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Lavrov condemns ‘dangerous’ Israeli strikes in Syria, as relations with Russia sour

Russian FM’s comments on ‘territorial integrity of Syria’ highlight deepening strains in Moscow-Jerusalem ties, six months after invasion of Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, July 8, 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, July 8, 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday condemned “dangerous” Israeli missile strikes in Syria, underscoring the growing chill in Moscow-Jerusalem relations, which have been increasingly strained since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Speaking alongside Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad at a press conference in Moscow, Lavrov told reporters that “we strongly condemned the dangerous practice of Israeli strikes on Syrian territory.”

“We demand that Israel respect the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and, above all, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” he said, according to Reuters.

In recent years, Israel and Russia established a so-called deconfliction hotline to keep the sides from getting tangled up and accidentally clashing over Syria. Russia, which enjoys significant control over Syria, has largely allowed Israel to carry out attacks on Iranian infrastructure within Syrian territory without intervention.

Earlier this month, Israel struck Iranian military assets near the Syrian city of Tartus and on the outskirts of Damascus killing three soldiers, according to Syrian reports. Tartus is home to Russia’s largest naval base in Syria.

But since Russia invaded Ukraine six months ago, Israel’s condemnations of Moscow and humanitarian support for Kyiv have caused damage to relations between Israel and Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stands at the podium during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 3, 2022. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

In May, Lavrov sparked a diplomatic storm after he said that Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood,” and that Jews are among the worst antisemites.

Lavrov made the remarks during an interview with Italian television, in which he claimed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewishness did not undercut Russia’s claims that its invasion of Ukraine was meant to “denazify” the country.

In the aftermath of the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin called then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, offering an apology for Lavrov’s comments.

In July, Russian anti-aircraft missiles were fired at IAF jets over Syrian territory as they targeted Iranian military sites near the city of Masyaf in northwestern Syria. The anti-aircraft missile system is Russian-operated and can only be fired with Russian approval.

In response, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said it was a “one-off incident.”

A still from a video purporting to show Syrian air defenses intercepting an Israeli missile, on July 22, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Despite early Israeli attempts to remain diplomatically neutral, Israel and Russia have repeatedly traded barbs over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Israel has provided Ukraine with low-tech defensive equipment as well as humanitarian aid, Jerusalem has avoided sending direct military aid to Kyiv, including offensive arms or advanced defensive technology, in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.

In late June, Russia warned the Jewish Agency of its intention to shutter the quasi-governmental organization, which encourages and facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel, claiming that the group had fallen foul of the country’s laws by improperly keeping records of Russian citizens.

Last Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog raised the issue directly with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and the two agreed to continue discussing the matter, their offices said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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