by Eli Leon, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami greenlights deal meant to send a message of increased military cooperation between Tehran and Damascus in wake of Israeli, American demand that Iran remove its forces from the war-torn country, Syrian official says.
Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and Iranian Defense
Minister Amir Hatami in Damascus, Monday
Iran and Syria on Monday signed a deal for military cooperation as part of which the Islamic republic has pledged to rebuild the Syrian army, which has been severely drained by the seven-year civil war in the country, Iranian state media reported.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami traveled to Damascus on Sunday for a two-day visit, where he met Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and other military officials.
The precise details of the agreement were not announced.
The Syrian government does not release casualty numbers, but monitoring groups say the Syrian army has suffered tens of thousands of casualties since
"We hope to have a productive role in the reconstruction of Syria," Hatami said on arrival in Syria, according to Fars News.
Iran has previously made commitments to help rebuild Syria, including the construction of some 20,000 housing units.
The announcement comes as the U.S. is toughening its stance on Iran's support for Assad's government.
The White House has demanded that Iran extract itself from Syria as an essential precondition to lifting sanctions that went into effect earlier this month.
Israel has also been critical of Iran's expanding role in Syria, saying it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence near its northern frontiers.
Iran has been an essential backer of Syria's government in the civil war now in its seventh year, providing advisers, military supplies, training and thousands of militiamen to fight alongside the Syrian army.
Hatami on Monday again dismissed the U.S. and Israel's criticism, saying Iran was in Syria at Assad's invitation.
Assad, who has ruled with an iron fist since inheriting the presidency from his father in 2000, now looks safe in his post but he rules over a shattered country.
Hatami said Syria's government is now in a stronger position and warned against any "foreign aggression" against Syria.
The Iranian defense minister told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen TV station that Tehran will work to rehabilitate Syria's military industries as well as the Syrian armed forces.
A senior Syrian official told Russian news agency Sputnik that Hatami's visit was not just about the reconstruction of Syria following the civil war, but also meant to send a message of increased military cooperation between Tehran and Damascus in response to Israel and American demands to remove Iranian forces from Syria.
Also on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump shared concerns about developments in Syria, especially the humanitarian situation in the region around Idlib, their offices said on Monday after the leaders spoke by telephone.
"Both leaders called for international action to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib Province," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
"Russia is called upon to act in a moderating manner on the Syrian government and prevent a further escalation," Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.
Eli Leon, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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