12 said killed in airstrikes, attributed to Israel, on Iranian sites in Syria

Bases were reportedly restocked and refortified three days ago; dead said to have been Iraqi and Afghan nationals; area targeted has been hit by Israel in the past

An explosion is seen coming from an army base, allegedly used by Iran-backed militias, outside the northern Syria city of Hama on April 29, 2018. (Screen capture; Facebook)
Illustrative: An explosion is seen coming from an army base, allegedly used by Iran-backed militias, outside the northern Syria city of Hama on April 29, 2018. (Screen capture; Facebook)

Twelve people were killed overnight Saturday in drone airstrikes targeting pro-Iranian militia in the Deir Ezzor region in eastern Syria, according to a Syrian watchdog group.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, the Iranian positions were hit with eight airstrikes just before midnight.

It said the sites had been refortified and restocked three days earlier, and munitions and vehicles were destroyed in the strike.

The 12 killed were said to be Afghan and Iraqi members of pro-Iranian militia.

The Observatory did not identify the aircraft responsible, but its head, Rami Abdul Rahman, told AFP that Israel was likely responsible.

Iranian bases in Deir Ezzor have been targeted in the past in strikes attributed to Israel, which has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

The airstrikes came after Israeli strikes targeted a weapons facility in the area of Masyaf in northern Syria on Thursday night, killing nine people and causing massive damage, according to reports from Syria. According to the Syrian state media outlet SANA, the country’s air defenses were activated by the attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four of those killed Thursday night were Syrian nationals and the other five were of unknown nationality. Video footage from Syria, shared on social media, showed Syrian anti-aircraft missiles being fired into the sky, as well as large fires on the ground apparently caused by the airstrikes.

Syrian war analysts identified the target of the strike — based on photographs and videos of the scene — as Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as CERS, a defense laboratory associated with the manufacture of chemical arms and advanced missiles, which was also reportedly bombed by Israel in July 2018.

Israel, as a rule, does not comment on specific airstrikes, but does generally acknowledge carrying out attacks inside Syria against Iranian forces and Iranian proxy militias.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, are developing precision-guided missiles, which Israel sees as one of the major strategic threats facing it.

The reported Israeli attack on Thursday night came days after an airstrike in eastern Syria that was attributed to Israel and was said to have killed five non-Syrian fighters backed by Iran. The strike targeted three military vehicles belonging to Iran-backed paramilitary fighters near the Iraqi border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said that “Israel was likely responsible.”

Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.

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