(photo credit: HO / AL-MANAR TV / AFP)
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Friday welcomed Russia's military buildup in Syria in support of common ally President Bashar Assad, saying it was the failure of a US-led campaign against Islamic State that had forced Moscow's hand.
Nasrallah said in an interview with the Lebanese Shi'ite group's al-Manar TV that increased Russian support for Assad included highly advanced weapons systems, warplanes and helicopters.
"We welcome any force which intervenes and supports the front in Syria, because through its participation, it will contribute to pushing away the major dangers that are threatening Syria and the region," Nasrallah said.
He also confirmed that a localized cease-fire agreement had been struck in two areas of Syria, where Hezbollah is fighting alongside government forces against an array of insurgent groups including Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Nasrallah, in a wide-ranging interview that was his first media appearance since Russia's recent military buildup hit headlines, said Washington's own campaign against ISIS had failed.
"The failure of America and the international coalition to bring defeat to Daesh was one of the reasons which called or pushed Russia to also come, and to get directly involved," Nasrallah said.
Russia has declined to comment on the full scope of its military support for Assad, but US officials have said it includes at least two dozen fighter jets as well as tanks, troops and artillery.
Damascus had not yet requested combat troops, Nasrallah noted, but said this could happen "at any time."
Russia insists Assad must be included in the international campaign against Islamic State, but the United States opposes this, saying the Syrian president is part of the problem.
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meanwhile to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York to discuss Syria and the crisis in Ukraine amid high tension in Europe and the wider Middle East.
On Monday, following a meeting on the outskirts of Moscow between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the premier said Israel and Russia
agreed to a create a mechanism to prevent accidental confrontation between their forces in Syria.
Netanyahu, in a phone briefing with Israeli diplomatic reporters after the meeting, said it was devoted entirely to the complicated situation on Israel’s northern border.
“I made clear our policy to try to prevent through various means the transfer of lethal weapons from Syria to Hezbollah, which is actually done at the direction of Iran,” said Netanyahu, who spent just a few hours in Russia for the meeting before flying immediately back to Israel.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.