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MOSCOW, September 20, 2018 (News Wires) - The Kremlin said on Thursday it had received a telegram from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in which he expressed his condolences over a Russian military plane being downed near Syria earlier this week, the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, with 15 Russians on board, had been downed by Syrian government anti-aircraft guns in a “friendly fire” incident on Monday, but blamed Israel for the incident.

Israel has blamed Syria for the shoot down.

Interfax cited President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Thursday that the Kremlin had received a telegram from Assad about the incident.

Syria’s SANA news agency reported on Wednesday that Assad had sent a telegram to Moscow saying he was sorry about the death of Russian military service people, but blamed Israel for the downing.

ROME, Sept 20 , 2018(MENA) - An aid convoy was provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) to the Syrian southeastern countryside of Daraa.

The food convoy was handed to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), SANA News Agency reported on Thursday.

Head of the SARC branch in Daraa, Ahmed al Masalema, said that a convoy consisting of 15 trucks loaded with 2,050 food baskets and 2,050 flour bags arrived in the town of Daraa. 

MOSCOW, Sept 18, 2018 (News Wires) - President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said earlier on Tuesday that the aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems, but accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident, saying Israeli jets operating nearby had put the Russian plane in the path of danger

Putin's comments appeared to somewhat soften Russia's criticism of Israel, though he said Russia still needed to look into what happened.

Speaking beside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban following talks in Moscow, Putin said Russia's response to the incident would aim at securing the safety of Russian service people in Syria.

AMMAN/BEIRUT, September 18, 2018 (Reuters) - Syrian opposition officials praised a deal between Russia and Turkey over Idlib province on Tuesday, saying it had spared the rebel-held region a bloody government offensive and would thwart President Bashar al-Assad’s aim of recovering all Syria.

Damascus, while welcoming the agreement unveiled on Monday, vowed to press on with its campaign to recover “every inch” of the country. Its ambassador to Lebanon said the deal would test Turkey’s ability to deliver on promises to disarm rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed at a summit on Monday to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib from which “radical” rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.

The agreement has diminished the prospects of a Syrian government offensive which the United Nations warned would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about three million people.

The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represents the Syrian opposition’s last big foothold in Syria, where Iranian and Russian military support has helped Assad recover most of the areas once held by the insurgency.

But strong Turkish opposition to an Idlib attack has obstructed government plans for an offensive, and the agreement announced on Monday appears to preserve a role for Turkey in the northwest - something seen as anathema to Assad.

“The Idlib deal preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria,” Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, told Reuters.

“This area will remain in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and will force the regime and its supporters to start a serious political process that leads to a real transition that ends Assad’s rule,” Sejari said.

The spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission said the deal had halted an offensive for which government forces had been mobilising in recent weeks, calling it a “victory for the will for life over the will for death”.

The “scenario of attack is practically excluded, at least for a period of time that is not small, and we hope that it will be permanent,” Yahya al-Aridi told Reuters by telephone.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, in an interview with Lebanon’s al-Jadeed TV, reiterated his government’s distrust of Turkey, a major backer of the Syrian rebellion which has deployed troops across the opposition-held northwest.

“I see it as a test of the extent of Turkey’s ability to commit to implementing this decision. They are under pressure now and I believe they will try,” Ali Abdul Karim said.

“We do not trust Turkey ... but it’s useful for Turkey to be able to carry out this fight to rid these groups from their weapons...Turkey could deal with this responsibility and this would be useful,” he said.

The demilitarised zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the leaders said on Monday.

Neither Putin not Erdogan explained how they planned to differentiate “radically-minded” rebels from other anti-Assad groups. It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone.

Putin said the decision was to establish by Oct. 15 a demilitarized area 15–20 km (10-12 miles) deep along the contact line between rebel and government fighters, with radical militants to be withdrawn from the area, including members of the Nusra Front, a jihadist group that now part of the Tahrir al-Sham organisation.

Al-Watan, a pro-Syrian government newspaper, said on Tuesday the zone would stretch for 15 km around Idlib city.

It also said Syrian state institutions would return to Idlib by the end of the year in the final phase of the deal after insurgents hand over all of their heavy weapons and move away from civilian areas.

Citing unidentified diplomatic sources in Moscow, it said any factions rejecting the agreement would be considered enemies “even of the Turkish army and will be classed as terrorists that must be fought”.

Erdogan, who had feared another cross-border exodus of Syrian refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, said the deal would allow opposition supporters to stay where they were and avert a humanitarian crisis.

Putin said that by Oct. 10, all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks, rocket systems would be removed from the demilitarised zone, and said this was Erdogan’s suggestion.

Earlier this month, Putin publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a ceasefire when the two met along with Iran’s president for a summit in Tehran.

Idlib is held by an array of rebels. The most powerful is Tahrir al-Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front - an al-Qaeda affiliate until 2016.

Other Islamists, and groups fighting as the Free Syrian Army banner, are now gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation”.

MOSCOW, September 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Russia on Tuesday accused Israel of a hostile provocation and threatened retaliation after Moscow blamed Israel for indirectly causing a Russian military plane to be shot down near Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

Russia’s defence ministry, in a statement reported by Russian news agencies, said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by anti-aircraft batteries of Moscow’s ally, Syria, in a friendly fire incident.

But the ministry said it held Israel responsible because, at the time of the incident, Israeli fighter jets were mounting air attacks on Syria targets and had only given Moscow one minute’s warning, not enough time for the Russian plane to get to safety.

The defence ministry said 15 people were killed when the Russian plane was brought down as it came in to land at the Hmeymim air base in western Syria, which is controlled by Russian forces.

“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished. This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” Interfax news agency quoted Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.

“We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response,” Konashenkov was quoted as saying.

Konashenkov described the Israeli military’s actions as hostile and an act of provocation, Interfax reported.

Earlier, the Russian defence ministry had said the turbo-prop plane vanished from radar screens over Syria at the same time as Israeli and French forces were launching strikes on targets in Syria.

A US official said Washington believed the aircraft was inadvertently shot down by anti-aircraft artillery operated by Syrian government forces.

Around the time the plane disappeared, the Syrian coastal city of Latakia came under attack from “enemy missiles”, and missile defence batteries responded, Syrian state media reported.

France denied any involvement in the plane’s disappearance. Israel’s military, contacted before Russia alleged Israel was to blame, declined to comment.

DAMASCUS, Syria, September 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Syria is holding its first municipal elections since 2011 amid tensions with the country's self-administered Kurdish region, which is refusing to allow polls.

Polls opened Sunday, with more than 40,000 candidates competing for 18,478 council seats, according to the Ministry of Local Administration.

They are the first municipal elections held since Syria descended into civil war. They are also the broadest elections to be held since 2011 as the government continues to recover territory from the opposition in the ongoing war.

Presidential elections were held in 2014 in limited areas of government control.

The Kurdish-led self-administration is refusing to include north Syria in the elections. Its officials say they want a federalized Syria that respects their autonomy from Damascus.

DAMASCUS, Sept 15, 2018 (MENA) - Syrian army units in Sweida advanced more along the line of Ard Qa’a al-Banat to the northwest of Toloul al-Safa, SANA news agency reported on Saturday.

The army units established control over more areas in the depth of the rough cliffs there after fierce clashes with Daesh terrorists.

Scores of terrorists, including 10 snipers, were killed during the clashes.

SANA reporter in Sweida said that the advance in the aforementioned line allows the army units to establish control by fire of the last water pool utilised by the terrorists, clarifying that the army units consolidated presence in the controlled areas.

MOSCOW, Sept 14, 2018 (MENA) - Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria’s Idlib city with members of Russia’s Security Council on Friday, RIA Novosti reported.

Putin told the Security Council he was concerned by militant activity in the last major rebel-held stronghold in Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying.

AMMAN, September 13, 2018 (Reuters) - Jordan and Syria held their first technical talks on opening a major border crossing in southern Syria that was recaptured from the opposition last July, a Jordanian official source said on Thursday.

Damascus, which took back the crossing from the opposition, hopes to reopen the Nassib route vital to its hopes of reviving Syria’s shattered economy and rebuilding in territory under its control. Amman also hopes the opening of the border crossing will reactivate billions of dollars of annual transit trade between Europe and Gulf markets across Syria.

The source told Reuters a technical committee from the two countries held their first meeting on the border crossing on Wednesday to begin discussions on the practical arrangements from customs to security needed to reopen the crossing.

“The meetings will continue to put a complete view of all the arrangements linked to reopening the crossings in the coming period,” the source said.

Another Jordanian official said the crossing could open by the end of this year.

The closure of the crossing has also weighted on Lebanese exporters who used it to export hundreds of millions of dollars of produce and goods to lucrative Gulf markets.

Jordan’s private sector are also pinning hopes of a revival in bilateral trade in a major neighboring market where Jordanian business have long standing ties.

The Syrian government has recovered control of most of the country with help from its allies Russia and Iran.

With Russian air power, government forces have this year defeated the armed opposition in the last remaining enclaves near the cities of Homs and Damascus, and swept through the rebel-held southwest.

CAIRO, September 12 , 2018 - Arab foreign ministers asserted a firm commitment to preserving the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the three war-torn countries of Syria, Libya and Yemen and rejection of foreign interference in their domestic affairs.

The assertion came in three resolutions released by the Arab League Council at the end of its 150th ordinary session. The meeting was held at the level of Arab foreign ministers under the chairmanship of Sudan. The three resolutions are entitled “The Developments of the Situation in Syria”, “The Developments of the Situation in Yemen” and “The Developments of the Situation in Libya”.

In “The Development of the Situation in Yemen” resolution, the Arab League Council asserted the continuation of support for  constitutional legitimacy in Yemen under the chairmanship of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. It would back measures taken by the legitimate government to normalise the situation, end the coup and restore security and stability to all Yemeni governorates.

The ministers also backed the stance of the Yemeni government and its adherence to  the Gulf initiative, the outcome of the  national dialogue, the United Nations Security Council resolution No. 2216 and other international resolutions of relevance.

On Syria, the Arab League Council said that the only possible way out of the Syrian crisis was represented in a political solution realised in the participation of all Syrian parties in a way that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. This is in accordance with the Geneva 1 statement which was released on June 30, 2012 and with relying on the resolutions and statements released in this regard, especially the UN resolution 2254 for 2015. The ministers also highlighted their support for UN efforts in holding the Geneva meetings to reach a political settlement of the Syrian crisis. It called for co-operation between the Arab League and the UN to make the Syrian negotiations a success.

On Libya, the council renewed its commitment to respecting the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya. It supported the efforts of the presidential council of the national reconciliation government to preserve peace, undermine the activity of the terrorist groups and consolidate the state’s sovereignty over all the country’s territory.

The 150th round of the Arab League Council started in Cairo on Tuesday, attended by 18 Arab foreign ministers. The ministers discussed the development of the situation in the region; especially the Palestinian cause which is passing through a dangerous stage, the challenges facing Arab national security, ways of combatting terrorism and the development of disputes in a number of Arab countries, especially Syria, Libya and Yemen.

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