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Syrian diplomat demands US withdraw its ‘illegal military presence’

A U.S. Soldier provides security during a coordinated, independent patrol along the demarcation line near a village outside Manbij, Syria, June 26, 2018. The U.S. recently started conducting these patrols with Turkish Military Forces, patrolling on opposite sides of the demarcation line. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster)
September 30, 2019

On Saturday, a Syrian diplomat at the United Nations has called for the immediate withdrawal of United States and Turkish troops before warning the Syrian government may defend itself in whatever way it feels is necessary.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the U.S. and Turkey have an “illegal military presence” in northern Syria. His remarks appeared to criticize U.S. and Turkish backed efforts to enforce a safe zone along Syria’s northern border with Turkey, according to the Associated Press.

Al-Moallem said any country’s forces operating in Syrian territory without prior approval from the Syrian government, under President Bashar al-Assad, would be considered an occupying force for which Syria has the right to use “any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”

He did not clarify what actions the Syrian government would take to remove the U.S. and Turkish forces.

Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011. The conflict has seen the involvement of numerous foreign militaries and outside militants and has resulted in the deaths of more than 400,000 people.

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Still, al-Moallem criticized the presence of U.S. and Turkish forces enforcing a “safe zone” as “arrogant” and without the consent of the Syrian government.

The Syrian government itself, currently holds the support of both the Russian and Iranian governments. Russian air support has backed recent Syrian government efforts to unseat rebel control in the area of Idlib.

Al-Moallem also criticized Israel for escalating conflicts with Syria and other neighboring countries and affirmed Syria’s right to the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in June of 1967, during the Six-Day War.

In his comments, Al-Moallem voiced support for drafting a new constitution for the Syrian government, but said there must be no interference from any foreign governments or time frame for delivering on that new format of government.

There are currently about 1,000 U.S. troops deployed in Syria, the Associated Press reports. Though the stated mission of those U.S. forces is to combat Islamic State militants, they also support Kurdish forces that have opposed the Syrian government.

President Donald Trump had expressed interest in withdrawing those U.S. troops from Syria around the end of 2018, but the U.S. Senate pushed back on the President’s proposed troop withdrawals.

Al-Moallem’s comments appeared to reassert pressure on that proposed withdrawal.

On Saturday the U.N. announced a plan for the Syrian constitutional process, to begin in Geneva, Switzerland on October 30.

According to the Associated Press, the constitutional committee is comprised of 150 members. Of those members, 50 represent the Syrian government under Assad, 50 represent the opposition movements and 50 more represent independents, tribal leaders, women and other key voices of civil society.

The committee is expected to either amend Syria’s 2012 constitution or draft a new one, after which there are to be “free and fair elections under United Nations supervision.”