Iran calls for unity to expel US from Middle East during visit by Syrian PM

UNTV News   •   January 14, 2020   •   249

Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis delivers an address during the opening of the Damascus International Fair on Sept. 6, 2018, in Damascus, Syria. EPA-EFE FILE/Youssef Badawi

By Marina Villen

Tehran – Iranian authorities on Monday called on the region’s countries to unite to expel US troops from the Middle East during a visit to Tehran by a Syrian delegation headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis.

Khamis’s presence in Iran was significant because the Islamic Republic has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in its war against the armed opposition and insurgent groups, support that mostly came via Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was recently killed in a US drone strike in Iraq.

“As long as US terrorist forces are present in West Asia, the region will not achieve peace or security,” Ali Shamkhani, an influential official who serves as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told the Syrian prime minister.

To end this situation, Shamkhani said that “the withdrawal of the US will happen through the unity of the countries and governments of the region,” Iranian official state media reported.

“The presence and interference of the United States have caused instability, especially in Iraq and Syria,” Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said.

The expulsion of US troops, therefore, is “the best revenge,” Jahangiri said.

Syria is part of the so-called Axis of Resistance against the United States and Israel led by Iran and comprised of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

Iran and some of these groups vowed revenge for the killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

“Without a doubt, the martyrdom of Gen. Soleimani will make the Axis of Resistance more determined in its fight,” Shamkhani said.

The United States thought that Soleimani’s killing would lead to the “collapse of that front of the region,” Shamkhani said.

The Iranian general’s killing, however, led to “more cohesion and strengthening of the Axis of Resistance,” Shamkhani said.

Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani expressed the same view during his meeting with Khamis.

As the head of the elite Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Soleimani had for years spread Iran’s influence across the wider Middle East, strengthening Shia militias from Lebanon to Iraq.

Khamis posthumously awarded Syria’s highest military medal to Soleimani, noting that the honor reflected “the deep affection” of al-Assad for the late Iranian general.

The Syrian official also thanked Iran for its support in eradicating terrorism in Syria and called for strengthening economic and trade relations at a time when Iranian companies are seeking huge contracts to rebuild the Arab country.

Soleimani’s killing is “an example of the US conspiracies in the region,” the Syrian prime minister, who headed a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem and Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, said.

“The fight against the presence of US forces in the region must become a sustained process,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said during a meeting with his Syrian counterpart.

Despite Soleimani’s death, “the path of resistance continues,” Hatami said.

In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, Iran launched a missile attack on an air base in Iraq housing US troops, sparking fears of a wider conflict and leading countries that have good relations with Tehran and Washington to mediate in a bid to ease tensions.

The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Tehran on Sunday, while Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to ease tensions in the region on Monday.

Qureshi, who is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia next, called for “maximum restraint and immediate steps” to resolve the crisis, advocating “dialogue and diplomacy.”

No one wants war, the Pakistani official said.

Iranian President Hasan Rohani said he welcomes “with pleasure, Pakistan’s efforts to promote regional peace and stability.”

The Islamic Republic “never tried to start a war,” the Iranian president said. EFE

mv-ar/ta/hv

Syria’s Aleppo airport receives first scheduled flight in eight years

UNTV News   •   February 19, 2020

A SyrianAir passenger plane landed on Wednesday (February 19) at Aleppo’s civilian airport, the first scheduled flight to touch down in the country’s war-devastated economic hub for eight years.

The reopening of the airport comes days after the Russian-backed Syrian army said it had seized rural areas northwest of Aleppo, a major strategic gain in weeks of bombing of the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria.

On an organized trip, local and international media were invited by the Syrian transportation ministry to travel on the first plane that took off from the capital Damascus, and land at the Aleppo airport.

Government officials hope the resumption of commercial flights will help revive the economic activity in the city, which was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war between 2012 and 2016. Rebel-held eastern Aleppo was regained by government forces in 2016.

Transport Minister Ali Hammoud said authorities were waiting for approvals to resume international flights, with plans to reopen the route to Cairo next month.

Aleppo’s other airport Nairab is a major military base that the Syrian air force uses to strike opposition areas and has also been a target of Israeli strikes on alleged Iranian bases.

In another strategic gain for President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian government forces aided by Iranian-backed militias consolidated their control over the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, a vital trade artery in northern Syria.

The highway, the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities, should be ready for civilian use in the coming days for the first time in years, the authorities said. (Reuters)

(Production: Firas Makdesi, Kinda Makieh, Michael Fiorentino)

US, evacuate citizens from Japan cruise ship; South Korea to follow suit

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 17, 2020

The United States (US) has evacuated its citizens from the virus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan.

Two planes carrying around 300 American citizens left Haneda Airport on Monday morning (February 17).

South Korea also plans to bring home their citizens in the said cruise ship.

“Even before February 19, the government plans to bring those South Koreans home if they are tested negative from screenings by the Japanese authorities and are willing to return. We will first check our people’s intentions and then cooperate with the Japanese government,” according to South Korea Minister of Health and Welfare, Park-Neung Hoo.

Canada and Hong Kong will also send planes to evacuate their citizens.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said they will assist in repatriating Filipino crewmen aboard the cruise ship.

538 Filipinos are aboard the Diamond Princess, 531 are crewmen while 7 are passengers. There already 27 of them who tested positive of COVID-19.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez said the Filipinos who tested positive of the virus are already brought to the hospital for better care.

“We received information that aside from the 11 Filipino crew members who are earlier identified, another 16 have been identified over the weekend to have been identified as COVID positive,” he said.

The DFA also said the Inter-Agency Task Force will discuss their planned action in a meeting to assist the Filipinos aboard the cruise ship.—AAC (with reports from Joan Nano)

PH-US military drills within 180 days of VFA scrapping to push through — Lorenzana

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The military exercises between the Philippines and the United States scheduled for the following months will still push through despite the Duterte government’s move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

In a statement, Lorenzana said the training between Filipino and American soldiers will still proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force.

“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” he said.

The Defense chief, however, said American troops may opt to discontinue the exercises before the 180 days are up.

Once the VFA’s termination is final, Lorenzana said Filipino troops will stop conducting military drills with their American counterparts.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday confirmed that they have received the notice of termination sent by the Philippine government. — RRD (with details from Correspondent Lea Ylagan)

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