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Report: Airstrikes on Syria pro-government positions kill 12

By Philip Issa Associated Press

BEIRUT – Airstrikes overnight in eastern Syria killed at least 12 pro-government fighters, all reportedly foreign nationals, a war-monitoring group said Thursday. The Syrian government-run media blamed the strikes on the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

In Damascus, the SANA news agency said coalition aircraft struck military positions between the towns of Boukamal and Hmeimeh in Deir el-Zour province. It did not report any casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war through a network of activists on the ground, said the fatalities were not Syrian nationals but foreign fighters. It said the coalition was likely behind the strikes.

The Pentagon said it had “no information” to substantiate reports the coalition was behind the latest airstrikes.

Late on Thursday, Syrian TV reported a military base in central Syria came under attack from “enemy” fire and that Syrian air defenses confronted a missile attack. It did not give additional details.

Minutes earlier, SANA reported loud explosions at Dabaa airbase in Homs province.

Syria’s government forces have relied on support from the Lebanese group Hezbollah and other regional militias, organized by Iran to wage war on Syrian rebels and IS militants.

Their reach in Syria has alarmed the Trump administration in Washington and Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv, which say that Iran’s expansive networks in the war-torn country threaten Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not allow Iran to threaten Israel from Syria. The Israeli military is believed to be behind dozens of airstrikes in recent years against Hezbollah, Iran, and Syrian military positions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, days after President Donald Trump revoked America’s participation in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has threatened Iran with the “strongest sanctions in history” unless Tehran withdraws all its forces from Syria and terminates its support for Hezbollah.

Iran has dismissed those threats, saying its forces are in Syria at the invitation of President Bashar Assad’s government.

The strikes targeted “movements” of pro-government forces, near the T2 oil pumping station, the Observatory said.

In February, coalition forces struck pro-government forces in eastern Syria that the U.S. said had attacked U.S.-backed Kurdish forces battling IS militants. It was later revealed the fatalities included a number of Russian private contractors. Russia is a key ally to Assad.

The Iraqi air force is also known to strike targets in eastern Syria. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has said it is part of his country’s effort to defeat Islamic State militants at its borders, after the government declared it had defeated the jihadist group inside Iraq last year.

The United States, Britain and France bombed government facilities in April in retaliation for a suspected gas attack blamed on Assad’s forces.

Earlier this month, Israel bombed Iranian military positions in Syria in what it said was retaliation for Iranian strikes on the occupied Golan Heights. Israel called it its most serious operation in Syria since the 1973 Mideast war.

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