US delegation met secretly with Syrian intelligence chiefs, newspaper claims

Ali MamloukA delegation of senior American government officials met secretly with Syria’s spy chiefs in an effort to lay out the terms of a possible deal between Washington and Damascus, according to a Lebanese newspaper. Relations between the United States and Syria have been strained since the late 1950s, when Damascus blamed Washington for a failed coup and expelled America’s ambassador there. In 2012, the US shut down its embassy in the Syrian capital in response to the government’s violent suppression of protests. Since then, Washington has carried out missile strikes on Syrian soil at least twice, while openly supporting armed groups that are opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

But according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, a group of senior American officials held a secret meeting in Damascus with Syrian spy chiefs. If true, the move could signify a major shift in US-Syrian relations. The paper, which supports the pro-Assad Shiite paramilitary group Hezbollah, and is close to the Syrian government, published news of the alleged meeting on Tuesday. It said that the meeting took place in complete secrecy during the last week of June and that it was facilitated by intermediaries from Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The latter used a UAE government airplane to fly the US delegation —whose names Al-Akhbar did not reveal— to the Syrian capital. The visiting delegation, which according to the paper “included [senior] officers from many US intelligence and security agencies”, was transported to a secret Syrian government facility in the dead of night by “a huge procession of black SUVs”, said the paper. The Syrian delegation at the meeting was reportedly headed by Ali Mamlouk, special security adviser to President al-Assad and head of the National Security Bureau of the governing Ba’ath Party. Other participants from the Syrian side included Mohammed Dib Zeitoun, director of the General Security Directorate, and Muwaffaq Asaad, the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian Armed Forces, said Al-Akhbar.

During the meeting, the two sides allegedly attempted to lay out the foundations of a possible post-civil war deal between Washington and Damascus. According to the Lebanese paper, the US delegation offered to withdraw American Special Forces from Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. In return, they allegedly asked for the removal of Iranian troops from Syrian regions that are adjacent to the Israeli border. The two sides also discussed the resumption of intelligence sharing on matters relating to Sunni radicals operating in Syria. No decisions were taken during the meeting, said Al-Akhbar, but the two sides decided to continue to share proposals and ideas about a possible bilateral agreement.

The French news agency Agence France Presse said on Tuesday that it could not independently confirm Al-Akhbar’s claims, as its attempts to contact the US departments of State and Defense were not fruitful. It noted, however, that both Mamlk and Zeitoun feature on the US government’s list of sanctions against Syrian government officials that are believed to have directly participated in human-rights abuses against political opponents since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 August 2018 | Permalink

Syrian spy chief placed under house arrest by Assad, say sources

Bashar al-Assad (center) and Ali Mamlouk to his leftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Citing sources inside Syria’s presidential palace, a leading British newspaper has alleged that the director of Syria’s national intelligence agency has fallen out with the regime and is now under house arrest. Lieutenant General Ali Mamlouk, who heads Syria’s National Security Bureau, is known as a hardline supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He personally leads every major domestic-security operation in the country and is believed to be among the Syrian president’s most trusted advisers. In recent weeks, however, Mamlouk, who is one of the regime’s most publicity-prone figures, has not surfaced in the news or in any public venues. His absence has prompted intense speculation that he might be sick, under arrest, or even dead. Several news outlets in the Middle East hypothesized that the general, who is 69, is undergoing chemotherapy to combat a rapidly progressing cancer. Then, amidst growing rumors about Mamlouk’s health, the general was shown on state television (see photo) sitting by Assad’s side during a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation. But the footage only served to inflame speculation that the Syrian official was actually under house arrest, and that he was only brought out of his detention for the meeting with the Iranians, so as to help quieten rumors about an alleged growing rift within the regime’s inner circle.

On Monday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph cited “sources inside the presidential palace” in Damascus, in claiming that Mamlouk was removed from his post in the National Security Bureau and is currently under house arrest in the Syrian capital. The paper said that the General had fallen out with the country’s president and had been organizing a military coup against him, prompted by his fierce opposition to Iran’s growing influence in Damascus. It is widely believed that Tehran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Assad is largely responsible for the regime’s military and economic survival. According to The Telegraph, most of the president’s economic and military advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian.

But Syria’s alignment with Iran is creating a backlash among Assad’s inner circle, which consists of secular nationalists, liberal Alawites or Christians. As a result, says the paper, Assad is “struggling to keep together [his] inner circle”, as senior administration officials are “increasingly turning on each other”. Mamlouk was one such insider, who was disturbed by Iran’s rising influence in Syria. Prior to his arrest, says The Telegraph, the general was secretly communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary.