At least 18 Israeli airstrikes on a Hezbollah training centre in Syria in the early hours of Wednesday killed 40 fighters and destroyed weapons stockpiles, according to war monitors in the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which has a network of sources on the ground, said the Israeli raids targeted several sites, including warehouses and a camp, along the Euphrates River near the city of Deir ez Zur.
SOHR said the early hours aerial strikes included hits on Ayyash, the Sa’ka camp, the 137th Brigade, the mountain overlooking Deir ez Zur, and were the deadliest Israeli attack in Syria in recent years.
Among the dead were reported to be nine Syrian Army soldiers and 31 foreign fighters allied to Iran. Syria’s official Sana news station said Israel was to blame, adding that casualties were still to be confirmed.
The station did not report that Syrian air defences had intercepted any incoming Israeli missiles – an opportunity not usually missed if they did.
This is far from the first time that Israeli aircraft have reportedly attacked positions in the area, which was held by Islamic State fighters from 2014 until November 2017, before Russian bombers “liberated” towns along the river.
Among them was Al Bukamel, which is very close to the Iraqi border. Not long after Syrian soldiers entered, Shi’ite fighters from Iraq moved in to secure it. In doing so they allowed Iran’s Quds Force to gain a foothold in the region.
The Iranians and their Shi’ite militia partners, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Liwa Fatemiyoun (Hezbollah in Afghanistan), set about building the Imam Ali military camp near Al Bukamel. Israeli attacks on the camp have driven construction underground, where missiles are believed to be stored.
It is less than a week since the last wave of Israeli strikes in Syria, when aircraft targeted positions in the south and on the southern outskirts of Damascus, killing three Iran-backed fighters.
The raids mostly target personnel and weapons linked to both Iran and its proxies to prevent Israel’s enemies from establishing offensive positions or capabilities on its northern border.
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