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Presumed Israeli strike killed 16 Iran-backed fighters – Syrian opposition group

State media denies casualties in late-night attack, the second within a week following a month-long lull in reported IDF raids

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Syrian air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)
Illustrative. Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)

A presumed Israeli airstrike killed 16 Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria late Wednesday, a Syrian opposition-linked group said.

Syrian state media reported that Israel conducted an attack on the T-4 air base near Palmyra at 10:23 p.m. Wednesday, firing a number of missiles from the US-controlled al-Tanf region of eastern Syria near the Iraq border.

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the reported strikes, in accordance with its policy.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday said the apparent Israeli attack also targeted sites outside the cities of Mayadeen and Bukamal, areas that have long been suspected of having an Iranian presence.

According to the Observatory, the 16 slain militants were “Iraqi paramilitary fighters loyal to Iran,” seven of which were killed outside Mayadeen and nine near Bukamal.

Neither Syrian state media SANA nor other outlets in the country reported strikes in those areas on Wednesday night, and The Times of Israel could not independently verify the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ claims.

SANA reported only on the attack on the T-4 base, also known as Tiyas base, which it said caused damage, but no casualties.

The Israeli military has long maintained that the T-4 base is used by Iran to move weapons throughout the region, including to the powerful Hezbollah terror group, and to conduct its own operations. In February 2018, the IDF said Iranian forces based there piloted an armed drone into Israeli airspace before it was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. At the time, the IDF bombed the command-and-control structure on the T-4 base from which the drone was operated.

The reported strikes on Wednesday night came two days after Israel was said to have launched missiles at targets in Syria’s south, killing at least two Syrian soldiers. A Syrian civilian woman was also reportedly killed when a Syrian military anti-aircraft missile struck her home.

The Monday night attack appeared to be the first reported Israeli airstrike on targets in Syria since a July 20 attack, in which a Hezbollah fighter was killed, prompting the Lebanese terror group to vow revenge for his death and sparking as-yet-unresolved tensions.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces, and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group, Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of its operations in the country, but says Iran’s presence in support of President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah is a threat and that it will continue its strikes.

Following the July strike in which a Hezbollah fighter was killed, the Israeli military went on high alert along the Lebanese border, bracing for an attack by the group. According to the IDF, the terror group has attempted to exact its revenge against Israeli troops a number of times in the ensuing weeks, including with a failed sniper attack last Tuesday night.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Sunday that his group would kill an Israeli soldier in retaliation for the death of its operative in Syria the month before in order to establish “deterrence” against Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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