MESOP NEWS ROJAVA REPORT : WHO OWNS RAQQA NOW ? -Iranians Talk with Assad; Saudis Talk with US and Raqqa Council

By Scott Lucas –  20 October 20, 2017 – eaworldview – Amid concern about Israel and uncertainty about Russia’s position — Iran’s military head has met Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.General Mohammad Baqeri sat down with Assad on Thursday, a day after conferring with Syrian counterparts. Iranian and Syrian State media restricted reports of the meeting to general mantras about Baqeri’s congratulation of the Assad regime on “recent achievements in its fight against terrorism” and Assad’s expression of gratitude for Iran’s backing. Baqeri also spoke of Iranian support for reconstruction of Syria’s economy, with devastation throughout the country and a drop of 75% in GDP since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

On Wednesday, Baqeri’s published comments were directed at Israel, which is continuing airstrikes on regime positions in southwest Syria to maintain a buffer zone near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces have periodically carried out attacks to prevent transfers of missiles and weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, allied with Iran and Assad, and to prevent Hezbollah and Iranian forces from establishing positions in the area.Russia, the other main backer of Assad, has begun to diverge from Tehran in its approach both towards the Israelis and towards the general conflict. In southwest Syria, Moscow and the US have declared a “de-escalation zone”, limiting any move by Hezbollah and Iran, while Russia accepts the Israeli intervention. Elsewhere, the de-escalation zones are holding the Assad regime back from any immediate attempt to crush the remaining opposition areas: in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, in the Damascus suburbs, and in other parts of the south.

Saudi Visit to Northern Syria

A Saudi minister has visited northern Syria for discussions with local authorities and a US envoy about reconstruction of Raqqa, fully captured by the Kurdish-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces from the Islamic State on Tuesday. SDF advisor Amed Sido said Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan and Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition against ISIS, met the Raqqa Civil Council.

Sido added the Saudi delegation was present to listen rather than participate but “they promised that they would contribute in construction in Raqqa in the future”.

The SDF’s victory after a four-month offensive raises questions about the future control and development of Raqqa, Syria’s 7th-largest city. The area has a largely-Arab population but the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD) is moving towards an autonomous Kurdish territory across northern Syria. The Assad regime is also opposed to any settlement that leaves Raqqa outside its authority.  Much of the city is in ruins, with hundreds of civilians killed during the anti-ISIS campaign and many other fleeing to nearby camps. The international charity Mercy Corps said on Thursday that most of Raqqa is uninhabitable.Sido said the current priority is clearance of landmines and bodies and work on restoration of water and electricity.