Russia said to tell Iran to leave Syrian sites amid rise in apparent Israeli strikes

Russia has demanded that Iran and its militias withdraw from positions across Syria, amid an apparent uptick in airstrikes attributed to Israel in recent weeks, according to a Friday report.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London, cited Syrian officials as saying Russian officers called on their Iranian counterparts during a Wednesday meeting at the Hama Military Airport in central Syria, to leave several sites in the country.

The report said the three Russian officers demanded they evacuate the Iranian military headquarters in the western Hama province, which is situated next to the Syrian army’s Regiment 49 base.

The base is considered an important military site to Syria, as it is used to store missiles for the S-200 air defense system, as well as other Russian-made military equipment, the report said.

Another site the Russian officers demanded the Iranians evacuate was close to the coastal city of al-Hamidiyah, south of Tartus, the report said. In July, Syria accused Israel of targeting a site in the town, in a rare morning airstrike.

The report said the calls came as Russia was seeking to maintain stability in Syria, and to deprive Israel of targets to bomb in areas Russia sees as important. An airstrike attributed to Israel last month hit several Iranian sites close to Russia’s main naval base in Syria, at the port city of Tartus.

File: A Russian navy missile ship ‘Veliky Ustyug’ sails off from the Russian naval facility in Tartus, Syria, on patrol in the Mediterranean, September 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

As a rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country in recent years. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanese Hezbollah.

A major airstrike last week targeted numerous buildings at a Syrian weapons base in the Masyaf area of Hama. The Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS, has been reported to house an Iranian missile manufacturing plant.

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent months. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

The most recent airstrike attributed to Israel occurred Wednesday night, when two major airports — one in the northern city of Aleppo and the second near the capital Damascus — were damaged.


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