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Russia denies pledging purge of 'legitimate' Iran-backed forces from Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seen here at a Moscow press conference, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are to meet in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly
Mladen ANTONOV (AFP/File)
US National Security delegation reportedly arrived in Israel to discuss ceasefire deal along its border

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday denied that Moscow pledged to ensure a withdrawal pro-Iranian forces from Syria, calling their presence “legitimate” and claiming that pro-American armed groups posed the biggest threat in the country.

The comments, carried by Russian news agencies RIA and Interfax, came following media reports that claimed that the US and Russia had struck a deal to limit pro-Iranian militias from encroaching on the Israeli and Jordanian borders in southern Syria and would eventually see all non-Syrian fighters purged from the country altogether.

Those reports were based on a joint presidential statement issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump which stated that the two leaders had reached a Memorandum of Principles on "the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the area."

A US State Department official said Monday that Russia had agreed "to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance" from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel, which captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war.

Moscow did not immediately provide details on the deal.

Meanwhile, a a delegation from the US National Security Council was reported to have arrived in Israel for talks with security heads about the ceasefire agreement, Israeli media outlets reported.

Also expected to be on the Israeli-American agenda is recent claims that Iran has established permanent military bases south of Damascus.

Israel signaled on Sunday that it would continue to carry out strikes across the frontier to prevent any encroachment by Iranian-allied forces, which under the terms of the deal would reportedly be able to maintain military positions some five to seven kilometers from the border.

Israel was reportedly seeking a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some 50 kilometers (30 miles).

“I have clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

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 al-Assad's forces.

On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.

In September, Israel's military shot down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by arch-foe Hezbollah on a similar mission.

See also:

With Iran on its doorstep, Israel quietly readies game changing air power

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Trump needs to put considerable economic pressure on Putin b4 dealing with him.

All this is the consequences of BHO/H decision to weaken America.

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