Syria Says It Will Drive U.S. From Country If Troops Do Not Leave Voluntarily

Syria's foreign minister on Monday vowed to drive U.S. troops out of his country if they do not leave voluntarily.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called the presence of Turkish and U.S. troops in northern Syria illegal and a flagrant violation of international law.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in eastern Syria and working with Kurdish-led fighters to combat the Islamic State militant group. Turkish forces are present in northern Syria, where Turkey has supported and funded Syrian opposition fighters against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Mekdad called for the troops to withdraw voluntarily from Syria, threatening to push them out if they did not go. He did not say how the Syrian government planned to do that.

"Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from most of Syria, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Faisal Mekdad
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called for Turkish and U.S. troops to withdraw from his country, and threatened to drive them out if they did not leave voluntarily. Mekdad addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, at U.N. headquarters in New York City. John Minchillo, Pool/Getty Images

Mekdad said Syria's doors are open for the safe return of refugees, accusing Western countries of taking advantage of the suffering of Syrians while pretending to care for their well-being.

He also said Syrian armed forces would continue fighting "terrorists"—the Syrian government's catch-all word for its opponents—until every part of Syria is once again under government control.

"We will not succumb, no matter the pressure and lies and accusations against us," he said.

Syria's conflict started amid Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and eventually devolved into an insurgency and civil war following a brutal military crackdown, resulting in one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the past century. The United Nations human rights chief said last week that her office has documented the deaths of more than 350,200 people—civilians and combatants—in the war over the past decade, while admitting the real number for those killed in the conflict is almost certainly far higher.

The war has also displaced half the country's prewar population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees outside the country.

"We have made it clear that Syria's doors are wide open for the safe and voluntary return of all refugees to their country," Mekdad said, adding that the government was putting the necessary procedures in place to facilitate the return of people and meet their basic needs.

He said while the Syrian government and its allies are making honest efforts on this humanitarian issue, "some continue to take advantage of the suffering of Syrians to serve an agenda that has nothing to do with humanitarian objectives or the interests of Syrians."

His words sharply contradicted with the view of Syria experts, human rights organizations and some foreign governments who say that forced conscription, indiscriminate detentions and forced disappearances continue. In a report published earlier this month, Amnesty International said that a number of Syrian refugees who returned home have been subjected to detention, disappearance and torture at the hands of Syrian security forces, proving that it still isn't safe to return to any part of the country.

In government-controlled areas—including in the suburbs of Damascus and many parts of central Syria previously held by opposition rebels—the security situation has stabilized, but entire neighborhoods are destroyed and many people have no houses to return to. Access to basic services such as water and electricity is poor to nonexistent.

Mekdad was addressing the General Assembly for the first time. He was appointed foreign minister in November, after the death of longtime diplomat Walid Moallem, who traveled to New York every year to address the General Assembly.

Syrian Foreign Minister U.N. Address
Syria’s top diplomat, Faisal Mekdad, on Monday said its doors are open for the safe return of refugees, accusing Western countries of taking advantage of the suffering of Syrians while pretending to care for their well-being. Above, Mekdad addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, September 27, at U.N. headquarters. John Minchillo, Pool/AP Photo