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Syria rejects calls for Iranian military withdrawal

Syria has rejected pressure for the withdrawal of Iranian forces [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2018

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Syria's regime has rejected calls for a withdrawal of pro-Assad foreign forces from Iran, following calls from Russia and the US for a pull-out.
Syrian deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has rejected calls for pro-regime foreign forces to withdraw from Syria, media reported Wednesday.

It follows a US demand, and Russia request, that Iranian and Hizballah forces - who are backing Bashar al-Assad - to withdraw from Syria.

"Whether Iranian forces or Hizballah withdraw or stay in Syria is not up for discussion because it's the (business) of the Syrian government," Mekdad told al-Mayadeen.

He added that despite Syrian opposition now being holed-up in Idlib province and other isolated pockets of territory - whilethe Islamic State group all but defeated as a military force - the war would continue.

"After ending the direct terrorist danger to Damascus, the door is open to heading north or south," he said, according to Reuters.

Small rebel forces still operate in Idlib province in the north and southern Syria's Daraa province, while US-backed Kurdish forces control much of northeast Syria.

Free Syrian Army and Turkish forces also run territories in northwest Syria.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Tehran-backed Shia militias have been vital to the Syrian regime's fightback in the country.

Thousands of Lebanese Hizballah fighters have also been flooded into Syria, operating the regime's frontlines.

Russia has also provided hundreds of mercenaries and provided key aerial support for its ally in Damascus.

Last week, Russia President Vladimir Putin made a call for foreign forces to pull out of the country, leading to a clash in opinions with Iran.

Putin told Assad in Sochi that all foreign forces would eventually withdraw from Syria.

Iran immediately responded to the suggestions by saying its forces would stay in Syria for as long as possible.

"No one can force Iran to do anything, Iran is an independent country that determines its own policies," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said.

"The presence of Iran is at the invitation of the Syrian government to fight against terrorism... will last as long as the Syrian government wants Iran to help it. Those who have entered the country without the consent of the Syrian government must leave Syria."

Syria's military was close to collapsing early in the war following a series of defeats and mass defections from the army, before Iran flew in thousands of fighters to bolster the regime. 

Further setbacks for Assad in 2015 were reversed when the Russian airforce entered the war in September.

Mikdad said on Wednesday that he "highly appreciates" Russia and Iran's support, during the war which began in 2011 and has cost Syria half-a-million lives.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded Iran withdraw from Syria of face crushing sanctions.

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