Pro-Iran fighters killed as Israeli air strikes hit Syria for third time this week
Suspected Israeli air strikes on eastern Syria killed 16 Iran-backed fighters on Thursday, an activist group that monitors the war reported, hours after Damascus said it intercepted Israeli missiles fired at a central air base.
Those killed were "Iraqi paramilitary fighters loyal to Iran, seven of whom were killed outside the city of Mayadeen," Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
The other nine were killed in strikes south of the city of Abu Kamal, on the Iraqi border further east.
Abdul Rahman said Israel was likely responsible for the attack, which if confirmed, would mark the second such strike in less than 24 hours and the third this week.
Late on Wednesday, Syrian air defences intercepted missiles fired by an Israeli warplane at the T4 air base in central Syria, state news agency SANA reported.
"Our air defences intercepted most of them," it said, adding that the attack caused only material damage.
Thursday’s attack came days after Israeli strikes rained down on positions used by Iran-backed paramilitaries south of Damascus, including fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
Three government troops and seven allied foreign fighters were killed in Monday’s strikes in the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said.
Israel has carried out hundreds of raids in Syria since the country's civil war broke out in 2011, mainly against Hezbollah and Iranian forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as government forces.
The Israeli army rarely acknowledges the strikes, but said that on 3 August it had used fighter jets, attack helicopters and other warplanes to hit Syrian military targets in the south of the country.
Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday warned the group would kill an Israeli soldier for each of its fighters killed by Israel, after one of its combatants was killed in an Israeli strike in Syria on 20 July.
Nasrallah, who has threatened retaliation for the death before, said a "decisive decision" had been taken, but that Hezbollah was "not in a hurry".