Assad praises Russia's role in Syria conflict

AFP , Tuesday 19 Mar 2019

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 19, 2019 shows President Bashar al-Assad (R) meeting with the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu (L) in the Syrian capital Damascus AFP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Russia's defence minister Tuesday, stressing the importance of coordination between the two countries in the fight against "terrorism", state media said.

The meeting came one day after the military chiefs of staff of Syria, Iraq and Iran met in Damascus to discuss coordination between their forces.

It also came as US-backed forces in eastern Syria cornered holdout Islamic State group fighters in a tiny patch of land near the Euphrates River in the village of Baghouz.

During the meeting, Assad said coordination between Moscow and Damascus was a key factor behind victories over IS and Al-Qaeda-linked groups, the official SANA news agency reported.

For his part, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country would continue to support efforts to regain the Syrian government's control of all the country, SANA added.

Russia has been a key player in the Syrian conflict since launching a military intervention in 2015 in support of Assad's regime.

Eight years into a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions, Syrian government forces control almost two-thirds of the country.

Just two areas remain beyond their control: the jihadist-held northwestern region of Idlib, and the third of the country under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Assad and Shoigu discussed the situation in areas east of the Euphrates River, where the SDF is battling IS, as well as Idlib, the news agency said.

They agreed on the need to restore stability and counter foreign influence in the two areas, it added.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said both Idlib and areas controlled by the SDF would be recaptured by the government.

The Idlib region borders Turkey and is dominated by an alliance led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

It has been protected from a massive regime offensive since September, thanks to a buffer zone deal agreed by Damascus's ally Russia and rebel-backer Turkey.

But it has been hit by sporadic government shelling.

Syria's regime has insisted the buffer zone deal is temporary and that Idlib will eventually revert to government control.

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