Russia’s Shoigu, Israel’s Lieberman discuss Syrian de-escalation zone


MOSCOW: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday discussed a de-escalation zone in southern Syria with Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman when the two met in Moscow, TASS news agency said.

The United States last week warned Syria it would take firm measures in response to ceasefire violations in southern Syria after reports of an impending military operation in the de-escalation zone.

Rebels control stretches of southwest Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, while Syrian army troops and allied Iran-backed militias hold nearby territory.

“A lot of questions have built up,” Shoigu was quoted as saying by TASS during a meeting with Lieberman in the Russian capital.

“We should discuss today everything concerning work on the border in the southern de-escalation zone where we have an agreement with Jordan and the United States,” he told his counterpart.

Israel’s Defence Ministry, in a statement, quoted Lieberman as telling Shoigu: “Israel greatly appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security needs, especially regarding the situation on our northern border.”

The statement said the two met for more than 90 minutes and discussed “security issues of concern to both countries, the situation in Syria and the Israeli campaign to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later held a phone conversation and discussed “the latest regional developments and Iran’s foothold in Syria,” a brief statement from the Israeli leader’s office said.

Israel’s Channel 1 television said the conversation touched on a possible arrangement for there to be no Iranian presence in southern Syria closer than 70-80 km (40-50 miles) from the Syria-Israel frontier.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces from Syria’s southern border with Israel should happen as soon as possible.