- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Syria’s state media on Tuesday praised Vladimir Putin’s speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which the Russian leader defended Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syrian newspapers said the speech drew “clear outlines” for what is needed to “fight terrorism” on a global level.

In his address Monday in New York, Putin urged the world to stick with Assad, saying it was a “huge mistake” not to engage the Syrian military in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The Al-Baath daily of Assad’s ruling party said the essence of the Russian plan for combating terrorism is “simple and clear.” Al-Baath added that “the Russian step is pivotal in the history of the region and the world to prevent the expansion of devastation.”

The daily Al-Thawra said Putin entered the United Nations “from the Syrian gate,” adding that “the Russian surgeon came to fix flabbiness in the international legitimacy.”

Al-Thawra said Putin struck in his speech at “American charlatanism about fighting terrorism.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin held their first formal meeting in more than two years in New York on Monday without reaching a breakthrough on Syria, which has strained their already tense relationship.

The U.S. still insists Syria’s future cannot include Assad, while Putin appears keen to bolster the standing of his longtime ally, casting Assad’s government as the best defense against Islamic State militants.

Moscow has been ramping up its involvement in Syria in recent weeks by ferrying weapons, troops and supplies to an airport near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia in what the U.S. sees as preparations for setting up an air base there.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Russia’s presence in Syria is near the coast, far from Israel. But he said Israel will not tolerate advanced weapons reaching Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah, which has fought alongside Syrian troops. Yaalon said Israeli warplanes on Monday targeted two Syrian artillery guns suspected of shelling inside the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

He said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin that “we are not involved and we don’t have any interest to intervene in the civil war in Syria, but we have to keep our interests.”

Retired Israeli army Col. Jacques Neriah said Russia has a “moderate presence” in Syria.

“It will help in stabilizing the area, and especially if Russia has the intent to fight the Islamic State together with the United States and the Western coalition,” said the former deputy head for assessment of the Israeli army’s military intelligence.

Sheikh Naim Kassem, deputy leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, which has sent fighters to help Assad, said Tuesday that “Russia intervened by its weapons and capabilities because there is someone that stood on his feet,” referring to Assad, who is at war with an array of rebel and Islamic militant groups.

Kassem said “the world today admits that a solution in Syria can be only achieved with President Assad.”

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and wounded more than a million.

On Tuesday, the representative for the U.N. children’s agency in Syria said children too often fall victim to indiscriminate violence. On Saturday alone, 17 children were killed when government troops and allied forces shelled a rebel-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs.

“What was supposed to be a family gathering in one of the few remaining playgrounds in the neighborhood has turned into a tragedy,” UNICEF representative Hanaa Singer said in a statement.

“The use of heavy weapons has become commonplace in Syria and far too often children find themselves in the line of fire.”

At least 10,000 children have been reported killed in Syria’s civil war.

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Associated Press writers Aron Heller and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


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