Tehran: Iran has sent its troops to help the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight opposition forces, a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has said.
"Before our presence in Syria, too many people were killed by the opposition but with the physical and non-physical presence of the Islamic republic, big massacres in Syria were prevented," said Ismail Gha`ani, deputy head of the Quds force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guards in charge of overseas operations.
Gha`ani said this in an interview with the Iranian Students` News Agency (ISNA), RIA Novosti reported.
According to the Persian-language GozaraNews website, ISNA published the interview on Sunday night but subsequently removed it from its website "under pressure".
Syria is Iran`s most important regional ally, and Tehran has long used its neighbour`s territory as a base for operations to maintain a lifeline to militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza respectively, RIA Novosti said.
Rumours that Iran has been providing military support to Assad to assist his crackdown on the uprising that has challenged his family`s 40-year grip on power, have been circulating since the protests began in March 2011.