Syria says no withdrawal of Hezbollah, Iran
MOSCOW - Syria's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday Damascus did not envisage Iran and Hezbollah participating in the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country as announced last week by Russia.
Asked whether the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces could end Israel's strikes on Syria, Faisal Mekdad told RIA Novosti state news agency that "this topic is not even on the agenda for discussion."
"All these forces oppose terrorism. They are not making an attempt to violate the sovereignty and territory of Syria," he said in comments translated into Russian.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday, with the Russian leader saying "foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory" although he gave few details.
But Russia's chief Syria negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev later told journalists that the withdrawal of foreign troops should be done "as a whole" and include Iranians and Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese group that is an ally of Iran and Assad.
"We are talking about all the foreign troop divisions which still have troops in Syrian territory. That includes the Americans and the Turks and Hezbollah, of course, and the Iranians," Lavrentyev said on Friday, quoted by RIA Novosti.
Mekdad, however, suggested Russia had not meant to say this.
"I don't think that our Russian friends meant the forces that entered Syria in agreement with the Syrian government," he said.
"Russia demanded the withdrawal of forces that are here without agreement: that is the forces of the US, France, Turkey and other forces that are here illegitimately."
Russia and Iran are both allied with Assad. Together with rebel-supporting Turkey, they have been brokering peace talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital, running in parallel to talks supervised by the United Nations.
Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was acting on the basis that both Hezbollah and the Iranians, "just like the Russian air forces, are in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government."