Mideast roundup: Report suggests Israel requested U.S. Syria pullout

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by WorldTribune Staff, December 26, 2018

Israel requested the United States withdraw its troops from Syria ahead of a “winter offensive” the Jewish state plans to launch against Hizbullah, a Dec. 25 report said.

U.S. troops patrol near Manbij, Syria. / U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 American troops deployed in Syria was partially influenced by Israel’s request, according to a report by a White House correspondent for Ami Magazine.

Jake Turx, senior White House correspondent for Ami, claimed that sources had confirmed to him that Israel had encouraged the U.S. to withdraw from Syria. The White House refused to confirm or deny Turx’s report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly opposed Israel’s offensive against Hizbullah. Mattis submitted his resignation shortly after Trump announced his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva noted that Turx’s claim “appears at odds with some elements of the American withdrawal.”

Israel “has long demanded, via Russia, that Iran withdraw its forces from Syria, with the Trump administration reportedly leveraging a possible U.S. withdrawal in talks for an Iranian pullout,” Arutz Sheva said.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported on Dec. 25 that Syrian air defenses intercepted and downed “a number of hostile targets” over the western countryside of Damascus. SANA reported “the aggression” was carried out by Israel from Lebanese airspace.

According to reports, three Syrian soldiers were wounded in the attack which targeted Hizbullah depots.

A report by Newsweek said several senior Hizbullah officials were wounded in the alleged attack.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the targets were arms depots that belong to the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and their Hizbullah allies.

Meanwhile, Iran announced it has been holding talks with the Afghan Taliban with the knowledge of the Afghan government.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the announcement during a visit to Kabul on Dec. 26, according to Iran’s Fars and Tasnim news agencies.

Shamkhani said the talks between Iran and the Taliban were held “to help curb the security problems in Afghanistan,” adding that the “Afghan government has been informed of the communications and talks carried out with the Taliban, and this process will continue.”

Abas Aslani, a Tasnim reporter, tweeted that it was the first time talks had been officially confirmed between Iran and the Taliban.

The news comes just days after the Taliban attended reconciliation talks with a U.S. peace envoy in the UAE.

Earlier this month, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad held a meeting with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi.

The Taliban, however, refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.

Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace.”

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