Donning coronavirus face masks, Syria's Assad and Iran's Zarif meet in Damascus for 'Idlib talks'

Donning coronavirus face masks, Syria's Assad and Iran's Zarif meet in Damascus for 'Idlib talks'
Zarif and Assad both wore face masks as they held talks in the Syrian capital.
3 min read
20 April, 2020
Zarif held talks with Assad on Monday [Getty]
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif flew to Damascus on Monday for talks with Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, after a surprise announcement of the meeting by Tehran a day earlier.

The Iranian and Syrian entourage were photographed at the presidential palace in Damascus on Monday wearing face masks due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Iran's national news agency confirmed the meeting between Zarif and Assad but gave no further details on the topics of discussion.

The two were pictured sat at a distance and wearing face masks, in an apparent bid to protect against the coronavirus.

Syrian state news reported that Zarif condemned the refusal of the US to lift sanctions on Iran and Syria during the coronavirus epidemic as "inhumane".

Iran said on Sunday the talks would focus on the "fight against terrorism", a term used to describe the Syrian regime's war against rebel groups in the country.

The Assad regime has repeatedly broken a Turkish-Russian brokered ceasefire covering opposition Idlib province, in northwestern Syria.

Russia's defence minister flew to Damascus last month, reportedly to instruct Assad to respect the deal.

Zarif's meeting also discussed Turkey's military involvement in northern Syria, including Idlib where Ankara has sent reinforcements.

"The meeting tackled the latest political developments, including the constitutional committee, the Astana process, and the developments in the north of Syria in light of the continuing transgressions by Turkey against Syria's sovereignty and territory," SANA news agency reported.

Syrian opposition news sites have speculated that the talks with Zarif - viewed as part of the moderate bloc in Iran - would focus on Idlib.

Naji Mustafa, leader of the rebel Jaish al-Nasr group, told Baladi News that "the new breaches by Iranian forces, and the bombing of opposition-held sites, as well as the martyrdom of one of the fighters and the targeting of a number of villages in the Al-Ghab Plain area, is a new breach of the agreement, which was limited to artillery and machine gun fire", according to the Syrian Observer site. 

Iranian-backed regime reinforcements have been sent to the Idlib frontlines with a view of launching a new offensive on rebel positions, according to the opposition site.

Syria analyst Charles Lister reported that Zarif's visit coincided with regime forces resuming their shelling of villages in southeast Idlib.

Along with Russia, Iran is one of the key backers of Bashar Al-Assad, sending thousands of militia fighters to prop up his regime during the war.

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