DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria's foreign minister said Saturday Iranian military advisers are embedded with Syrian troops but Tehran has no combat forces or fixed bases in the country.
Walid al-Moallem's comments came amid rising tension in the region as Israel has repeatedly warned against any permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Al-Moallem said Israel is making false claims to try to pressure Iran, its archrival.
In May, Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes in response to what it said was an Iranian rocket attack on its positions in the occupied Golan Heights. It was the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iran to date.
Scores of Iranian soldiers have been killed in battles with insurgents in Syria, including a number of officers. Several others were also killed in the past few months in airstrikes said to be carried out by Israel.
Iran has repeatedly said in the past that it only has advisers in Syria but thousands of Iran-backed groups from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan have played instrumental role in helping government forces regain control of areas held by insurgents. Those areas include eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and parts of Idlib and Hama provinces to the west.
On April 9, an airstrike struck the T4 air base in central Syria reportedly targeting a unit of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps and killing several Iranians, including a colonel who was a commander of the guards' Aerospace Force. Russia blamed Israel for the attack.
"There are Iranian advisers in Syria some of whom were martyred while working with the Syrian Arab army and their presence is part of an agreement and in coordination with the armed forces on where they should be," al-Moallem said. "There are no fixed military bases for the Islamic Republic of Iran and what Israel is circulating are lies."
"When the conspiracy against Syria began in 2011 our brothers in the Islamic Republic of Iran came to help Syria in fighting terrorism," al-Moallem said adding that the Syrian people are "grateful" for this help from Iran.
"As long as there is war on terrorism, Syria as a sovereign state will cooperate with whoever it wants in fighting terrorism," he said.
Al-Moallem denied reports that an agreement was reached between regional and other powers over the situation of southwestern Syria where the country's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights are located.