Friends of Syria demands Hezbollah, Iran fighters withdraw

AMMAN Thu May 23, 2013 12:00am BST

AMMAN (Reuters) - The Friends of Syria alliance called on Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah ally on Thursday to withdraw fighters immediately from Syrian territory and described their armed presence in the country as a threat to regional stability.

In a communique issued after a meeting in Amman, the alliance said it will "further increase" support for the opposition and "take all other steps as necessary" until a planned peace conference backed by Russia and the United States produces a transitional government that would assume power over the army and executive, which are now in President Bashar al-Assad's hands.

Referring to Hezbollah guerrillas fighting along the Syrian army and pro-Assad militia in the Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, the alliance "called for the immediate withdrawal of Hezbollah, fighters from Iran, and other regime allied foreign fighters from Syrian territory."

The meeting of 11 Western and Arab nations, as well as Turkey, which constitute the core group of the alliance, also warned of "severe consequences" if use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces is confirmed.

The communique said Assad's forces "committed ethnic cleansing" this month in the city of Banias. Opposition campaigners said forces from Assad's minority Alawite sect killed and mutilated at least 100 Sunni men, women and children in the coastal city of Banias on May 2.

But the alliance warned that radicalism was growing on both sides of the two-year conflict, in which at least 80,000 people were killed.

"The ministers expressed their strong concern over the increasing presence and growing radicalism on both sides of the conflict and terrorist elements in Syria that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria," the statement said.

(Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Michael Roddy and Cynthia Osterman)

FILED UNDER: