Airstrikes kill soldiers in Syria in apparent Israeli attack

Airstrikes killed a number of soldiers near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday morning, Syrian state media and an independent organization said, in what appeared to be one of the heaviest Israeli attacks in the country in years .

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that tracks Syria's civil war, said the victims included 36 Syrian soldiers, seven Hezbollah fighters and one Syrian from pro-Iranian militias. The group said the attack appeared to hit multiple targets, including a weapons depot belonging to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese militia with a presence in Syria.

The airstrikes fueled fears that have troubled Western officials for months: that Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza could degenerate into a broader conflict against Syria, Iran and its proxies across the region, which could ensnare allies of the entities involved, such as Russia and the United States. .

American officials have sought to quell tensions, and Iran has sought to rein in its militia network after a drone fired by one of the groups killed three U.S. Army reservists in January. But fears of a broader conflict persist as Israel and Hezbollah clash for months along the border and as Israel carries out attacks on Iran-linked targets in Syria.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the attacks in Syria on Friday, but its Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, appeared to hint at responsibility.

“We will pursue Hezbollah in every location where it operates and increase the pressure and pace of attacks,” he said on social media, promising further operations in Lebanon, Syria and “other more distant locations.”

Iran supports and arms a network of proxy militias that have fought with Israel, including Hamas, whose political leader was in Iran for high-level meetings this week. Attacks across the borders of Lebanon and Syria have intensified since October 7, when Hamas conducted a major raid into Israel and the country responded with intense bombing and later a ground invasion of Gaza.

The Israeli military said this month that its forces had struck more than 4,500 Hezbollah targets in Syria and Lebanon since October 7. The assaults, he said, killed more than 300 Hezbollah members, although this could not be independently confirmed. Hezbollah's official website and spokesperson said that “more than 200” of its fighters had been killed to date.

On Friday, Syria's official state news agency, SANA, did not specify the death toll in what it identified as an Israeli attack. Several civilians and soldiers were killed or wounded in attacks in multiple locations near Aleppo around 1.45am

In a separate incident, Lebanese state media reported that an Israeli drone strike had targeted a car in southern Lebanon, killing at least one person.

The Israeli military confirmed it had carried out the strike, which reportedly killed the deputy commander of Hezbollah's missile unit. Hezbollah acknowledged the death of the man, Ali Abdulhassan Naim, on Telegram but did not explain the circumstances.

Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, praised the attack, calling it “another successful assassination of a Hezbollah commander.”

The Israeli army and Hezbollah have clashed across the border for months, forcing tens of thousands of Lebanese and Israelis from their homes.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission deployed along the border on Thursday he said in a statement that he was very concerned about the wave of violence, which has killed many civilians and destroyed homes and livelihoods.

In recent days, Israel has been subjected to increasing international pressure due to the war in Gaza: on Monday the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and on Thursday the UN's highest court ruled, in its sharpest language yet, that Israel must ensure the “unhindered provision of assistance” to Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday authorized a delegation to travel to Qatar and Egypt in the coming days for talks on a possible ceasefire. But it is unclear whether Israel will reschedule another delegation's trip to Washington, as the White House said it was seeking to do, following Netanyahu's decision to retain the team in response to the US abstention from the vote in Security Council.

In response to the UN court ruling, Israel said on Friday that it was committed to its legal obligations to provide aid to civilians in Gaza and would promote “new initiatives” to do so. Over the past month, Israel has supported a handful of aid initiatives, including a ship carrying food from Cyprus, airdrops by foreign countries and crossings into northern Gaza by a small number of humanitarian trucks.

But progress in efforts to increase deliveries has been slow, and aid groups say the current level is nowhere near enough to meet the vast need in the enclave.

Despite growing pressure on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israeli leaders have vowed to continue pursuing their goal of destroying Hamas, in Gaza and beyond.

Israel has previously targeted Hamas officials outside the territory, most notably assassinating Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas leader, in early January in an explosion in a Beirut suburb, according to Hamas officials, Lebanon and United States. Israel did not take responsibility for his killing.

Since the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011, Israel has conducted targeted attacks and killings in the country, which Israeli officials say are aimed at crippling military capabilities and supply lines for Iranian-backed proxy forces.

Throughout the war, Iran and Hezbollah supported Syria's authoritarian president, Bashar al-Assad, with fighters and military support. Israel sees the influence and military buildup of these forces as a threat to its northern border.

In a further complication for Israel, Russia also supports al-Assad. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs President Vladimir V. Putin's goodwill to help constrain Iran and continue striking targets in Syria, while trying to avoid damaging the forces Russia maintains there.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, condemned the attacks on Friday, calling them “a grave violation” of Syria's sovereignty and international law, according to Russia's state news agency Tass. The attacks, she said, were “fraught with extremely dangerous consequences” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Relations between Russia and Israel have already been strained by the war, and Putin has emerged as a vocal critic of Israel. Its ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, told the Security Council last week that Russia was guided by “what is necessary for the Palestinian people and what helps to promote peace.”

Friday's bombing was at least the second deadly attack in Syria in less than a week. Airstrikes in eastern Syria killed several people on Tuesday. Iranian state media said Israel was responsible, while Syria's state news agency blamed it on American forces. A Pentagon spokesman denied that the attacks were carried out by the United States.

Tuesday's attacks killed a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iranian state media reported. An engineer from the World Health Organization was also killed in the attacks, the agency said.

Johnatan Reiss AND Adam Rasgon contributed to the reporting.

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