Pro-Iranian militias in Syria vowed a “very harsh” response to the alleged Israeli-US strike on their facilities near the central Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday night, which they said killed and wounded many of their members.
The groups – which collectively refer to themselves as “Syria’s Allies Operations Room” – said in a statement that the attack took place through Jordan and the Al-Tanf area in Syria, which is controlled by the US military and its allies.
The official Syrian News Agency (SANA) reported that a Syrian soldier was killed and three others were wounded in the raid.
According to the Allied Syria Operations Room, a number of militiamen were also killed and wounded in the attack, although it did not reveal an exact toll. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked group with unclear funding, said three pro-Iranian militiamen were killed in the raid and four others were wounded. The Britain-based observatory has sometimes been accused of inflating the death toll.
The groups said in their statement that “the command of the operations room took the decision to respond to this attack in retaliation for the lives of the martyrs and the blood of the wounded, and the response will be very harsh.”
Neither Israel nor the United States has acknowledged carrying out the attack. Israel, as a rule, does not comment on specific strikes it carries out in Syria, but generally acknowledges that it carries out operations against groups linked to Iran in the country in order to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons and prevent attacks against Israel from Syria.
According to SANA, the airstrikes were carried out around 11:30 pm, hitting a “communication tower and some areas surrounding it” near the city of Palmyra.
On Thursday morning, the Israel Airports Authority announced the closure of the airspace around the Golan Heights for at least 24 hours. This is a routine precautionary measure in the wake of reports of Israeli strikes in Syria.
The Syria Allies Operations Room confirmed that it was in Syria only to help the dictator Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State and accused Israel and the United States of trying to “drag us into side battles”.
Iran, a close ally of Assad, maintains a military presence in Syria and supports a number of Shiite-majority militias in the country. These armed groups are fighting alongside Assad’s forces against the opposition in the country, but Israel maintains that they are also used to launch attacks against Israel and facilitate the transfer of weapons and other materials throughout the region.
The reported strike near Palmyra on Wednesday night is the second alleged Israeli attack in Syria in recent days, after six Syrian soldiers were wounded in an airstrike targeting the T-4 air base, also outside Palmyra, last Friday night.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against military targets linked to Iran in Syria over the years, but it rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel fears the entrenchment of Iran on its northern border, and has repeatedly bombed facilities linked to Iran and arms convoys destined for the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Emmanuel Fabian contributed to this report.