Netanyahu says he told Putin Israel not bound by Syria ceasefire
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Netanyahu says he told Putin Israel not bound by Syria ceasefire

Official in Prime Minister's Office says premier told Russian president 'Israel will continue to look out for its security interests'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 9, 2017 (Israel embassy in Moscow)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 9, 2017 (Israel embassy in Moscow)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel will not adhere to a ceasefire deal that includes the expulsion of foreign fighters from Syria, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday.

The comment came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the ceasefire agreement did not include a Russian commitment to ensure Iran-linked militias would be pulled out of the country, a key Israeli demand.

In a brief statement, the Israeli official said Netanyahu told Putin “Israel will continue to look out for its security interests in any situation.”

The Israeli Air Force has carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys bound for the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia, though it rarely acknowledges individual raids.

The PMO did not say when Netanyahu spoke with Putin. The agreement was announced Saturday by the US and Russia in a joint statement calling for “the reduction, and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria.

In addition to the United States and Russia, Jordan is also a party to the deal.

In his first response to the agreement, Netanyahu said Monday he told both Washington and Moscow that Israel would continue operating in Syria.

“I have clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs,” Netanyahu said, describing Israel’s security policy as “the right combination of firmness and responsibility.”

Although reports have said the deal applies to Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Assad’s regime, which would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli official on Monday saying under the deal, militias associated with Iran would be allowed to maintain positions as close as five to seven kilometers (3.1-4.3 miles) to the border in some areas.

In this Saturday, May 9, 2015 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands on a hill next to the group’s yellow flag in the fields of the Syrian town of Assal al-Ward in the mountainous region of Qalamoun, Syria. (AP Photo/Bassem Mroue, File)

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have long said Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence along the Golan nor allow Iran to entrench itself military in Syria.

On Tuesday, Lavrov said Iran maintained a “legitimate” presence in Syria, according to the Interfax news agency.

It was not clear if Lavrov’s comments related to reports that the deal would place restrictions on how close to the Israeli-Syrian border Iran-backed groups would be allowed to remain.

As Israel has raised concerns over the agreement, officials from the US National Security Council arrived in Israel on Tuesday for talks with Israeli security heads.

US officials confirmed the meetings would primarily cover the recent ceasefire deal.

Satellite image of alleged Iranian base in Syria from October 2017 (Airbus, Digital Globe and McKenzie Intelligence Services/BBC)

In addition to the Syria agreement, the officials are likely to discuss Iran’s alleged construction of a military base less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Israel’s Golan border.

On Friday, the BBC, citing a Western security official, reported that Iran was setting up a permanent base on a site used by the Syrian army near el-Kiswah, 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.

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