Israel airstrikes east Syria, kills dozens of fighters

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An Israeli tank is pictured during a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 13, 2021. - Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids this year, a war monitor said. The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 strikes against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Ezzor to the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

AP

Beirut

Israeli warplanes carried out intense airstrikes on eastern Syria early Wednesday, apparently targeting positions and arms depots of Iran-backed forces. Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded, according to an opposition war monitor.

A senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack said that the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States — a rare incidence of publicised cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria.

The official said the strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.

The US official, who requested anonymity to speak about sensitive national security matters, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Tuesday’s airstrike with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israels spy agency Mossad, at a public meeting in popular Washington restaurant Café Milano on Monday.

The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Irans nuclear programme.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said the strikes hit areas in and near the towns of Deir el-Zour, Mayadeen and Boukamal along the border with Iraq. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses responded to the incoming missiles. It gave no further details.

An opposition war monitor reported at least 18 strikes in Deir el-Zour and along the border with Iraq, saying several arms depots were hit. Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people were killed, including seven Syrians, and the rest were Iran-backed fighters. It said 28 were wounded.

“They burnt Iranian positions in Deir el-Zour,” said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syrias eastern Deir el-Zour province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area. He recorded at least 16 targeted buildings, warehouses or bases for Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militias in the towns of Boukamal, Mayadeen and Deir el-Zour.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.

The strikes come at a time of heightened tension in the region in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Many fear retaliation for the US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last year may come before Trump leaves office, or that conflict could erupt to scuttle efforts by Joe Biden’s incoming administration to negotiate with Iran.