BEIRUT: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the U.S. was working with Russia and others to find ways to stabilize Syria after Daesh’s (ISIS) defeat and to create new de-escalation zones in the war-torn country.
His comments came a few days after the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved new sanctions on Russia, which Tillerson said neither he nor President Donald Trump are “very happy about,” at a media conference at the State Department.
Tillerson said the U.S. as working with the Russians to duplicate the de-escalation zone established in Syria’s southwest in other parts of the country, especially in the north, as U.S.-backed forces “continue to liberate areas from ISIS.”
He also said Washington continues to see that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no role in Syria’s future governance and that Iran’s military influence must seize in the country.
“The direct presence of Iranian military forces in Syria must leave and go home ... These are our two in-state conditions,” he said.
Tillerson is to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his trip to the Philippines over the weekend.
On the ground in Syria, meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battling to oust Daesh from its Syrian bastion Raqqa have advanced in the city’s south, seizing a new neighborhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The SDF began a campaign last year to capture Raqqa from Daesh, slowly encircling the city before breaking into it for the first time in June.
Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, the alliance now controls more than 50 percent of the city, according to the Observatory.
“Overnight, the SDF advanced in the south of the city, after taking control of the Nazlet Shahada neighborhood,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman.
He said SDF fighters also controlled large parts of the adjacent neighborhood of Hisham Bin Abdel-Malik, after advancing in the south from both the eastern and western fronts. “Daesh effectively no longer has a presence in the southern neighborhoods of Raqqa, after SDF forces coming from the eastern front met with those advancing from the western front, he added.Abdel-Rahman said the fighting was now centered around the area south of the city center and on the outskirts of the Hisham Bin Abdel-Malik district.
“The SDF is a few hundred meters from Daesh’s main headquarters in Clock Square, which is where Daesh carried out executions,” he said.
He added that SDF fighters were also on the outskirts of Al-Thakana neighborhood, one of the city’s most densely populated.