- At least 57 people died in the heaviest Israeli airstrikes for at least three years
JEDDAH: Israeli fighter jets bombarded Iranian-backed militia positions in northeast Syria on Wednesday in a new effort to disrupt supply lines to Tehran’s proxy fighters propping up the Assad regime.
At least 57 people died in the heaviest Israeli airstrikes for at least three years. They included 14 regime troops, 16 Iraqi militia fighters and 11 Afghan members of the pro-Iran Fatimid Brigade. “This is the largest death toll from Israeli raids in Syria,” said Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Days before the strikes, the Fatimid Brigade transported a consignment of Iranian-manufactured weapons to eastern Syria from Iraq, said the observatory, which is based in the UK.
Wednesday’s strikes targeted areas in Deir Ezzor province where Iranian-backed militias and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters have a heavy presence.
A senior intelligence official in Washington said the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the US, and hit warehouses in Syria that were being used to store Iranian weapons.
The warehouses were also a staging post in a pipeline for components that support Iran’s nuclear program, the official said.
A regional intelligence source said the targets included Syrian security compounds inside Al-Bukamal and Deir Ezzor cities, while in the past raids had struck only the outskirts. The latest raids hit “advanced weaponry and weapons depots ... in a large combat arena,” the source said.
Iran’s proxy militias led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah control large parts of eastern, southern and northwestern Syria, several suburbs of Damascus and the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The latest raids came hours after separate strikes on Tuesday near the Iraqi border killed at least 12 Iran-backed militia fighters on Tuesday.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “We remain vigilant on all our frontiers. We have taken action and will continue to take action against anyone who tries to challenge us, from near or far. We’re not sitting and waiting.”
Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as regime troops.
The Observatory said it recorded 39 Israeli strikes inside Syria in 2020 that hit 135 targets, including military posts, warehouses or vehicles. At least 217 people were killed, mostly Iranian-allied fighters.
In June 2018, strikes in Deir Ezzor killed at least 55 pro-regime fighters, including Iraqis as well as Syrians, according to the monitoring group.
Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli government minister, said Israel hit Iranian targets in Syria “whenever our intelligence dictates it and according to our operational capability.”