Iran-backed fighters on alert in eastern Syria after US retaliates for deadly attack


BEIRUT (AP) — Iran-backed fighters were on alert in eastern Syria Saturday, a day after U.S. forces launched retaliatory airstrikes on positions in the war-torn country, opposition activists said. The airstrikes came after a suspected Iranian-made drone killed a US contractor and injured six other Americans on Thursday.

The situation was calm after a day in which rockets were fired at bases housing US troops in eastern Syria. The rockets followed US airstrikes on three different areas in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which borders Iraq, opposition activists said.

While this is not the first time the US and Iran have traded strikes in Syria, the attack and the US response threaten to undermine recent efforts to de-escalate tensions across the wider Middle East, where their warring powers have having taken steps towards détente in recent days after many years. disturbance.

“The peace continues and Iranian-backed militias remain on alert due to concerns about new airstrikes,” said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor.

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that the US would respond “strongly” to protect its personnel after American forces launched airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The strikes followed Thursday’s attack by a suspected Iranian-made drone that killed a US contractor and injured five American service members and a US contractor.

“The United States does not, does not seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said in Ottawa, Canada, where he was on a state visit. But he said Iran and its proxies should be prepared for the United States to “act aggressively to protect our people. That’s exactly what happened last night.” Activists said the US bombing killed at least four people.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, March 24, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

A statement issued by the Iranian Consultative Center in Syria warned the US against further strikes in Syria. Otherwise, “we will retaliate.” He warned that “it will not be simple revenge.”

The center, which speaks on behalf of Tehran in Syria, said that the US airstrikes targeted places used to store food products and other service centers in Deir el-Zour. He said the strike killed seven people and injured seven others without giving the nationalities of the dead. An official with an Iranian-backed group in Iraq said the strikes killed seven Iranians.

The Observatory raised the death toll from US strikes to 19, saying they were killed in three locations, including an arms depot in the Harabesh neighborhood of Deir el-Zour city, and two military posts near the towns of Mayadeen and Boukamal .

Iranian militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which has seen suspected Israeli airstrikes in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.

According to US officials, US forces launched two simultaneous strikes in Syria late Friday. Officials said, based on preliminary information, that a rocket attack took place at the Conoco plant, where US troops are stationed, and one US service member was injured but is in stable condition. At around the same time, several drones were launched at Green Village, in Deir el-Zour province where US troops are also stationed. One official said all but one of the drones were shot down, and there were no US casualties. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is suspected of carrying out attacks with bomb-carrying drones across the Middle East in general.

In this photo provided by the Ground Force of the Revolutionary Guard on Oct. 17, 2022, troops stand as they attend a maneuver in northwestern Iran. (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps via AP, File)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the American intelligence community had determined that the drone in Thursday’s attack was of Iranian origin, but offered no other immediate evidence to support the claim. The drone hit a coalition base in the northeastern city of Hasakeh in Syria.

Iran relies on a network of proxy forces across the Middle East to oppose the US and Israel, its arch regional enemy. US forces have been in northeastern Syria since 2015, when they were deployed as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, and maintain about 900 troops there, working with Kurdish forces who control about a third of Syria.

The exchange of strikes came as Saudi Arabia and Iran worked towards reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The kingdom also acknowledged efforts to reopen the Saudi embassy in Syria, where Iran has backed President Bashar Assad in his country’s long war. According to officials, Iran has launched 80 attacks against US forces and locations in Iraq and Syria since January 2021. The vast majority of those were in Syria.

The United States under Biden has previously struck Syria due to tensions with Iran – in February and June 2021, as well as in August 2022.

The Syrian conflict that began in 2011 has left nearly half a million people dead.

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