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Syria boosts air defenses near border with Israel: reports

A picture distributed by Hezbollah's media service on Tuesday June 12 that purports to show a Pantsir-1 air defense system set to be deployed in Syria's southwest.

The Syrian military on Tuesday moved additional air defense batteries into territory near the Israeli-held Golan Heights, two pro-regime sources said. 

A non-Syrian military commander allied with the government of President Bashar Al-Assad told Reuters news agency that additional Russian-manufactured Pantsir-1 batteries were deployed in the area “to renew the air defense system against Israel in the first degree."

The media service of the pro-Assad Lebanese militia Hezbollah also reported the deployment of anti-aircraft missiles to the region, the site of numerous flare-ups between Israel, Syrian forces and Iran in recent years. 

In May Israel blamed Iran's elite Quds Force for firing some 32 rockets at the Golan Heights from Syrian territory, prompting a massive Israeli bombardment that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said wiped out "most" of Iran's military infrastructure in the country. 

Yehunda Pinto via AP

The Iranian attack was in retaliation for an earlier Israeli strike around a month earlier. 

An Israeli fighter jet was also hit by Syrian air defense rockets in February, although their chiefly Russian-made systems have been unable to dent numerous reported and confirmed Israeli air and missile raids on the country throughout the Syrian civil war. 

The reported deployment of additional air defense forces comes ahead of a government offensive against rebel groups in Syria's southwest that has been anticipated for weeks. 

Israeli security officials fear that the government's likely victory will allow Iranian and Hezbollah forces to face off just meters from the Israeli-held Golan, which is home to numerous civilian settlements. 

MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP)

There have been conflicting reports about a potential deal being struck between Israel and Russia -- Assad's top ally -- to remove Hezbollah and Iranian fighters from the area. 

However last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the fighters left, but later returned donning Syrian government uniforms. 

The southwest region was the subject of a deescalation agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan last year. 

Late last month a US military spokesman told i24NEWS that Washington is "concerned" over the imminent advance of government troops in the area. 

The military commander who spoke anonymously to Reuters said preparations for the offensive were complete, but that the government was waiting to rout a hold-out of Islamic State fighters nearby before launching the campaign. 

More to come. 

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