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Iran backs Syria's right to defend itself against Israeli attacks

Foreign ministry condemns Israeli aggression, adding missile strikes are a violation of international law and based on 'invented pretexts'
An Israeli soldier stands at Mount Bental observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (Reuters)

Iran on Friday said Syria had the right to defend itself against aggression from Israel and accused others of remaining silent over the attacks on Tehran's key regional ally, in a statement reaffirming its insistance it had no role in an attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

"Iran strongly condemns ...(Israel's) attacks on Syria. The international community's silence encourages Israel's aggression. Syria has every right to defend itself," state TV reported foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

"The repeated attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory were carried out under pretexts that were invented by themselves and are without foundation," he added. 

"They are a violation of Syria's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and contrary to international law."

Israel said it had attacked nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time, in the most extensive military exchange so far between the two adversaries.

The confrontation came two days after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 multinational agreement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear programme.

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Heavy exchanges of fire during the early hours of Thursday starting over the Golan Heights - the first time since 1974 that there have been clashes over the Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.

Israel said its strikes on sites throughout Syria were a response to 20 missiles targeting Israeli forces in the Golan Heights, which it blamed on Iran's Quds Force.

Iran has denied any involvement. 

"We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria," said Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in a rare Israeli acknowledgement of strikes in Syria.

"They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it'll storm on them. I hope we've finished this episode and everyone understood."

On Friday, Lieberman said urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to expel Iranian forces from his country.

"I shall take advantage of this opportunity to send a message to Assad: throw the Iranians out. They are not helping you," he said.

"They only do harm and their presence brings only damage and problems."

On Tuesday, shortly after Trump finished his speech announcing the pullout from the nuclear deal, the Israeli military said it had identified “irregular activity” by Iranian forces in Syria and instructed civil authorities in the Golan Heights to prepare bomb shelters.

It also deployed additional units and mobilised some reservist forces.

Lebanese channel al-Manar quoted the vice president of Iran's National Security Committee saying: "Iran has no relation to the missiles that hit the enemy entity yesterday."

Syria's army command said three people were killed and two injured in the strikes. A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the strikes killed at least 23 military personnel, including Syrians and non-Syrians.

The Syrian army said in a statement on Syrian TV: "A new Israeli aggression was confronted yesterday and our air defence system was successful in intercepting a major number of the Israeli missiles that targeted Syrian military positions.

"Three soldiers were killed during the Israeli attack."

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