US, Russia reach Syria agreement to distance Iran from Golan Heights — reports

The United States, Russia and Jordan have reportedly reached an agreement  on a ceasefire deal in southern Syria that would include the expulsion of Iranian-backed militias from the border with Israel in the Golan Heights.

Under the agreement apparently inked Saturday, all non-Syrian fighters, including Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria, Hebrew media reports said Sunday, citing an American official.

According to similar reports in Channel 10 and Israel Radio, the official did not say how far from the border the militias would be removed or under what time frame. In addition to Iran-backed groups, affiliates of both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, both of which count foreign fighters among their ranks, operate in Syria near the Israeli border.

There was no immediate response to the reports by Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have said Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence along the Golan nor allow Iran to entrench itself military in Syria.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani confirmed no non-Syrian fighters would be allowed in the “de-escalation zone” under the agreement, which he said built on a previous ceasefire reached in July. He also said the deal was a “key step” in ending the fighting in Syria and would help lead to a political solution to the Syrian civil war, according to the country’s al-Ghad newspaper.

Following the announcement of the previous ceasefire agreement in southern Syria brokered by the US and Russia, Netanyahu came out against the deal, saying it did not sufficiently address Iran’s military ambitions in the area.

The prime minister said that while the plan aimed to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Iran’s plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases.

While both Tehran and Moscow are military backers of the Assad regime, Russia has reportedly sought to assure Israel it will not allow Iran and the Hezbollah terror group to threaten the Jewish state from Syria.

Although Israel has sought to avoid involvement in the Syrian civil war, dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah, as well on Iranian-linked fighters, have been attributed to Israel’s air force.

The reports on the new ceasefire agreement came after the BBC published satellite photos on Friday said to show the construction of a permanent Iranian military base in Syria.

According to the BBC report, the base is situated at a site used by the Syrian army near El-Kiswah, 14 kilomters (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.

Also over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces shot down a Syrian drone above the Golan Heights, near the border with Syria.

Israeli security officials said the drone’s operators had deliberately attempted to fly the aircraft across the Israeli border from Syria, but it was shot down without crossing into Israel.

Following the incident early Saturday, Liberman, the defense minister, said Israel will respond with force to any violation of its sovereignty.

“The Syrian regime is responsible for every attack and violation of our sovereignty, and we will not allow the Shiite axis to be established in Syria as a base for action,” Liberman said.

He also called on the Syrian regime to restrain all elements operating from its territory.

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