Assad army bases attacked in northern Syria, 18 Iranians said killed
Iranians reported killed in rocket strikes on regime-controlled military bases in Syria, triggering explosions strong enough to be registered on the Richter scale; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 pro-government forces killed, ISNA says 18 Iranians dead, Tasnim denies reports; Hezbollah-affiliated paper points finger at Israel.
Missiles struck several military bases used by Iran and Iranian-backed militias in the Hama and Aleppo countryside late Sunday night in what the Syrian army said was new “aggression” by its enemies, while the Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al Akhbar blamed Israel for the attack.
According to Syrian state television, the missile attacks took place at 10:30 pm. Al Akhbar reported the targets of the strike were Syrian army bases being used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Observatory said the death toll could rise as the attack also wounded 60 fighters and there were several others are still missing.
The semi-official ISNA news agency, citing "local sources and activists," said the strike near Hama killed 18 Iranians, including a commander.
Iran's Tasnim news agency, meanwhile, said the reports of an Iranian base in Syria being hit by rockets were baseless and denied any Iranians had been killed.
"All these reports over attack on an Iranian military base in Syria and the martyrdom of several Iranian military advisers in Syria are baseless," an unnamed source told Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“Syria is being exposed to a new aggression with some military bases in rural Hama and Aleppo hit with enemy rockets,” an army source was quoted as saying without elaborating.
The explosions were registered as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake by the European Mediterranean Seismological Center.
The Observatory said one of the locations hit was an arms depot for surface-to-surface missiles at an army base known as Brigade 47, about 10 kilometers (7 miles) outside the city of Hama, widely known as a recruitment center for Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias who fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Syria-based opposition media activist Mohamad Rasheed said that some of the exploding missiles in the arms depot struck parts of Hama adding that residents in areas near the base fled their homes. He said the base has been run by Iranian and Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Al Mayadeen reported missiles also hit targets in the Al-Malikiyah area, north of the Aleppo air port.
An intelligence source who closely follows Syria said it appeared that multiple missile strikes hit several command centers for Iranian-backed militias and there were dozens of injuries and deaths.
The strikes hit weapons warehouses, and further explosions were heard, the source who requested anonymity said.
The IDF declined comment. "We don't comment on foreign reports and we have no information at this time," the IDF's English-language spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the Security Cabinet for an unplanned meeting at the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday in the wake of the attack.
The attack comes amid rising tensions between Iran and Israel following an airstrike earlier this month on Syria's T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.
The strike on an air base brought warnings from Tehran it would retaliate, while Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview last Thursday that his country will strike Tehran if attacked by archenemy Iran, escalating an already tense war of words between the two adversaries.
Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to back Assad's forces in the country's seven-year civil war.
Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias have a large military presence in Syria and are well entrenched in central and eastern areas near the Iraqi border.
Israel has said Iran was expanding its influence in a belt of territory that stretches from the Iraqi border to the Lebanese border, where Israel says Iran supplies Hezbollah with arms.
Israel in the course of the conflict has hit Iranian-backed militia outposts in Syria, targeting mainly Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah’s arms convoys in and out of Syria and its supply lines.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month his country will continue “to move against Iran in Syria.”