Russia claims Syria embassy shelled as Putin meets Netanyahu

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, on September 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russia on Monday demanded "concrete action" after a shell landed in its embassy compound in Damascus, as President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu over an alleged military buildup in the war-torn country.
 
Moscow said a mortar fell on the embassy compound in the Syrian capital on Sunday without causing damage and blamed forces battling President Bashar Al-Assad and their "outside sponsors" for the shelling.
"We await a clear standpoint on this terrorist act from all members of the international community, including regional actors," Russia\’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
"What is needed is not just words but concrete action."
The Russian embassy in Damascus\’ Mazraa neighbourhood had been hit by shells on prior occasions. In May, one person was killed by mortar rounds that landed nearby. Three were hurt when mortar rounds landed inside the compound in April.
The United States has said Russia — one of the few remaining allies of Assad — recently sent troops, artillery and aircraft to Syria, sparking fears that Moscow could be preparing to fight alongside government forces.
 
Moscow argues that any such support falls in line with existing defence contracts, but Moscow and Washington on Friday launched military talks on the four-year-old conflict that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives.
 
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu jetted in to Moscow on Monday with his army and intelligence chiefs to seek reassurance from Moscow over its alleged deployment of forces to Syria.
"It was very important to come here in order to clarify our position and to do everything to avoid any misunderstandings between our forces," Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.
Netanyahu said he was determined to stop arms deliveries to Lebanon\’s Shiite Hezbollah movement and accused Syria\’s army and Iran of trying to create a "second front" against Israel.
 
Putin for his part said Russia\’s actions in the Middle East "always were and will be very responsible" and downplayed the threat by Syrian forces to Israel.
"We know and understand that the Syrian army and Syria in general is in such a state that it isn\’t up to opening a second front — it is trying to maintain its own statehood," he said in comments broadcast on Russian television.
Reports in Israeli press said that the aim of Netanyahu\’s Moscow visit was to avoid any possible clashes between Israeli and Russian jets that could operate over Syria.
Israeli military officials reportedly fear that any Russian air presence could cut their room for manoeuvre after several purported strikes on Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah through Syria in recent months that were not officially acknowledged by Israeli authorities.
 
Moscow has also been on a diplomatic push to get a US-led coalition of Western and regional powers fighting the Islamic State group to join forces with Assad against the jihadists.
Western diplomats suggest Putin — who has been isolated by the West over the crisis in Ukraine — is trying to switch focus to the Syria crisis ahead of a key address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 28.
Israel opposes Assad\’s regime but has sought to avoid being dragged into the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
SOURCE: AFP

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