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Trump’s Syria pullout does not spell end of Western coalition’s activity, notes diplomat

The Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman suggests that Washington transfer control of the areas it is vacating to Damascus once its forces are removed from Syria

MOSCOW, December 26. /TASS/. The withdrawal of the American army from Syrian soil does not translate to the end of activity by the US-led coalition, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.

"We are closely monitoring the fulfilment of the decision made by US President Donald Trump on December 19 to withdraw the American army from Syria. We understand the importance of this decision, which, according to our assessment, is going to contribute to a comprehensive settlement of the situation," Zakharova said. "We do not completely comprehend all the reasons and incentives behind this move, and moreover there is no clarity regarding the temporary withdrawal schedule for the US military."

Moscow "is still being guided by media reports that the full withdrawal of US ground forces from northeastern Syria, the Al-Tanf area, may be carried out in two to three months," she said.

"Official American representatives make it clear that the withdrawal of the army from Syrian territory does not mean an end to the activity by the so-called US-led international coalition in the fight against the IS (Islamic State, a terror organization that is outlawed in Russia - TASS)," the diplomat pointed out. "US officials have no strict, unequivocal statements regarding their own strategy; these are all unfinished hints and veiled wordings."

"This suggests that the issue allegedly concerns the shift to the next stage of the counter-terrorism campaign," the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. "Does it mean that the Americans may continue air strikes and restricted land operations on Syrian territory from home bases beyond this Arab republic? The question is still open."
Washington should transfer control of the territories it is vacating to the Assad administration once its forces are withdrawn from Syria, but there is no information on contacts between Washington and Damascus on the issue, she said.

"An essential question arises: who will inherit control over the territories vacated by the Americans? Obviously, that should be the Syrian government, in accordance with international law and considering the path that Syria and the Syrian people have travelled down," Zakharova pointed out. "However, right now we have no information on contacts between Washington and Damascus on the issue."

"We assume that any positive changes on the ground in Syria can only yield a long-term positive effect if they are reinforced by substantial progress on the political settlement track based on respect for Syria’s unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty," the diplomat stressed.

On December 19, US President Donald Trump announced Washington’s decision to begin the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. He noted that the United States had succeeded in its mission to defeat the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) and that it was time to bring American troops home. Currently, there are 2,000 US military servicemen in the war-torn country. According to US officials, the withdrawal of the US forces will take from 60 to 100 days.