Syria’s veteran Foreign Minister Walid Muallem dies aged 79

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File photo showing Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus on 7 September 2020

EPA

Long-time Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, one of the most prominent public faces for President Bashar al-Assad’s government during the country’s civil war, has died aged 79.

State media did not specify the cause of his death, but he had reportedly been in poor health for some time.

He was last seen in public last week.

Muallem, who became foreign minister in 2006 and also deputy prime minister in 2012, blamed the war on a Western conspiracy to topple Mr Assad.

He also regularly defended the government and its allies against widespread allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 400,000 people have been killed and 13 million others have been displaced since a pro-democracy uprising erupted in 2011.

A Syrian government statement said Muallem was “known for his honourable national stances at different political and diplomatic arenas”.

In 2014, Muallem headed the government’s delegation at UN-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland that were meant to discuss a political transition plan for Syria.

Sitting across the room from leading opposition figures, he said in an opening address: “The media laud these people, these terrorists, by claiming they are moderates. But they know full well that they are extremists and terrorists.”

Then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused him of using inflammatory language, to which Muallem responded: “You live in New York. I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum.”

The talks eventually collapsed and there has been little progress on a peaceful resolution to the conflict since then.

Rebel and jihadist groups once controlled large parts of the country, but the Syrian army has retaken most of the territory over the past five years with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed militiamen.

Now, the last remaining opposition stronghold is the north-western province of Idlib, which the government has vowed to “liberate” despite the presence of three million civilians, including one million children.

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BBC News – Middle East

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