Syrian official rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal
Iranian forces pulling out of Syria is 'not even on the agenda of discussion,' the country's deputy foreign minister says, adding 'we cannot let anyone even raise this issue'; Damascus 'highly appreciates' Russia's military support as well as 'advisers' from Iran and Hezbollah, the deputy FM says.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country and told Russia's Sputnik news agency it was "not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad's government.
Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.
Mikdad said in Wednesday's remarks that Syria "highly appreciates" Russia's military support as well as "advisers" from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that "we cannot let anyone even raise this issue" of the Iranian withdrawal.
The demand for Iran to pull all of its forces out of Syria was one of the 12 raised by Pompeo earlier this week. It was summarily rejected by Iran as well, with Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying Pompeo's statements were a "lie" and that "Washington had become a hostage for pressure groups."
A senior Israel Air Force officer said Tuesday Israel remains active in Syria even after the recent strike on May 10 in response to rockets that were fired by Iranians at IDF posts in the Golan Heights.
"We can assume that operations have been carried out since the latest strike in Syria, and we are maintaining our freedom of action," he said. "The Iranian resolve in the region continues, and we keep operating and disrupting under the war threshold."
His words came after the air force's commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin spoke at a conference in Herzliya Tuesday and shed light on the Israeli strike in Syria.
"We checked what the Iranians were doing around us," Maj.-Gen. Norkin said in his remarks. "The Quds Forces set up at the T-4 base, which is some 250 kilometers from Israel. From this base they tried to attack using a drone that infiltrated Israel several months ago. After that incident, we identified that they were continuing to store weapons at the base, including aerial defense capabilities that we attacked over the past month."
"In recent weeks, we realized Iran had sent missiles and long-range rockets to Syria, including (BM-27) Uragan launchers that we attacked north of Damascus," he continued.
Norkin went on to note that "our aerial defense systems—the Arrow, the Iron Dome and David's Sling—have an 85 percent success rate in interception."