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‘Russia’s Wagner group to supply Hezbollah with air defense’

US officials have said that the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary outfit, intends to supply Hezbollah

, the Lebanese militia, with an air-defense system. The system in question, the Russian SA-22, combines anti-aircraft missiles and guns to counteract aircraft, the Wall Street Reported on Friday.

Although the transfer of the system to Hezbollah has not been confirmed by Washington, the discussions between Wagner and Hezbollah are under close surveillance, with US officials expressing significant concern over the potential arms deal.

The Russian Embassy has not commented on the matter. However, Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, voiced her concerns on Thursday evening regarding the reported arms transaction, the WSJ report said.

Watson highlighted Russia’s refusal to denounce Hamas’s recent terrorist attack on Israel and its hospitality towards Hamas officials in Moscow. This comes as Russia continues its offensive in Ukraine and as Russian troops from the Wagner Group support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Vladimir Putin

.

Amidst broader apprehensions that Hezbollah might confront Israel from the north, the US has deployed aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean as a deterrent. The world awaits a speech from Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for indications of the group’s intentions following the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Wagner’s presence in Syria, alongside Hezbollah forces backing Assad, adds to the complexity of the situation.

The SA-22 system, already supplied to Syria, could be transferred to Hezbollah with Assad’s approval, as per US intelligence. This potential arms delivery is part of larger concerns regarding Moscow’s influence in the region and its burgeoning relationship with Iran.

Iran’s role as a significant provider of drones to Russia and their collaborative efforts in manufacturing these drones in Russia underscore the growing ties between the two nations.

The delivery of the SA-22 to Hezbollah, supported by Iran, might be seen as a reciprocal gesture for Iran’s support, according to some analysts, the WSJ report added.

The SA-22 system, also known as Pantsir, is a mobile air-defense platform designed to target aircraft, drones, and precision munitions.

The Wagner Group, initially a private military company, has seen the Kremlin assume control over many of its operations following the death of its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have surrounded the city of Gaza, a key area held by Hamas, as the United States called for “concrete steps” to reduce harm to civilians.

The Israeli military announced the completion of the encirclement of Gaza City, marking a significant development in the ongoing conflict with Hamas that has lasted several weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military’s achievements on Thursday, addressing a unit of highly trained soldiers. He acknowledged the progress made by Israeli forces in the conflict, while also recognizing the sacrifices and losses incurred.

“We are in the midst of the campaign. We have very impressive successes” he said at a base near Tel Aviv. “We are already more than on the outskirts of Gaza City. We are advancing.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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