x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Jordan 'ready to fight threat from Syria war', Abdullah says

King Abdullah's comments came as Jordanian and US forces proceed with joint military exercises with the participation of 17 other countries.

Syrians queue in front of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo to pick up their passports after Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi cuts diplomatic ties with Damascus.
Syrians queue in front of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo to pick up their passports after Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi cuts diplomatic ties with Damascus.

AMMAN // Jordan was ready to fight any threat from Syria's civil war, King Abdullah II said yesterday, a day after Egypt's president severed diplomatic ties with Damascus.

King Abdullah's comments came as Jordanian and US forces proceeded with joint military exercises with the participation of 17 other countries. Diplomats say the exercises, which entered their second week, aim to send a strong message to Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad.

"If the world does not help as it should, and if the matter becomes a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take the measures to protect the country and the interest of our people," King Abdullah told military cadets at a graduation ceremony in southern Jordan.

Jordan "will emerge victorious in the face of all challenges, the way we always have in the past", he said.

A Pentagon spokesman said on Saturday the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, had approved a Jordanian request for American F-16s and Patriot missiles to remain in the kingdom after the end of the military manoeuvres.

The decision to put Patriot batteries - an air and missile defence system - in Jordan has particularly angered Russia, Mr Al Assad's main international ally, which accuses the West of fanning the conflict in Syria.

The Obama administration on Thursday said it would begin arming rebels after it confirmed Mr Al Assad's forces had used chemical weapons against the rebels.

King Abdullah spoke less than 24 hours after Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president, said that his country is severing ties with Damascus and closing its embassy in the Syrian capital.

Egypt and its army will stand by the Syrian people "until their rights are granted and a new elected leadership is chosen", he told a stadium packed with Islamist supporters on Saturday as he took direct aim at Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement that has joined the fight against Syrian rebels. "Today we stand against Hizbollah for Syria."

Mr Morsi's decision was made amid growing calls from hardline Sunni clerics in Egypt and the region to launch "a holy war" against Mr Al Assad's regime.

A Syrian official said on state television that Mr Morsi's decision to close the embassy was "irresponsible".

In the past year, sectarian bitterness has grown in the conflict. Each sect has been accused of massacres against the other, and Sunni and Shiite fighters from other countries have increasingly joined the battle.

Yesterday, Britain's Independent newspaper reported Iran plans to send 4,000 of its Revolution Guard troops to Syria with the possibility of opening a new front on the Golan Heights against Israel.

Meanwhile, the German news weekly Der Spiegal reported that Saudi Arabia planned to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles.

The article, citing a classified report received by the German foreign intelligence service and the German government last week, said Riyadh was looking at sending European-made Mistral-class MANPADS, or man-portable air-defence systems.

Der Spiegel noted the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles can target low-flying aircraft including helicopters and had given mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan a decisive edge against Soviet troops in the 1980s.

In another sign of the sectarian hatred growing inside Syria, amateur videos posted online show Sunni extremists blowing up a Shiite mosque in a village that was stormed by rebels last week, activists said yesterday.

The demolition was carried out by Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria and shows the determination of extremists to drive Shiites out of the village of Hatla in the Deir El Zour region near Iraq. Last Tuesday rebels battled pro-regime militiamen there, killing more than 60 Shiite fighters and civilians.

In the videos of the latest incident, fighters walked into the mosque in Hatla and trampled on books, some with covers showing pictures of Shiite clerics. It then showed an explosion that brought down the building, but its dome remained intact.

Rami Abdurrahman, founder of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the mosque was demolished on Friday, three days after the battle. Other videos that emerged earlier have showed rebels cursing Shiites and suggested fighters had burnt Shiite homes.

"It's clear that they want to root out Hatla's Shiite inhabitants," he said.

The town was home to several thousand people, about 30 per cent of them Shiites. It was considered a pro-regime community in the Euphrates River valley, where rebels - including Al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat Al Nusra - have taken over much of the territory.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg