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Syria Today – Israeli Airstrike; Abdollahian in Damascus

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israeli Airstrike; Abdollahian in Damascus

Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted multiple locations on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday, as stated by the Syrian military. Meanwhile, a war monitor reported that three individuals lost their lives in the assaults. Amir Abdollahian’s visit to Lebanon and Syria has prompted many analysts to suggest that Tehran is endeavoring to reconfigure regional alliances and power structures to align with its strategic objectives.

Syrian military claims Israeli airstrikes hit near Damascus; war monitor: 3 dead

Israeli airstrikes allegedly hit several sites on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday, according to the Syrian military, while a war monitor said three people were killed in the attacks.

The strikes came from the direction of the Golan Heights, Syrian state news agency SANA reported, citing an unnamed military official. It added that Syrian air defenses shot down some missiles and those that landed resulted in “some material losses.” It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Saturday that three people were killed in early morning strikes that targeted a building in an upscale area near the Syrian capital.

The war monitor said that the strikes may have killed “figures of non-Syrian nationalities” though it could not immediately confirm whether the dead were fighters.

Rahman added that many other people were injured in the strikes on a neighborhood hosting “villas for top military and officials.”

Videos circulating on social media on Saturday morning appeared to show the aftermath of the alleged Israeli strikes, including a multi-story residential building in rubble.

Since the Gaza war erupted, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacres, Israel has stepped up a years-long campaign of airstrikes aimed at rolling back Iran’s presence in Syria, attacking both Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israel across the Lebanese-Israeli border since October 8.

Israel rarely comments on its attacks in Syria and has not declared responsibility for the recent strikes there, aside from its responses to the firing of projectiles launched from Syria.

U.S.-led coalition blocks attacks at Conoco oil field in Syria, source says

Air defence systems operated by U.S.-led coalition troops based in eastern Syria halted six drone attacks targeting their base at the Conoco oil field on Saturday, a security source told Reuters.

The source did not tell Reuters if there were casualties.

Coalition troops and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who together fight remnants of the Islamic State group, have faced increased attacks by Iran-backed groups in Syria and Iraq since Hamas’s attack against Israel on Oct. 7.

The head of the SDF, General Mazloum Abdi, told Reuters last week that the U.S. should send additional air defence systems to Syria to protect their bases, after six SDF fighters were killed in one of the drone attacks.

Another drone attack blamed on Iran-backed groups on a border outpost in Jordan killed three U.S. soldiers.

Top general leading U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria warns of ISIS resurgence 

Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces warned Thursday there’s been a “spike” in ISIS activity in Syria recently, as ISIS tries to take advantage of tensions in the Middle East. 

Gen. Mazloum Abdi Kobane, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told reporters in a Zoom briefing Thursday that the escalation of attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed forces since October has impeded their efforts to prevent ISIS from resurging. 

“We’re seeing that ISIS is taking the benefit from all these attacks, and we have seen a spike in movements of ISIS,” he told reporters through a translator. 

The SDF and the U.S. work together in Syria in the global coalition to defeat ISIS. The U.S. has about 900 troops in Syria, 2,500 in Iraq, and a few hundred in Jordan as a part of that mission. Those forces have been attacked at least 168 times by Iranian-backed groups since Oct. 17. 

Kobane said that if U.S. forces withdraw, there would be “chaos” and a gap that many actors would want to exploit. He said he has been reassured by U.S. officials that the U.S. is not planning on withdrawing from Syria anytime soon. 

At the same time, Iraq has begun discussions with the U.S. about an eventual transition away from the coalition mission to a bilateral security mission, which could include a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The talks have been expected since August but come as the Iraqi government has expressed concern over retaliatory airstrikes the U.S. has launched inside of Iraq. 

An Israeli drone strike in Lebanon kills 2 in one of the deepest hits inside the country in weeks

An Israeli drone struck a car near Lebanon’s southern port city of Sidon on Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding two others, security officials said.

The strike came as tensions across the Middle East grow with the Israel-Hamas war, a drone attack last month that killed three U.S. troops in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border, and attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on vessels passing through the Red Sea.

The drone strike near the coastal town of Jadra took place about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border, making it one of the farthest inside Lebanon since violence erupted along the Lebanon-Israel border on Oct. 8, a day after Hamas’ attack in southern Israel.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the target of the strike in Sidon was Hamas official Basel Saleh, who was “injured to an unknown extent.” The official said Saleh was responsible for enlistment of new Hamas recruits in Gaza and the West Bank.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., center, is joined by fellow Democrats as they discuss a national security memorandum with the Biden administration aimed at ensuring all weapons acquired through U.S. security assistance is used in line with international law, including international humanitarian law, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Van Hollen is joined by, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Biden order attaches human rights conditions to US military aid, easing Democratic rift over Israel

Two Lebanese security officials said the strike damaged a car and killed two people, including one on a motorcycle. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

What is Iran’s strategy against Israel amid FM’s Middle East trips? – analysis 

The article provides an in-depth analysis of Iran’s regional strategy, particularly against Israel, as seen through the activities and statements of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian during his Middle East trips, CBS reported

Iran, known as the main backer of both Hezbollah and Hamas, aims to maintain these groups as operational entities against Israel. This support is part of Iran’s broader strategy to confront Israel indirectly through proxy forces.

Amir Abdollahian’s tour included stops in Lebanon, Syria, and plans to visit Qatar. In Lebanon, he issued threats against Israel, suggesting a conflict with Hezbollah would lead to significant consequences for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This rhetoric underscores Iran’s strategy of using strong, aggressive language to challenge Israel and signal its support for allied groups in the region.

Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and the establishment of proxy forces armed with rockets and drones in Syria and Iraq highlight its strategic depth in the region. This network enables Iran to pose a multifaceted threat to both Israel and U.S. interests, exemplified by the action of Iranian proxies like Kataib Hezbollah.

The meetings in Syria, attended by a significant Iranian delegation, focused on “bilateral” issues, indicating Iran’s intent to solidify its alliance with the Syrian government and coordinate on matters affecting regional dynamics.

The exclusion of Iran from a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia, despite its active involvement in regional issues, underscores the regional polarization and the challenges Iran faces in gaining broader Arab support for its policies.

Iran’s overarching agenda in the region, as deduced from the article, includes pushing the U.S. out of the Middle East, isolating and weakening Israel, and using proxy groups like Hezbollah and Hamas to threaten Israeli security. Additionally, Iran’s involvement in supporting the Houthis and participating in naval drills with China and Russia illustrates its ambition to extend its influence and counter Western presence in strategic areas like the Red Sea.

The article highlights Iran’s multifaceted strategy in the Middle East, which combines diplomatic moves, support for proxy groups, and military posturing to achieve its regional objectives. This approach aims not only to challenge Israel directly but also to reshape regional alliances and power dynamics in favor of Iran’s strategic interests.

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