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Israel says Assad back in charge, Syrian front likely to be quieter

The Syrian conflict erupted in 2011 and Russian intervention in 2015 helped to turn the tide in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

FILE: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Picture: AFP

JERUSALEM - Israel described the Syrian civil war as effectively over on Thursday and predicted that the Golan Heights frontier between the countries would be quieter with central rule by Damascus restored there.

President Bashar al-Assad’s sweeping away of rebels in southwestern Syria has worried Israel, which last week downed a Syrian warplane that it said breached a Golan buffer zone and warned Iranian forces backing him against deploying there.

But Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman sounded more upbeat on Thursday during a tour of anti-aircraft batteries.

“From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” he told reporters, referring to a decades-old standoff between Israel and Syria.

The Syrian conflict erupted in 2011 and Russian intervention in 2015 helped to turn the tide in Assad’s favour.

Asked whether Israel should be less wary of possible flare-ups on the Golan - much of which it seized from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognised abroad - Lieberman said: “I believe so. I think this is also in Assad’s interest.”

For quiet to hold, Lieberman said, Syria must abide by a 1974 UN-monitored armistice that set up demilitarized zones on the Golan. He reiterated Israel’s demand that Iran not set up military bases against it in Syria, nor that Syria be used to smuggle arms to Hezbollah guerrillas in neighbouring Lebanon.

“We are not looking for friction, but we will know how to respond to any provocation and any challenge,” he said.

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