Putin underlines support for Syrian president Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad

Russian president Vladimir Putin has pledged his support for Syrian president Bashar Assad and called on all Middle East nations to join forces to fight Islamic State militants.

The war in Syria, which began with protests in March 2011, has killed more than 220,000 people.

Russia, which has traditionally strong ties to Syria, has been seen as a key to a peaceful solution and has previously rebuffed suggestions that Assad’s resignation could help end the war.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem held talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday before being whisked to the Kremlin to meet Mr Putin.

Russian news agencies quoted Mr Putin as telling the Syrian envoy that Russia’s “policy to support Syria, the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people remains unchanged”.

Mr Putin also urged other Middle East countries to help Syria fight the armed Islamic factions that now control parts of the Syrian capital and large parts of the city’s suburbs.

The Russian leader said Moscow’s contacts with the countries in the region, including with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, “show that everyone wants to contribute to fight this evil,” he said, referring to IS.

He exhorted all nations in the region, whatever their relations with Syria are, to “pull their efforts together” to fight Islamic militants.

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