BEIRUT: A series of unclaimed drone strikes on pro-Iran factions in war-torn Syria killed 11 people and destroyed trucks carrying Iranian arms from Iraq, a war monitor said on Monday.
The first attack, on Sunday evening, hit six lorries and killed seven people near Syria’s border with Iraq, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A second strike on Monday morning killed three people, including a pro-Iran commander, as they inspected the attack site in a pickup truck, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
Later, an unidentified drone targeted a fuel tanker the Observatory said was “likely loaded with weapons and ammunition meant for Iran-backed groups” in the same region. The tanker exploded, killing at least one person.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred near the Albu Kamal-Al-Qaim border crossing between Syria and Iraq.
Pro-Iran factions, including Iraqi groups and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have a major presence in the region and are heavily deployed south and west of the Euphrates River in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad receives military support from Iran and its allied armed groups including Hezbollah.
Israel has carried out air and missile raids against Iran-backed and regime forces in Syria, where a US-led coalition has also conducted raids.
The Observatory said Sunday’s attack hit a convoy of six refrigerated trucks transporting Iranian weapons to Syria from Iraq, killing the drivers and their assistants.
The second strike killed “a commander in an Iran-backed group and two of his companions,” it said, adding that all of those killed in the two attacks were non-Syrians.
“The trucks were transporting Iranian weapons,” said the group’s chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
A Syrian official working at the crossing denied the trucks had been loaded with weapons, telling AFP they were carrying foodstuff that Iran had sent to Syria as aid. The 25-truck convoy had been targeted three times in less than 24 hours, he said, adding it “had obtained permission to cross into Syria.”
But an Iraqi border official said the trucks, which were Iraqi, had illegally crossed into Syria and were not carrying Iraqi goods.
“They probably used Iraqi trucks instead of Iranian ones to avoid being targeted,” the Iraqi official.
Sunday’s strikes also hit the headquarters of Iran-backed groups in the area, said Omar Abu Layla, an activist who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet.
“There was heavy damage in the area that was struck,” he said.
The Observatory said at least two similar convoys had entered Syria from Iraq in recent days, off loading their cargo to pro-Iran groups in the eastern town of Al-Mayadeen.
Albu Kamal has seen similar strikes in the past, including one that in November killed at least 14 people when it hit a pro-Iran militia truck convoy carrying arms and fuel, the Britain-based group said.
In December, Israel’s then- military chief Aviv Kohavi said his country had launched the raid, adding the convoy had been carrying weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel rarely comments on individual military operations but has admitted carrying out hundreds of air and missile strikes in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.
A US-led coalition fighting the remnants of Daesh in Iraq and Syria has also carried out strikes against pro-Iran fighters in Syria in the past.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global extremists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.