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The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard officially confirmed that his organization is assisting the Syrian government side of that country's civil war. The statement is the first public confirmation of Iran's involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari told a press conference in Tehran Sunday that members of the Qods Force, the Revolutionary Guards' international branch, are currently operating in Syria and Lebanon, Haaretz reports.
Members of the force are not currently providing military assistance, but give advice and "opinions" in a number of areas in which Iran has experience, Jafari said. He added that they were also assisting on the financial level.
If Syria were attacked militarily however, Jafari said, his troops will provide support, although he did not provide any further details.
Jafari told reporters, "We are proud to defend Syria, which constitutes a resistance to the Zionist entity," adding that Iran provides advice based on its expertise, while other countries support terror organizations.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and most of his top regime officials are Alawites, a religion that began as an offshoot of Shiite Islam, Iran's predominant religion. But Alawites are a minority within Syria, where the majority of the country is Sunni, including many of the rebels.
Iran's involvement in Syria has long been rumored, and Jafari's confirmation gives credence to other reports detailing Iran's role in the civil war. Iraqi fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi claimed on Sunday that Iran is ferrying supplies to Syria through Iraqi airspace, reports Lebanon's The Daily Star.
“My country is unfortunately becoming an Iranian corridor to support the autocratic regime of Bashar Assad, there is no doubt about that,” Hashemi told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.
“It is not only the airspace. It is thousands of militia now inside Syria, supporting Bashar Assad and killing Syrian innocent people,” he said, citing reports he had received from Iraq’s Anbar province, which borders Syria, and from members of the Syrian opposition.
An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denied Mr. Hashemi's accusation, and said that Iraq was not taking sides in the Syrian conflict. Hashemi, a vocal critic of Mr. Maliki and his government, was recently found guilty of murder in absentia and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court, and has been in de facto exile in Turkey. Hashemi claims that the charges against him were fabricated for political advantage.
Iran is just one of several Middle Eastern nations involved in the Syrian conflict; Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been aiding the rebel forces. Agence France-Presse reports that foreign ministers from all three nations, along with Egypt, are set to meet in Cairo today to attempt to resolve the conflict in Syria, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.
The gathering of the "contact group" on Syria – an initiative by [Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi] – follows preparatory talks a week ago in the Egyptian capital by lower-ranking officials from the four countries' foreign ministries.
"We are very hopeful given that four important countries of the region are gathered to discuss one of the sensitive issues of the region," he was quoted as saying.
AFP adds that United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is scheduled to attend the meeting. Mr. Brahimi said on Saturday that the Syrian conflict was "getting worse" and that the crisis “has serious consequences on the Syrian people, the region and the entire world.” Bloomberg News reports that Brahimi spoke with several rebel leaders on Sunday, including Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Ageidi, the rebels' top military commander in Aleppo, who said that Brahimi "didn’t have any solutions to offer."