Hezbollah on Russia move: “Perhaps it was to assure the Israelis”
Tension is growing among the Assad regime’s allies in southern Syria, after Hezbollah objected to a move of Russian personnel — apparently part of an effort to replace Hezbollah and Iran-supported foreign militia — into the area.
“Two non-Syrian officials in the regional alliance backing Damascus” — a phrase pointing to Hezbollah sources — said the Russians deployed near the Lebanese border earlier this week.
The sources said the conflict eased on Tuesday when Assad regime troops took over three positions from the Russians near the town of Qusayr. “It was an uncoordinated step,” said a non-Syrian commander. “Now it is resolved. We rejected the step. The Syrian army – Division 11 – is deploying at the border.”
The incident appeared to be part of a wider dispute b rewing over Russia’s declared intention for all “non-Syrian forces” to leave a southern zone in Daraa and Quneitra Provinces. Moscow issued the line after discussions with Israel, following Tel Aviv’s threat to intervene if Hezbollah and Iranian-supported forces are part of a pro-Assad offensive to recapture territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
“Perhaps it was to assure the Israelis,” said the commander. A second official said the “resistance axis” – a reference to Hezbollah and Iran – was “studying the situation” after the Russian move.
Neither the Russian military nor Iran commented about the argument
Last week the Russian and Israeli Defense Ministers, meeting in Moscow, reportedly discussed a proposal for Russian military advisors to accompany the Assad regime forces who would move into the area. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has indicated that a political outcome is preferred, with the US detaching itself from the Syrian opposition and rebels, but that other action could be taken if there is no agreement for a rebel withdrawal.
Kurdish Militia YPG Declares Withdrawal from Manbij
The Kurdish militia YPG said its forces have now left the city of Manbij in northern Syria, following Turkey’s announcement of an agreement with the US for the militia’s withdrawal and reconstitution of military and municipal councils.
The YPG said in a statement that its troops had withdrawn from Manbij in November 2016 — three months after the US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces took the city in eastern Aleppo Province from the Islamic State — but that military advisers which had remained to work with the Manbij Military Council.
The Kurdish militia said its forces remained willing to help the people of Manbij “should it be needed”.
Turkish Foreign Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday, following a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, that a road map had been agreed with the aim of “the clearing of Manbij of all terror organizations”. Ankara considers the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
The State Department was reticent on Monday about the supposed agreement, but yesterday US officials welcomed the YPG’s statement:
So obviously we encourage that announcement and we’ll continue to work with all sides to implement the roadmap as it was agreed yesterday by the secretary and foreign minister.