(CNSNews.com) – The Assad regime’s foreign minister on Saturday accused the United States and Israel of supporting and protecting terrorists, pledged that Syrian forces will retake the Golan Heights from Israel, and demanded that U.S. and other uninvited foreign troops leave Syria immediately.
Although the campaign against terrorism was almost over, Walid Muallem told the U.N. General Assembly, the government will not stop now, but remains “committed to fighting this sacred battle until we purge all Syrian territories from terrorist groups – regardless of their names – and from any illegal foreign presence.”
Six years since President Obama first called on Bashar al-Assad to step down, his forces – with significant help from their allies – have been buoyed by a series of victories, reasserting control in sizeable swathes of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the conflict, and millions displaced.
Muallem’s speech in New York presented Assad’s view of a world divided between victimized good countries – including the likes of Iran, Russia, North Korea, Cuba and others – and victimizing bad ones, led by the United States.
“The situation in Syria cannot be divorced from the battle raging between two camps on the world stage,” he said. “One of the camps promotes peace, stability, and prosperity across the world, advocates dialogue and mutual understanding, respects international law, and upholds the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.”
“The other camp tries to create chaos in international relations and employs colonization and hegemony as tools to further its narrow interests, even if that meant resorting to corrupt methods, such as supporting terrorism and imposing an economic blockade, to subjugate people and governments that reject external diktats and insist on making their own decisions.”
Muallem rejected the U.S. assertion that the coalition it has been leading in the region for the past four years has been focused on defeating the jihadists of ISIS.
On the contrary, he said, the “illegitimate” coalition only pretended to be against terrorism, while in fact fomenting terrorism.
“These governments formed an illegitimate international coalition, led by the United States, on the pretext of combating terrorism in Syria,” he said.
“The so-called international coalition has done everything but fight terrorism. It has even become clear that the coalition goals were in perfect alignment with those of terrorist groups -- spreading chaos, death and destruction in their path.”
Groups that have taken up arms against the regime in Syria range from nationalist and moderate Sunnis to Kurdish fighters to Sunni Salafist groups to ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.
Unlike the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, the regime in Damascus and its allies tend not to differentiate between Assad’s enemies, labeling them all “terrorists.”
Muallem in his speech duly accused the coalition of providing “direct military support to terrorists, on multiple occasions, as they fought against the Syrian army.”
“It should have been more aptly named the Coalition to Support Terrorists and War Crimes,” he charged.
‘Occupying forces … will be dealt with accordingly’
The regime draws a clear distinction between those foreign forces it wants on its soil – Russia, Iran and other allies including Hezbollah – and those it has not invited.
Among the latter are the United States, which according to the Pentagon has some 2,000 personnel in the country, helping the Kurdish and Sunni Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clearing ISIS terrorists from the remaining territory they hold in the east.
Last spring, President Trump signaled his desire to withdraw the troops soon, citing progress against ISIS.
But over the months since then administration officials have linked to troops’ presence there with a different security concern – Iran and its “malign” behavior in the region.
“The president has made clear that we are prepared to remain in Syria until the enduring defeat of ISIS, and we remain focused on ensuring the withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement in August.
France also has troops stationed in Syria – around 1,000 according to unconfirmed reports – and Turkish troops have crossed into Syrian territory frequently, recently boosting their presence in the Idlib area adjacent to the Turkish border, one of the last remaining strongholds of the anti-Assad rebellion.
“Any foreign presence on Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian government is illegal and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the U.N. charter,” said Muallem.
“We therefore consider any forces operating on Syrian territory without an explicit request from the Syrian government, including U.S., French, and Turkish forces, occupying forces, and will be dealt with accordingly.”
Elsewhere in the speech Muallem reiterated the regime’s denials of any use of chemical weapons, insisting that it “eliminated completely its chemical program” under an international agreement (brokered by Russia in 2014, with the consent of the Obama administration.)
Consequently any chemical weapons attack in Syria was the work of the regime’s enemies, he said, pointing a finger once again at the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue organization which the regime and Russia accuse of collaborating with terrorists, including in “false flag” chemical attacks designed to attract Western military strikes against the regime.
The U.S. and others credit the White Helmets for having saved tens of thousands of civilians’ lives during the civil war, but Muallem charged that the group was “the main tool used to mislead public opinion and fabricate accusations and come up with lies on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
Israel’s main declared concern regarding the conflict in Syria is the extent to which it is strengthening its main regional foes, Iran and its Shi’ite terrorist proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The Israelis have carried out multiple airstrikes targeting positions in Syria linked to Iran and Hezbollah.
Muallem reprised regime allegations that Israel’s actions in Syria are actually intended to bolster anti-Assad terrorist groups.
“But just as we liberated southern Syria from terrorists, we are determined to liberate fully the occupied Syrian Golan,” he said, referring to the strategic border ridge which Israel has controlled since 1967.
Some regional experts view as highly unlikely the prospect that Israel will ever surrender the Golan Heights, particularly in the aftermath of a civil war that ends with increased Iranian presence and influence near its northeastern border.