Saudi Arabia reaffirms offer to deploy troops in Syria

Riyadh said it offered to deploy troops to help stabilise the situation in Syria when President Barack Obama was in power

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday the kingdom’s willingness to deploy troops to Syria as part of US-led efforts to stabilise the conflict-torn country.

Speaking at a press conference alongside UN chief Antonio Guterres, Al-Jubeir said that Riyadh had held previous discussions with America to deploy troops in Syria after the civil war began.

“We are in discussions with the US and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis (in 2011) about sending forces into Syria,” Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh.

The comments were in response to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday that US President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to help stabilise Syria.

The report follows weekend strikes by the United States, Britain and France against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime that hit targets they said were linked to its chemical weapons programme.

Jubeir emphasised the proposal to send its troops was “not new”.

“We made a proposal to the (previous US) Obama administration that if the US were to send forces… then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent,” he said.

Syria’s war, the most tangled of the region’s conflicts, is a crucial point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni Muslim rebels, against forces loyal to Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Riyadh and Shiite rival Tehran also back opposing sides in other hotspots across the mainly Sunni Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen.

The announcement by Saudi Arabia comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the west as the war of words continue to escalate on the diplomatic stage.

Syrian state media said on Tuesday that inspectors had entered Douma to begin its investigation over the suspected chemical attack that took place in the area.

“Experts from the chemical weapons committee enter the town of Douma,” SANA wrote on its website.

The OPCW told Middle East Eye that it could not confirm or deny that its inspectors had entered Douma.

France said it is “highly likely” that evidence disappeared before weapons experts arrived in the area.

On Monday, Syrian and Russian authorities had prevented inspectors from going to the scene in Douma.

Damascus and Moscow had both denied using poison gas and issued statements from hospital workers in Douma, claiming that no chemical attack no place.