May 28, 2023

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Syria | 19 killed in US airstrikes targeting pro-Iranian groups

(Beirut) The death toll from US airstrikes targeting pro-Iranian groups in Syria rose to 19 in response to a deadly drone strike, an NGO said on Saturday, as the US insisted they were not expecting a confrontation with Tehran.

According to an earlier estimate by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), 14 deaths were reported in the overnight strikes from Thursday to Friday in eastern Syria, which has been at war since 2011.

Washington said an “Iranian-origin” drone strike on Thursday hit a US-led international coalition base near Hassakeh in northeastern Syria, killing a US contractor. Another contractor and 5 soldiers were injured.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at the behest of President Joe Biden, ordered “precision airstrikes. […] Against facilities used by groups affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ideological army, the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“American Lies”

In a statement on Saturday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned “American lies about the target sites”. For Damascus, he added, it was “a futile attempt to justify an act of aggression and a flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”

On Saturday, the Britain-based OSDH, which has an extensive source network in Syria, noted that 19 people had been killed in US strikes: 16 members, including three Syrian regime soldiers and 11 people supported by Iran. Syrian citizens.

After the strikes, Joe Biden said the United States “is not seeking conflict with Iran, but (is) prepared to use force to protect its people.”

On Friday, ten more rockets were fired at US and coalition forces at the Green Village base in northeastern Syria, the US military’s Middle East Command (CENTCOM) said.

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The strikes caused no injuries or damage to the coalition, but a rocket that hit a house nearly five kilometers from the base caused “significant damage,” “slightly injuring two women and two children,” US captain Abigail Hummock told AFP.

Later on Friday, Iran-backed militants targeted a site at the Conoco gas field, prompting an airstrike by coalition forces on targets in the city of Deir Ezzor, OSDH said.

“Uncertain Peace”

Rocket fire later targeted the al-Omar oilfield site and coalition installations in the countryside east of Deir Ezzor, “causing material damage”, the OSDH added. According to the same source, an “uncertain calm” returned to the Deir Ezzor area on Saturday morning.

Several hundred US soldiers are in Syria, fighting as part of a coalition against cells of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). They are often targeted by militants.

U.S. troops have been supporting the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2019, leading the battle to oust IS from the last areas it controlled in Syria.

In August 2022, the US president ordered similar retaliatory strikes in the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor after a coalition outpost was hit by multiple drones, causing no casualties.

Tehran, an ally of Damascus in the war in Syria, says it has deployed troops in the country at the request of Bashar al-Assad, but only as advisers.

The Revolutionary Guards are on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations.

On several occasions, the international coalition has admitted to conducting strikes against pro-Iranian militias in eastern Syria. Israel also regularly conducts strikes there, but rarely claims them.

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