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Suspected Israeli air strikes kill more than dozen Iran-backed fighters in Syria

Bombing comes after eight Iran-backed fighters are killed in strikes on Wednesday and at least 14 on Saturday
Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
Israel is thought to have carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out in 2011 (AFP/File photo)

Air strikes probably carried out by Israel killed at least 19 Iran-backed militia fighters in war-torn eastern Syria, a UK-based activist group said on Thursday.

The early morning strikes hit positions held by Iran-backed militias outside the town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province, and killed mostly Pakistani fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said the death toll may increase, with several fighters sustaining serious and life-threatening wounds.

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Thursday's strike comes just a day after eight Iran-backed fighters were killed in strikes near Damascus and in southern Syria, and a few days after air strikes killed at least 14 pro-Iran militia fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the war monitor, which is based in the UK but relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

Syrian state media did not report the attacks and Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes, but the Observatory said it was responsible the attacks against pro-Iran forces in Syria on Wednesday and Saturday. 

Iran-backed fighters are heavily deployed in a stretch of territory between the Syrian towns of Albu Kamal and Mayadeen, both former strongholds of the Islamic State group.

Along with Russia, Iran has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the nine-year civil war.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.

The last time Israel commented on an air strike against pro-Iran groups was on 18 November, when it confirmed it had targeted several sites around Damascus airport, including an alleged "secret military site" used by Iranians in Syria. 

Iran on Sunday responded to the attacks, blaming Israel and vowing the country's response would be "a crushing one".

Last week, Israeli aircraft struck Iranian targets in Syria. Syrian state news agency Sana said the strikes killed three Syrian soldiers, while the Observatory said seven allied foreign fighters were also killed.

Syria's war has seen more than 400,000 people killed and millions displaced since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.