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Iran signs military deal with Syria to boost air defences, counter US 'pressure'

Agreement also demands withdrawal of foreign forces that 'entered Syria illegally', seemingly aimed at US and Turkey
Major General Mohammad Bagheri and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub exchanging gifts after signing a bilateral military deal in the capital Damascus on 8 July (AFP photo/HO/SANA)
Major General Mohammad Bagheri, left, and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub sign military deal in capital Damascus on 8 July (AFP)

Iran plans to strengthen war-torn Syria's air defence systems as part of a military agreement aimed at "fighting terrorism" and countering American pressure.

Iranian state TV reported on Wednesday that the bilateral military deal, which was signed by Iran's armed forces chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, also demands a withdrawal of foreign forces from Syria.

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The broadcaster quoted Bagheri as saying: "We will strengthen Syria's air defence systems in order to improve military cooperation between the two countries."

The deal will "further enhance our will... to confront pressures by America," he added.

Israel, a key US ally, has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, including attacks against Iranian forces.

Iran, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main allies in the conflict, has always denied sending forces to fight in the brutal conflict, saying it only has military advisers there.

But along with Moscow, Tehran has played a key role supporting Assad in the war that has ravaged the country and killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Israeli strikes have targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

'Strategic and firm'

In the joint statement, the two countries also demanded "the withdrawal of all foreign forces having entered Syria illegally".

Turkey and the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group have both sent troops to Syria, despite objections from Damascus.

Iran's state TV website published a video showing an Iranian military spokesman reading a joint statement saying the "comprehensive military-security agreement" aims to "confront increasing dangers [and] takfiri terrorism supported by international and regional powers."

Iranian authorities use the term "takfiri" to refer to Sunni rebels, including groups fighting in Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian state news agency SANA quoted Ayoub calling Syrian-Iranian ties "strategic and firm".

"Bilateral military and security cooperation is qualitative and ongoing... despite increasing pressure and the mounting severity of threats," he said.

Syria was one of the few countries that helped Iran during the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Tehran and Damascus signed a deal in 2006, sealing their military alliance.