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Russia Participates in Syria’s ‘Desert Battle’ with Missiles, Warplanes | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russia said the US, Turkey and Israel were given prior warning of the strikes [Reuters]

London, Beirut, Ankara- Russia on Wednesday got strongly involved in the “desert battle” by firing cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea towards areas in central Syria.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) officials said on Wednesday that six Russian jets bombed their positions to prevent their advancement in the desert between Palmyra and the triangle where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet.

Saad al Haj, a spokesman for Jaish Usud al-Sharqiya, one of the main groups in the area told Reuters: “A sortie of Russian jets bombed us to repel our advance after we broke the first lines of defense of the Iranian militia and took over advanced positions near the Zaza checkpoint.”

The Russian military had announced that “Russia carried out four strikes against ISIS targets near the city of Palmyra.”

Moscow said that the militaries of the US, Turkey and Israel “were informed in a timely manner of the missile launches through existing communication channels.”

On May 18, the US pounded Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militias advancing towards the crossing of al-Tanf where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet, and had warned those militias from getting near al-Tanf military camp affiliated to the international coalition forces near the Iraqi borders.

Meanwhile, as opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that factions fighting at the desert front have received new arms as a support for their combat, Southern Front spokesman Issam al-Rayes said that the Syrian regime and Iran “want to guarantee an Iranian corridor throughout the Syrian Desert to help them reach the Mediterranean Sea.”

He said the FSA would not permit Tehran’s forces from achieving their target. Nevertheless, he did not deny that the battle was difficult.

Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Nasr al-Hariri told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that the opposition does not bet on the regime’s approval of a political transition in Syria, but it is rather testing Russia’s intentions to accept a political solution in the country.

Al-Hariri added that the opposition forces could not accept Iran as a guarantor or a monitor of the “de-escalation” memorandum.

The HNC chief also heavily criticized the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are backed by the US-led International Coalition.

“We consider the SDF as terrorist forces that do not at all differ from ISIS,” he said, adding that the Free Syrian Army should be supported to fight ISIS.

Also on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued a warning following Washington’s decision to transfer weapons to Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers as terrorists.

Turkey’s National Security Council also warned against supporting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.

In a statement issued following a closed-door meeting in Ankara under the chairmanship of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Council said: “It has been stressed that a policy of supporting the PKK/PYD/YPG terror organization — which is acting under the guise of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — does not suit [the principles of] friendship and alliance.”