Pentagon warns Assad against attack on Kurdish forces

Syrian forces loyal to Assad attack refugee camp in Damascus

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned US-backed Kurdish forces he would not hesitate to use force to retake the third of the country they control.

The remarks reflect that despite pressure on multiple fronts, Assad is seeking to consolidate control after seven years of civil war.

The return of the Syrian army to Israel's northern border in return for the distancing of Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah from the area has been the subject of back channel discussions between Israel and Russian Federation over recent weeks.

However, the USA at one point ended up effectively allied with Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front), President Assad told RT.

Fearing that Iran and Hezbollah are setting up a joint Lebanese-Syrian front against it, Israel has occasionally targeted their forces. The United States maintains about 2,000 troops there, helping the local Kurdish-led militia battle the Islamic State militant group. "Somehow, they are going to leave".

Defence Secretary James Mattis took pains on Thursday (April 12) to walk back President Donald Trump's threats of an imminent strike on Syria, reflecting mounting concerns at the Pentagon that a concerted bombing campaign could escalate into a wider conflict between Russia, Iran and the West.

It was not the first time that Assad has threatened to attack US troops, but it was his most explicit expression yet of his determination to rid Syria of American forces. He denied reports that Iranians have been killed in Israeli strikes. "We all don't trust the Americans, [so] the one option is to live with each other as Syrians", Assad said.

Assad, however, ensured that Syria's "defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support, and the recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation".

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday discussed the so-called de-escalation zone in southern Syria, where the United States and Russia sponsor a truce, with Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Moscow.

Iran supports a Russian-led effort to impose Syrian government control over the south of Syria, a senior Iranian security official was quoted as saying on Saturday, amid reports that Damascus is preparing a major military offensive in the area.

The agreement envisages Iranian forces pulling out from the entire area and Syrian rebels there surrendering heavy weapons.

The meeting in Moscow came as the Syrian war monitor Observatory for Human Rights said that Iranian troops and Hizballah fighters appear to be getting ready to withdraw from southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, gave no further details.

The daily also quoted diplomatic sources in Jerusalem as saying that "the talks with Russian Federation - conducted with USA backing - were heading in the right direction".

The SDF, dominated by the militia of a self-proclaimed Kurdish autonomous administration, has air support from the US-led coalition against IS and operates on the ground with U.S. and French special forces.

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump comments in which he described the Syrian leader as "Animal Assad", and asked if he has a nickname for the American president, Assad said: "This is not my language, so I can not use similar language".

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