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Netanyahu, Putin meet amid Russia's growing engagement in Syria

Israel worries about possible 'misunderstandings' between its forces and Russian forces in Syria

Israel and Russia agreed on Monday to coordinate military actions over Syria to avoid accidentally trading fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Moscow.

Recent Russian reinforcements for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which regional sources say include warplanes and anti-aircraft systems, worry Israel because its jets have occasionally bombed its neighbor to foil alleged handovers of arms to Assad's Lebanese guerrilla ally Hezbollah.

Briefing Israeli reporters after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said he had come with the goal of "prevent[ing] misunderstandings between IDF [Israel Defense Force] units and Russian forces" in Syria, where Assad is fighting groups that include the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Netanyahu added that he and Putin "agreed on a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings." In earlier remarks, Putin said Russian actions in the Middle East would always be "responsible."

Putin, who shares Western concern about the spread of ISIL, has pledged to continue military support for Assad, assistance that Russia says is in line with international law. Russia has focused forces on Syria's coast, where Moscow keeps a Mediterranean naval base.

The United States, which along with its allies has been flying missions against ISIL in Syria, has also been holding so-called "de-confliction" talks with Russia. But it opposes Assad and Russia's support for him.

On Friday, the U.S. also announced that Washington and Moscow would hold direct talks about Syria, a signal that the rivals could be seeking some compromise in their differing approaches to the country's civil war.

Netanyahu on Monday told Israeli reporters that he had informed the Americans "on each and every detail" of his Moscow visit, adding: "Everyone has an interest in avoiding an unnecessary clash" over Syria.

"I'm here because of the difficult security situation, which is becoming increasingly complex on our northern border," Netanyahu told Putin.

Separately, a U.S. official said that U.S.-Israeli coordination allowed the allies to share classified technologies for identifying Russian aircraft over Syria: "We know how to spot them clearly and quickly," the official said.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters Russia had started flying surveillance missions with drone aircraft in Syria, in what appeared to be Moscow's first air operations in Syria since beginning its build up.

Israel is also concerned that Russian military hardware being deployed could benefit Hezbollah and one day be turned against Israel.

During his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu also expressed Israel's concerns that Iran — Assad’s chief foreign benefactor, along with Russia — and Syria have been supplying Hezbollah with advanced weapons and are "trying to set up a second terrorist front on the Golan Heights," which Israel captured from Syria and effectively annexed in 1981.

Putin told Netanyahu that fears of Syrian aggression against Israel were unfounded.

"We know that the Syrian army and Syria as a whole are in such a state that they have no time for a second front. They need to save their own state," Putin told Netanyahu in televised comments. "But still, I understand your concerns."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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