Top Iranian diplomat in Syria criticizes Israel and Turkish threats

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday condemned Israel’s latest airstrike on Syria and criticized Turkey’s recent threats over another planned Ankara incursion into northern Syria.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian’s remarks came at the start of his visit to Syria, where he was to discuss mutual relations and regional affairs with senior Syrian officials.

Iran has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s staunchest supporters, sending thousands of fighters from across the region to aid its troops in Syria’s 11-year conflict. The war killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half of the country’s 23 million people before the war.

Amirabdollahian’s visit came hours after Israel carried out an airstrike on a Syrian coastal village near the border with Lebanon, injuring two people, according to state media in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said he was planning another major cross-border military incursion into Syria to create a 30-kilometre (19-mile) deep buffer zone along the border with Turkey, vowing to fight Syrian Kurdish fighters allied with the United States for the territory. .

Erdogan’s 2019 attempt to create the buffer failed, although Turkish troops are deployed inside Syria following previous incursions to support anti-Assad Syrian opposition fighters. Ankara views US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists allied to Kurdish insurgents within Turkey’s borders.

“We understand the concerns of our neighbor Turkey, but we oppose any military measure in Syria,” Amirabdollahian said, adding that Iran was trying to resolve the “misunderstanding between Turkey and Syria through dialogue.”

Amirabdollahian met later Saturday with Assad, who told the Iranian envoy that Turkey’s “pretexts to justify its aggression in Syria are false, misleading and have nothing to do with reality.” Assad’s office also quoted the president as saying that Turkey’s military presence in Syria violates international law.

Analysts said Erdogan was taking advantage of the war in Ukraine to achieve his own goals in Syria. Turkey agreed this week to drop its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, saying the Nordic countries had agreed to crack down on groups Ankara sees as threats to national security, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian extension.

Turkey has demanded that Finland and Sweden extradite wanted people and lift arms restrictions imposed on Ankara after Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into northeast Syria.

Amirabdollahian condemned Israel for hitting Syria. Saturday morning’s attack was the first since a June 10 airstrike on Damascus International Airport caused extensive damage to the airport and rendered its main runway unusable. The airport was closed for two weeks for repairs before flights resumed on June 23.

Syrian state news agency SANA said Israeli warplanes flying over northern Lebanon fired missiles at several chicken farms in the village of Hamidiyeh, south of the coastal city of Tartous. The attack happened a few kilometers (miles) north of the border with Lebanon.

SANA said two people, including a woman, were injured and there was material damage.

Over the years, Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against targets in Syria, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Israel says it is targeting Iran-allied militia bases, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has fighters deployed in Syria fighting alongside Assad’s government forces and shipping weapons believed to be destined for the militias.

The June strike at Damascus International Airport marked a major escalation in Israel’s campaign, further heightening tensions between Israel on the one hand, and Iran and Hezbollah on the other.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.

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