Several said killed in strikes on Iran-backed militia base on Syria-Iraq border

Three explosions occur on Popular Mobilization Force base; group has been hit several times in recent weeks with attacks blamed on Israel, US

Illustrative: Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)
Illustrative: Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)

Unidentified aircraft launched strikes on a base belonging to an Iran-backed militia in Syria, near the border with Iraq, killing several people early Monday, an observer and Arabic media reported.

The blasts targeted a base belonging to the Popular Mobilization Force, said the Saudi Al Arabiya network, citing sources in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the attack on “unidentified warplanes.”

Al Arabiya said the base, in the al-Boukamal area, also housed forces from the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group. The report said several people were killed in the attack, but gave no further details.

“Warplanes whose identity is not known so far targeted vehicles and positions of the Iranian forces and militias loyal to them,” the Observatory, a Britain-based group, said, adding it had no immediate details on casualties or the extent of the damage

Since mid-July, five arms depots and training camps belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces have been targeted in apparent attacks.

The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for the recent string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The blasts occurred on the Syrian side of the border in the same regions where Fox News reported Iran is construction a new military facility that can house thousands of soldiers and storage facilities for advanced weapons.

It was not immediately clear if this was the same base.

Quoting Western intelligence sources, the US cable network said the base is located near the Syria-Iraq border, and its construction is being overseen by the Quds Force, the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Satellite photos of the base, known as the Imam Ali compound, showed what appeared to be five recently constructed buildings that can store precision-guided missiles, according to ImageSat International.

ImageSat, an Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm, said the photos also show other structures at the facility that could be used for storing missiles.

Satellite image showing the construction of a new Iranian military base in Iraq’s Albukamal Al-Qaim region, near the Syrian border (ImageSat International via Fox News)

The images also show what appears to be Iranian construction on a new border crossing that near the existing al-Qaim border crossing with Iraq.

ISI analysts told Fox that the base would be completed and operational in the next few months.

Defense officials said the Imam Ali compound marked the first time Tehran was constructing a military base in Syria, and noted that it was less than 200 miles away from a US military installation in neighboring Iraq.

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.

This quiet war has reportedly expanded to Iraq in recent weeks, with US officials saying the Israel Defense Forces was behind at least some strikes on Iran-linked sites outside of Baghdad.

In this photo from August 12, 2019, plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

The Pentagon, which is mindful of not alienating Iraq’s leadership and jeopardizing its military presence in the country, has pointedly distanced itself from the mysterious explosions.

The PMF was established in 2014 from mostly Shiite paramilitary groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State jihadist organization and is now formally part of Iraq’s armed forces.

But the US and Israel fear some units are an extension of Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel.

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran and Hezbollah of racing to build a missile-production program in Lebanon, vowing to destroy the ambitious project and issuing a stern warning to his enemies to “be careful.”

“We are determined to eliminate this dangerous project,” he said. “The aim of the publication today is to convey a message that we will not sit by and allow our enemies to arm themselves with deadly weapons directed at us.”

Last month, an Israeli airstrike thwarted what Israel said was a plot by Iran to launch a series of explosives-laden attack drones meant to crash into targets in the country. Iran denied the claims.

Hours later, Israel allegedly struck Iran-linked targets as far away as Iraq and crash-landed two drones in Hezbollah-dominated southern Beirut.

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