Iran’s presence in Syria in April 2023 | Militias’ expansion in west Euphrates met by military and civil confrontation…recruitment continues in Homs and Aleppo…new reinforcement arrives in Rif Dimashq
SOHR calls upon all international actors to intensify their efforts to expel Iran and its proxies from Syria and bring to justice all those who aided and abetted the killing and displacement of Syrian people
Iran and its proxy militias have unprecedented influence in most areas under the “symbolic” regime control, as neither attacks by Israel and the International Coalition, nor the “cold war” with Russia could hinder the alarming entrenchment and expansion of these forces across Syria. Strengthening their presence and promoting their ideology, the Iranians are still carrying on with their systematic plan to change the demography of different areas throughout Syria’s geography.
In the following report, SOHR highlights the key developments in areas dominated by the Iranians in April 2023.
SOHR activists documented the death of 14 Iranian-backed Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen in aerial and ground attacks in Syria in April 2023; they are as follows:
- Seven killed by ISIS.
- Four killed in Israeli attacks.
- Three assassinated by unknown gunmen.
Iranians’ expansion in Deir Ezzor met by military and civil confrontation
In early April, Iranian-backed militias sent reinforcement to military positions and posts in Al-Bokamal and Al-Mayadeen areas in eastern Deir Ezzor, while several buses carrying militiamen headed to Al-Bokamal city.
While on April 23, a bus and two trucks carrying nearly 180 militiamen arrived in headquarters and posts of Iranian-backed militias in Al-Bokamal in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor from Al-Hasakah countryside.
Similarly, on April 26, A delegation of commanders of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian revolutionary Guards visited areas in eastern of the Euphrates, where eight 4×4 vehicles and two trucks loaded with weapons entered Al-Hasiniya town northern of Deir Ezzor, before heading to a farm controlled by Hezbollah near the paper factory, which is one of the positions of Hezbollah, without knowing the reasons behind the visit.
On the same day, the Iran-backed Afghani Fatimyon militias brought military reinforcements to their areas in Deir Ezzor. The reinforcements comprised three military vehicles carrying unidentified load, and two “Pick Up” cars supplied by machineguns. According to reliable SOHR sources, the reinforcements headed towards Al-Bokamal city in eastern Deir Ezzor countryside, along with a car for the security official of the Afghani militias called “Al-Haj Hussein.”
Two days later, on April 28, Iranian-backed militias brought in two artillery pieces and two four-wheel drive vehicles (4×4) with Grad-rocket launchers installed over them to “Soleimani” base in Ain Ali area near Al-Mayadeen, the “capital of Iranian-backed militias in east Syria.” In the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. This came as a part of efforts by Iranian-backed militias to entrench their presence in that region. On the other hand, SOHR sources reported that Iranian-backed militias brought in several cranes to the security zone in Al-Mayadeen city, before a crane was transported to Al-Haydariyah area using the military highway, while another one was sent to Ain Ali area near Al-Mayadeen where it was repaired.
On April 29, an Iranian military delegation arrived to Al-Bokamal countryside to check the military members. The delegation comprised four 4×4 vehicles, and set off from “Luwaa Al-Baker” in Al-Villat neighbourhood in Deir Ezzor and headed towards Al-Tabany town in western Deir Ezzor countryside at positions of the regime’s Fatimyon militia and the 17th Division, in the salt mine present in the region, amid extensive security mobilization in the region.
Redeployments and withdrawals
On April 7, Iranian-backed militias evacuated the security services’ headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Al-Arba’in street and dismantled the communication devices and security cameras. Moreover, regime forces and Iranian-backed militias evacuated their posts in Al-Duwain area in Deir Ezzor countryside transporting them to the desert. Also, Iranian-backed militias withdraw their troops from military headquarters overlooking the main highway to the Syrian desert.
Similarly, on April 11, Iranian-backed militias evacuated their positions in the “signal platform centre” in Ain Ali in Al-Mayadeen countryside in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor and blocked the road leading to “Suleimani base.” The militias also established a “signal platform centre” in “Suleimani base” and imposed a curfew for civilians and militiamen.
Confrontation of Iranians’ expansion
On April 6, members of a group called “Thowar Al-Bo Kamal” put leaflets on electricity poles, threatening the Iranian militias and their commanders and demanding them to leave Al-Bo Kamal city, noting that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards militias destroyed Iraq, and are currently penetrating inside Syria.
Meanwhile, three Syrian members of “IRGC” militia were killed on April 23 by anti-Iranian armed groups who attacked their motorbike on the road of Ain Ali-Mahkan which is controlled by Iranian militias in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.
While on April 30, unknown gunmen, believed to be of an anti-Iran military group, opened heavy machinegun fire on a military vehicle carrying members of the “Popular Mobilisation Forces” (PMF), while it was passing by Al-Herri town in Al-Bokamal countryside, which is controlled by regime forces and Iranian-backed militias in eastern Deir Ezzor. However, no casualties were reported.
Efforts to woo and impress residents
Cultural Centres of Iranian militias in Al-Ashara and Al-Bokamal cities in Deir Ezzor countryside distributed food baskets on April 15 on people who were registered to receive support.
While on April 19, Iranian-backed militias held a symposium in the Iranian Cultural Centre in Al-Mayadeen city, the “capital of Iranian-backed militias in east Syria,” the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The symposium was held by a Shia’a preacher and attended by several Shia’a pilgrims. According to SOHR sources, the Shia’a preacher had come from Sayeda Zeinab area in Damascus to Deir Ezzor city, before heading to Al-Mayadeen city. It is worth noting that several registered families attended the symposium to get relief assistance provided by the cultural centre. The symposium discussed the life story of “Imam Ali.”
Similarly, on April 26, Iranian Revolutionary Guards militia, in cooperation with the Iranian Cultural Centre, provided aids in Al-Omal neighbourhood near Iranian Nasr Centre in Deir Ezzor. According to reliable SOHR sources, the aids comprise food baskets and bread, and were handed over to residents of the neighbourhood and families of members of Iranian-backed militias, where Iranian preachers provided speeches for civilians.
On April 29, IRGC inaugurated a planet for manufacturing ice blocks in Deir Ezzor city in order to woo the residents and gain populist support, where this is the largest planet in the city. According to SOHR sources, IRGC rehabilitated the ice plant which is located in Al-Ommal neighbourhood in Deir Ezzor city, and it is also a centre for promoting and selling drugs under supervision of “Haj Kamil” the head of IRGC in the city. Meanwhile, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps prevented civilians from approaching the plant and started distributing ice blocks to affiliated military posts in the city. SOHR activists also monitored the arrival of vehicles of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the planet.
Reliable SOHR sources reported on April 18 that Iranian-backed militias started using archaeological sites for military purposes, where the IRGC-backed 217th Unit transported the archaeological fortress of Al-Rahba, which overlooks Al-Haydariyah road near Al-Mayadeen, into a signal and information station. IRGC also installed signal devices on the fortress, turning it into a military position, disregarding the historical and civilisational value of the fortress
SOHR sources in areas controlled by Iranian-backed militias in Deir Ezzor reported that disagreements took place between the Lebanese Hezbollah and IRGC over a planned military training course in Deir Ezzor. According to SOHR sources, IRGC in Deir Ezzor announced a military training course planned to start soon. Hundreds of people applied to the course, but only 136 Syrian persons from Al-Mayadeen, Al-Bokamal, Al-Quriyah, Hatlah and Deir Ezzor city were admitted. The process of admitting the applicants was under the supervision of the Lebanese Hezbollah according to certain conditions and security study of the applicants. The course was supposed to start in days, but a dispute over the supervision of the training led to postponing it.
The Lebanese Hezbollah managed to undertake the task of supervising the training course, after dialogues with senior IRGC commanders, where Hezbollah members persuaded them that IRGC combatants, who would have supervised the course, treat the trainees very badly, which would affect negatively on the ground and their popular base in the region.
According to SOHR sources, the training course would start in the coming days on the road of Al-Panorama in Deir Ezzor. The trainees will undergo physical training and military, ideological and guidance lessons to explain the importance of the “Islamic resistance against the American and Israeli occupation,” as they have described. The course will take 30 to 45 days, before sorting out dozens of the trainees to send them to Iran where they will undergo a higher level of training.
Ongoing recruitment of young men un Aleppo and Homs
Iranian-backed militias, namely the Afghan militia of “Liwaa Fatemiyoun,” continued recruitment operations, exploiting the disastrous living conditions of Syrians throughout regime-controlled areas manifested in the lack of job opportunities and prohibitively high prices of essential products. Meanwhile, recruitment operations by the Afghan Liwaa Fatemiyoun tops the events in east Aleppo countryside, where the militia offers its recruits financial incentives and other prerogatives so that they do not abandon its ranks.
According to SOHR sources, the number of people who joined Iranian-backed militias in the eastern countryside of Aleppo since the beginning of escalating recruitment operations in February 2021 approximated 3,195. These operations, which are carried out by spiritual figures and offices offering financial incentives, are concentrated in the areas of Maskanah, Al-Sfirah, Deir Hafer and other towns and villages in eastern Aleppo.
SOHR sources also reported that logistical and military training courses for the new recruits in the eastern countryside of Aleppo are conducted in the military base of Iranian-backed militias in Habbouba village between the villages of Al-Khafsa and Maskanah, east of Aleppo. It is worth noting that the base, which was established in 2021, is located on Euphrates river bank, opposite SDF-controlled areas on the other bank.
On the other hand, the Lebanese Hezbollah continued luring young and adult men from Palmyra area and its surroundings in the eastern countryside of Homs for recruiting them in its ranks. This followed the large reinforcement that had been brought in by Hezbollah to the region during the past period. According to SOHR sources, the number of people who have been recruited by Hezbollah in that region since mid-March has increased to 48; they are from Palmyra, Al-Baydah, Um Al-Amad, Al-Bayarat and Kherbat Tayas.
According to SOHR sources, Hezbollah raised the salary of everyone wants to join its ranks to 700,000 SYP, less than 100 USD, as well as offering security privileges to the recruits, facilitating their movements through military checkpoints in the area and protect those who evaded reserve military service from bring arrested by regime forces. It is worth noting that military drills are conducted in the same place which is a military field of Hezbollah in the vicinity of Marhatan village. After military courses, the recently-recruited members are distributed to posts of the Lebanese Hezbollah, where they are tasked with guarding those posts.
Military and logistical reinforcement arrives in Rif Dimashq
Reliable SOHR sources reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah brought in military and logistical reinforcement to its military bases in an area near Sayeda Zeinab area to the south of the capital, Damascus, where three trucks arrived in the latest ten days of April in the base where Hezbollah has stationed since 2015. The trucks carried short-range rockets, ammunitions, rocket launchpads and logistical equipment.
According to SOHR sources, the trucks came from positions of Hezbollah in the surrounding areas of Al-Bokamal city east of Deir Ezzor, and their load was stored in basements inside the base, which Hezbollah had dug in 2022, fearing Israeli airstrikes.
It is noted that the Lebanese Hezbollah has been preventing farmers from heading towards their farmlands near the base to avoid spying and security breaches; this has triggered considerable resentment among the farmers. This base had been used by regime forces to conduct training on the use of reconnaissance aircraft and as a centre for training members of the air-force intelligence services on shooting.
In early 2022, SOHR reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah began digging “potholes and basements” in the base where its experts and members are stationed. Hezbollah also concealed Iranian-made drones in “basements and potholes” that had previously dug for fear of being targeted by Israel.
Ongoing Israeli attacks
As Israel continue to violate Syria’s sovereignty, SOHR documented seven attacks in April, which left casualties and heavy material losses. Here are further details of these attacks:
- April 2: Israeli missiles hit several military positions of the regime and Iranian-backed militias in Homs, where a weapons warehouse of Lebanese “Hezbollah” in Al-Dab’ah military airport area in the western countryside of Homs, which has been controlled by Lebanese “Hezbollah” for eight years, was destroyed. The strikes also destroyed an air defence battery in the scientific research area in the western countryside of Homs and targeted the scientific research centre. The attack left two Iranian-backed militiamen dead and five members of air-defence forces injured.
- April 4: Israeli missiles were fired on the area of the Damascus International Airport, an Iranian position near the area of Al-Saida Zainab and Al-Ma’amil (laboratories) area in Al-Kaswa, while missiles of the Syrian Air-Defence were fired to block them and managed to block at least two missiles. Also, an Israeli missile hit Radar Tel Al-Sahn area of the regime in eastern of Lahoya village in Al-Suwaydaa countryside. The attack which targeted the glass laboratory in Al-Kaswa area in Rif Dimashq left two volunteers of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the battalions of what is known as “Syrian Resistance to Free the Occupied Golan.” The two men were Syrians from Al-Qonaitara and Al-Suwaydaa.
- April 9: Israeli fighter jets and drones carried out several airstrikes on the Radar Battalion in the western countryside of Al-Suwaidaa, the 90th Brigade near the border with the occupied Syrian Golan in Al-Quneitra countryside and the 52nd Brigade in the eastern countryside of Daraa.
- April 9: Israel fired artillery shells on several positions in Al-Quneitra countryside and the area of the Yarmouk Basin in the western countryside of Daraa.
- April 18: Israeli forces fired heavy artillery shells on positions in areas which Iranian-backed militias locate in, on the outskirts of Saida town near the occupied Golan in the southern countryside of Al-Qunaitrah. No causalities were reported.
- April 24: Israeli ground forces stationed in Marased Jabal Al-Shaikh fired over 20 shells on Qors Al-Nafl position western of Hadr town in Al-Qonaitara countryside near the occupied Syrian Golan.
- April 29: Israeli missiles hit an ammunitions warehouse of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the area around Al-Dab’ah military airbase in Homs countryside in the early hours of Saturday morning, completely destroying the warehouse and trucks carrying weapons. The missiles were fired by Israeli fighter jets from the airspace of north Lebanon. During attempt by regime air-defences stationed in Shanshar area to intercept the Israeli missiles, which targeted the surrounding areas of Al-Dab’ah military airbase, a petrol station on the junction of Abel village near Al-Naqirah sustained damage. However, it is not known if the station was hit by Israeli missiles or shrapnel of the regime air-defences’ missiles. According to SOHR sources, the petrol station belongs to a person affiliated with the Lebanese Hezbollah, and it is located in an area hosting three air-defence bases, one in Shanshar area and two near Al-Andalus suburb. The Israeli strikes resulted in the injury of four combatants, amid unconfirmed reports of fatalities in the attack which targeted the weapons trucks and the ammunitions warehouse.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is used to hearing the Syrian regime’s empty mantra that it always reserves the right to respond to Israeli attacks. However, regime forces do not hesitate when it comes to shelling opposition positions or bombarding residential and civilian areas inside Syria. The Iranians also dare not launch a large-scale military operation against Israel, as they know full well that they will be facing the might of Israel’s military, so the Iranians seem satisfied with letting its proxies do its bidding by firing only a few rockets from time to time on the occupied Syrian Golan, using the Iranian and Hezbollah-backed movement “Syrian Resistance to Liberate Golan”.
At a time when the Syrian regime “intercepts and downs” Israeli missiles only with a Russian green light, Israel can hit Iranian targets -with the purpose of undermining the Iranian military presence in Syria- and only with Russia’s full consent.
On the other hand, Washington justifies Israel’s stance that “Tel Aviv practices its legal rights to defend its security and interests against the Iranian direct threat”, not to mention the US desire to get Syria free of Iranian forces and militias.
We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), call for keeping the Syrian civilians out of the regional conflicts as the targeted areas and facilities are owned by Syrian people alone, not by Iran or its proxy militias.
SOHR stresses the importance of expelling the Iranian forces and militias from Syria without risking the safety and lives of civilians or damaging Syria’s public properties and facilities.