Iran's presence in Syria at Damascus' request

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The naval build up may also be meant to deter the United States and its allies from intervening if Assad's forces use chemical weapons in Idlib.

As Western leaders have increasingly made public their concerns about a possible chemical attack in Idlib, Russia in recent days has countered with charges that rebels controlling Idlib province are the ones that are preparing to use chemical weapons. But Russia is accusing US-linked forces of secretly conducting these same attacks.

MoD further claimed that the chemical weapons attack will be used as a pretext to strike Syrian targets by the US-led coalition operating in the region. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, meanwhile, told Haaretz on Tuesday that the navy "has dispatched substantial naval forces to the Mediterranean, including several ships equipped with modern cruise missiles".

Instead, Russia will probably just keep up its propaganda effort, which includes ship deployments.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj.

"What I can tell you is that Russian reports of a USA military buildup in the eastern Med are nothing more than propaganda", Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told reporters Monday.

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The same naval monitors suggest Russian Federation may have up to 13 ships in the region, with submarines on the way.

After regaining control of most of Syria's major urban areas in the past year as well as Syria's southern borders with Jordan and Israel, Assad has set his sights on recapturing Idlib, where thousands of rebels and their families were transported under safe-passage arrangements brokered by Russian Federation when they surrendered in other parts of the country.

Hatami also met with Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub and discussed the latest situation with "takfiri groups", he said at a news conference in Damascus, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). Borshchevskaya said Assad may look to chemical weapons because his conventional military has weakened under seven years of conflict.

Since President Donald Trump took office, the United States has twice struck Syria in response to what it called incontrovertible evidence of chemical attacks on civilians. The strike came one week after an alleged gas attack on the Damascus suburb town of Douma.

A Russian navy battleship fires missiles during a rehearsal of the Russian Navy Day parade in Sevastopol, Crimea, 2015.

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