Syria: Western spies reach out to Assad on counter-terror

No alternative to Assad, Syrian FM. Int'l donors pledge $2.4 billion

15 January, 20:59

    Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria

    (ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, JANUARY 15 - Western intelligence officials have met secretly with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss counter-terrorism, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad told the BBC on Wednesday.
    Western governments have finally realized ''there is no alternative to the leadership of Assad'', the minister said without specifying which countries have covertly sent officials to Damascus.
    Some of these governments resumed contacts with the Syrian regime in view of the Geneva II international peace conference on January 22, the minister added.
    ''Some said they wanted to send feelers out, others still said they want to cooperate on security matters because the terrorists that Western Europe has been sending into Turkey and Syria have become a threat to them as well'', Miqdad said.
    Citing Western and Middle Eastern diplomatic sources, The Wall Street Journal said France, Germany, Spain and the UK, all of whom withdrew their ambassadors from Syria, sent spies to Damascus beginning in November to exchange information on the more than 1,000 European jihadists fighting in extremist Islamic groups in Syria.
    This does not mean diplomatic relations have resumed, the sources said.
    There have been unconfirmed reports that a retired operative from MI6 British military intelligence first visited Syria last summer.
    A Spanish intelligence spokesperson admitted the agency has shared information with Damascus on Spaniards joining radical groups in Syria.
    Islamic extremism is a threat not only to the Middle East but to the entire world, Assad said at his meeting Wednesday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
    The minister arrived from Jordan, where he had been as part of a regional tour that also included a visit to Lebanon on Monday.
    ''The Syrian people and others in the region have realized the dangers of Wahhabism'', state news agency SANA cited Assad as saying in reference to an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam espoused by the Saudi royal family.
    Along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia is a key supporter of the anti-Assad insurgency.
    ''Everyone must stand up against Wahhabism so it can be extirpated'', Assad reportedly said.

    A car bomb that exploded north of Aleppo near the Turkish border left at least 26 people dead, the Syrian National Observatory for Human Rights made known Wednesday. The body count could increase as many were seriously injured, the human rights observers said, adding the attack was carried out by an Iraqi-Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate based in the town of Jarablos. Also on Wednesday, an al-Qaeda leader of Belgian nationality who went by the name of Abu al-Bara was killed in northern Syria, local activists in the Idlib region told ANSAmed via Skype. Bara was known as ''the Belgian emir'' and as the ''emir of Saraqeb'', a northwestern town that has seen fierce fighting between between Syrian rebels and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Neither report has yet been independently confirmed.

    International donors including Italy have pledged a total of $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Wednesday in Kuwait at the close of the second international donor conference for the war-torn country. This falls short of the $6.5 billion the United Nations asked for this year to help Syrians affected by the war, its largest-ever funding appeal for a single crisis. The Kuwait donor conference was attended by 62 countries, 11 UN agencies, the World Bank, five humanitarian organizations including the Red Cross, and 17 NGOs. Represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, Italy pledged 38 million euros (approximately $50 million) (ANSAmed).

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