Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

Israeli forces are seen near a border fence between the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights and Syria on November 4, 2017. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Updated 13 November 2017
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Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled Monday that Israel would take military action in Syria when it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.
Israel has long accused Iran, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria’s civil war to send its Revolutionary Guard and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah into southern Syria, close to the border with the Jewish state.
It has sought to avoid being dragged into the fighting but has carried out dozens of air strikes to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, which fights alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Israel was reportedly seeking a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some 50 kilometers (30 miles), but an agreement reached last week between the United States, Russia and Jordan fell short of that demand, Israeli media said.
“I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria — including in southern Syria — according to our understanding and according to our security needs,” Netanyahu told senior members of his Likud party, according to a party statement.
“This is what is happening and this is what will continue to happen.”
The November 8 agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia seeks to build on a cease-fire already in place in southwestern Syria.
On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.
“We will not allow the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria” as a base for operations against Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement after the incident.
Speaking later Monday in parliament, Netanyahu said some of Israel’s Arab neighbors shared its concerns.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, in the face of radical Islam, no matter where it comes from, be it Iran, the Daesh group or elsewhere,” he said, without naming the countries.
“I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace,” he added.
Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia has long been at loggerheads with Shiite, non-Arab Iran but friction has been Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the Yemen's Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles.
The kingdom says one was fired toward Riyadh from Yemen on November 4 but brought down by its air defenses.
Iran denied any involvement.
“Iran knows very well, and everyone else should be aware, that we shall not agree to nor accept its military deployment in Syria,” Netanyahu told parliament.
In September, Israel’s military shot down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by arch-foe Hezbollah on a similar mission.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.


Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

Militants in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 6 min 2 sec ago
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Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

  • Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib: Russia
  • Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization

ANKARA: Turkey has failed to persuade the rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province that was agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib… Militants continued shelling western Aleppo,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Thursday, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on Nov. 19.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, said although there are serious problems with implementation of the Idlib agreement, Russian officials stressed that the process requires time and effort.
“Russia doesn’t want to push Turkey because there’s a much more important thing: Constitutional dialogue between the Syrian opposition and government, where Turkish-Russian dialogue plays a decisive role,” he told Arab News. 
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan publicly undertook obligations to clear the (Idlib) zone from terrorists,” Akhmetov said. 
“Ankara is also having a hard time with the US regarding the Syrian Kurds. I think Russia will find ways to exploit this situation.”
Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization.
Under the Turkish-Russian deal, rebel groups, including HTS, were to withdraw from the demilitarized zone by mid-October.
Ankara has repeatedly indicated its readiness to use force against radical groups if they refuse to withdraw.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Idlib with armored vehicles and equipment. It has 12 military posts in the province.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant and Middle East expert at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the most obvious setback of the Idlib deal is that moderate rebel groups in the province now back HTS if there is a clash between it and Syrian regime forces.
“Their focus is now on repelling regime forces even if it means violating the deal,” he told Arab News. 
“Turkey in this sense seems to have failed to separate moderate groups completely from extremists.”
An intensification of fighting between the regime and extremists may cause the deal to collapse completely, Ayasli said.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increased rate of violations of the Idlib demilitarized zone.