RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow in 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian President Bashar Assad warned Israel on Monday that his country has a right to defend its borders.
“Defending our borders is our right, and it’s our duty, not only our right,” he told Russian reporters in Damascus according Russian news site Sputnik.
Assad also told Russian parliament members, who paid an official visit to the capital on Monday, that he was counting on Moscow to prevent Israel from attacking his country in the future.
“We are counting on Russia to prevent a conflict with Israel,” Assad was quoted as saying by several Russian media outlets.
Interfax also quoted him as saying that “Damascus counts on Russia to take a role in order to prevent Israel from attacking Syria in the future.”
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The Syrian president also told the officials that he was supportive of a Russian proposition to help reach an agreement in its country, that is still in the throes of its bloody civil war as it has been for the past six years.
Russian website LifeNews reported that Assad also said that the current support Syria has been receiving from Russia sufficed, but that he was confident that Damascus could easily receive additional support from Moscow if the need arose.
By openly alluding to a future conflict with Israel, Assad has, for the first time, officially reacted to the recent escalation between Israel and Syria.
He spoke after Syrian government forces fired an anti-aircraft missile at Israel Air Force jets during an air-strike last Friday to halt the flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah near Palmyra. By openly referring to a conflict with Israel, Assad, for the first time, has officially reacted to his country’s recent escalation with Israel.
This was the most serious incident to take place between the two countries since the Syrian Civil War first started in 2011.
On Friday, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to defend the air-strike. According to media reports, the strike occurred very close to Russian troops.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday denied a report in the Russian news agency Interfax that Koren had been summoned for the second time to speak with Russian officials.
On Sunday night, Syria envoy to the UN Bashar Jaafari spoke about the strike on Syrian TV. According to Ynet, he said Russia had sent Israel a clear message of displeasure and that it wanted Israeli to stop its air-strikes against Syrian rebel forces fearing it would cause an escalation of hostilities.
Israel and Russia have a mechanism in place so that any defensive Israeli air-strikes against Syria would not put Russian troops in harm’s way.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Hussam Edin Aala condemned the IAF strike, and warned that with such actions Israel was supporting terrorism.
“The military aggression by Israel inside Syrian land on the 17th of March is proof of the support Israel provides to terrorist groups,” Aala said in Geneva on Monday. “This aggression for us is a violation of the charter of the United Nations, international law and UN Security Council resolutions. It is a great threat of international peace and security.”
Israel has said the air-strike was necessary to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. It is concerned by the actions of both Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, particularly near the Golan Heights border.
“When we detect attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and feasibility to carry out an operation, we will work to prevent it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.
At the UNHRC, however, Aala alleged that Israel was helping the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. The group is fighting the Syrian government forces, but also has ties to al-Qaida.
Separately, Aala also attacked Israel for treating wounded Syrians in its hospitals.
“It [Israel] wants to give a humanitarian face to the way it has treated terrorists from al-Nusra in Israeli hospitals,” he said.
He further called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which it recaptured from Syria in the Six Day War.
The UNHRC is expected to pass a resolution at the end of this week that echoes those calls. It does so at every session.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, and during his trip to Washington last month, Netanyahu asked the Trump administration to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, particularly in light of the Syrian civil war.