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French FM backtracks on 'working with Assad' comments

Fabius said "regime forces" could potentially join the fight against IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2015

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France's FM Laurent Fabius backtracked on comments about working with Syrian troops to fight Islamic State, as president Bashar Assad accused his adversaries of increasing weapon supplies to militants.

Working with the Syrian army to fight the Islamic State group is not on the cards until President Bashar al-Assad has been removed from power, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday.

France's top diplomat said it was "obvious" Assad could not work alongside moderate rebels in Syria.

"If we achieve a political transition and it's no longer Bashar in charge of the Syrian army, there could be joint actions against terrorism. But under Bashar it's not possible," Fabius told France Inter radio, speaking at the UN climate conference just outside Paris.

"It is obvious that it's not under the leadership of Mr Assad that the army could be engaged alongside the moderate opposition," he added.

France has demanded the removal of Assad, describing him as a "butcher" of his own people.

But there had been signs it might moderate its position towards Assad as its priority shifted to tackling the Islamic State group which carried out the Paris attacks earlier this month.

Fabius fuelled the rumours, by telling France's RTL radio last week that "regime forces" could potentially join the fight against IS.

His comments made headlines around the world, even after Fabius said he was merely referring to a post-Assad regime.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem seized on Fabius' proposal, saying it was "better late than never".

Regime and rebels

Saudi Arabia is preparing to host a meeting for Syrian opposition political and military figures, which should be held in the city of Abha between 11 and 12 December.

The meeting is key as world powers are looking to reach an agreement for a possible political roadmap to end the crisis in Syria.

Riyadh will invite 65 opposition figures in total, including 20 members of the Syrian National Coalition, seven from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, and 15 from military factions.

The rest independents, sources told Absi Smeisem, al-Araby al-Jadeed's Syria correspondent, although no official invitations have been made yet.

Assad accused his "enemies" of increasing support for rebels fighting his regime in recent weeks.

Government forces and allied militias backed by Russia and Iran have pushed for an offensive to regain lost territory since Moscow launched air raids on rebel targets in September.

Assad's remarks came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 civilians were killed and 40 wounded in "probable" Russian air strikes on a north-western town held by a rebel alliance.

The Britain-based Observatory also reported that the Islamic State group had murdered more than 3,500 people in Syria, including 2,000 civilians, since declaring its "caliphate" last June.

The latest developments came as Britain pressed efforts to widen its participation in a US-led air coalition battling IS in Iraq to include Syria.

Turkey on Monday sent back to Russia the corpse of a pilot killed when his plane was shot down by the Turkish air force for allegedly violating its air space on the Syrian border, reports said.

A special flight carrying the corpse of Oleg Peshkov left Ankara airport for Russia, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported, without giving further details.

His body had at the weekend been taken from Syria to southern Turkey and then flown to Ankara.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the climate conference in Paris, the Kremlin said Monday, as a dispute rages over Ankara's downing of a Russian warplane.

"No meeting with Erdogan is planned," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, after the Turkish leader called for a meeting with Putin at the summit to discuss the shooting down of the plane on the Syria-Turkish border.

Both pilots aboard the Su-24 war plane ejected and
parachuted to the ground on the Syrian side of the border after being shot down by Turkish F-16s in the 24 November incident.

Peshkov was killed in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained while the second pilot, Konstantin Murakhtin, was rescued unharmed and has already spoken to Russian media.

[Click to enlarge]

Turkey aid

The European Union and Turkey agreed on a deal to stem the migrant crisis, including a three-billion-euro ($3.2-billion) aid package for Syrian refugees in Turkey, EU president Donald Tusk said after a summit in Brussels on Sunday.

"Our agreement sets out a clear plan for the timely re-establishment of order at our shared frontier. We will also step up our assistance to Syrian refugees in Turkey through a new refugee facility of three billion euros," Tusk told a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The EU also agreed to open a new chapter in Turkey's stalled bid for membership of the bloc in exchange for Turkey's cooperation in reducing the flow of refugees and migrants, Tusk said.

Visa requirements for Turkish citizens visiting the EU's passport-free Schengen area would also be relaxed by October 2016, he said.

Brussels would "monitor closely at least once a month" the progress being made by Turkey, Tusk added.

Davutoglu said the deal would "re-energise" Turkey's EU accession process, which has made little headway since it started in 2005.

"This is a historic day and a historic meeting, the first meeting of this kind since 11 years," the Turkish premier added.

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