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Israeli Strikes In Syria Kill Two Iran-backed Fighters: Monitor

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Cairo — reflecting increased Arab engagement with Syria’s regime

Two Iran-affiliated fighters have been killed in the latest Israeli air strike on targets in Syria, a war monitor said Sunday, with state news agency SANA reporting five Syrian soldiers wounded.

The strike early Sunday near the western Syrian city of Homs was Israel’s third since early Thursday after the capital Damascus was targeted that morning and early Friday.

During more than a decade of civil war in Syria, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, as well as Syrian army positions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said “two pro-Iran fighters whose nationalities are so far unknown were killed” in the strikes targeting military positions of Syrian government forces and pro-Iran groups.

The monitor, which relies on a network of sources in Syria, said explosions rocked Homs and a fire broke out in a research centre.

“An arms depot belonging to Lebanese Hezbollah forces in the military airport of Dabaa, in the southwestern sector of Homs, was destroyed,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that the two fighters had been killed in strikes on the arms depot.

State news agency SANA reported, citing a military source, that “the Israeli enemy carried out an air assault… targeting positions in the city of Homs and its province”.

Syria’s air defence intercepted several missiles, but five soldiers were wounded and some material damage was reported, SANA said. Abdel Rahman gave the same number of injured soldiers.

In earlier strikes, on Friday, Israel launched “several missiles from the occupied Golan Heights” against positions near Damascus, Syrian state media had said.

The Observatory said those strikes targeted a weapons and ammunition depot of the Syrian military and pro-Iran groups.

Sepahnews, the website of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Friday that officer Milad Heidari had been killed.

On Sunday, the website reported that Meghdad Mahghani, a military adviser wounded in the same strike, had “attained the high rank of martyrdom”.

It added that Israel “will pay”.

Later in the day, Israeli forces shot down a drone that infiltrated its airspace from Syria, Israel’s army said.

Israeli “helicopters and fighter jets were deployed following an unidentified aircraft that seems to have crossed from the direction of Syria into Israeli territory,” an army statement said.

“The aircraft was downed in an open area,” it said. A spokesperson confirmed to AFP it was unmanned.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani condemned the latest attack in Syria. He said on Sunday that the “blood of these high-ranking martyrs will not go to waste” and that Tehran “reserves its right to respond… at the appropriate time and place”.

The latest strikes coincide with increasing Arab engagement with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has been politically isolated since Syria’s war broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful anti-government protests.

On Saturday Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met in Cairo with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, a first since the war began.

Saudi Arabia and Iran last month announced a Chinese-brokered agreement to restore ties in a detente that has the potential to reshape relations across the region.

Israel conducted several air strikes on Syrian targets in March, according to the Observatory.

While Israel rarely comments on the strikes it carries out on targets in Syria, it has repeatedly said it will not allow its arch-foe Iran to extend its footprint in the war-torn country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking after the strike on Sunday, said: “We are exacting a high price from the regimes that support terrorism, beyond Israel’s borders. I suggest that our enemies not err.”

Israel has seen weeks of protests against a controversial judicial overhaul now frozen by the government, but Netanyahu said his country’s “internal debate will not detract one iota from our determination, strength and ability to act against our enemies on all fronts, wherever and whenever necessary.”

On March 22 an Israeli missile strike destroyed a suspected arms depot used by Iran-backed militias at Syria’s Aleppo airport, the Observatory said.

The Syrian war escalated into a deadly armed conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists, killed around 500,000 people, and forced about half of Syria’s pre-war population from their homes.

A war monitor said this strike on March 12, 2023 in Syria's Hama countryside was among several by Israel on Syrian targets during the month
A war monitor said this strike on March 12, 2023 in Syria’s Hama countryside was among several by Israel on Syrian targets during the month