Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss "military cooperation" in Syria's conflict, a bone of contention between Moscow and Washington. Shoigu was sent by President Vladimir Putin for the unannounced meeting with Moscow's long-time ally Assad on Saturday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said. "The talks focused on military cooperation between the two countries and joint action to fight against terrorist organisations on Syrian soil," it said. In Moscow, the defence ministry said in a statement that the discussions centred on "current questions of military and technical cooperation... as well as certain aspects of the cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups operating in Syria". The visit came as a US defence department spokesman said Pentagon officials in a video conference with Russian counterparts had voiced "strong concerns" over Moscow's alleged bombing of US-backed forces in southern Syria.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has warned the Syrian regime and its main military backer Russia to respect "frayed" ceasefire and said that its "patience was not infinite" amid mounting death toll. "Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite, in fact it is very limited with whether or not [Bashar] al-Assad is going to be held accountable," Kerry said on Wednesday after meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Kerry, who also met defence ministers from Syria, Iran and Russia in an effort to halt the fighting, particularly in the northern city of Aleppo, where raging battle has claimed dozens of lives in the past two days. "We also are prepared to hold accountable members of the opposition" who have been involved in continuing violence, he said. The Syrian conflict has drawn in world powers, with the US, along with regional powers, largely backing the moderate rebels while Russia began military offensive in support of the Assad regime in September.
Senior officials from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset have come under fire by groups advocating the boycott of Israel for their participation in the annual Herzliya conference, a key Israeli security and national policy meeting. The two-day conference, which took place between June 14-16, was attended by many high-profile Israeli officials including President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army officials and academics. Ayman Odeh, head of the joint-Arab list in the Israeli Knesset, Ahmed Majdalani and Ghassan al-Shakaa, senior members of the PLO's executive committee and Elias al-Zananiri, the vice-chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, were all present at the conference. "How can they participate in a conference, where the main goal is to maintain and strategise the security of the occupying state?" asked Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator for the BDS Palestinian National Committee. READ MORE: Palestine-Israel - Is peace activism serving occupation?
Almost six months on from when direct talks were scheduled to begin, is it time to admit the failure of the latest Syrian peace process and look into alternative ways forward? United Nations Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced last week that he would not attempt to reconvene the Syria peace talks until August, saying that the time was "not yet mature for the official third round of intra-Syrian talks". Violence in the country is spiking and making a mockery of the international community's "cessation of hostilities" agreed in February. Things are looking particularly bad in Aleppo as the regime and allied forces apply the squeeze on opposition-held areas. The one route out of the city has become known as "the road of death" such is the frequency of strikes upon it, and those civilians who remain fear a total siege.
A junior minister in the United Arab Emirates has stepped back from previous comments attributed to him that the country's role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen was "over". The remarks made by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Friday came as peace talks underway in Kuwait City have yet to end the war, where Shia rebels known as Houthis still hold the capital of Sanaa. I am appalled that my statement was taken out of context and misinterpreted for [an] external agenda that seek to undermine the region and the [Gulf Cooperation Council] in particular," Gargash said. Gargash's comments first came to light via a tweet on Wednesday from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,the deputy supreme commander of the country's military. Sheikh Mohammed's tweet quoted Gargash as having said the war was "over for our troops" during a private lecture at a royal gathering.