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Iran denies links to groups hit in US Syria strikes; 10 reported killed

Foreign ministry strongly condemns ‘terrorist act’ by Washington; activist group claims bombed facility belonged to Afghani fighters backed by Islamic Revolutionary Guard

An illustrative photo of an US Air Force F-16, below, escorting two F-35 jets, above, after the latter arrived at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, September 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
An illustrative photo of an US Air Force F-16, below, escorting two F-35 jets, above, after the latter arrived at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, September 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Iran’s foreign ministry on Wednesday denied any link with groups targeted by US airstrikes in Syria, contradicting a claim by Washington that it had bombed militias backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activist collective Deir Ezzor 24 said the airstrikes targeted the Ayash Camp run by the Fatimiyoun group made up of Shiite fighters from Afghanistan. The war monitor reported that at least six Syrian and foreign fighters were killed in the airstrikes, while Deir Ezzor 24 reported 10 deaths.

A statement from Tehran strongly condemned the “terrorist act” by the United States, saying it represents a “violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.”

“The new aggression of the American army against the Syrian people is a terrorist act against the groups and fighters fighting against the occupation and which have no affiliation with Iran,” the statement said, referring to US troops stationed in eastern Syria.

“They should immediately leave Syria and stop plundering oil and grain from that country,” it added.

There was no immediate acknowledgment by Syria’s state-run media of the strikes hitting Deir Ezzor.

The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria, Oct. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor)

The US military’s Central Command said the strikes Tuesday targeted pro-Iranian militia bases in eastern Syria. It said the “proportionate, deliberate action” hit militias backed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

It did not identify the targets, nor offer any casualty figures from the strikes, which the military said came at the orders of US President Joe Biden.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.

The colonel added the attack was in response to an August 15 attack targeting US forces. That attack saw drones allegedly launched by Iranian-backed militias target the al-Tanf Garrison used by American forces. US Central Command described the assault as causing “zero casualties and no damage” at the time.

The US Treasury says the Fatimiyoun has fought numerous battles in Syria, and is led by Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard.

“The Ayash warehouse is a very important one for Iran’s militias,” Deir Ezzor 24 CEO Omar Abu Layla told The Associated Press. “We expect that Iran will respond, either in al-Tanf or possibly in Iraq.”

The strike came days after the US revealed that Iran had dropped its demand for the US to delist the IRGC in exchange for Tehran agreeing to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

Deir Ezzor is a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area and have often been the target of Israeli warplanes in previous strikes.

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