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By the Gazette Editorial Board

THE visit that a delegation representing the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) paid to Cairo last week and the talks it held with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri point to Egypt’s keenness on contributing effectively to the furtherance of the chances for reaching a political solution to the crisis which has caused a lot of instability in the regional scene and untold humanitarian sufferings to the Syrian people. In addition to the awesome death toll, estimated by one Syrian monitoring group to have reached nearly 511,000 by March this year, Syria remained the country with the world’s highest forcibly displaced population in 2017 with 12.6 million at the year’s end, according to the UNHCR Global Trends Report. Some 6.3 million of these are refugees, 146,700 are asylum-seekers and 6.2 million are internally displaced persons — quite a frightening picture of the grave humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis remaining so far unsolved.  In the face of this crisis, Egypt firmly and justifiably believes that only a political solution based upon maintaining Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity and preserving its national institutions can bring the country back to normal. 

While it served as an opportunity for the Syrian delegation to get apprised of Cairo’s reappraisal of the ongoing developments, the timing was also important, as so Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid indicated in statements to a private TV channel last Thursday, given that it took place when moves are under way to form the committee which will negotiate the writing of a constitution under the auspices of the United Nations as so provided for under UNSC Resolution 2254 of the year 2015.  Recent reports from Geneva indicate that UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistrua, is currently endeavouring to put in place a Syrian-owned, Syrian-led and UN-facilitated constitutional committee.

In acknowledgement of Egypt’s policy stance of lending full support to all efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria, the UN envoy emphasised in a statement from Geneva on June 14 following a visit to Cairo that he “particularly valued the counsel and insights of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi during the in-depth discussion on this point which he had had with him.” And in the course of the talks with the visiting Syrian delegation, Minister Shoukri renewed Egypt’s keenness to push forward the endeavours to achieve a political solution in Syria, noting in this context that Egypt keeps coordinating with Syrian, regional and international parties in the direction of finding such a political solution and also to back up relevant UN efforts.  It is therefore hoped that the formation of the constitutional committee will be a step towards full implementation of UNSC Resolutions 2254 and the relevant frameworks for a solution, including the Geneva I Communiqué.  

MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 (MENA) - Syria has not possessed chemical weapons since 2013 and any accusations that the Syrian army is using them are a pretext for an intervention by other countries, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Russian channel NTV on Sunday.

According to the Syrian leader, these fairy tales about chemical weapons are invented when the terrorists controlled by the West are defeated in some Syrian areas.

"These provocations have nothing to do with reality. This is the result of their own imagination, and that of the media, and something what is invented by their mass media is further disseminated across the world through the Internet and other media. That’s why it is impossible to prevent this provocation. Americans constantly lie and attack immediately," the Syrian president said.

"When there is no respect for international rules, when there are no efficient UN bodies, you may not speak about preventing provocations and the world lives upon the jungle law," he noted.

AMMAN, June 24, 2018 (Reuters) - Russian jets struck an opposition held town in southwest Syria on Sunday, opposition sources said, in the first air cover provided by Moscow to an expanding Syrian army offensive to recapture the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

Two tracking centers that monitor military aircraft movements recorded at least twenty strikes on Busra al Harir, northeast of Deraa, a city in Syria, two sources told Reuters.

“We have tracked a sortie of 5 Russian jets that performed 25 raids,” said one source saying the war jets had set off from Russia’s Hmeimim air base in the western coastal province of Latakia in Syria.

Syrian government forces had so far made heavy use of artillery and rockets in the current assault, and Russian warplanes that were critical to the recovery of other rebel-held areas had not been deployed until now.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture the sensitive strategic area and the army began ramping up its assault there last week, threatening a “de-escalation” zone agreed by the United States and Russia last year.

Throwing in Russia’s full military weight in the campaign to regain southern Syria will weaken the ability of mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups to withstand relentless bombing on civilian areas that forced their compatriots in other areas to submit to surrender deals.

Opposition hopes had been raised after Washington warned Assad and his Russian allies that violations of the zone would have “serious repercussions” and pledged “firm and appropriate measures”.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said earlier on Friday that the Syrian military escalation “unambiguously violates” the de-escalation arrangement.

“Russia will ultimately bear responsibility for any further escalations in ‎Syria,” Haley said in a statement.

Rebels in southern Syria have received support, including arms from Assad’s foreign foes during the seven-year-long war .

But analysts believe the aid has dropped after U.S. President Donald Trump decided last year to shut down a military aid program run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Unless an agreement is reached between Moscow and Washington over the fate of southern Syria, a big offensive risks an escalation that could draw the United States deeper into the war.

Southwest Syria is of strategic concern to U.S.-allied Israel, which this year has stepped up attacks on Iran-backed militia allied to Assad.

U.S ally Jordan which had long said the zone had brought relative calm on its northern border announced it was engaged in intensive diplomacy with Washington and Moscow to preserve the zone and prevent a wider confrontation.

“We stress the importance of respecting the agreement and we are working to prevent the explosion of the situation,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a tweet on Friday.

BEIRUT, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Local security forces in Syria's northern city of Raqa announced a two-day curfew starting on Sunday in response to intelligence on potential attacks by the Islamic State group.

IS was kicked out of its former bastion Raqa in October by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which then stood up police units to hold the city.

On Sunday, the Raqa Internal Security Forces said it had received "information that terrorist groups working on behalf of Daesh (IS)... have entered Raqa city to carry out attacks against stability and security".

It therefore decided to put in place "a state of emergency and a curfew in Raqa city starting at 5:00am (02:00 GMT) on Sunday June 24, 2018, until 5:00am on Tuesday."

IS lost its de facto Syrian capital of Raqa after four months of ferocious fighting and bombing by the SDF and the US-led coalition that left the city in ruins.

The SDF has since whittled down IS territory elsewhere in Syria's north and east to just a handful of isolated pockets.

But in the meantime, security incidents around Raqa have been on the rise in recent weeks.

On Friday, IS claimed its first attack in Raqa province since being ousted, announcing through a propaganda media channel that it had detonated a roadside bomb northeast of the city.

An SDF fighter was also killed on June 15 at a checkpoint north of Raqa, in what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said was an IS attack.

The group did not claim responsibility for that incident.

And earlier this month, five police officers linked to the SDF were killed in a roadside blast during a routine patrol in Raqa city, though no one claimed that attack either.

DAMASCUS, June 23, 2018 (MENA) - Terrorist organizations, positioned in Daraa eastern countryside, fired on Saturday morning mortar shells on the village of Harran in Sweida western countryside, SANA news agency reported.

SANA reporter in Sweida said three 120-mm mortar shells fired by terrorists in Busr al Harir and its surroundings in Daraa eastern countryside, fell in Harran village in the western countryside, causing huge material damage to two houses.

No casualties were reported, it said.

On Friday, terrorist organizations positioned in the villages of al Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside fired five mortar shells on the village of Dama in Sweida northwestern countryside, causing material damage to some houses.

DAMASCUS, June 23, 2018 (MENA) - Syrian army troops on Saturday continued to target hotbeds of the terrorist organizations in the area of al Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside, within the framework of the war against terrorism.

Over the last few hours, army units engaged in violent clashes with terrorists in the direction of the villages of al-Shoumra, al-Moudawara and al-Alali in the area of al-Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside, the Syrian news agency SANA reported.

It added that army units managed to kill many terrorists and destroy their equipment, thanks to concentrated strikes against their positions.

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