Iran on Monday denied that any of its soldiers were killed in overnight strikes in Syria or that its bases had been targeted in the raids.
“All these reports over attack on an Iranian military base in Syria and the martyrdom of several Iranian military advisers in Syria are baseless,” an unnamed source told the semi-official Tasnim news agency, according to a report from Reuters.
Syrian state media reported overnight that “enemy missiles” had struck government targets in Hama and Aleppo provinces, without mentioning any casualties or who may have been responsible.
In the hours after the strikes, media reports said that 18 members of Iran’s military, including a senior officer, were killed in the raids. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said 26 pro-regime fighters, most of them Iranians, had been killed.
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Iran’s ISNA news agency also briefly put the number of Iranians killed at 18. That report was later removed.
Photos published by Lebanese media on Monday purported to show the damage caused by the missiles.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters had been killed in a raid, “probably” carried out by Israel, on the 47th Brigade base in Hama.
“At least 26 fighters were killed, including four Syrians,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor. “The others are foreign fighters, a vast majority of them Iranians.”
“Given the nature of the target, it is likely to have been an Israeli strike,” he said, adding that strikes also hit an air base in nearby Aleppo province where surface-to-surface missiles were stored.
There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, with some opposition-linked outlets placing the overall number of fatalities at 38.
While some sources blamed Israel for the purported strikes, Syrian state-owned news site Tishreen said late Sunday the raids were carried out by the United States and British forces. The Western troops launched nine ballistic missiles from military bases in northern Jordan that struck Syrian bases near Aleppo and Hama, the news outlet said on its Facebook page.
Other media outlets claimed the attacks were carried out by aircraft bombers, and Hezbollah-linked sources and other regime outlets attributed the strikes to Israel.
There was no official statement from the US or Britain about the attack. As a rule, the Israeli Air Force does not comment on its activities abroad.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights monitor overnight Sunday-Monday confirmed the firing of missiles, adding that “Iranian elements” were stationed at two of the targeted bases.
Videos of the blast show a fireball lighting up the night sky.
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The Hama facility was said to house a weapons depot, which accounted for the size and intensity of the blast, which could be seen from kilometers away and reportedly registered on seismographs in the area.
The Orient news outlet noted that the base was known to be the headquarters of Iranian militiamen and had been “heavily involved” in attacks against rebel forces in the area.
Earlier this month, seven Iranian military personnel were killed in an airstrike on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs. Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.
Earlier Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel would uphold its right to operate in Syria against any threats, and would not be deterred if Russia supplies the Syrians with advanced air defense systems. He added that Israel would stop at nothing to prevent Iran from using Syrian territory as a base to attack Israel.
“We will maintain freedom of operation in all of Syria,” Liberman said, when asked about Russia equipping Syria with advanced systems.
Israel has repeatedly voiced concerns that, as well as trying to deliver advanced weaponry to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Iran has been using the unrest in Syrian as a means to establish forward operating bases that could be used to launch rocket attacks and other military action against Israel.
Israel, Liberman said, “will prevent Iran from establishing a forward base in Syria at any cost.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.