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Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Israeli Golan Heights, close to Israels frontier with Syria November 22, 2017.(Photo by: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
U.S. says will 'take firm measures' against Syria violations near Israel border
By REUTERS
06/15/2018
Since last year, a "de-escalation" deal brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan has contained fighting in the southwest.
The US will "take firm and appropriate measures" in response to Syrian government violations in a so-called de-escalation zone in the southwest of the country, the State Department said in a statement on Thursday.

The southwest of Syria, bordering Jordan and the Israeli Golan Heights, is one of the remaining parts of the country still outside the control of the state after seven years of conflict.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have recovered swathes of territory from rebels with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, and he has repeatedly pledged to take back "every inch" of the country.

Experts have investigated reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's government. More than 500,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which has drawn in global powers and neighboring states.

Assad said on Wednesday his government was still pursuing a political solution for Syria's rebel-held southwest, but would use military force if the effort failed.

"We are giving the political process a chance," he told Iranian channel al-Alam News in an interview published in an English translation by Syrian state news agency SANA.

"If that doesn't succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force."

Since last year, a "de-escalation" deal brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan has contained fighting in the southwest.

The state department said any Syrian government military actions against the southwest de-escalation zone risked broadening the conflict.

"We affirm again that the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Syrian government violations in this area," it said in a statement on Thursday.

An underpinning ceasefire arrangement and the de-escalation deal are intended to save lives and create conditions for the displaced to return home safely, it added.

"The ceasefire must continue to be enforced and respected," it said.

The statement comes after Syrian jets struck rebel-held towns in the country’s south in March, rebels and residents said, the first aerial attacks on the area since the pact declaring it a "de-escalation zone."

As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia "is duly responsible" to "use its diplomatic and military influence over the Syrian government to stop attacks and compel the government to cease further military offensives," the state department said in its statement.

Assad rejected claims that his country was in the midst of a civil war during a May interview with Russia Today. He said the end of the fighting was getting closer with “every victory,” but accused adversaries in the West and the region of trying to obstruct that and “hindering the political process.”

The State Department also said the United States would release $6.6 million to the Syrian Civil Defense fund, commonly known as the White Helmets, and the UN International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which collects and analyzes evidence of violations of international human rights laws.

Experts have investigated reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's government. More than 500,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which has drawn in global powers and neighboring states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israeli efforts to combat Iranian activity in Syria "serves the cause of security and peace beyond the Middle East.”

Addressing the International Homeland Security Forum in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Iran "wants to use 80,000 Shia militants in Syria. Syria is 90% Sunni – [but] their goal is to convert the Sunnis. This is the recipe for another civil war... By preventing that we are also helping the security of other countries of the world.”

Tovah Lazaroff and Tamara Zieve contributed to this article.
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