Israel will not allow Assad’s allies – specifically Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah – to open a war front against the Jewish state on the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“We will not agree to establishing a second terrorist front on the Golan. Those were the redlines that Israel set, and they remain Israel’s redlines,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“We welcome efforts to achieve a stable, long-term, real cease-fire in Syria,” the prime minister said. “Anything that will stop the horrible slaughter there is important, first of all from a humanitarian perspective.”
At the same time, he said, “it must be clear that any agreement in Syria must include ending Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.”
Israel, Netanyahu said, will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry by Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. It has made this position known to Russia since Moscow became actively involved in the Syrian fighting in September. The prime minister spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about Israel’s position on Syria during a phone call last Wednesday, one of a number they have had over the past few months.
A fragile cease-fire between belligerents in Syria’s civil war held on Sunday, but not without challenge, as each side accused the other of significant violations.
Only two days into the pause in fighting – agreed to by an axis of supporters behind embattled President Bashar Assad and the 94 rebel groups fighting to oust him – Syria’s opposition leadership filed a complaint with the UN over continued bombing of rebel-held areas. And Russia, which has bolstered Assad with a massive air campaign, cited at least nine rebel violations over the course of 24 hours.
The truce is strictly between the two main sides of Syria’s war, which will likely enter into its sixth year next month. But nations invested in the outcome of the war, or with security concerns over its conduct, continue to assert that the cease-fire will not affect their military operations in the country.
Turkey maintains the right to continue attacking Kurdish “terrorists” moving along its southern border. The United States is still leading a broad air campaign with its allies against Islamic State.
UN officials and the Obama administration hope the cease-fire, brokered by the US and Russia, will provide enough space for world powers to test the viability of a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The UN’s special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, hopes to reconvene peace talks in Geneva on March 7 – should the cease-fire hold.
Continued violations will undermine “international efforts to guarantee the continuation of the truce, and will lead to the collapse of the UN-adopted political process,” Syrian rebel leaders said on Sunday in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“The goal of accepting the temporary truce is to... help in implementing humanitarian articles of UNSG [UN secretary-general] concord 2254,” the letter stated. “However, the lack of progress in this would push us to look for other ways to protect Syrian people. So there must be a firm Security Council position on this before it’s too late.”
Concord 2254 relates to UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which was adopted on December 18 and calls for a cease-fire and political settlement in Syria.
Russia says it has ceased conducting air-bombing runs since Friday in order to avoid “mistakes” in its campaign against terrorist groups. A hot line has been set up between Washington and Moscow to avoid such mistakes, and US intelligence officials have provided their Russian counterparts with a list of 69 armed opposition groups that have signed on to the cease-fire.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has joined with rebel groups in accusing Russia of conducting several air attacks in violation of the truce. And Russian officials have accused rebel groups of infractions, including of shelling of regime-held areas in Latakia province.
Nevertheless, both sides expressed their intention to stick to the agreement for now.
“Yesterday was the first day people could really go out and walk in the streets,” a spokesman for the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee said on Sunday. “The decision is to remain quiet.”
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