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Syria: West practicing economic ‘terrorism’ against Damascus

By ALBERT AJIApril 26, 2019
FILE - In this April 5, 2018 file photo, destroyed buildings line a street damaged during fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria. Amnesty International and Airwars, a London-based watchdog group, said Thursday, April 25, 2019, that the U.S.-led coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians in the northern Syria city of Raqqa during months of bombardment that liberated it from the Islamic State group. They said the toll came after the “most comprehensive investigation into civilian deaths in a modern conflict.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this April 5, 2018 file photo, destroyed buildings line a street damaged during fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria. Amnesty International and Airwars, a London-based watchdog group, said Thursday, April 25, 2019, that the U.S.-led coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians in the northern Syria city of Raqqa during months of bombardment that liberated it from the Islamic State group. They said the toll came after the “most comprehensive investigation into civilian deaths in a modern conflict.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations on Friday accused the United State and the European Union of practicing “economic terrorism” against his country by imposing what he described as illegitimate and unilateral sanctions.

Bashar Ja’afari made his comments in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan, where Russia, Turkey and Iran held a new round of talks with the Syrian government and the opposition on steps to bring peace to the country. Last month, Kazakhstan renamed its capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan, in honor of the country’s longtime leader who resigned the week before.

It is the 12th round of talks in Nur-Sultan bringing together the major stakeholders on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, in the hopes of nudging it toward a resolution. But at the end of the two-day talks Friday, Syria’s warring sides and the mediators failed again to agree on the formation of a committee meant to draft a new constitution, seen by the United Nations and the U.S. as a key step toward ending the eight-year civil war.

With crucial military assistance from Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad’s forces have regained control of most of the territory previously held by rebels. Government-held areas, however, have been reeling from the effects of economic sanctions imposed on Syria and its ally Iran.

Ja’afari’s comments came amid widespread fuel shortages in Damascus and other government-controlled areas that have forced people to wait for hours in lines stretching several miles (kilometers) to get few liters (gallons) of gasoline.

“This is economic terrorism that is escalating through unilateral economic measures,” Ja’afari said, adding that they are illegitimate because they are not the decision of the U.N. Security Council.

The Syrian official also blasted western countries that are refusing to take back their citizens who went to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group, saying they made “Syria a victim twice,” first by sending the fighters and now by making some of them and their families stay in Syria.

He added that IS has not been wiped out as the U.S. and Syrian fighters it backs announced last month, adding that Syrian government forces and their allies are still fighting the extremists in pockets they hold in the desert.

A final statement issued at the end of Astana’s 12th round also rejected President Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Syria’s occupied Golan Heights.

Ja’afari said Turkey and opposition groups it backs now control more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,315 square miles) of northern Syria which is four times the size of the Golan Heights.

It was not immediately clear whether any agreements had been reached on the northwestern province of Idlib, where a 7-month-old cease-fire agreement reached between Turkey and Russia is increasingly being violated.

In Syria, opposition activists said insurgents fired two rockets at Russia’s Hemeimeem air base in Latakia province, adding that Russian warplanes launched several airstrikes in retaliation on rebel-held areas in Hama and Idlib provinces. It was not clear if the rockets hit the base and there was no immediate comment from Russian or Syrian authorities.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the airstrikes killed three people, including a child.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

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