US, Russia and Jordan agree southern Syria ceasefire

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The US announced over the weekend that it reached a detailed agreement with Russia and Jordan to implement the 7 July ceasefire in southern Syria.

Although the terms have not been published, a US State Department official said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights border with Israel, including Hezbollah.

The agreement does not mention the size of the area or the distance from the Israeli border, but the US official said those distances would range from 5km to 30 km, depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Israel asked for a larger buffer zone of up to 50-60 km and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not comment on the agreement during his opening remarks to Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi MK, told reporters that the terms of the agreement fail to meet “Israel’s unequivocal demand there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north”.

The BBC News Online reported on Sunday that western intelligence officials believe Iran is expanding a military site 50 km from the Israeli border. Satellite images show more than 24 new structures, including new barracks and shelters for vehicles, at the site over the past few months.

The site had served the Syrian army but is currently unmanned and it is unclear why it is being expanded and what forces will occupy it. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and other Iranian-backed militias from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have been recruited by Iran and have been fighting alongside the Syrian regime, operate in the area.

On Saturday, an Israeli Patriot missile intercepted an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near the demilitarised zone over the Golan Heights. The IDF had checked with Russia, as part of their ongoing coordination, to see if the drone had been launched by the Russian military before shooting it down. The UAV was Russian made, but operated by the Syrian regime to gather intelligence about Syrian rebel deployments in the area.

Israel Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “Israel takes a grave view of any violation of its sovereignty and will retaliate forcefully to any provocation, we hold the Syrian regime responsible for any weapon fire and violation of our sovereignty.”