Jordan looks to Russia to diffuse Syria refugee crisis

Jordan’s foreign minister says situation in southern Syria was a cause for serious concern.
Wednesday 04/07/2018
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi enter a hall during a meeting in Moscow, on July 4. (Reuters)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi enter a hall during a meeting in Moscow, on July 4. (Reuters)

LONDON – Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Russia on Wednesday that political dialogue and a ceasefire were priorities for southern Syria where he said a humanitarian catastrophe risked unfolding.

Safadi made the comment after holding talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

He said the situation in southern Syria was a cause for serious concern and needed to be resolved as soon as possible.

Safadi said dozens of trucks are waiting for Syrian government permission to supply humanitarian aid from Jordan to Syria.

The Russian-backed Syrian government has mounted a campaign to recover southwestern Syria from rebels.

Syrian rebel negotiators began a new round of talks with Russian officers on Tuesday over a peace deal in southern Syria under which they would hand over weapons and allow Russian military police to enter rebel-held towns. 

Khetam Malkawi, a spokeswoman for the UN agencies in the Jordanian capital of Amman, said the ongoing fighting in Syria’s Daraa has displaced 270,000 people — a sharp rise in the displacement numbers since the offensive began on June. 19.

UN organizations have sent a convoy of food and medical supplies across the border from Jordan earlier on Monday, she noted.

At the United Nations, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the 270,000 was “the largest displacement” in the Daraa area since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. He stressed that “estimates are subject to change as numbers continue to be verified and front lines shift.”

Jordan’s army said Tuesday the kingdom’s border with Syria would remain closed, even as tens of thousands of Syrians flee the government offensive towards the frontier.

The commander of the kingdom’s northern military region, General Khaled al-Massaid, told AFP that authorities feared the presence of “infiltrators among the displaced”.

Some 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan since fleeing their country’s seven-year war, which started with anti-government protests in 2011.

Amman estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million people and says it has already spent more than $10 billion hosting them.

Opposition activists reported more violence in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday, saying that government forces bombarded towns and villages in the province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s fighting was concentrated near the villages of Tafas and Nawa. It added that two weeks of fighting have killed 123 civilians.

The Nabaa Media, an opposition activist collective, also said that fighting is taking place in Tafas, adding that thousands of people have fled toward the fence along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Rebels in Syria’s south discussed a Russian proposal to hand over their remaining territory in exchange for a halt to the regime’s blistering offensive, rebel sources said on Wednesday.

The spokesman for the rebels’ southern operations, Ibrahim Jabbawi told AFP that rebels were “now discussing its content with key figures and fighters in the south on whether to return to the negotiating table.”

“We hope to reach an agreement so that the displaced can return home and the fighting can stop,” Jabbawi said.

According to a source close to the talks, rebels presented a proposal to Moscow during a tense, hours-long meeting on Tuesday.

It included a ceasefire, the army’s withdrawal from towns it had already taken, and safe passage to other opposition territory for rebels or civilians who did not want to live under regime control.

Rebels would hand over heavy weapons but would keep the rest until a “real political process” had begun. But Moscow roundly rejected the terms, the source said.

Russia insisted the army would return to its pre-2011 positions, and local police would take over towns in coordination with Russian military police.

The Russian delegation warned opposition factions that Wednesday “would be their last day to negotiate, and that they’d have to submit their final answer in the afternoon meeting,” the source said.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)