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Iran Denies Military Presence In Southern Syria As Tel Aviv, Moscow Agree On Its Withdrawal

Iran’s security chief, General Ali Shamkhani, says his country “has no military presence whatsoever in southern Syria.” This comes as Russia’s UN envoy tells reporters about Moscow’s agreement with Tel Aviv on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southern Syria.

Shamkhani’s statement was made after Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stressed that Iranian forces and Lebanese Hezballah militia should leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible.

Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has reiterated that Iranian military personnel in Syria are “military advisers” and they are not in southern Syria, the Sharq newspaper quoted him as saying on June 2.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had previously denied an Iranian military presence in his country.

Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said on June 1 he believed Israel and his country had reached an agreement on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from the Syrian-Israeli border, the Times of Israel reported early on June 2, hours before Shamkhani’s statement was published.

“As I understand it, an agreement was reached. … At this point, I cannot answer if it is being realized, but as far as I understand, the parties that were involved in reaching an agreement are satisfied with what they have achieved,” the Times of Israel quoted Nebenzya as saying.

The daily also quoted diplomatic sources in Jerusalem as saying that “the talks with Russia -- conducted with U.S. backing -- were heading in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Hadashot TV reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Media reports also said that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met in Moscow with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

Earlier this year, Israel accused Iran of flying a drone into Israeli airspace and attacking the T-4 military base in Syria, killing at least seven IRGC personnel. Subsequently, Iranian officials including Shamkhani and IRGC PR Chief Ramezan Sharif threatened Israel with “retaliation at the right time.”

In his interview with Sharq, Shamkhani attributed rocket attacks on the Golan heights to “resistance forces” and praised them for the attack.

The rocket attacks have continued for two months while Israel has reportedly launched strikes on Iranian positions in Syria.

Israeli officials have maintained that they cannot tolerate a continued Iranian military presence in Syria.

As news of the deal between Russia and Israel broke, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Moscow and Tel Aviv agreed to “limit” Iran’s military presence in southwestern Syria.

The two sides also agreed to keep its forces from the south and allow Tel Aviv to target menacing bases in the deep Syrian territories, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.