Iran orders complete withdrawal of its military forces from Syria: report
Iran is set to withdraw its entire 2,500 member fighting force from Syria, according to a report on Sunday by Israel's Channel 2 news.
According to the report, the majority of the forces, comprised of personnel from various units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, have already been evacuated from Syria. The rest are expected to return home imminently.
The decision was taken jointly by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, Channel 2 said, although the report did not give a reason for the withdrawal.
Iran's forces were deployed to Syria to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime forces over the past two years.
Iran's forces have sustained around 160 fatalities including six senior officers, generals, and colonels, and over 300 injuries, Channel 2 reported.
Approximately 700 military advisers will remain in Syria, according to the report.
Tehran, it added, will continue to support Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian regime forces against local rebel groups.
The report comes following comments made by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Congress last week.
"The IRGC has actually pulled its troops back from Syria. Ayatollah Khamenei pulled a significant number of troops out. Their presence is actually reduced in Syria,” Kerry told Congress.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re still not engaged and active in the flow of weapons from Syria through Damascus to Lebanon,” Kerry emphasized.
“We’re concerned about that and there’s an ongoing concern.”
- Israeli PM welcomes Syria ceasefire, demands end to Iranian aggression -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday welcomed the fragile Syrian ceasefire, which entered its second day, with battle zones across the war-scarred country largely quiet for the first time in five years despite some sporadic breaches.
"We welcome the efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Syria," Netanyahu said, but warned that any agreement must first and foremost "include the cessation of Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory."
Netanyahu also took the opportunity to reiterate Israel's strong stance against Iranian attempts to smuggle weapons to its Lebanese proxy, stressing that Israel "will not agree to transfer weapons to Hezbollah and we will not create a terror front in the Golan Heights."
"These were the red lines we have set and which remained red lines of the State of Israel," he added.
The temporary truce currently in effect on the Syrian battlefield, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is seen as a crucial step towards ending a conflict that has claimed 270,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.
An international task force set up to monitor the fighting co-chaired by the United States and Russia said Saturday had been largely successful.
"The United Nations, the United States and Russia have made a positive assessment of the first hours of the cessation of hostilities," a Western diplomat said after a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Geneva.
The UN reported "some incidents" in apparent violation of the truce, but "they have been defused", he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's office said he and US Secretary of State John Kerry had "hailed" the ceasefire in a phone call, and discussed ways of improving cooperation between their militaries.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has said peace talks will resume on March 7 if the ceasefire prevails and more aid is delivered -- a key sticking point in negotiations.
A spokesman for the UN's humanitarian affairs office said the next convoys are expected to leave on Sunday, after aid reached tens of thousands of people in besieged cities over the past week.
- Saudi accuses Russia, Syria regime of ceasefire violations -
Saudi Arabia on Sunday accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its ally Russia of "ceasefire violations" in Syria.
"There are violations to the ceasefire from Russian and (Syrian) regime aircraft," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh.
Russia, which has waged nearly five months of intense air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it had halted bombing in all areas covered by the truce.
Meanwhile, the Russian coordination center in Syria said on Sunday that it had registered nine ceasefire violations over the past 24 hours, according to Russian media.
Nonetheless, the Russian coordination center's Sergei Kuralenko added, the ceasefire, co-brokered with the United States, was "in general" holding.
Kuralenko said the violations included shelling in Syria's Latakia province.
Syrian rebels also accused government forces of intermittent "truce violations".
In second city Aleppo, two people were killed and four wounded when shells hit the majority-Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Syrian state media said one person was killed by sniper fire in the same district.
- Damascus shelling -
"If it (the truce) holds, it will create the conditions for full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
The ceasefire faces formidable challenges, however, particularly as it excludes the powerful Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and al-Qaida's Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
According to Syrian state media, "terrorist groups" fired shells on Damascus, but caused no casualties.
Moscow has vowed to keep striking IS, Al-Nusra and other "terrorist groups", but said it grounded its warplanes in the Syria campaign on the first day of the truce to avoid potential "mistakes".
- Suicide bombings -
Jihadists attacked the border town of Tal Abyad in Raqa province, sparking clashes that killed at least 70 IS members, 20 Kurdish militiamen and two civilians, the Observatory said.
US-led coalition warplanes launched at least 10 air strikes against the jihadists, it reported.
Twin suicide bombings meanwhile, killed six people outside the town of Salamiyeh in Hama province, where IS is present, state news agency SANA said.
(staff with AFP)
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So Israel, which is taking Palestinian land by military force, killing thousands of Palestinians year on year, attacks Iranian facilities at whim and assassinates people throughout the world accuses others of aggression ... joke!
"Do you mean the disputed territory". Disputed only by Israel .... and James Spackman.