Foreign troops entering Syria would return 'in coffins': FM

Reuters , Saturday 6 Feb 2016

Walid al-Muallem
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem (File Photo: Reuters)

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem warned Saturday that foreign ground troops entering Syria would "return home in wooden coffins."

His comments came after Saudi Arabia said earlier this week it would be willing to send troops as part of a US-led military campaign against Islamic State extremists. The group controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Al-Muallem said conventional wisdom and logic would suggest the idea of Saudi troops in Syria is far-fetched, but that "with the crazy Saudi leadership nothing is far-fetched."

"Any ground intervention in Syria, without the consent of the Syrian government, will be considered an aggression that should be resisted by every Syrian citizen," he told a news conference in Damascus. "I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins."

Al-Muallem's comments capped a week that saw the collapse of UN-led efforts to launch indirect peace talks between the Syrian government and an opposition delegation in Geneva.

The talks broke down in large part because of Syrian government offensives, including on the outskirts of Aleppo, once the country's largest city. The offensive, aimed at encircling rebel strongholds in Aleppo, was backed by intense Russian airstrikes and sent thousands of area residents fleeing toward a closed Turkish border.

Al-Muallem said the government advances signalled that the five-year-old Syria war is nearing its end. "I can say, from the achievements for our armed forces ... that we are now on track to end the conflict," he said. "Like it or not, our battlefield achievements indicate that we are headed toward the end of the crisis."

Opposition representatives have said they cannot be expected to negotiate in Geneva at a time when the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, are escalating attacks on rebel strongholds.

Al-Muallem dismissed the representatives of the Saudi-backed opposition in Geneva, suggesting they followed orders from Saudi Arabia and were "not real Syrians."

He alleged the opposition never intended to negotiate seriously. "They did not come to have dialogue, they did not have such orders," he said.

Al-Muallem said the Syrian government was ready to have dialogue with Syrians, but without preconditions.

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