Moscow re­jects Is­raeli re­quest for 60-km. buf­fer zone in Syria

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By TOVAH LAZAROFF

Rus­sia re­jected an re­quest from Jerusalem for a 60-kilo­me­ter buf­fer zone be­tween the Golan Heights and any Ira­nian-backed mili­tias in Syria, and is only promis­ing that the Shi’ite fight­ers would not come any closer to Is­rael than 5 kilo­me­ters, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports late on Thurs­day night.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu had raised the is­sue with both Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, in­clud­ing in July in ad­vance of Syr­ian cease-fire talks.

The news of the Krem­lin’s re­jec­tion broke in ad­vance of Ne­tanyahu’s meet­ing with Trump in New York on Mon­day. It also came as a se­nior Rus­sian ne­go­tia­tor said that Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran are close to fi­nal­iz­ing an agree­ment on cre­at­ing four de-es­ca­la­tion zones in Syria.

The prime min­is­ter has re­peat­edly warned about Iran’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence in Syria. In an in­ter­view with CNN on Tues­day, he said, “Aside from try­ing to build atomic bombs,” Tehran is “try­ing to place the Ira­nian Army in Syria. They want to col­o­nize Syria the way they col­o­nized Le­banon.”

Ne­tanyahu and Is­raeli de­fense of­fi­cials have warned against the Is­lamic Repub­lic open­ing a se­cond front in Syria.

Iran has spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in sup­port of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces and of Hezbol­lah in Le­banon.

De­fense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Liber­man has said that Is­rael will do every­thing to pre­vent the es­tab­lish­ment of a Shi’ite cor­ri­dor from Tehran to Da­m­as­cus. Ear­lier this month, Syria ac­cused Is­rael of strik­ing an As­sad regime mil­i­tary cen­ter be­lieved by an­a­lysts to pro­duce and house chem­i­cal weapons and ad­vanced pre­ci­sion mis­siles.

Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran are dis­cussing de­tails of the pro­posed de-es­ca­la­tion agree­ment at meet­ings in As­tana, the cap­i­tal of Kaza­khstan, ac­cord­ing to Alexan­der Lavren­tiev, who leads the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion.

“Our main task at this in­ter­na­tional meet­ing on Syria is to fi­nal­ize and es­tab­lish four de-es­ca­la­tion zones,” Lavren­tiev said. “We are very close to reach­ing an agree­ment on cre­at­ing th­ese four zones.”

The meet­ings, which also in­volve rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the As­sad gov­ern­ment and some rebel fac­tions, will con­tinue on Fri­day.

Lavren­tiev said the agree­ment was likely to in­clude pro­vi­sions on the de­ploy­ment of mon­i­tors – such as mil­i­tary po­lice ser­vice­men – in the four zones and, more specif­i­cally, on their borders.

The pre­vi­ous round of Syr­ian peace talks in As­tana in July ended with no agree­ment after Turkey raised ob­jec­tions.

Rus­sia and Iran, which back Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, and Turkey, which sup­ports some of the rebels, have been hold­ing talks in Kaza­khstan since Jan­uary, and the meet­ing this week is their sixth.

Reuters con­trib­uted to this re­port. •

(Car­los Barria/Reuters)

RUS­SIAN PRES­I­DENT Vladimir Putin talks to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing at the G-20 sum­mit in Ham­burg in July.

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