Egypt has denied that it has a military presence in Syria following recent reports circulated in Arab media outlets.
In a report published last week in As-Safir, the Lebanese daily claimed that an Egyptian military unit consisting of 18 helicopter pilots were sent to the Syrian city of Hama’s airbase two weeks ago though it was “unclear whether they have begun taking part in aerial operations”.
The newspaper also stated that two Egyptian generals had been stationed at the Syrian General Staff Headquarters in Damascus a month ago and have since been surveying the front lines. The generals also met with an Armoured Division near Daraa on Tuesday after they visited an airbase in Sweida province.
Some sources describe the Egyptian flight crews as taking over the cockpits of Russian attack/reconnaissance Kamov Ka-52 helicopters, with which they were familiar, having trained on them since the end of 2015.
Other sources revealed that Egypt has secretly entered the Syrian war in support of the Bashar regime – a development which has outraged several Arab leaders .
“These allegations do not exist except in the imaginations of those who promote them,” said Ahmed Abou Zeid, a spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry speaking on Sunday.
Abou Zeid added that Cairo was committed to staying out of other countries’ internal affairs, noting that any deployment of Egyptian military personnel or equipment outside Egypt’s borders would require approval from the country’s National Defence Council and House of Representatives.
Former Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi had expressed support for the Syrian opposition battling against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before he was forced from power in July 2013 in a military coup.
However, in recent months Arab and international media and analysts have pointed to a seeming strengthening of ties between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Syrian regime in Damascus.
In October Egypt voted in favour of a Russian resolution on Syria that was firmly opposed by Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at the time, Riyadh’s UN envoy described the decision as “painful”.
@TNIAU_ Egypt orders Russian Ka-52 Alligator combat helis http://t.co/6vq2t3K3of pic.twitter.com/ut89pE1D9H
— Roy Lanek (@roy_lanek) August 28, 2015
Following the vote, Saudi Arabia cut crude oil supplies worth billions of dollars to Egypt, currently in the midst of an economic crisis that has lead to spikes in the prices of basic commodities and social discontent.
The visit of Syrian intelligence officials to Egypt, also in October, has further contributed to rumours of strengthening ties between Sisi and the Syrian regime.
Egypt also notably held its first ever joint military drills in Africa with Russia, which has militarily intervened in Syria in support of the Syrian regime.
In a recent interview with Portuguese TV network RTP Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed support for Bashar al-Assad, describing the Syrian President as “best positioned” to combat terrorism and restore stability in Syria, in the midst of a nearly 6 year war that has claimed the lives of over 400,000 people according to monitoring groups.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is also reported to have said recently that a normalisation of relations between Cairo and Damascus was only a “small leap” away.