Iran to withdraw from southern Syria

Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters are preparing to withdraw from their positions near the border with Israel in southern Syria.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near Israel’s Golan Heights. It is unclear where in Syria they will be redeployed and how far they will withdraw from the border.

Israeli media have reported an Israeli demand that Iranian forces should be banned from moving closer than 50 miles from the Israeli border. Israel sources have said they view the withdrawal of Iranian forces and proxies in southern Syria as the first step towards a full withdrawal from all of Syria.

A Syrian official working in coordination with the Iranians last night denied the report of Iran forces withdrawing as “mendacious”.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Tamir Heiman met yesterday with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow. Lieberman said: “The State of Israel appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security needs — especially on our northern border. It is important to continue the dialogue between us and to keep an open line between the IDF and the Russian army.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which the Kremlin said was a follow up to the two leaders’ talks earlier this month and focused on “some aspects of the Syrian settlement,” without specifying greater detail.

Channel 10 News report on Thursday said a senior Israeli official explicitly stated that Jerusalem won’t object to the Syrian President staying in power, provided that Iran’s presence in the country is eliminated. An Israeli diplomatic source told Hadashot TV News: “Even if it takes time and even if we have to accept [Syrian President Bashar] Assad coming back, at the end of these talks the Iranian threat in Syria will be lifted.”

Russian officers have reportedly shared military plans with Israeli colleagues, including maps, as part of an effort to prevent Iran-Israel tensions from spiralling into outright war. Russian sources say Hezbollah and Iranian forces would be kept away from the Syrian-Russia military activity near the Golan border and would not play any role.