Missiles kill pro-regime fighters in Syria

Syrians and Iranians among 26 killed in strikes said to bear hallmarks of Iran's arch foe Israel

BEIRUT • Missile strikes on central Syria killed 26 pro-regime fighters, most of them Iranians, a human rights monitor said yesterday, in a raid that bore the hallmarks of Teheran's arch foe Israel.

The Syrian regime, which denounced a "fresh aggression" after the strikes, meanwhile, continued to flush out armed groups from the capital with more deals to transfer fighters to the country's north.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, missile strikes hit two military targets in Aleppo and Hama provinces late on Sunday.

The strike on Hama hit a base known as the 47th Brigade where pro-regime fighters are stationed. Both hits destroyed surface-to-surface missiles, the monitor said.

"At least 26 fighters were killed, including four Syrians," in the Hama strike, said Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based monitoring organisation.

"The others are foreign fighters, a vast majority of them Iranians," he told Agence France-Presse. "Given the nature of the target, it is likely to have been an Israeli strike."

Syria remains technically at war with neighbouring Israel, which is concerned at the growing presence of Iranian forces and those of Teheran's Lebanese ally Hizbollah on Syrian territory. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed in an interview last Thursday to strike at any attempt by Iran to establish a "military foothold" in Syria.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told army radio yesterday morning that he was "not aware" of the latest strikes.

But, he added, "all the violence and instability in Syria is the result of Iran's attempts to establish a military presence there. Israel will not allow the opening of a northern front in Syria".

Israeli media reported that the security Cabinet was due to hold an emergency session later yesterday.

The latest strikes come amid heightened tensions in Syria after Damascus and its ally Iran accused Israel on April 9 of conducting deadly strikes against a military base in the centre of the country.

At least 14 soldiers, including seven Iranians, were killed in the strike on a military base in Homs province.

Days later, on April 14, the United States, France and Britain bombarded several Syrian regime military positions in response to a suspected chemical attack on the rebel stronghold of Douma which killed dozens, according to rescue services.

Syria remains technically at war with neighbouring Israel, which is concerned at the growing presence of Iranian forces and those of Teheran's Lebanese ally Hizbollah on Syrian territory.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed in an interview last Thursday to strike at any attempt by Iran to establish a "military foothold" in Syria.

Iran has forces deployed in Syria to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as supervising the involvement of several Shi'ite militia groups it sponsors, some of them from other countries, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

There was no immediate comment from Teheran on the Sunday strikes, but the reformist-linked ILNA news agency quoted a security official who did not deny the strike and said any reports on the military situation in Syria should come from Damascus.

The Syrian government has focused its efforts this year on securing the capital Damascus, the heart of which has been spared the worst of the seven-year-old conflict but is long surrounded by rebel-held pockets.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Missiles kill pro-regime fighters in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe