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Israel rebuffs Russian offer to keep Iranian forces from Golan

The latest disagreement arose as Syrian government forces routed rebels near the Golan Heights

An Israeli outpost in the Golan Heights (Reuters)

Israel rebuffed on Monday a new Russian offer to keep Iranian forces in Syria away from the Golan Heights ceasefire line, an Israeli official said, complicating Moscow’s bid to stabilise the country as the civil war there wanes.

The latest disagreement arose in a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a senior Russian delegation dispatched to Jerusalem as Syrian government forces routed rebels near the Golan.

In Monday's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Netanyahu turned down a Russian offer to keep Iranian forces 100 km from the border, according to an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Russian officials had no immediate word on the meeting between Netanyahu and Lavrov and armed forces chief, General Valery Gerasimov.

Netanyahu held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 11 July amid Israeli concern that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an old adversary, might defy a 1974 demilitarisation deal on the Golan or allow his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies to deploy there.

The Golan Heights was illegally captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981. In May, an Israeli official said Washington was considering recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.

Russia has said that it wants to see the separation of forces on the frontier preserved. Lavrov's deputy, Grigory Karasin, told Russian media the foreign minister's trip was "urgent and important".

Before the meeting, Netanyahu said he would tell the envoys that "Israel insists on the separation of forces agreement between us and Syria being honoured, as they were honoured for decades until the civil war in Syria broke out."

He also reaffirmed "Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to entrench militarily in Syria."

Earlier, Israel launched two David's Sling interceptor missiles at rockets which it said crashed inside Syrian territory and were part of the internal fighting there.

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It was Israel's first operational use of the mid-range David's Sling, which is jointly manufactured by US firm Raytheon Co. The incident triggered sirens in northern Israel and on the Golan, sending many residents to shelters.

Throughout the day, Reuters witnesses on the Golan Heights heard explosions and saw plumes of smoke rising from Syrian territory. They saw warplanes and helicopters in the sky from their position west of the Syrian town of Nawa.

An Israeli source briefed on the David's Sling activation said the interceptor missiles were launched following an initial assessment that the two incoming Syrian SS-21 rockets would hit the Israeli side of the Golan. When Israeli sensors realised they would land on the Syrian side, David's Sling was given an abort order for the interceptors to self-destruct in mid-air.

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