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Israeli, Russian Defense Ministers Discuss Iranian Military Presence In Syria

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in Jerusalem last year

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Moscow on May 31 for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, on Israeli concerns about Iran's military presence in Syria.

Israeli leaders have expressed concern about the Syrian government's announced plans to try to recapture rebel-held parts of the border region with Israel, which they fear will leave Syrian-allied militia from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah entrenched in positions along its border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that his government will not allow Iran to maintain such a military presence in Syria.

After the 90-minute meeting in Moscow, Israel's Defense Ministry issued a statement saying the two ministers discussed "the Israeli campaign to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria."

The ministry added that "Israel greatly appreciates Russia's understanding of our security needs, especially regarding the situation on our northern border."

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu later held a phone conversation and discussed "the latest regional developments and Iran's foothold in Syria," a brief statement from the Israeli leader's office said.

Media have reported that Moscow has offered to deploy Russian military police to areas near Israel in a deal that would involve the pullout of all Iranian and Hizballah forces from within 80 kilometers of the border, while requiring Syrian rebel groups to surrender their heavy weapons.

Currently, rebels control stretches along the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, while Syrian Army troops and allied Iran-backed militias hold nearby territory.

The meeting in Moscow came as the Syrian war monitor Observatory for Human Rights said that Iranian troops and Hizballah fighters appear to be getting ready to withdraw from southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Syrian officials denied the report.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters