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Russia: Iran troops to be kept 85km from Golan Heights

Image of Israeli and UN forces at the Golan Heights border [Escla/Wikipedia]
Israeli and UN forces at the Golan Heights, 31 March 2017 [Escla/Wikipedia]

Russia's special envoy to Syria announced today that an agreement to keep Iranian troops operating in Syria 85 kilometres from the Israel-occupied Golan Heights has been reached.

Envoy Alexander Lavrentyev made the announcement in an interview with Russian-state TV Sputnik, saying "as we took into account the Israeli concerns, we managed to attain the pullout of Iranian units 85 kilometres from the Israeli border."

News of a deal comes as a surprise after Israel has repeatedly rejected offers to move Iranian troops away from the Golan Heights, stating the offers do not go far enough. On Monday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Russian offer to keep Iranian forces 100 kilometres from the border, citing the capacity of long-range missiles to still reach Israel from this distance. Netanyahu's comments came during a visit by Russian diplomats to Jerusalem to discuss mutual concerns in Syria.

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A series of meetings have taken place between key players involved in the Syrian civil war, which has been ongoing since 2011, after President Bashar Al-Assad's forces recaptured territory in the south-west of the country. Last week it emerged that Israeli and Syrian army officers recently held three meetings in the Golan Heights, which was capture by Israel in 1967. The meetings are believed to have discussed Israel's "security concerns".

Israel has repeatedly acted against Iranian positions in Syria, conducting a series of air strikes against bases believed to be holding weapons and troops. In July, Israel conducted air strikes in Masyaf, near Hama in north-west Syria. A Syrian military source accused Israel of "helping terrorist organisations either through direct interference or by providing them with logistic support, weapons and intelligence". Israel also hit the T4 airbase near Homs three times this year, claiming the base held Iranian forces and drones which crossed into Israeli territory.

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Israel has repeatedly intervened in the Syrian civil war, despite its official position of non-engagement. Such interventions were thrust into the spotlight last week when Israel evacuated 800 Syrian White Helmets through its territory. The evacuation of the White Helmets, a civil defence group that carried out rescue missions in opposition-held Syrian territory, allegedly came at the request of the United States and several European countries. The move provoked the ire of the Syrian regime, saying it "reveals the support these 'terrorists' have been receiving from neighbouring countries".

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