Syria claims western countries worried about Islamist militants in rebel ranks have asked Assad regime for co-operation
The intelligence services of some western countries opposed to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, have visited Damascus to discuss security co-operation with his government, the Syrian foreign minister has claimed .
“I will not specify [which countries] but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” the deputy minister, Faisal Mekdad, said in an interview broadcast on the BBC.
Mekdad said that the contacts appeared to show a rift between the political and security authorities in some countries opposed to Assad.
His comments were broadcast as his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, reportedly landed in the Syrian capital, following an official visit to Lebanon.
Western powers have supported the opposition with rhetoric but have backed away from material aid as al-Qaida-linked groups take advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held regions.
Western countries are worried about the presence in rebel ranks of foreign Islamist militants who have travelled to Syria to join the three-year struggle to topple Assad.
“Frankly speaking the spirit has changed,” Mekdad added. “When these countries ask us for security co-operation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships.”
Asked if he was confirming that British intelligence had been in contact with Syria, he declined a direct reply.
“I am saying that many of these countries have contacted us to co-ordinate security measures,” he added.
Syria plunged into civil war after an uprising against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in March 2011 and descended into an armed insurgency following an army crackdown on protests.