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Hezbollah-linked site says US offered to leave Syria if Iran withdrew from south

Damascus said to reject secret American proposal, which also demanded oil and info on terrorists, citing ‘strong relationship’ with allies Tehran and Hezbollah

Iran's army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking into binoculars, and other senior officers from the Iranian military, visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria, on October 20, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP, File)
Iran's army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking into binoculars, and other senior officers from the Iranian military, visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria, on October 20, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP, File)

The United States offered to leave Syria completely in exchange for a full withdrawal of Iranian troops from the southern part of the country, the Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet Al-Akhbar reported Tuesday.

According to the report, senior US and Syrian intelligence and defense officials held a secret meeting in Damascus in June to discuss the offer.

Part of the American offer required a guarantee from Damascus the US would receive “a share” of Syrian oil, as well as detailed information regarding terrorist organizations operating in the war-torn country.

Syria’s national security chief Ali Mamlouk reportedly rejected the US offer, saying that Damascus viewed Americans in Syria as an “occupying power who entered our territory forcibly.”

He went on to say that President Bashar Assad had repeatedly made clear Syria’s “strong relationship” with Iran, Hezbollah and other armed groups in the region.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, meets with Iran’s Defense minister Amir Hatami, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Tehran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have provided steady political, financial, and military backing to Assad during the seven-year-long civil war.

Mamlouk also rejected the US request for access to Syrian oil, but said that as a goodwill gesture, it could indirectly access its energy sector through European or Russian companies.

On Monday, Iranian media reported that the Iranian defense minister signed a military cooperation agreement with his Syrian counterpart after two days of talks in Damascus.

Defense Minister Amir Hatami said the “defense and technical agreement” provides for the continued “presence and participation” of Iran in Syria, according to the semi-official Tasnim news.

In an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen television channel, Hatami said the agreement included the rehabilitation of Syria’s defense industry and assured that Iran would provide “good service.”

“With this accord, we have paved the way for a reconstruction of the Syrian military industries,” he said.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

“The most important element of the deal is the rebuilding of the Syrian armed forces and defense industries so that they can regain their full capacity.”

Last week, Iran unveiled its first domestic fighter jet, just days after releasing a next generation short-range ballistic missile.

Since Russia military intervened on Assad’s behalf in 2015, the regime has regained much of the territory lost to rebels and jihadists in the early years of the war.

Syria’s war has left more than 350,000 people dead and displaced millions since it broke out with the brutal repression of an initially peaceful uprising in 2011.

Israel has vowed not to let Iran maintain a presence in Syria and carried out dozens of strikes in the country to stop Iran sending advanced weaponry to Hezbollah. Israel has also pushed the US and Russia to keep Iran and its proxies out of Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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