Syria state media says U.S. bombs military positions, U.S. denies reports

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian state media said on Monday that U.S.-led coalition aircraft had bombed an army position in the east, causing deaths and injuries, but the U.S. military denied it was responsible.

FILE PHOTO: A man sits near a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the re-opening of the road between Homs and Hama in Talbisi, Syria June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo

The attack took place in al-Harra, southeast of the town of Albu Kamal, state media said, citing a military source. There were no immediate details on casualties.

A commander in the alliance fighting alongside Damascus told Reuters that drones which were “probably American” had bombed the positions of Iraqi factions between Albu Kamal and Tanf, as well as Syrian military positions.

The commander, who is not Syrian and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strike had killed and injured some Iraqi fighters, but he did not give any numbers.

“No member of the U.S.-led coalition carried out strikes near Albu Kamal,” Major Josh Jacques, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, told Reuters.

The U.S.-led coalition uses air power and special forces to back an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State northeast of Albu Kamal. U.S. forces are also based around the Tanf crossing, southwest of the town in the Syrian desert near the borders of Iraq and Jordan.

President Bashar al-Assad’s army, with the help of Iran-backed militias including Hezbollah and Iraqi groups, drove Islamic State from Albu Kamal and its environs last year, but the jihadists have since staged attacks there.

“OCCUPYING FORCES”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said unidentified planes had struck Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah and other allied foreign militias around Albu Kamal.

The UK-based Observatory said the strikes had killed 52 people. Reuters could not independently verify the Observatory’s report of casualties.

Asked about the reported air strikes, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on foreign reports.”

Throughout Syria’s seven-year war, Israel has carried out scores of strikes within the neighboring country against what it describes as Hezbollah or Iranian targets.

Israel, alarmed about the clout of arch enemies Iran and Hezbollah, has pressed Russia, Assad’s other key ally, to make sure Tehran does not entrench its military sway in Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet he had “repeated and clarified” his Syria policy in weekend phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“First of all, Iran must clear out of all of Syria,” Netanyahu said on Sunday, according to a statement from his office. “Secondly, we will take action, and are already taking action, against the attempted military entrenchment of Iran and its proxies, both close to the border and deep within Syria.”

In an interview last week, Assad called Hezbollah “a basic element” in the war and said “the need for these military forces will continue for a long time”.

He said the United States was an occupying power in Syria and that his state supported “any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality”.

Reporting By Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Ellen Francis in Beirut,; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Gareth Jones

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