Iran told the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Syria and cease operations there Wednesday because Washington’s presence was deemed illegal by the local government.
Ali Akbar Velayati, the top foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, defended Iran’s presence in Syria.
“Iran is in Syria legitimately and based on the invitation of the Syrian government. Those who have to leave Syria are the ones who have not been permitted by the Syrian government,” Velayati said on the sidelines of a conference at the Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran, according to the Mehr News Agency.
Velayati’s remarks came shortly after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was “quite concerned” about an incident Saturday in which Israel claimed an Iranian drone crossed into Israeli airspace. Iran denied Israeli accusation.
The Trump administration has closely aligned itself with Israel and has supported its calls to contain and isolate what they claim as “Iran’s growing influence across the Middle East”.
Both the U.S. and Iran have supported campaigns against the Isis militant group in Iraq and Syria, but tensions have spiked since the group was declared defeated in the both countries. Saturday’s violence between Israel and Syria coincided with a deadly clash between the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS and pro-Syrian government forces also fighting ISIS in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
The U.S.-led coalition destroyed a Russia-built T-72 tank, reportedly killing up to three of its operators. Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Force in the Middle East, said Tuesday that the tank had approached and fired on positions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mostly Kurdish Pentagon-backed group that included Arabs and ethnic minorities, before it was bombed by a U.S. drone.
The incident came only days after the U.S.-led coalition killed up to 100 pro-Syrian government forces in eastern Syria as Moscow senator called it “an unprecedented act of aggression.”
The U.S. has said it would stay even after ISIS was defeated to prevent a “jihadi resurgence”.