Russia-Israel team to eye foreign forces' pullout from Syria


Jerusalem (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel and Russia are to form a joint team to examine the withdrawal of foreign forces from Syria.

Israel is seeking the removal of Iranian forces and has vowed to keep its main enemy from entrenching itself militarily in the neighbouring country.

Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Moscow to discuss Iran's presence in Syria.

"I made it unequivocally clear that Israel will not allow the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria, and I also made it unequivocally clear that we would continue to take military action against it," Netanyahu told his cabinet.

"President Putin and I also agreed on a common goal: the withdrawal of foreign forces that arrived in Syria after the outbreak of the civil war. We agreed to establish a joint team to advance this goal, together with other elements."

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah targets and has established a hotline to avoid accidential clashes with Russia.

Iran, Russia and Tehran-backed Hezbollah support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's civil war that broke out in 2011.

But a friendly fire incident during one of those strikes in September damaged Israel's relations with Russia.

Wednesday's talks were the first extended face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Putin since the incident, which saw Syria's air defence systems shoot down a Russian plane by mistake during an Israeli strike, killing 15 Russian troops.