Map Syria shows the latest areas of control by Pro-Assad, Kurdish, Islamic State and Free Syrian Army forces.; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;

Airstrikes on pro-government positions in east Syria kill 12

May 24, 2018 - 5:38 am

BEIRUT (AP) — 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.

Syria's government forces have relied on the support from the Lebanese group Hezbollah and other regional militias, organized by Iran to wage war on the 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 Pentagon said it had "no information" to substantiate reports the coalition was behind the latest airstrikes.

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

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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Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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