March 29, 2016 / 6:38 PM / a year ago

Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow on April 21: Israeli source

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) attends a meeting of the Likud party in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/ Nir Elias

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 21 to discuss security issues in the Middle East, an Israeli political source said on Tuesday.

Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to help avoid their aircraft accidentally clashing over Syrian territory. This has allowed Israel to continue to carry out covert strikes to foil suspected Hezbollah or Iranian operations against it on Syrian turf without fear of accidentally clashing with Moscow.

Israeli officials have privately said that Russian forces sent in last year to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide in a five-year-old civil war also served to restrain his anti-Israel allies - Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

Despite its declared withdrawal of most military forces two weeks ago, Russian forces continue to operate in Syria and jets and helicopters have carried out dozens of strikes daily over Palmyra, helping the Syrian army recapture the historic city from Islamic State militants.

Putin told visiting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin earlier in March that he had agreed to meet Netanyahu to discuss the security situation in the Middle East.

An Israeli official who declined to be named said that during Rivlin’s meeting with Putin, he “asked that Russia work to restore UNDOF as part of any long-term arrangement in Syria”, referring to a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Personnel from UNDOF, which monitors the Israeli-Syrian frontier on the Golan Heights, have come under fire and even been kidnapped by militants fighting Assad’s forces, prompting peacekeeping contingents from some participating nations to withdraw from the force.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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