A top Iranian general denied reports his military and Tehran-backed militias were withdrawing from Syria, Iranian media reported Sunday.
“Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda measures of anyone,” Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri told the private Iranian news agency Tasnim.
Jazayeri, who is an adviser to Iranian chief of staff, told Tasnim that the biggest fear of the “Zionist regime of Israel” was having Muslim fighters in the region, and that Israel and the US were desperate to change the situation.
“But they (US and Israel) should know that this condition is not going to change,” he told the news agency.
He also stressed that the Iranian forces were in Syria at the invitation of President Bashar Assad.
“Unlike the American military forces and the regional reactionaries, the Iranian advisers are present in Syria at the request of the Syrian government and people,” Jazayeri told Tasnim. “We are waiting to see a day that Syria and the other regional countries will witness an era without the annoying and trouble-making foreigners.”
His comments follow reports that Tehran was preparing to withdraw from southern Syria, along with fighters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that Iranian advisers and Hezbollah fighters will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near Israel’s Golan Heights.
A Syria-based official with the Iran-led “axis of resistance” denied the report, saying it was “untrue.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, gave no further details.
Other senior officials from Iran and Syria claimed Saturday that there was no Iranian military presence in the country.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said Iranian troops are only serving in Syria in an advisory capacity and that Iran has no military base there.
“Contrary to the unlawful presence of the US and some regional countries in Syria, Iran’s presence is not imposed and is not the result of an illegal military aggression,” he told the Shargh newspaper, according to state-run Press TV.
Syria’s foreign minister also denied Saturday that there is an Iranian military presence on the country.
“Since the beginning of the crisis, Iran has supported Syria in the war against terrorism backed and financed regionally and internationally…[there is] no Iranian military presence [in] the Syrian territories; rather, there are advisers who work by the side of the Syrian Arab Army,” Syria’s official SANA news agency reported Walim Moallem saying.
On Saturday, Channel 10 reported that Israeli officials had denied claims by Russia’s ambassador to the UN that it has reached an agreement with Moscow on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southwest Syria.
Earlier, Vasily Nebenzya told reporters, “At this point, I cannot answer if it is being realized, but as far as I understand, the parties that were involved in reaching an agreement are satisfied with what they have achieved.”
But a senior Israeli official told Channel 10 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Thursday phone conversation that Jerusalem wants Iranian forces — including Hezbollah and other Shiite militias — entirely out of Syria, and not just the southwestern region closest to the Jewish state.
Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon, and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
Long-simmering tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stepped up considerably in recent months, beginning in February, when an Iranian drone carrying explosives was flown from the T-4 air base in central Syria into Israeli airspace, and was shot down by an IAF helicopter.
Earlier this month, the Israeli Air Force carried out its biggest operation in Syria in 40 years, when it attacked more than 50 Iranian targets, in response to an Iranian rocket barrage at the Golan Heights, amid warnings from Jerusalem that it would not tolerate Tehran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily on Israel’s northern border.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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