Netanyahu, Trump talk amid Israel fears over US plans to leave Syria

In late-night call, leaders discuss ‘recent developments’ in Mideast after violent Gaza border clashes, agree to continue coordination on countering Iran

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump spoke early Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discussed “recent developments in the Middle East,” amid Israel’s fears that the US plans to withdraw its military presence from Syria.

A short statement from the White House did clarify not what developments were addressed or what was said.

But “President Trump reiterated the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security,” the statement said, and added that “the two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on countering Iran’s malign influence and destabilizing activities.”

Netanyahu later tweeted that he “thanked President Trump for his commitment to Israel’s security and America’s support for Israel at the United Nations.”

The call comes with Israel concerned that Trump wants to pull out of Syria, a move that would give greater freedom to Iran, which is seeking to set up a permanent presence there.

Trump said Tuesday that he expects to decide “very quickly” whether to remove US troops from Syria, saying their primary mission was to defeat the Islamic State group and “we’ve almost completed that task.”

A decision by Trump to withdraw from Syria would conflict with the views of many of his top advisers.

At a news conference with the presidents of the Baltic nations, Trump was asked whether he still favored pulling US troops out of Syria.

“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS,” Trump answered, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “We’ve completed that task and we’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do.”

The mission is “very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us,” Trump said.

The call also comes amid high tensions along Israel’s border with Gaza, where 16 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire during clashes on the Gaza border, according to Hamas figures.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 01, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On Friday, some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.

The IDF on Saturday named and detailed 10 of the dead as members of terror groups including Hamas. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, had earlier acknowledged five of them were its members. Islamic Jihad later claimed an 11th.

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations appealed to the Security Council for immediate international protection on Tuesday, claiming that Israel has adopted “a shoot-to-kill policy” during what he called peaceful protests.

Riyad Mansour said Ramallah strongly backed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for an independent investigation of the killings.

He accused Israel of violating international law and “intentionally, grossly and systematically” violating its legal obligation to protect civilians.

Israeli officials have largely rebuffed international criticism of its handling of the protesters.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said on Saturday that all those killed were engaged in violence. Manelis said on Friday evening that the army had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel would not be changing its policies toward Palestinians rioting along the Gaza security fence.

“We have set clear rules of the game and we do not intend to change them. Anyone who approaches the fence endangers his life, and I would recommend that Gaza residents put their efforts not into protesting against Israel, but into regime change within the Strip,” Liberman said during a tour of Israeli communities just outside the coastal enclave.

“I think the [Israel Defense Forces] operated exceptionally well, as expected, and I have no doubt that we will continue to act in the same way in the days to come,” he added.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: