The Latest: Syria’s Assad, visiting Iran general hold talks

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

6:20 p.m.

Syria’s state news agency says President Bashar Assad has met with a visiting Iranian army commander to discuss military cooperation.

The Iranian general also conveyed a message from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

SANA says Assad’s meeting with Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri on Thursday focused on bilateral relations in all fields, mainly military cooperation, “which has witnessed a qualitative development during the war that Syria and its allies, mainly Iran, are waging against terrorism” in Syria.

Iran has been one of Assad’s strongest supporters since the country’s crisis began more than six years ago and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen to boost his troops against opponents.

SANA quoted Bagheri as saying that the aim of his visit is to “put a joint strategy on continuing coordination and cooperation at the military level.” He also stressed Iran’s commitment to help in the reconstruction process in Syria.

Bagheri met with several Syrian officials on Wednesday, including Defense Minister Fahd Jasem al-Freij, and Syrian army commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Ayyoub.


5:45 p.m.

An al-Qaida-linked group in Syria has released a rare video of its leader, showing him speaking with his fighters. The release comes two weeks after Russia said it seriously wounded him in an airstrike.

Abu Mohammed al-Golani of the Levant Liberation Committee appears in the video telling his men that his group will not give up the fight against its opponents. He says: “We will speak with the language of grenades, explosives, rifles,” and suicide attackers.

The video was released late on Wednesday though it isn’t known when it was filmed. It appears to have been shot before an al-Qaida offensive on a central government-controlled village on Oct. 6.

Two days before the attack, Russia’s military claimed that al-Golani was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence of al-Golani’s purported condition.

The al-Qaida-linked group subsequently denied al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health. The group’s fighters have been gaining more influence in the northwestern province of Idlib and northern parts of Hama, where they have launched attacks on rival militants, as well as areas controlled by the government.


3 p.m.

A state-linked Saudi news site says a high-level Saudi official is in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was recently retaken from the Islamic State group, to discuss his country’s role in reconstruction efforts.

Okaz quoted unnamed Saudi sources on Thursday as saying that Thamer al-Sabhan is in Raqqa to meet with members of the city’s civil council to discuss Saudi Arabia’s “prominent role in reconstruction.” Okaz says the United Arab Emirates will also play a role in rebuilding.

The report included an image of al-Sabhan apparently in Raqqa with Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the IS group, of which the kingdom is a member.

Al-Sabhan is minister of state for Arab Affairs. He was previously the ambassador to Iraq, but left amid threats from Iranian-backed militias.


1 p.m.

A Kurdish female militia that took part in freeing the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group says it will continue the fight to liberate women living under the extremist group’s brutal rule.

Nisreen Abdullah of the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, read a statement Thursday in Raqqa’s Paradise Square, where IS fighters once carried out their public killings. She says the all-women force lost 30 members in the four-month battle.

Under Islamic State rule, women were forced to wear all-encompassing veils and could be stoned to death for adultery. Hundreds of women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi minority were captured and forced into sexual slavery.

Abdullah says the YPJ helped liberate dozens of Yazidi women.


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