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The New Arab

Egypt's Sisi expresses support for Syrian regime military

Sisi said he supports the Syrian military's war against "terrorism" [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 November, 2016

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he supports the Syrian regime’s military in its war against “terrorists”, a position likely to further anger Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he supports the Syrian regime’s military in its war against “terrorists”, a position at odds with his country's Gulf benefactors especially Saudi Arabia.

The former army chief, who has overseen a warming of ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main backer Russia, made the comments during an interview aired Tuesday with Portuguese broadcaster RTP.

"Our priority is to support national armies, for example in Libya to assert control over Libyan territories and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq," he said, responding to a question on whether Egypt would contemplate a UN peacekeeping role in Syria.

Asked by the interviewer whether he meant the Syrian military, he responded: "Yes."

Sisi, who came to power in 2013 after overthrowing his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi, has cracked down on Islamists and is battling a deadly jihadist insurgency in Sinai.

His government had been supported by billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia, but ties appear to have cooled between the two countries amid disagreements over Syria.

Saudi Arabia strongly backs rebels trying to oust Assad, while Russia and Iran are supporting him militarily.

Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments to Egypt in October, a move announced after Cairo backed a Russian-drafted resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council, angering Riyadh.

Last month, Syrian security services chief Ali Mamlouk met with Egyptian officials in his first public foreign visit in five years

In his interview, Sisi maintained Egypt's broad position on resolving the Syrian conflict, saying the solution must be "political."

"Our stance in Egypt is to respect the will of the Syrian people, and that a political solution to the Syrian crisis is the most suitable way, and to seriously deal with terrorist groups and disarm them," he said.

Last month, Syrian security services chief Ali Mamlouk met with Egyptian officials in his first public foreign visit in five years to discuss Egypt publicly backing the embattled Syrian regime.

Syrian state news said Mamlouk met with Egyptian head of general intelligence Khaled Fawzy and other "high-level security officials" during his one-day visit.

The Syrian and Egyptian officials "agreed on coordinating stances politically between Syria and Egypt... and boosting coordination for combating terrorism hitting both countries," SANA said, while Egyptian state media chose not to report on the meeting.

An Egyptian political source told a The New Arab correspondent at the time that the officials discussed Sisi taking a stronger public stance in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Both sides discussed the possibility of Egypt hosting talks between Syrian parties that accept Bashar al-Assad remaining in power as part of the Russian-backed political roadmap for the country," the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

"They have agreed to increase the level of cooperation between the Assad and Sisi regimes, starting with Egypt taking a stance in support of Assad staying in power or at least active in politics, as well as rejecting 'compromising Syrian state institutions'."

Sisi, who has praised Donald Trump, also said a plan floated by the US president-elect to have a database for Muslims was understandable.

"Yes," he said when asked whether he felt concerned by such rhetoric.

"But every country tries to provide security and stability for its citizen, and we understand that."

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