Suspected Israeli strikes 'kill 57 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters'

US soldiers in a Bradley tank patrol an area near Syria’s north-eastern Semalka border crossing with Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous territory

Syria's state-run SANA news agency reported strikes hitting the towns of Deir el-Zour, Mayadeen and Boukamal.

The Israel Defense Forces had no comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria, save for those in retaliation for an attack from the country.

The United States has a small number of troops at Tanf, a base in Syria near Al Bukamal, the main city struck by Wednesday's Israeli raid.

The Observatory said it recorded 39 Israeli strikes inside Syria in 2020 that hit 135 targets, including military posts, warehouses or vehicles.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-Syrian opposition organization, said that the strikes hit 18 facilities and that 57 fighters were killed, at least nine of them Syrian soldiers and the rest "militia fighters allied with Iran" of as yet unknown nationalities.

"At 1.10 am (2310 GMT yesterday), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Albu Kamal region", SANA said, citing a military source. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights assessed that 57 people were killed, majority Iran-backed militia fighters as well as 14 Syrian government forces.

Forces linked to Hezbollah and the Fatemiyoun Brigade, an Afghan Shia militia, operated in the areas that were attacked, it added.

A senior USA intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told the Associated Press that the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States and targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used as a part of the pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defences responded to the incoming missiles.

The official claimed the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran's nuclear programme, AP said.

Omar Abu Layla, the Europe-based head of the activist DeirEzzor24 news website, tweeted that the warehouses had contained a shipment of missiles and other weapons brought to the Deir al-Zour area by the Fatemiyoun Brigade in recent weeks for distribution among Iran-backed militias.

On January 7, Israel targeted positions in the south and in the southern outskirts of Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters. Israel will work on easing the danger of the possible return to the bad deal, they said. In June 2018, 55 pro-government fighters were reportedly killed in the same region.

Many fear retaliation for the USA killing of Iran's Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani past year in Baghdad may come before Trump leaves office, or that conflict could erupt to scuttle efforts by Joe Biden's incoming administration to negotiate with Iran.

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