Netanyahu set to meet Putin in Moscow to discuss Syria

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday for talks focusing on Russia’s military support for the Syrian government.

Netanyahu is to emphasize that Russia’s deliveries of weapons to Syria, on Israel’s north-eastern border, threaten the security of the Jewish state, his office said last week.

Israel fears that these weapons could end up in the hands of the Lebanon-based radical Shiite Hezbollah movement or other militant groups at war with Israel.

Netanyahu travelled to Moscow with Israel’s military chief of staff, as well as the director of military intelligence.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have been battling a range of rebel groups since mass protests against his rule descended into violence in 2011.

Regional powers, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, have called for al-Assad to step down as part of the peace process.

The United States has accused the al-Assad government of crimes against humanity, including killing civilians.

The US Defence Department said last week that it was concerned about a Russian military buildup in support of al-Assad at an airport near the Syrian port of Latakia.

Russia has repeatedly dismissed the US concerns, saying it has been sending the military equipment to fight terrorism, especially the menacing Islamic State terrorist group.

Russia believes the al-Assad’s military has borne the brunt of the fighting against Islamic State (IS), which has gained significant territory in war-torn Syria and Iraq over the past year.

The United Nations estimates that 250,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. More than half the country’s prewar population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad.

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