An overnight missile attack against weapons storage bases in Syria destroyed some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a regional official told The New York Times Monday.
The official, from the regional alliance of Iran, Syria, Iran and its proxy Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, said the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, missile strikes hit two military targets in Aleppo and Hama provinces late Sunday.
Iran denied that any of its soldiers were killed in the attacks and that any of its bases in Syria were targeted. It was not clear who carried out the strikes, although some media reports blamed Israel, while others suggested it was a joint US-UK attack launched from Jordan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity about the attack, the unnamed source joined other regional officials in saying that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing, the report said.
However, Iran would likely wait to do so until after upcoming May 6 parliamentary elections in neighboring Lebanon, where ally Hezbollah is fielding candidates, the officials said.
In the hours that followed the attack targeting government outposts in Syria’s northern region, there were various media reports on the number of casualties.
Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that it was carried out by neighboring Israel, while a Syria war monitoring group said 26 pro-government fighters, mostly Iranians, were killed.
The Observatory said the late Sunday night attacks appeared to have been carried out by Israel.
It said the death toll could rise as the attack also wounded 60 fighters and there were several others still missing.
However, an Iranian semi-official news agency denied reports that Iranian fighters were killed or that Iranian-run bases were hit. The Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed Iranian informed official in its report but did not elaborate on the denial.
Another semi-official news agency, ISNA, said the strikes killed 18 Iranians, including a commander, in a suburb of the central city of Hama. It cited “local sources and activists” for its report.
The missiles targeted buildings and centers which likely included a weapons depot, ISNA reported.
Videos of on of the attacks showed a fireball light up the night sky.
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The Syrian government-owned Tishrin newspaper quoted what it called “sources on the ground” as saying that the attack on military positions in Aleppo and Hama provinces consisted of nine ballistic missiles fired from American-British bases in north Jordan. The report could not be independently confirmed.
There was also no immediate comment from Israel, which rarely confirms or denies its attacks. The security cabinet held an unscheduled meeting Monday afternoon.
The attack came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked to US President Donald Trump on the phone. The White House said the two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East, “especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities.”
A day earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ratcheted up the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Iran and offered warm support to Israel and Saudi Arabia in their standoff with Tehran.
“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Netanyahu.
“The United States is with Israel in this fight,” he added on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.
Israel has cited Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles.
Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European and other parties.
Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to back Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s seven-year civil war.
The attack comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and Israel following an airstrike earlier this month on Syria’s T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the T4 attack.
Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that T4 attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.
Earlier on Monday, Syrian TV reported a “new aggression,” with missiles targeting military outposts in northern Syria. The state-run television reported that the missiles targeted several military positions before midnight Sunday outposts in the Hama and Aleppo countryside.
Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar daily, which is considered close to the militant Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and the Syrian government, said the attack targeted “important arms depots used by the (Syrian) army and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.” It said that missiles used in the attack appear to have been bunker buster.
Syria-based opposition media activist Mohamad Rasheed said that base that came under attack is about 10 kilometers (7 miles) outside the city of Hama, adding that the airstrike led to several explosions in the arms depot. He added that the area is known as the Maarin Mountain or Mountain 47.
Rasheed said that some of the exploding missiles in the arms depot struck parts of Hama, adding that residents in areas near the base fled their homes. He said the base has been run by Iranian and Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.