Iraq-Syria border crossing reopens amid series of reported Israeli strikes
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Iraq-Syria border crossing reopens amid series of reported Israeli strikes

Retaken from Islamic State in 2017, crossing is located near alleged Iranian-controlled compound seen as key to facilitating Iran’s arms shipments

Iraqi and Syrian border guards soldiers congratulate each other during the opening ceremony of the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria's Boukamal in Anbar province, Iraq, September 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Iraqi and Syrian border guards soldiers congratulate each other during the opening ceremony of the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria's Boukamal in Anbar province, Iraq, September 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq and Syria have opened a key border crossing between the two neighboring countries, seven years after it was closed during Syria’s civil war.

Monday’s opening of the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal was expected to strengthen trade between the two countries.

An AFP video journalist saw trucks hauling cargo across the terminal, which lies on a major highway connecting Baghdad and Damascus.

The opening was also a boost to Iran’s influence in the region, allowing Iran-backed militias in Iraq easier access to eastern Syria amid soaring tensions in the region between Iran and the US.

The opening of the crossing was postponed several times in recent weeks.

Iraqi and Syrian border guards prepare to open the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal in Anbar province, Iraq, September 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Qaim and Boukamal were controlled by the Islamic State extremist group until 2017, when Syrian and Iraqi troops captured the towns from the jihadists. The group’s territorial defeat was announced in Syria earlier this year.

The border area has recently seen a number of airstrikes on paramilitary groups aligned with Iran that have been attributed to Israel.

Despite the repeated airstrikes, satellite images released last week showed expanded construction at compounds allegedly controlled by Iran along the border.

The photographs, released by the private Israeli intelligence company ImageSat International, indicated the building of the site in the Boukamal region of eastern Syria has advanced over the past month.

The compound — known as the Imam Ali Base — is considered a critical element in Tehran’s efforts to create a land corridor under its control from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea. Israeli officials have expressed grave concerns about such a “land bridge” as it could allow Iran to more easily transport weapons, fighters and materiel throughout the Middle East.

Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian-controlled border crossing in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Several airstrikes have been reported at sites in this area in recent months, at least two of them in September alone, including one on September 9 in which 18 pro-Iranian fighters were reportedly killed.

Yet during this time, from September 9 to 21, new fortifications were built, access roads were created, buildings were completed and additional construction equipment was brought in to the base, according to the photographs released by the satellite image analysis firm.

Work also continued on two border crossings on either side of the Syria-Iraq border.

In this photo from August 25, 2019, Popular Mobilization Forces members try to get a body out of a car after a drone attack near the Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq. (AP Photo, File)

One crossing, which is believed to be controlled by Iran through Shiite militias, is under “intense construction,” ImageSat said.

Since mid-July, eight arms depots and training camps belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of largely Iran-backed militias, have been targeted in apparent attacks.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network has reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group also maintains a presence in the Boukamal region.

The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for the string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases. Israeli officials have not publicly commented on these allegations, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at the possibility that Israel has struck in Iraq.

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