Syrian military chief makes rare visit to Jordan

© Provided by Al Jazeera Sunday’s meeting follows a major army offensive to retake the last rebel bastion of Deraa in southern Syria [File: AP Photo]

Syria’s defence minister visited Jordan to discuss stability on their mutual border, the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted about 10 years ago when the two neighbours supported opposing factions.

Sunday’s meeting followed a major army offensive to retake the last rebel bastion in southern Syria, and after re-establishing control this month over Deraa, a main city south of Damascus, in a Russian-brokered deal that averted an all-out military assault led by Iranian-backed units of the army.

Jordanian army head Lieutenant-General Yousef Hunaiti met Syrian Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub over the Deraa situation and to discuss issues such as the fight against “terrorism” and drug smuggling in the area, Jordan’s army said.

“The talks are within the concern to intensify future coordination over all common issues,” a military statement said.

Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding Ayyoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control”.

The Syrian army’s pro-Iranian elite Fourth Division had for more than two months besieged the area where the first peaceful protests against authoritarian rule broke out in 2011, before security forces cracked down and unrest developed into a bloody civil war.

Change of rhetoric

Jordan’s King Abdullah, a staunch United States ally, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Moscow in August where he said Russian troops – who helped reverse the tide of Syria’s conflict in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favour – had succeeded in stabilising the country.

Jordan had for years supported mainstream Western-backed rebels who controlled southern Syria until a campaign by the Syrian army in 2018 – aided by Russian air power and Iranian-backed fighters – retook the province.

Thousands of rebels, who once received arms and support funnelled through Jordan, handed over their weapons under surrender deals brokered by Moscow.

Russia gave guarantees to Israel, Jordan, and the US at the time that it would prevent Iranian-backed fighters from expanding their influence in the area, which also borders Israel’s Golan Heights.

The retaking of Deraa by government forces earlier this month has brought with it control of several towns and villages that until recently defied state authority.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has also consolidated its presence in Quneitra, a province that borders Deraa to the west along Israel’s Golan Heights.

Jordan hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.

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