IDF strikes Iran-linked operatives, assets in eastern Syria; more than 15 said killed

Israel targets sites belonging to IRGC units involved in attempts to smuggle advanced arms to West Bank terrorists; Quds Force officer named among the dead

This picture taken on March 26, 2024 shows a view of a damaged building following an air strike in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor. (AFP)
This picture taken on March 26, 2024 shows a view of a damaged building following an air strike in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor. (AFP)

The Israeli Air Force carried out airstrikes in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning in eastern Syria, targeting Iranian assets and operatives involved in a recent plot to smuggle advanced arms to West Bank terrorists, The Times of Israel has learned.

More than 15 people were reportedly killed in the strikes in the Deir Ezzor and al-Bukamal areas, close to Syria’s border with Iraq.

The strikes targeted assets belonging to Iran’s Unit 4000, the Special Operations Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Intelligence Organization, and the special operations unit of the IRGC’s Quds Force in Syria, known as Unit 18840, according to Israeli defense sources.

On Monday, the Shin Bet announced that it had foiled attempts by the two Iranian units to smuggle advanced weapons to West Bank Palestinian terrorists.

The strikes overnight were a response to the smuggling attempts and targeted assets related to the Iranian plot, the defense sources said.

Israel was aware that several Iranian or Iran-linked operatives were killed in the strikes.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, previously accused of inflating tolls and false reporting, claimed 15 people, most of them pro-Iran fighters including an IRGC official, were killed in the strikes.

The Observatory said that an IRGC adviser, “his two Iranian security escorts, two Syrian fighters” and five other combatants belonging to pro-Iran groups were killed in a villa in Deir Ezzor city.

The Observatory also said that a few hours earlier, an Iranian cargo plane flew from Damascus to the eastern city of Deir Ezzor carrying technical equipment and IRGC soldiers.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported the attack was “carried out by the Zionist regime,” its term for Israel. It identified the dead officer as Behrouz Vahedi, saying he belonged to the Quds Force.

The World Health Organization said one of its staff members was killed in the airstrike, naming him as Emad Shehab, an engineer in Deir Ezzor. Shehab worked as WHO’s focal point for water, sanitation and hygiene in the city.

The Observatory said the villa “served as a communications center” in the area, reporting that the building was destroyed and its Syrian owner, a civilian, was also killed.

Four other fighters were killed in a separate strike in the town of al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border, said the Britain-based Observatory, which claims to have a network of sources inside Syria.

It said in total nine of the dead in the strikes were Iraqi nationals.

Syria’s state-run SANA broadcaster, meanwhile, said the strikes killed seven Syrian soldiers and one civilian.

Citing a military source, SANA claimed the strikes were carried out by the United States. A US defense official told AFP the United States “did not conduct any airstrikes” overnight.

Israel has for years carried out attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in a civil war that started in 2011, but rarely comments on them publicly.

Since the Iran-backed Hamas terror group’s brutal October 7 massacre, which saw some 1,200 people killed in Israel and 253 kidnapped, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iranian-backed terror targets in Syria and has also struck Syrian army air defenses and some Syrian forces.

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