Liberman: Israel will retain freedom of action in Syria

Liberman denies breakthrough over soldiers’ bodies.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel is not bound by the US-Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria and will act when and where necessary to protect its security interests, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Sunday.
US, Russia, Jordan reach ceasefire deal for southwest Syria (credit: REUTERS)
Liberman, on a tour of Ashkelon, said that Jerusalem is studying the understandings reached between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the cease-fire.
“Israel reserves its complete freedom of action, regardless of any understandings or developments,” Liberman said. “We retain exclusive responsibility for the security of Israeli citizens, and therefore our freedom of action is absolute. We will do everything that is needed.”
On another matter, Liberman – addressing reports in a Lebanese newspaper about a possible deal involving the release of the bodies of two slain IDF soldiers held by Hamas and two Israeli civilians being held by the group in Gaza – said there were continuous efforts underway to gain their release.
However, he said, “There is no significant breakthrough, the efforts are continuing all the time.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Syrian issue at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, saying Israel will welcome a genuine cease-fire in Syria, but that it must not “enable the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria in general and in southern Syria in particular.”
Netanyahu has long told the Russians that in any order that will emerge in a post-civil war Syria, Israel will not countenance either an Iranian or Hezbollah presence on the Golan Heights. The premier said that he discussed matter last week with both Putin and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Both told me that they understand Israel’s position and will take our demands into account,” he said.
Netanyahu said Israel will carefully monitor the developments in Syria, “while strongly upholding our red lines.”
He defined those red lines as preventing the transfer of precision weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, via Syria; preventing Hezbollah or Iranian forces from establishing a ground presence along the border with Israel; and preventing the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria.
Meanwhile, a monitor and two rebel officials said that the US-Russian brokered cease-fire in southwest Syria was holding, in the latest international attempt at peacemaking in the six-year war.
The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a cease-fire and “de-escalation agreement” this week with the aim of paving the way for a broader, more robust truce.
The announcement came after a meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 meeting of major economies in Germany.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said “calm was prevailing” with no air strikes or clashes in the southwest since the truce began at noon on Sunday.
“The situation is relatively calm,” said Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiya al-Furqan rebel group in the Quneitra area.
In Deraa city, another rebel official said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks.
A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the cease-fire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a “sign of satisfaction.”
“We negotiated a cease-fire in parts of Syria which will save lives,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” The deal marks the first peace-making effort in the Syrian war by the US government under Trump, appearing to give him a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin.
Reuters contributed to this report.