Israel urges Russia to prevent further escalation in Syria
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Israel urges Russia to prevent further escalation in Syria

Moscow calls for 'restraint' on all sides following clashes, says risk to lives of Russian soldiers 'absolutely unacceptable'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Israel appealed to Russia to intervene and prevent further escalation after an Iranian drone was shot down over Israel Saturday, leading to “large-scale” Israeli strikes in Syria and heavy Syrian counter-fire. An Israeli F-16 fighter jet subsequently crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses in a severe increase in tensions.

Diplomatic sources said Israel was in contact with officials in Moscow, seeking to convey a message to Syria and Iran that though it had landed a heavy blow in response to the drone incident, it was not interested in further violence.

Similar calming messages were reportedly passed on to Washington.

Moscow, in a statement, called for “restraint” of all parties in Syria and said it considered risking the lives of Russian soldiers “absolutely unacceptable” following large-scale Israeli air strikes inside Syria.

“We strongly call on all sides involved to show restraint and avoid all acts that could lead to complicating the situation further,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian soldiers that are in the Syrian Arab Republic on the invitation of the legal government to assist in the fight against terrorism,” it added.

Israel has told Moscow that Saturday’s events are proof that its warnings of Iranian entrenchment and growing boldness in Syria were merited, sources told the Ynet news site.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held a series of meetings in recent months with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Iran’s influence in war-torn Syria and Lebanon.

Netanyahu has been seeking to persuade Russia to limit Iran’s presence near Israeli territory and to stop it from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.

Israel struck a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets inside the civil war-torn country on Saturday in what it said was a “large-scale” attack, after the Iranian drone was shot down over Israeli territory, and an Israeli F-16 fighter jet subsequently crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses. The two pilots ejected; one of them was seriously injured and the second was lightly injured.

The confrontation was the most serious between Israel and Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — which is backed by Tehran — all support Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil conflict.

A picture taken on February 10, 2018 show Israeli solders taking positions in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

In a meeting in Moscow last month, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s concerns with what he described as Iranian attempts to establish a military presence in Syria and produce weapons capable of precision strikes against Israel there.

“We won’t accept either of those, and will act according to our needs,” Netanyahu said following the meeting with Putin.

Israel remains technically at war with Syria and occupies a swathe of the strategic Golan Heights that it seized in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu took members of his security cabinet for a tour of the Israeli side, where they were briefed by the military on the situation.

“We want peace, but are prepared for any scenario, and suggest that nobody tries us,” he said.

Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian war, but acknowledges carrying out air strikes there to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

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