by News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Israel signals that it plans to maintain "free hand" with respect to preventing game-changing weapons from reaching Hezbollah
The Israel-Syria borderPhoto: Reuters
Israeli officials are giving a lukewarm reaction to an international agreement laying out principles for post-war Syria.
The agreement, announced in a U.S.-Russian statement on Saturday, confirmed the importance of "de-escalation areas" as an interim step toward reducing violence, enforcing cease-fire agreements, facilitating humanitarian aid and setting conditions for the "ultimate political solution" to a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
It also affirmed what it said was a U.S.-Russian-Jordanian understanding calling for "the reduction and ultimate elimination, of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the area to ensure a more sustainable peace."
Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears to be headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.
Israel signaled on Sunday that it would keep up military strikes meant to thwart the delivery of weapons to Hezbollah, as well as to prevent any encroachment by Iranian-allied forces.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Sunday that the agreement "does not answer Israel's unequivocal demands that there will be no developments that bring Iranian or Hezbollah forces closer to Israel's border with Syria in the north."
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said last week that an international agreement on Syria would be a positive development, but stressed that Israel is not a party to this deal and would defend its interests.
"We have proved that before and we will prove it again in the future," Katz said on Thursday, ahead of the expected agreement.
Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian war, but officials have said it will not allow Hezbollah to obtain "game-changing" weapons, and it has expressed deep concerns that Iran will carve out a "Shiite corridor" providing a land route to ship weapons from Iran to Lebanon.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.
A U.S. State Department official said Russia had agreed "to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance" from the Golan Heights border with Israel.
The move, according to one Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, is meant to keep rival factions inside Syria away from each other, but it would effectively keep Iranian-linked forces at various distances from the Israel-held Golan as well.
Those distances would range from as little as 5 kilometers (3 miles) and up to around 30 kilometers (18 miles), depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian Golan.
Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Hezbollah and other Shiite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.
News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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