The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is quoting an anonymous high-level Syrian official as saying on Monday that Kassam Salimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has arrived in Syria to aid in the country’s crackdown against its would-be revolutionaries.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-backed Al Arabiya news channel claimed Tuesday in a separate report that 15,000 troops from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard recently arrived in Syria to aid Syrian President Bashar Assad in his battle against rebel forces in Homs and throughout the country.
Haaretz claims that Salimani, who is in charge of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s external operations as commander of the Quds Force, has “taken up a spot in the war room” alongside Bashar Assad and his closest family members, including his brother Maher, his brother-in-law Assaf Shaukat, and his cousin Rami Makhlouf.
The news of Salimani’s arrival in Syria came just a day before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Damascus on Tuesday, where he reaffirmed his support for an earlier Arab League resolution on ending the violence in Syria, although he did not endorse their call for President Assad to step down.
Russia has close relations with both Syria and Iran, and Iran is widely considered to be Syria’s best friend in the Middle East. Russia is Syria’s principal arms supplier, and is also Iran’s partner in the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Syrian forces pressed deeper into the rebelious city of Homs today, firing rockets and mortar rounds into opposition-controlled neighborhoods. Throughout the campaign against the city, now entering its fifth day, activists claim hundreds of civilians have been killed, leaving upwards of 7,000 dead since the initial outbreak of violence last year.