Middle East

Syrian military chief makes rare visit to Jordan to discuss border issues

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on June 8, 2021 shows Jordanian King Abdullah II meeting with political figures / AFP / Jordanian Royal Palace / Yousef ALLAN /

AMMAN: Syria's defence minister visited Jordan on Sunday to discuss stability on their mutual border, the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted a decade ago, officials said.

The meeting comes after Syria's army reestablished control this month over Deraa, a city south of Damascus, in a Russian brokered deal that averted an all-out military assault.

Jordanian army head Lieutenant General Yousef Hunaiti met Syrian Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub over the Deraa situation and to discuss issues such as the fight against terrorism and drug smuggling in the area, Jordan's army said.

Deraa was a focus for protests that erupted in 2011 against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The military's move to crush the demonstrations began the spiral into war.

Jordan's King Abdullah, a staunch U.S. ally, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Moscow in August. Russian forces in Syria helped reverse the tide of Syria's conflict, enabling government forces to retake swathes of lost territory.

Jordan had for years supported mainstream Western-backed rebels who controlled southern Syria until a campaign by the Syrian army in 2018 aided by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias retook the province.

Thousands of rebels, who once received arms and support funneled through Jordan, handed over their weapons under surrender deals brokered by Moscow.

The retaking of Deraa by government forces has brought with it control of several towns and villages that until recently defied state authority.

Amman remains concerned about the presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border, echoing concerns in neighbouring Israel, Iran's arch foe.

Jordanian officials have accused Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement of being behind drugs smuggling in the area. The group has repeatedly denied allegations made by the West and others that it is involved in any such smuggling network.

 

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