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Syria: Deployment of Russian Forces in Qusayr Causes Friction with Hezbollah

Syria: Deployment of Russian Forces in Qusayr Causes Friction with Hezbollah

Thursday, 7 June, 2018 - 07:30
A Russian soldier holds his weapon at the city of Douma in Damascus, Syria, April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A Russian troop deployment in Syria near the Lebanese border this week caused friction with Iran-backed forces including "Hezbollah" which objected to the uncoordinated move, two officials in the regional alliance backing Damascus told Reuters.

One of the officials, a military commander, told Reuters on condition of anonymity, the situation was resolved on Tuesday when Syrian army soldiers took over three positions where the Russians had deployed near the town of Qusayr in the Homs region on Monday.

It appeared to be a rare case of Russia acting without coordinating with the allies of Syrian head of regime Bashar al-Assad.

The commander described it as an "uncoordinated step".

“Now it is resolved. We rejected the step. The Syrian army - Division 11 - is deploying at the border,” said the commander, adding Hezbollah men were still located in the area.

Israel called Russia to control Iran in Syria, where Israel has mounted numerous attacks against Hezbollah and other Iran-backed targets.

“Perhaps it was to assure the Israelis,” said the commander, adding that the move could not be justified as part of the fight against the Nusra Front or ISIS because Hezbollah and the Syrian army had defeated them at the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The second official said the “resistance axis”, a reference to Iran and its allies, was studying the situation after the uncoordinated Russian move.

Russia and Iran-backed forces such as Hezbollah have worked together against the insurgency.

In 2012, Hezbollah deployed to Syria in 2012 and three years later, Russian air force arrived in support of Assad. But, different agendas in Syria have become more apparent as Israel presses Russia to ensure Iran doesn't expand its presence in the country.

Israel wants Iranian and Iran-backed forces away from its border and, more generally, from Syria entirely.

Last month, Israel said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched a missile attacks from Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Back then, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said it marked a “new phase” of the war in Syria.

Some believe Russian calls for all non-Syrian forces to leave southern Syria is partly aimed at Iran, in addition to US forces based in al-Tanf area at the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Lebanese TV station al-Mayadeen, which is close to Damascus and its regional allies such as Hezbollah, reported the Qusayr incident saying the number of Russian forces was small.

On May 24, a military air base in the same area came under missile attack and Israeli military declined to comment on that attack.

The United States wants to preserve a “de-escalation” zone that has contained the conflict in southwestern Syria. The zone, agreed last year with Russia and Jordan, has helped to contain fighting in areas near the Israeli frontier.

Damascus-based al-Dorar opposition network quoted the Italian news agency Aki as saying that Iran was planning to return to the southern region of Syria with the help of the regime.

Iranian military militias began withdrawing from areas north of Daraa near Damascus last Saturday, while some thought it was a withdrawal of these militias, but later turned out to be a withdrawal to return to the south of Syria under the umbrella of the regime, reported Dorar.

It quoted local sources as saying that "the Iranian military convoys that withdrew from the Syrian south towards north of Daraa, on the roads of Daraa - Damascus and the highway of Suweida - Damascus, changed positions and moved to barracks belonging to the regime forces."

Spokesman of Iranian army Brigadier Masoud Jazayeri denied on Sunday the withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah Lebanese forces from southern Syria, according to Russian news agency Sputnik.

A senior military commander in the southern front said a senior Iranian military commander was killed in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on Tuesday.

The military commander, who asked not to be identified, told the German news agency: "IRGC commander in Daraa, Khalil Takhti Nejad, and a number of IRGC members were killed during an exchanged shelling between our forces and Iranian groups in Deir al-Adas, known as Triangle of death."

The military commander indicated that Iranian forces and elements of Hezbollah are still in Daraa and southeast Damascus, and have headquarters in several villages. He also explained that they wear uniforms with Syrian government forces logo and hoisted the Syrian flag on their vehicles.

The United States has demanded that Iran withdraw its forces from southern Syria, prompting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to link the withdrawal of Iranian troops from southern Syria with the withdrawal of US troops from al-Tanf in eastern Syria.

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