Major General Qasem Soleimani, the shadowy former leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, the special operations arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), has asserted that plans being made by Damascus and Tehran in regard to the Syrian civil war will "surprise" the world.
Soleimani, who had been directly overseeing the eastern offensive on the Isis-held Iraqi city of Tikrit before it was successfully recaptured in April, is Tehran's key link between the Shia militias in Iraq and the Assad regime in Damascus.
"The world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days," Iran's official IRNA state news agency quoted the general as saying.
The agency added that it "takes no responsibility for the information" although Syrian sources have already confirmed that thousands of Iranian and Iraqi fighters have arrived in Syria over the last month in order to strengthen the Assad regime's manpower in the face of rebel gains in Idlib province. The rebel coalition known as Jaish al Fateh captured the last town held by the regime last week.
"Around 7,000 Iranian and Iraqi fighters have arrived in Syria over the past few weeks and their first priority is the defence of the capital. The larger contingent is Iraqi," the Syrian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency.
"The goal is to reach 10,000 men to support the Syrian army and pro-government militias, firstly in Damascus, and then to retake Jisr al-Shughur because it is key to the Mediterranean coast and the Hama region," the source added.