Iran, Hezbollah 'Prepping to Withdraw' From Southern Syria Near Israel Border

Iranian advisers and Hezbollah fighters will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near the Golan Heights, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers sit atop a tank as they watch the border with Syria near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, July 3, 2013.
REUTERS

A Syrian war monitor says Iranian troops and fighters of Lebanon's Hezbollah group are getting ready to withdraw from southern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday Iranian advisers and Hezbollah fighters will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

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A Syria-based official with the Iran-led axis of resistance denied the report saying it is "untrue." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, gave no further details.

Later, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the situation in Syria.

The Kremlin said the conversation focused on “some aspects of the Syrian settlement,” which it didn’t specify, following up on the two leaders’ talks in Moscow earlier this month.

Russian news outlets had recently reported that Moscow wants to cut a deal that would see Russian military police deployed to areas near Israel. The agreement would envisage the pullout of all Iranian forces from the area and require Syrian rebels to surrender heavy weapons.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the tensions between Israel and the Iranian forces in Syria.

"The state of Israel appreciates Russia's understanding of our security concerns, particularly regarding the situation at our northern border," Lieberman wrote on Twitter after the meeting. "We'll continue our dialogue with Russia on every matter at hand."

According to the Defense Ministry, the meeting with Shoigu took place in Moscow and lasted over an hour and a half. The meeting dealt with matters of security between the two countries, particularly regarding the situation in Syria and Israel's attempt to prevent Iranian consolidation there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country's southern border. This was perceived as a hint that Russia was inclined to accept Israel's demand - distancing the Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border.

Netanyahu told the Knesset Monday that "there is no room for any Iranian military presence in any part of Syria."

Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights.

The superpowers, however, did not comply with the demand; the agreement stipulated that the Iranians and militias would remain about five kilometers from the lines of contact between the regime and the rebels, around five to 20 kilometers from the Israeli border.

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Israeli political and military officials believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border, according to Israeli officials.

The change in Russia’s position has become clearer since Israel’s May 10 military clash with Iran in Syria and amid Moscow’s concerns that further Israeli moves would threaten the stability of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.