New Jordan-Syria spat revives simmering tensions

Sunday 30/04/2017
Bygone days. A file picture showing Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) being welcomed by Syrian President Bashar Assad at Damascus airport in 2010. (Reuters)

London- A spat between the Jor­danian and Syrian gov­ernments rekindled tensions between the neighbouring countries at a time when US President Donald Trump is mulling increased mili­tary action in the region.
Syrian President Bashar Assad ac­cused Jordan of planning to deploy troops in Syria in coordination with the United States.
“We have this information, not only from mass media but from dif­ferent sources. You know that we have the same tribes and same fam­ilies on both sides of the borders,” Assad told Russian news website Sputnik.
Assad accused Amman of being “part of the American plan since the beginning of the war in Syria,” saying that Jordan is “not an inde­pendent state in any way” and that it “carries out whatever the Ameri­cans want.”
Jordan rejected the Syrian charg­es, which Information Minister Mohammad Momani branded as “devoid of reality,” stressing that Amman had always championed a political solution to the Syrian war.
“It is unfortunate that the presi­dent of Syria talks about the po­sition of Jordan while he has no control over the majority of his country’s territory,” said Momani, quoted by the Jordan’s Petra news agency.
Jordanian political commenta­tors mocked Assad’s remarks. “As­sad is not as independent as he wants one to believe,” wrote Has­san Barari in an opinion article in the Jordan Times. “Iran and Russia may decide much of Assad’s op­tions in the south. Hence, Assad’s accusations of Jordan may reflect a deeper problem with Iran and its schemes in Syria.”
Assad might be concerned that the Trump administration is likely to pursue further military action against the Syrian regime follow­ing US air strikes against a Syrian airbase. The US strikes came in re­sponse to a chemical weapon at­tack allegedly carried out by Syrian forces in Idlib province.
Jordan welcomed the US air strikes as a “necessary and appro­priate response to the nonstop tar­geting of innocent civilians” with weapons of mass destruction.
The Syrian regime could also be concerned about the possibility of the United States establishing a safe zone in southern Syria.
Jordan, however, insists it is backing Syrian rebels to fend off the threat of extremist militants, including the Islamic State (ISIS).
ISIS claimed responsibility for several attacks against Jordan and recently released a 20-minute video calling for strikes against Jordanian security forces. In the video, ISIS reportedly executed Syrian rebels who confessed to be­ing trained by US forces in Jordan to fight ISIS.
ISIS militants in the video were Jordanian. There are an estimated 900 Jordanian fighters in Syria and Iraq, Jordanian sources told the Jordan Times.
There are reports that Jordan could be preparing for joint mili­tary operations with US and British special forces against ISIS in Syria.
Former Jordanian Information Minister Samih al-Maaytah told Al-Monitor website: “Jordan will not hesitate to go into an open war against [ISIS] outside our borders, because the group threatens us di­rectly.”
It is unclear if Jordanian troops will cross into Syria to fight ISIS in­stead of continuing to rely on Syr­ian rebels. Such a scenario would risk Jordanian forces clashing with pro-Assad forces, including Iranian militias or Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as well as being mistakenly bombed by the Russians.
Amman has been careful not to antagonise Moscow and on April 24, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “There is no solution to the Syrian conflict with­out Russia.”
Jordanian political commenta­tors echoed that sentiment. “Jor­dan’s official position on Syria has mostly remained unchanged ad­vocating a political solution to the ongoing war there,” Raed Omari wrote on AlArabiya.net.
“Amman, a strategic Washing­ton’s ally, has even kept communi­cation channels with Moscow and was the only Arab country attend­ing the Astana talks.”
There are about 635,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations in Jordan but the actual number is estimated to be 1.4 mil­lion, many of whom live in dire conditions but cannot return to Syria due to the war.
They make up about 20% of Jordan’s population and Amman has frequently requested additional financial aid from international do­nors to deal with the situation.

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