Iran-Syria sign defence pact

Iran and its close ally Syria have signed a new defence cooperation pact, Iranian media reported on Wednesday, just a week after news broke that Israel had begun indirect peace talks with Damascus.

“The two countries pledge their mutual support regarding territorial independence and integrity in terms of international and regional authorities,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

The accord, signed during a visit by Syrian Defence Minister Hassan Turkmani, also called for the withdrawal of “foreign and occupation forces, which are the source of insecurity and instability in the region.”

Last Wednesday, Israel and Syria announced they had launched peace talks through Turkish mediators, after the last round of negotiations broke off in 2000 over the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The United States, which has forces in Iraq and several oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has said it hopes the revival of the Israel-Syria peace track could help isolate archfoe Iran.

Syria has however rejected an Israeli demand that it breaks its three-decade alliance with Iran and end support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups as a condition for progress in the talks.

Iran does not recognise Israel and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn international condemnation by saying the Jewish state should be wiped from the map.