Syria says victory in sight over terrorists

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Syria’s foreign minister told world leaders Saturday that his country is “marching steadily” toward the goal of rooting out terrorism — and “victory is now within reach.”

Walid Al-Moualem pointed to “the liberation of Aleppo and Palmyra,” the end to the siege of Deir el-Zour by the Islamic State extremist group, “and the eradication of terrorism from many parts of Syria” by the Syrian army and its supporters and allies, including Russia and Iran.

Russia’s military said about two weeks ago that Syrian troops have liberated about 85 percent of the war-torn country’s territory from militants, a major turn-around two years after Moscow intervened to lend a hand to its embattled long-time ally.

While al-Moualem was looking toward the end of Syria’s more-than-six-year civil war, the leader of hurricane-hammered Dominica made an impassioned plea for help at the General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting for an island country on “the front line of the war on climate change.”

“Let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the 193-nation world body five days after Hurricane Maria swept over his Caribbean country with 160 mph (255 kph) winds, killing 15 people, flattening homes and destroying roads.

The General Assembly was scheduled to hear later Saturday from North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, a highly anticipated speech following the escalating rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and his country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

In his speech, Syria’s al-Moualem heaped praise on the army and the country’s allies and looked ahead to victory, though fighting still continues in many areas of the country.

“I am confident that when this unjust war on Syria is over, the Syrian army will go down in history as the army that heroically defeated, along with its supporting forces and its allies, the terrorists that came to Syria from many countries and received large support from the most powerful countries of the world,” he said.

While the army and its supporting forces and allies “are making daily achievements, clearing out territories and uprooting terrorists,” al-Moallem said, “the threat of this plague persists.”

On the political front, he said local reconciliation agreements have allowed tens of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees to return home. He said “Syria is determined to scale up reconciliation efforts, whenever possible.”

The Syrian minister said Syria is encouraged by talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on local cease-fires and “de-escalation zones.”

He expressed hope that these talks “will help us reach an actual cessation of hostilities and separate terrorist groups” like IS from groups that have agreed to join the Astana process.

Al-Moallem reaffirmed the Syrian government’s commitment to further progress in Geneva talks, which are aimed at establishing a transitional government, drafting a new constitution and holding elections in Syria.

“This process has yet to bear fruit in the absence of a genuine national opposition that can be a partner in Syria’s future,” he said, “and as countries with influence over the other party continue to block any meaningful progress.”

Talks among Syrian opposition groups are expected to take place in early October in hopes of producing a unified delegation in Geneva.

The annual gathering of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs has taken place against a backdrop of a spate of natural disasters — hurricanes that have ravaged the Caribbean and the United States and a major earthquake in Mexico. Climate change was already a major issue before the leaders but these events magnified the importance of global action.

Dominica’s leader asked other countries Saturday to lend his hurricane-ravaged nation military equipment that could be used to help rebuild it, saying “our landscape reflects a zone of war” against global warming.

People around the world had followed Skerrit’s gripping Facebook posts during the storm, as he described his roof being torn off and his home filling with water: “I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane” he wrote before being rescued.

On Saturday, he said “desolation is beyond imagination” in the Caribbean island nation and made an impassioned case for the world to do more to help vulnerable countries cope with the effects of global warming. Scientists have long predicted extreme weather would rise with temperatures.

“Seventy-two thousand Dominicans lie in the front lines of a war that they did not choose, with extensive casualties from a war that they did not start,” he said, noting that the tiny country has contributed little of the greenhouse gases that are the main cause of global warming.

“We are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others, actions that endanger our very existence, and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere,” he said.

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