Iran's top diplomat in Syria, slams Israel, Turkish threats

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Iran’s top diplomat condemned on Saturday Israel’s latest airstrike on Syria and criticized recent threats from Turkey about another planned incursion by Ankara into northern Syria.

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

Iran has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest backers, sending thousands of fighters from around the region to help his troops in Syria’s 11-year conflict. The war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

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

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently said he’s planning another major military cross-border incursion into Syria to create a 30-kilometer (19 mile) deep buffer zone along the border with Turkey, promising to battle U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters for the territory.

Erdogan's attempt in 2019 to create the buffer failed, though Turkish troops are deployed inside Syria following previous incursions to prop up anti-Assad Syrian opposition fighters. Ankara views the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists allied with 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 is 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 have said Erdogan is taking advantage of the war in Ukraine to push his own goals in Syria. Turkey agreed this week to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, saying the Nordic nations had agreed to crack down on groups that Ankara deems national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian extension.

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

Amirabdollahian condemned Israel for striking Syria. The Saturday morning attack was the first since a June 10 airstrike on the international airport in Damascus caused significant damage on the airport and rendered its main runway unusable. The airport was closed for two weeks for repairs before flights resumed on June 23.

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

SANA said two people, including a woman, were wounded and that 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 targets bases of Iran-allied militias, such as the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, which has fighters deployed in Syria fighting on the side of Assad’s government forces and ships arms believed to be bound for the militias.

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


Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.