At least nine fighters loyal to the Syrian regime, including four Syrians, were killed during Israeli air raids late Thursday in the Hama province a central region controlled by the Syrian army and Iranians, a monitor group said.
Those killed were either ‘part of the regime forces or (allied) Iranian forces,’ the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The toll of nine dead could rise as some people were seriously injured in the raids, it added.
Syrian forces fired anti-aircraft systems in response to the deadly Israeli attack in Hama, the Observatory reported.
There were explosions and an unspecified number of casualties in the Masyaf area, after an Israeli air raid against regime positions, the group reported.
‘The area is under the Syrian army’s control and Iranians are present there,’ said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said the target was a factory and research centre producing short-range surface-to-surface rockets.
‘Our air defence systems responded to an Israeli attack over Masyaf in rural Hama,’ state news agency SANA reported.
Israel, which did not immediately comment on the reports, has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.
It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria announced Friday a fresh campaign to hunt down remnants of the Islamic State group near the Iraqi border following a recent uptick in attacks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led paramilitary alliance that has spearheaded the ground fight against IS in Syria since 2015, said that the new campaign is being carried out in coordination with the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition.
‘This campaign will target ISIS’s hideouts and hotbeds,’ it said, using a different acronym for the jihadist group.
It said operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq where IS has conducted a spate of attacks in recent months.
Since the loss of its last territory in Syria in March 2019, IS attacks have been restricted to the vast desert that stretches from the heavily populated Orontes valley in the west all the way to Iraqi border.
It regularly targets SDF forces and has vowed to seek revenge for the defeat of its so-called ‘caliphate’.
The SDF, with backing from its coalition allies, launched a campaign to hunt down sleeper cells after it forced IS jihadists out of their last Syrian redoubt in the desert hamlet of Baghouz in March 2019.
A raid in October by US special forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the jihadist group which once controlled large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
Last month, the United Nations accused the IS group and others in Syria of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to step up violence on civilians, describing the situation as a ‘ticking time-bomb’.
Across the border in Iraq, IS has exploited a coronavirus lockdown, coalition troop withdrawals and simmering political disputes to ramp up attacks.
Iraq declared IS defeated in late 2017 but sleeper cells have survived in remote northern and western areas, where security gaps mean the group wages occasional attacks.
They have spiked since early April as jihadists plant explosives, shoot up police patrols and launch mortar and rocket fire at villages.
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