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Israel blamed for deadly strike on Iranian convoy at Syria-Iraq border

US denies involvement while Jerusalem remains mum as per its policy; Iranian state TV claims trucks were carrying fuel to Lebanon, but others claim weapons were also being shipped

Illustrative: Iraqi security forces prepare to open the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria's Boukamal, in Qaim, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Illustrative: Iraqi security forces prepare to open the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria's Boukamal, in Qaim, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Israel was accused Wednesday of carrying out a series of overnight airstrikes on a convoy near the Syria-Iraq border that left at least 10 people dead, including a number of Iranian fighters.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the strikes on a series of trucks as they crossed into Syria from Iraq at the al-Qaim crossing shortly before midnight Tuesday. The trucks were reportedly carrying fuel and possibly weapons from Iran to Lebanon.

A report Wednesday from The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the attack, said Israel was behind the strikes, leaving 10 people dead, including an unknown number of Iranians.

Lebanese news outlet al-Mayadeen, seen as close to Shiite terror group Hezbollah, also blamed Israel for the attack.

The Lebanese report said two fuel tankers were targeted in the strikes and claimed there were no deaths. It cited unnamed sources on the ground.

The Israeli army refused to comment on the incident, in line with its general policy not to confirm involvement in specific strikes.

Israel has allegedly carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It has acknowledged, however, that it targets arms shipments and posts of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s terrorist Hezbollah group.

Asked about the strike Wednesday MK Ram Ben Barak, head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said only that Israel was “very determined to safeguard Israel’s security.”

“We won’t allow Hezbollah to be armed with materiel of this type or others. We’ll do whatever is needed to prevent it,” he said.

From its base in Beirut, Hezbollah said it had nothing to do with the convoy that was attacked.

Most alleged Israeli strikes have been focused on areas of Syria closer to Damascus or the country’s center, though it has been accused of carrying out attacks outside that area as well, including in Deir el-Zour, where the attack took place.

The US military said it had no involvement in the al-Qaim attack.

“No US forces or US-led coalition (members) conducted an airstrike in al-Qaim, Iraq, on the border with Syria,” Army Maj. Rachael L. Jeffcoat told the AP on Wednesday.

The airstrikes, shortly before midnight Tuesday, hit tanker trucks carrying fuel and other trucks carrying weapons for the militias in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor. At least 14 people, most of them militiamen, were killed in the strike, said the monitor, which has been accused of inflating casualty tolls in the past.

The Deir Ezzor 24, an activist collective, reported three airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militias in the Syrian border town of Boukamal and nearby areas. It had no immediate word on casualties.

Earlier, members of Iraqi paramilitary groups operating in the area said an airstrike on a convoy carrying fuel across the Iraqi border into Syria killed at least 10 people late Tuesday. The strike hit a convoy of about 15 trucks that had crossed into Syria near the town of al-Qaim, two paramilitary officers told The Associated Press.

It was unclear where the convoy was coming from, but the officers said some of those killed were Iranian nationals. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strikes with reporters.

Illustrative: Smoke billows from reported continued bombardment by Syrian government forces and Russian airstrikes in the southern countryside of Idlib, in northwestern Syria, on October 20, 2019. (Abdulaziz KETAZ / AFP)

Iranian state television’s English-language service, Press TV, early on Wednesday cited unnamed sources claiming there was an attack on a fuel truck convoy crossing from Iraq into Syria at the al-Qaim border crossing.

Press TV claimed the convoy was carrying Iranian oil to Lebanon through Syria. Iranian officials offered no casualty details.

Iran’s state TV claimed the convoy attack was carried out by US drones and helicopters, offering no evidence for the claim. It said the convoy included 22 tanker trucks, adding that the attack took place after eight of the trucks crossed into Syria.

Hezbollah fighters hold their group’s flag as they stand in front of a statue of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and swear their oath of allegiance to him, during a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of his assassination, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, on January 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Iran is a backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to help Syrian troops during the country’s 11-year civil war. Both Tehran and the Assad government are allied with Hezbollah, which has fought alongside Assad’s forces in the war.

In August, the US military carried out airstrikes in Deir el-Zour targeting Iran-backed militiamen. The Pentagon said the strikes were a message to Iran and Tehran-backed militias that targeted American troops earlier that month and several other times over the past year.

At the time, Deir Ezzor 24 said the US airstrikes targeted the Ayash Camp, run by the Fatimiyoun group made up of Shiite fighters from Afghanistan, reporting 10 deaths in total.

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