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Israeli defense minister: Assad has lost control of most of Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad ride in a tank during what they said was a military operation against rebels in al-Mansoura area in Aleppo countryside, June 2, 2013. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

Forces loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, ride in a tank during what they said was a military operation against rebels in the Al-Mansoura area in the Aleppo countryside, on June 2, 2013. (REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The government of Bashar Al-Assad has lost control of the majority of Syrian territory, Israel’s minister of defense said yesterday.

The minister, Moshe Ya’alon, was testifying before the Israeli parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee and said that Assad retained control of only 40% of Syria.

Ya’alon told lawmakers that the fighting remained deadlocked between the two sides, despite support from abroad.

He said: “The regime does not know how to defeat the opposition and the opposition does not know how to defeat the regime. The situation at present is that Syria is split—Assad controls 40% of the territory, mostly where Alawites live and parts of Damascus, while some 80% of Aleppo is in the hands of the opposition.”

Ya’alon also told legislators that the delivery of an advanced S-300 air defense system promised to Syria by Russia had not taken place, and was not expected to happen before 2014.

“At this stage, according to Russian chatter, the system has not yet been transferred to Syria,” he said. “If they do take place, it will not be before next year.”

President Assad recently claimed that some elements of the S-300 system were already in place in Syria, though this claim was met with scepticism from experts, who said that the system would take some time to reach Syria, and at least six months would be needed to train the Syrian military to operate it.

Ya’alon also said that Israel would not intervene in the conflict “as long as they don’t harm our interests, or unless there are attempts to transfer precision weapons, mostly to Hezbollah, or an attempt to take control of chemical weapons or heat up the border, or if there are shooting incidents into our territory.”

Israeli jets struck targets in Syria twice at the beginning of May, targeting shipments of weapons bound for Hezbollah according to press reports. Israeli troops destroyed a Syrian army position after coming under attack from within Syria while patrolling the occupied Golan Heights.

Ya’alon added that his comments to the committee had been cleared by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting that his remarks reflected official policy.

“There have been remarks, coordinated and uncoordinated, and therefore the prime minister instructed ministers to coordinate their words. What I am saying now has been coordinated with the prime minister,” he said.

Within Syria, fighting between the rebels and the Syrian government has continued around the town of Al-Qusayr, close to the Syrian–Lebanese border, as the government continues attempts to re-take the town, reportedly with the assistance of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.

On the diplomatic front, the fate of the peace conference proposed by the US and Russia, dubbed “Geneva II,” remains in doubt amid disarray within the main Syrian opposition movement, the Syrian National Coalition and international disagreements over Iran’s attendance.