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Russia Pressures Iran to Pull out Sophisticated Drones from Syria

Russia Pressures Iran to Pull out Sophisticated Drones from Syria

Saturday, 4 May, 2019 - 05:45
The Iranian Saegheh drone. (AP)
Moscow, Tel Aviv, London - Raed Jaber and Asharq Al-Awsat

Moscow has started exerting pressure on Tehran to reduce its presence in Syria by demanding that Iran pull out Revolutionary Guards from military bases there and remove its sophisticated drones, Israeli intelligence sources said Friday.

The DEBKAfile website, an Israeli intelligence and security news service, reported that “surprising Russian changes have begun to be noticed against Iran’s presence in Syria.”

This was first noticed when Russia obstructed a decision by Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad on the management of Latakia port near its military base at Hmeimim. Assad had originally agreed to grant Tehran the right to operate the port.

Later, Moscow expelled Revolutionary Guards personnel from important air bases throughout Syria, where Russia had previously agreed to operate alongside Iranian forces.

The website also explained that Russia had also exerted pressure on Iran to remove its sophisticated drones from Syria, including the Saegheh (Thunderbolt), which could carry precision-guided and anti-tank guided missiles and was built on the model of an American RQ-170 drone that Iran claimed it shot down in 2011.

Russia’s expulsion policy also includes the removal of Revolutionary Guards from the Mazze military airport on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus, the Khalkhala Airbase in al-Suwaida province near the Jordanian border, Beit Saham in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus overlooking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the Tiyas airbase, known as T4, near the city of Homs.

Separately, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that regime and allied Russian warplanes continued to pound the countryside of Idlib and Hama.

The Britain-based Observatory said Friday’s attacks were the "most violent escalation" since the formation of a Turkey-Russia monitored de-escalation zone in the northwestern Idlib province.

Amid the Russian military escalation, the UN fears that such activities could result in a massive refugee crisis.

"Since February, over 138,500 women, children and men have been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idlib," said David Swanson, an official with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"Between April 1 and 28, it's estimated more than 32,500 individuals have moved to different communities in the Aleppo, Idlib and Hama governorates," he told AFP.

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