Iran: 'No one can force us to leave Syria'
Iran said on Monday that "no one" can force it to leave Syria, vowing to remain in the war-torn country to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
"No one will extract us from Syria. Our presence there is legitimate and at the government's behest," spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry Bahram Qassemi said.
"Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help," he added, according to Hizballah's Al-Manar TV.
The remarks seem to be a response to Russia. Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Sochi that "all foreign forces" would be leaving Syria.
Russia entered the Syria war in 2015 and helped turn back a series of defeats for the Assad regime.
Russian airstrikes helped the Syrian regime and its foreign militia allies win a series of victories over the rebels and Islamic State group.
"No one can make Iran do things; Iran has its own independent policies," Iranian spokesman Qassemi said, commenting on the Putin's remarks.
Assad is heavily reliant on the ground on Iranian-led foreign fighters from Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias, along with Lebanon's Shia group Hizballah.
Israel, which has friendly relartions with Russia, is concerned about the Iranian and Lebanese military build-up in Syria and has launched dozens of strikes against targets in the country.
It has stepped up its attacks on Iranian bases in Syria in recent weeks, with the apparent approval of Russia.
Moscow has also cemented a military presence in Syria, with the build-up of at least two Russian bases in the country.