8 said killed in airstrike on pro-Iranian militia in eastern Syria
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8 said killed in airstrike on pro-Iranian militia in eastern Syria

Israel accused of attack on arms depots, vehicles carrying missiles, amid simmering tensions following Soleimani killing; US-led military coalition denies carrying out strike

A picture taken on November 12, 2018 from al-Qaim in Iraq's border al-Anbar province shows the Syrian border city of Albu Kamal in the Deir Ezzor region. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
A picture taken on November 12, 2018 from al-Qaim in Iraq's border al-Anbar province shows the Syrian border city of Albu Kamal in the Deir Ezzor region. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

An airstrike in eastern Syria killed eight fighters from Iraq’s Iran-backed Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Force) militia overnight, a monitoring group said Friday.

“Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said several others were wounded.

Through a spokesman contacted by AFP, the US-led military coalition operating in Syria and Iraq denied carrying out the strike.

Abdel Rahman, of the Britain-based organization which documents the war in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said three villages in the Albu Kamal area known for housing forces loyal to Tehran have been targeted by drone strikes since Wednesday, causing no casualties.

An Iraqi security official and a PMF official said warplanes targeted two vehicles carrying missiles on the Syrian side of the border. The strike was most likely carried out by Israeli warplanes, they said, but offered no evidence.

The area struck is key to a land corridor for Tehran that links Iran across Iraq and Syria through Lebanon. The Observatory report claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had informed Syrian President Bashar Assad this week of a US intention to “close” the land corridor for good.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad shake hands during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, January 7, 2020. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Explosions were reported late Thursday at a base near the Iraqi-Syria border thought to be used by Shiite militias, in what was a suspected airstrike.

According to local news site DeirEzzor24, a weapons shipment to Lebanese terror group Hezbollah was targeted in the attack. The weapons reportedly included ballistic missiles belonging to the Imam Ali Brigade, a Shiite militia under the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella.

The Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news outlet claimed that the raid was carried out by Israeli aircraft, citing sources in the field. It said the raid targeted a weapons transport.

There was also no immediate response from Israel, which does not generally comment on foreign reports of individual strikes.

The strike came amid sky-high tensions in the region, following a deadly US drone strike on Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the effective head of the PMF, last week.

In September, large strikes in the same area that destroyed major parts of a weapons storehouse known as the Imam Ali compound were attributed to Israel.

Satellite image showing the aftermath of an overnight airstrike on an alleged Iranian military base in Syria’s Albu Kamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 9, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Israel reportedly believed the base, which was overseen by Soleimani’s Quds Force, was a key element in Tehran’s effort to develop a so-called “land bridge” that would allow the Islamic Republic to easily move weapons, fighters, and war materiel from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Shortly after that strike, members of a Shiite militia in Syria fired a number of rockets toward Mount Hermon on the Israeli Golan Heights from the outskirts of Damascus, according to the Israeli military.

The projectiles fell short of the border and landed inside Syrian territory.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, and has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed primarily at preventing the transfers of sophisticated weapons, including guided missiles, to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

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