don’t you demand special UNSC meetings on the situation in Syria’s northeast? In particular, on the aftermath of the anti-terrorist operations of the so-called international anti-ISIS coalition.

There is abundant information in this regard as well as confirmed data on civilian deaths as a result of the US-led coalition’s actions. We have already referred to the publication by the Amnesty International human rights organisation about the events surrounding the so-called liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2017. The report can be supplemented with reports by other foreign NGOs published in recent months. Thus, we have noted the reports by British NGOs that say that over 13,600 people, of which 3,800 are civilians, including 972 small children, have died in the air strikes by the US and its allies in the provinces of Hasakah, Raqqa, Idlib, Deir Ez-Zor and Aleppo from September 2014 to present. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2019 alone, over 1,200 people, predominantly civilians, died in the coalition’s massive air strikes on Baduz al-Faukani in Deir ez-Zor. All of this information is available and is posted on the websites of these organisations. We call on all interested parties to carefully study these reports once you trust them. As to the Americans and their coalition partners, they need to find the courage to admit responsibility for the crimes committed in Syria.

We would like to note, regarding the situation concerning the Rukban camp, that the Syrian authorities, with Russian support, are continuing their efforts to evacuate the camp’s residents. Over 13,000 people have left since late March thanks to these measures. They were all taken to temporary shelters in the Homs province. In early May, these shelters were visited by officials from the respective UN agencies, in particular, the UNHCR, who could personally see that the Syrian government provided the required level of accommodation for the refugees in Homs. It is remarkable that most of the former Rukban residents have already relocated from temporary shelters in Homs to permanent residencies in government-controlled areas.

On the political track of the Syria settlement, we note with satisfaction the consistent character of interaction between the Syrian authorities and the office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria. Recently, Khawla Matar, Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, visited the Syrian capital and met with the leadership of the Foreign Ministry of Syria. We expect that the dialogue between the UN and Damascus will facilitate the initiation of a sustainable political process carried out and driven by the Syrians themselves with the assistance of the UN in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

A question was asked at the previous briefing regarding security at the Syria-Turkey border. We proceed from the assumption that any agreements on this matter should be grounded in total respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. Any actions violating these principles cannot be a foundation for the sustainable and lasting stabilisation of the situation in Syria.

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 23, 2019