Foreign forces must leave Syria, Putin tells al-Assad in Moscow
A picture provided by the Kremlin on 14 September 2021 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin. -/Kremlin/dpa
A picture provided by the Kremlin on 14 September 2021 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin. -/Kremlin/dpa

The presence of foreign troops in Syria - the ones not invited by Damascus - are hindering Syria's revival, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Bashar al-Assad during a surprise visit to Moscow by the Syrian president.

The Kremlin made the announcement on Tuesday morning and published a photo of the meeting that took place between the two presidents late on Monday.

According to the Kremlin, the talks focused on the conflict in Syria. Putin repeated his criticism of the presence of foreign troops in the country who were not there at the invitation of Damascus.

These troops are in parts of the country without a UN resolution and without "your (al-Assad's) consent," Putin was quoted as saying, describing it as a violation of international law.

Putin said the troops were hindering Syria's reconstruction and preventing a political settlement.

Russia, which conducts military operations in Syria, has been a close ally of al-Assad's government, propping it up through nearly a decade of war.

Turkey and the United States are among the nations that have intervened militarily on the side of al-Assad's opponents.

Putin last visited the Syrian president in Syria in early 2020.

Putin spoke of "joint efforts" that have yielded results. He referred, for example, to Russia's humanitarian aid and the delivery of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Al-Assad said he was happy to meet with Putin six years after the Syrian and Russian armies began working together "to liberate lands, bring back refugees to their cities and also protect innocent civilians" from terrorism.

Syrian rebel groups that have fought to remove al-Assad from power are referred to by Damascus as terrorists.

"We insist in Syria as a government and state institutions to go in parallel into the liberation of land and the political process," al-Assad said, according to the Syrian presidency.

Al-Assad also thanked Russia for its support within international forums as well as humanitarian support.

Separately, a UN committee released a report on Tuesday laying out the human rights situation in Syria since the start of al-Assad's fourth term in power after elections in July, saying it saw little hope for reconciliation or cooperation in the war-torn country.

Instead, the report focused on arbitrary and secret detentions, torture and sexual abuse by government forces.

"What we are seeing today in Syria is a war against the civilian population," said Paul Pinheiro, the head of the committee.

He also noted that military clashes have picked up again in recent weeks.

"The overall situation in Syria looks increasingly bleak."

The panel also criticized the fact that Kurdish militants are holding about 40,000 children - often with their mothers - in north-eastern Syria because of suspicions that their families have ties to Islamist extremists. The report called for the Syrian Democratic Forces to release them immediately so the detainees can return to their home countries.

According to the report, forces loyal to al-Assad control about 70 per cent of Syria's territory, which is home to about 40 per cent of the population. But many people have fled the country during 10 years of civil war. Eyeing the situation, Pinheiro said the country is not yet ready for their return.