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    Russia's S-300s Should Remain in Syria to Protect it From Enemy Airstrikes - SNC

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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - Russia’s S-300 air defense systems should remain in Syria if they protect the country from airstrikes and enemies, a representative of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) and member of the political committee of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) told Sputnik.

    "If they are good for Syria, for sure we would like them to stay there," Hadi al-Bahra said on Friday. "We need to look at the cause. If they are there to protect the Syrian territories from enemies, airstrikes, then they are positive, but also they have not been tested yet to see how effective they are."

    On October 2, Russia finished delivering S-300 systems to Syria in a bid to increase the security of Russian troops deployed there.

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    Al-Bahra said, however, that if the Russians are in Syria to fight the Daesh*, Daesh does not have any airplanes.

    "If they are there to prevent Israel from carrying out airstrikes, they are not doing that, they are facilitating the Israeli air raids into Syria," he added.

    The delivery of the systems was announced after a Russian Il-20 military plane was downed on September 17 by a missile launched by a Syrian S-200 air defense system targeting Israeli F-16 jets that were carrying out airstrikes in Latakia.

    The Russian Defense Ministry blamed the crash on the Israeli Air Force, claiming that the Israeli jets used the Russian aircraft as a shield against Syrian air defense systems. Israel has voiced concerns over Russia's decision to supply Syria with S-300 systems, saying that Damascus would be able to control Israeli airspace.

    Russia has been involved in military operations in Syria since 2015, after receiving a request from the Syrian government. Israel has been conducting airstrikes in Syria without permission from the Syrian government, but is justifying its actions by claiming it needs to counter Iran's military presence there.

    Syrian Opposition Hopes Constitutional Committee to Be Formed On Time

    The Syrian opposition is hopeful that a formation of the constitutional committee will be created by the target year end but sees no indication that Russia is moving in that direction, Hadi al-Bahra said.

    "We are hoping so [the committee is created by year end]," Hadi al-Bahra said on Friday. "We are trying to do it. But until now unfortunately all the signs coming from Russia do not lead in that direction."

    READ MORE:  Pentagon Aims to Train Up to 40,000 Local Stabilization Troops in Syria

    "As a result I would like to see that Russia would play its positive role and in executing its commitment on its own initiative which we acted and we took a very positive reaction toward it and actually facilitated the establishment of the one-third of the opposition," al-Bahra said. "Russia has to live up to its commitment and it should allow also the presence of the civil society and the experts in the third group under the auspices of the United Nations as stated by the Sochi statement."

    The creation of the committee, which is expected to draft Syria’s new constitution, was agreed upon during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Russian resort city of Sochi in late January. The committee will consist of three groups representing the Syrian government, opposition, and women, experts and leaders of various tribes living in Syria.

    The composition of the third part of the body, the so-called middle third list, set to comprise civil society representatives, has been a stumbling rock in the negotiations. Damascus has objected to the list of 50 names that was prepared and proposed by the United Nations. After his visit to the Syrian capital on Friday, de Mistura said that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem did not accept the role of the United Nations in selecting the middle third candidates.

    "I don’t think that the name selection is the core problem. The core problem is the regime refusal to move forward with the committee that works under the auspices of the United Nations," al-Bahra added. "They want the constitutional committee to work under the provision of the regime, under the control of the regime and they want it to work inside Syria not outside Syria."

    Al-Bahra also noted that the Kurds have been included in the constitutional committee both within the opposition representatives and also within the government representatives.

    "And for sure the third has also a few Kurds – personalities, civil society and others," he said.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on November 30 that Russia, together with its partners within the Astana format on the Syrian conflict settlement, aims to ensure speedy convocation of the Syrian constitutional committee.

    On December 14, UN Special Representative for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who is in charge of forming the body is expected to present his report to the UN Security Council.

    On October 27, the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France held a summit in Istanbul aimed at brokering an end to the war in Syria. In a joint communique issued after the summit, the leaders said the Syrian constitutional committee should convene in Geneva by the end of 2018.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly stressed that there is no viable alternative to the Astana format on the Syrian settlement said a functional and mutually acceptable constitutional committee is more important than an artificial deadline. The committee aims to develop recommendations and adjustments to the Syrian constitution.

    Syrian Refugees Return

    "You have to be reasonable. You have half of the population of Syria between IDPs and refugees. The majority of their homes destroyed, their cities don’t have enough infrastructure to support them, so there are huge security risks for the lives of these guys if they come back to Syria," Hadi al-Bahra said on Friday. "Many of them don’t want to serve in the army to kill other Syrians… And it has to be a voluntary return. And they have to go back to a safe zone and in a dignified manner. So, these conditions all are not available currently in Syria."

    Al-Bahra said the safe return of Syrian refugees is not possible without establishing a political settlement.

    When asked about a reconstruction of the war-torn country, al-Bahra stated, "Syria cannot be built by resources from Syria alone."

    "Everybody in the international community has really to actively participate in rebuilding Syria, to enforce the peace in Syria," he said.

    Yet the reconstruction also cannot be achieved without a just implementation of a political settlement via the Geneva process, al-Bahra said.

    According to the Russian Defense Ministry's Center for the Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees, over 56,000 refugees have returned to Syria from abroad since July. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that there are some 5.6 million Syrian refugees and about 6.6 million internally displaced people as of March 2018.

    Syria Must Eventually Be Free of All Foreign Forces — Syrian Negotiation Commission

    "I feel that Syria should be free of all foreign forces at the end," Hadi al-Bahra said on Friday. "I think this is possible only after we achieve a fair and just political settlement in Syria and implement the UN Security Resolution 2254."

    Syria has been in a state of conflict since 2011, with the government forces of President Bashar Assad fighting against numerous opposition groups and terrorist organizations. Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, is a guarantor of a countrywide ceasefire in Syria, while it also provides humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians and is actively engaged in dialogue on a settlement to the Syrian crisis.

    The US-led coalition of more than 70 members has been conducting military operations against the Islamic State terrorist group (banned in Russia) in Syria and Iraq since September 2014. The coalition’s activities in Syria are authorized neither by the Syrian government, nor by the United Nations Security Council.

    Syrian Negotiation Commission Hopes Astana Guarantors Advance Political Process

    "Astana should be keen on stopping the violence, sustaining ceasefire, trying to reach a complete countrywide ceasefire but also not to make any obstacles for the political process and efforts of other countries," Hadi al-Bahra said on Friday. "And they should play a more active role to reinvigorate the political process in Geneva."

    US Syria envoy James Jeffrey earlier this week said the Astana format can be discontinued if a constitutional committee is not convened by December 14. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rejected US allegations that the Astana process had failed.

    READ MORE: Activation of Russian S-400s in Syria Increases Threat to US Troops — General

    The Astana process, al-Bahra explained, was successful in creating safe areas especially the outcome of the latest Sochi agreement on Idlib. He also said the continuity of this agreement is very important, but Astana guarantors until now failed to create enough momentum to push the political process forward.

    Russia's special presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said, after the latest round of Astana talks last week between Syrian government and armed opposition, that the constitutional committee was being formed.

    The Astana-format talks have been an important part of international efforts aimed at settling the conflict in Syria. It is during the Astana talks that the memorandum on the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria was signed in 2017.

    *Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia

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