Russia: Iran-backed forces withdraw from Golan frontier
BEIRUT (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria said Wednesday that an agreement with Israel that includes Russian guarantees ensures that Iran-backed fighters will remain more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from Syria’s frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Alexander Lavrentyev told the Russian Interfax news agency the agreement was reached in order not to “irritate” Israel. He didn’t elaborate on when the agreement was forged or for how long.
Russian-backed Syrian forces regained full control of the frontier on Monday after a six-week offensive in the area that expelled Syrian armed opposition and an affiliate of the Islamic State group that had been deployed along the frontier with the Golan.
“The agreement is still in effect. Iranian forces have actually been withdrawn from (the southern de-escalation zone in Syria) in order not to irritate the Israeli administration, which has increased the number of attacks on Iranian sites in this territory,” Lavrentyev said.
He said the pro-Iranian forces have withdrawn to 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the area with “our assistance,” he said.
Israel has escalated its attacks against targets inside Syria suspected of being linked to Iran, insisting that it won’t allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence near the frontier.
Iran has military advisers in Syria and backs Shiite militias fighting alongside Syrian troops, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war. The frontier was quiet for decades following a 1974 disengagement agreement.
With the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, fighting erupted along the frontier, bringing rebels to the area. In 2014, a U.N. peacekeeping force deployed along the disengagement lines withdrew when rebels took control of the frontier.