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Saudi forces would 'only fight IS' in Syria

Jubeir said Saudi would not take any unilateral action in Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2016

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Saudi forces taking part in any US-led ground operation in Syria would focus on fighting the Islamic State group not Bashar al-Assad, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday.

Saudi forces participating in any US-led ground operation in Syria would focus on fighting the Islamic State group (IS) not the Damascus regime, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday.

In an interview with AFP, Jubeir said any Saudi force on the ground would make the battle against IS its priority, despite Riyadh's fierce opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Saudi Arabia has expressed its readiness to send special forces to Syria as part of the coalition, with the goal of eliminating Daesh. This is the mission and the responsibility," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"If they enter Syria, these forces will work in the framework of the international coalition to fight Daesh. There will be no unilateral operations," he said.

Asked if the mission in Syria could be expanded to include operations against Assad's forces, Jubeir said: "This would be something the international coalition would have to make a decision on."

Saudi Arabia has backed rebel forces fighting Assad in the country's nearly five-year civil war and insists he must leave office for the conflict to be resolved.

Last week, Jubeir insisted that defeating IS in Syria was conditional on the removal of Assad from power.

A very, very small part of our total military is involved in Yemen and it is not bogged down
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir


Saudi's offer to deploy troops to Syria was met with threats by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and warnings by his Iranian counter part that such an intervention would violate international law.

Meanwhile, as regime forces assisted by Russian airstrikes made major advances, Assad last week said that his eventual goal is to retake all of Syria.

Jubeir responded that Assad "said many things since the start of the crisis in Syria. A lot of what he said is unrealistic."

Saudi Arabia has been part of the US-led coalition bombing IS in Syria and Iraq since late 2014. Its participation declined after it launched strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen last March.

Some analysts said the kingdom would not be able or willing to send many forces to a possible US-led operation in Syria because it is mired in the nearly year-long military campaign to reinstate the government of President Abd Rabbo Manour Hadi in Yemen.

Jubeir dismissed these claims adding that the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen would continue until the country's government is fully restored to power.

"A very, very small part of our total military is involved in Yemen and it is not bogged down," Jubeir said.

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mainly Arab Gulf allies began airstrikes against the Houthi rebels after they seized control of large parts of Yemen and forced President Hadi's government to flee the capital Sanaa.

Forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh have also supported the Houthis.

Agencies contributed to this report

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