Drone strike kills at least 8 Hezbollah fighters in Syria
By PHILIP ISSA, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — At least eight Hezbollah fighters were killed in a drone strike in the eastern Syrian desert, where pro-government forces are engaged in a grinding battle against the Islamic State group, a monitoring group said Monday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a drone struck a position of the Lebanese militant group, which is fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.
A Hezbollah official confirmed the strike but not the toll. The official was not authorized to speak to the media so spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was not immediately clear who was operating the drone. Unmanned aerial vehicles are now widely used in Iraq and Syria, by armies and militant groups alike.
Israel has been targeting Hezbollah’s convoys in Syria with growing regularity, saying it cannot allow advanced weapons provided by Iran to be sent to Lebanon. Iran has sponsored and supplied Hezbollah since establishing the group in the 1980s to fight Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon.
But Israel’s strikes are generally confined to western and southern Syria, near the Lebanon and Israel borders. It has also been accused of striking Syrian government positions.
The U.S. has also attacked Syrian pro-government forces by air, but only once in any connection to the war on the Islamic State group, in September 2016, when an air raid killed at least 60 Syrian soldiers. The White House called the raid a mistake, and said it was committed to the war against the jihadist group.
Syrian pro-government forces have been confronted with a fierce counter-campaign after months of advances against the IS group in central and eastern Syria.
The jihadists briefly cut a major highway last week, isolating pro-government forces in the east and sparking a ferocious battle to win back the artery, activists said. The Observatory said two days of fighting in the desert area left 120 Syrian troops, Hezbollah fighters and other pro-government gunmen dead.
Syria’s military has heavily relied on Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and other Iranian-sponsored militias throughout Syria’s six-year-old civil war.