Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called for the expansion of the “axis of resistance” led by Iran, to include Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other local militias.
The official Syrian News Agency (SANA) quoted Buthaina Shaaban, Assad’s special advisor, as saying in a speech she gave on his behalf, that relations must be established and developed between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine.
Shaaban delivered the speech during a ceremony held in Damascus on Thursday, on the second anniversary of the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a US raid in Iraq.
Assad underlined the need to “work to strengthen communication, harmony and integration in this axis.”
“The rail and power network between Iran, Iraq and Syria may be a good start to link the countries of the region with open relations,” he said, according to the speech conveyed by Shaaban.
Damascus commemorated the second anniversary of Soleimani’s killing in an official ceremony, and unveiled a memorial in his honor in the countryside of Aleppo, while no events were held on this occasion last year.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday that Iran-backed militias continue to train Syrian fighters in military sites affiliated with the Fourth Division, which is led by Assad’s brother, Major General Maher al-Assad.
Sources quoted by SOHR noted that the exercises “began three months ago...The military drills are held under the supervision of Iranian officers and military personnel.”
“Nearly 390 Syrian fighters loyal to regime forces and Fourth Division have conducted military exercises. However, there has been no confirmed information about the real aim behind these drills, whether it is a new way of recruiting Syrians into the ranks of Iranian proxies or for involving them in fighting and battles for Iranian interests in Syria,” the Observatory said on its website.
On Dec. 31, the Observatory reported that eight Russian helicopters arrived at Palmyra military airport from Russia’s Hmeimim base in Lattakia province.
It added that a convoy of joint forces of the Fifth Corps and Liwaa Al-Quds, comprising one hundred soldiers, armored vehicles, and tanks, headed from Deir Ezzor to Palmyra in eastern Homs countryside, at Russia’ orders. The convoy was escorted by Russian helicopters.
According to SOHR sources, “Russian forces intend to establish new military posts for the Russian-backed Fifth Corps and Liwaa Al-Quds in Palmyra city and its desert, with the aim to compete with Iranian-backed militias, which are also deployed in that region in large groups.”