Hundreds of Iranian soldiers have been sent to Syria to to help Russia defend the al-Assad government, according to the Israeli media.

Ynetnews, the English-language Israeli news website of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most-read newspaper, reports that Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, is cooperating with Russia.

An Israeli military source told Ynet Iran’s stepped up military involvement in Syria is “due to Assad’s crisis and under Russian-Iranian cooperation as a result of a meeting between Soleimani with Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

The claim has not been independently verified.

“It’s hard to forecast whether Russia’s presence will decide the fate of Syria, but it will lengthen the fighting and bloodletting for at least another year because ISIS won’t give up,” the source said.

On Thursday Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters the Russian presence in Syria is limited to military advisers, technicians and security guards primarily located at an air base near the coastal town of Latakia.

“As far as we understand, at this stage we are talking about a limited force that includes advisers, a security team and preparations for operating planes and combat helicopters,” Yaalon said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted on Thursday Russia’s “humanitarian” flights to Syria include military equipment in addition to humanitarian aid.

Iran has allowed Russian cargo planes to enter its airspace en route to Syria.

“The Russian embassy has now received permission for all the requested flights of Russian planes carrying humanitarian aid to Syria,” the press attache of the Russian embassy in Tehran, Maxim Suslov, told Interfax.

Previously, Bulgarian authorities said they would not permit Russian planes flying to Syria to use the country’s air space.


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