Monitor: Airstrikes kill 19 Iran-backed fighters in Syria

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Airstrikes likely carried out by Israel killed at least 19 pro-Iran militia fighters in war-torn eastern Syria, a war monitor said Thursday.

The early morning strikes hit positions of Iran-backed militias outside the town of Albu Kamal in Deir el-Zour province, killing mostly Pakistani fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-Syrian opposition organization of uncertain funding.

Syrian state media did not report the attack and Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes, but the Observatory has said the Jewish state launched at least two other aerial attacks against pro-Iran forces in Syria since Saturday.

Last Tuesday, at least eight Iran-backed fighters were killed in strikes near Damascus and in southern Syria, according to the war monitor, which is based in the UK but relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

On Saturday night, airstrikes near Albu Kamal killed at least 14 pro-Iran militia fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Observatory said.

Iran responded by warning Israel that it would bring an end to what it called Israel’s practice of “hit and run” strikes in Syria.

Earlier last week, in a rare admission, Israel announced it had carried out a strike in Syria in response to what Jerusalem said was a failed Iranian explosives attack on the Golan Heights.

The military said it bombed “warehouses, command posts and military complexes, as well as batteries of surface-to-air missiles” in early morning retaliatory strikes following the discovery of mines planted near the Israel-Syria frontier. The military did not specify the location of the three sites, but they appeared to be military positions on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Iran backs President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war.

The latest strikes came after Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan called on the Security Council to take immediate action to remove Iranian forces from Syria.

“Israel … demands a total rollback of Iran and its proxies from Syria and the removal of Iranian military infrastructure from Syrian territory,” he said in a letter addressed to the head of the UN Security Council.

Israel views a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria as an unacceptable threat, which it will take military action to prevent.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions more since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.