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

Senior US intelligence official said the raids, the deadliest since 2018, took place with intelligence provided by the US
The Syrian state news agency Sana reported the strikes but gave few details (File pic/AFP)

Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least 59 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, an activist group said on Wednesday.

At least 14 Syrian soldiers, 16 Iraqi militia fighters, and 11 Afghan members of the pro-Iran Fatimid Brigade were among those killed, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

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 Observatory said.

A senior US intelligence official told the Associated Press that the raids took place with intelligence provided by Washington, a rare example of publicised cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria.

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

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

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

The Israeli military did not immediately comment, AFP reported.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman called the Israeli raids the "deadliest since June 2018" when strikes on the same region killed at least 55 pro-government fighters, including Iraqis as well as Syrians.

Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of Afghan fighters, operate in the region, it said. 

Iraq border strikes

The latest raids came hours after separate strikes near the Iraqi border on Tuesday killed at least 12 Iran-backed militia fighters. 

The Observatory said it could not identify the warplanes responsible for the earlier strikes.

The Syrian state news agency Sana reported Wednesday's raids but gave few details.

"At 1:10am, 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 results of the aggression are currently being verified," it added.

An unnamed military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defences responded to the incoming missiles.

Hundreds of strikes

The strikes were the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week, AFP reported.

The last strikes on 7 January targeted positions in southern Syria and in the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.

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Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets linked to Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent Tehran from consolidating a foothold on its northern border.

Israel hit around 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military. 

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

Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more since it erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests nearly a decade ago.

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