The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Iran’s presence in Syria in February 2024 | Nearly 55 fatalities in aerial and ground attacks…15 attacks on US bases under “Revenge Campaign for Gaza”…frequent meetings and intensive military drills in Homs desert and 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 February 2024.

 

 

Human casualties

 

SOHR activists documented the death of 53 Iranian-backed militiamen in ground and aerial attacks in Syria in February 2024; they are as follows:

 

  • 14 non-Syrian militiamen were killed in Israeli strikes.

 

  • Three Syrian militiamen were killed in Israeli strikes.

 

  • Ten Syrian militiamen were killed in US strikes.

 

  • 24 non- Syrian militiamen were killed in US strikes.

 

  • Two militiamen were killed by ISIS.

 

 

15 attacks target Coalition bases in Syria

 

At orders by the military command, Iranian-backed militias continued the series of retaliatory measures against US forces amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, where SOHR documented 15 rocket and drone attacks on Coalition bases in different areas across Syria in February; they are distributed as follows:

 

  • Ten attacks on Al-Omar oil field base.

 

  • Five attacks on Koniko gas field base.

 

Those attacks left seven members of the Special Task Forces (Commandos) of Syrian Democratic Forces dead.

 

Meanwhile, US forces reacted to those attacks by six rounds of attacks in February; four airstrikes and two rocket attacks, targeting positions of Iranian-backed militias in Deir Ezzor province. Those attacks left 34 fatalities and tens of fatalities and caused heavy material losses. Here are further details on the US attacks on positions of Iranian-backed militias in the past month:

 

-February 2 and 3: US fighter jets conducted airstrikes on positions in an area of about 130 kilometres long stretching from Deir Ezzor city to Al-Mayadeen city, running through areas on the Syria-Iraq border. The airstrikes targeted 28 key positions of Iranian-backed militias; they are distributed as follows:

 

  • Al-Mayadeen city: Positions in Al-Tammo neighbourhood, Ain Ali base, Imam Ali base, Qal’at Al-Rahbah area, Al-Sheblei neighbourhood, Al-Haydareiyah area, grain silos and a villa belonging to Abu Al-Abbas the commander of Al-Abbas militias near Al-Bal’oum roundabout in the vicinity of Al-Mayadeen city.

 

  • Al-Bukamal city near the Syria-Iraq border: The US fighter jets conducted several airstrikes on several positions in Al-Hajanah, Al-Hari and Al-Sekak unofficial crossing.

 

  • Deir Ezzor city: The US fighter jets conducted several airstrikes on positions of Iranian-backed militias near the former college of Education, the surrounding area of the Iranian kitchen, positions near the radar systems, Teb Harabesh, Hawaijah Saker and Ayash warehouses.

 

Those attacks left 34 Iranian-backed militiamen dead; they are as follows:

 

  • Ten Syrian members.

 

  • Six Iraqi members.

 

  • Six members of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

 

  • 12 non-Syrian members.

 

-February 9: A drone that is believed to belong to US forces targeted a military checkpoint of the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” militia in the outskirts of Al-Sokkariya Town in Al-Bokamal countryside eastern of Deir Ezzor. According to reliable SOHR sources, the targeted checkpoint was recently emptied by Iranian militias.

 

-February 12: Drones believed to belong to US forces targeted a farm in Al-Shably area near Al-Mayadeen City in Deir Ezzor countryside, where Al-Imam Al-Sadeq militia that belongs to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards use the farm to store missiles. Moreover, the planes targeted an empty position that was used by Iranian Revolutionary Guards for military exercises. Meanwhile, the driver of a truck was killed on the road of Ain Ali Base, where a launch pad is stationed.

 

-February 13: Three explosions were heard in Al-Mayadeen City in Deir Ezzor countryside, after US forces stationed in the US base eastern of Deir Ezzor fired missiles on military checkpoints of Iran-backed militias in the vicinity of Al-Mayadeen City and Ain Ali Shrine, where these positions are considered major checkpoints of these militias, coinciding with the flight of warplanes over the region.

 

-February 20: US forces attacked a security position of non-Syrian Iranian militias southern of Deir Ezzor City, where more than ten people were injured and taken to a military hospital in Deir Ezzor. According to reliable SOHR sources, the members are required to protect the military cars and security the road that connects Deir Ezzor with Al-Mayadeen and Al-Bokamal. On the other hand, explosions were heard in the southern area of Deir Ezzor City, where strikes targeted three positions of the Iran-backed militias in southern Deir Ezzor Desert.

 

-February 21: A violent explosion was heard, resulting from an unknown drone targeting a weapons warehouse belonging to the Iranian militias on 70th Street in Al-Bokamal city in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.

 

The US strikes on positions and vehicles of Iranian-backed militias in Deir Ezzor city and countryside have confused the Iranians in that region. However, those strikes have not been able to contain Iran’s expansion in Syria, as there are at least 20,000 Iranian-backed Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen being deployed in an area stretching from Al-Bokamal near the Syria-Iraq border to Jabal Al-Bishri in the Syrian desert and T2 station, running through Al-Mayadeen and Deir Ezzor.

 

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have deployed their vehicles in the targeted sites in the area from Deir Ezzor city to the border between Syria and Iraq, running through Al-Bokamal and Al-Mayadeen, amid a state of high alert, redeployment of Iranian-backed militias and evacuation of different positions, fearing more attacks.

 

On the other hand, Iranian-backed militias cordoned off the targeted sites and prevented vehicles and passers-by from getting close to those sites.

 

Moreover, Iranian-backed militias closed Por Said street, a street leading to the Iranian kitchen and the entrances of the regime’s military hospitals in the region, amid imposing strict security measures and complete absence of Iranian-backed militias in Deir Ezzor city.

 

Also, the Iranian militias moved Nasr Headquarters that belongs to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Al-Omal Neighbourhood to a position in residential neighbourhoods in Port Saeed Street in Deir Ezzor City, amid fear of civilians from being used as human shields after Iranian militias moved into the neighbourhoods, where some families left the neighbourhood.

 

On February 6, the regime’s military intelligence arrested a leader in the Iranian militia called (M.H), and about 56 of his members, in addition to arresting 37 members of the local gunmen loyal to the Iranian militias, while a leader called (E.F) escaped towards Mahkan area and fortified with Iranian militias. According to the sources, a farm and cars belonging to (M.H) were confiscated in Deir Ezzor city, and cars belonging to (E.F) were confiscated. The arrest campaign came on charges of giving information and coordinates to the “International Coalition”, against the backdrop of the American airstrikes that targeted the Iranian militias positions in Deir Ezzor and its countryside.

 

In the same context, SOHR activists reported civilian exodus from Deir Ezzor in the first two weeks of February, fearing renewed US airstrikes on positions of Iranian-backed militias. According to SOHR sources, families displaced from Al-Mayadeen and Al-Bokamal cities and the neighbourhoods of Al-Hemaydiyah and Al-Ommal in Dier Ezzor city, especially after redeployments by Iranian-backed militias in residential areas to use civilians as human shields. This coincided with considerable public dissatisfaction over the deployment of Iranian-backed militias in residential areas and transportation of portions of weapons and ammunitions to populated areas, which risks the safety and lives of civilians.

 

On February 12, Afghani “Fatimyon Brigade” evacuated headquarters in the building of Syriatel Company in Deir Ezzor City. Also, Fatimyon Brigade cancelled a military course for 70 trainees until further notice, in fear of any potential attacks by the US forces and unidentified planes. According to reliable SOHR sources, the course was prepared in Qassim Suleimany Camp within Ayyash warehouses in western Deir Ezzor countryside.

 

On the other hand, members of the Lebanese Hezbollah work on rehabilitates an old network of tunnels that were used by ISIS during its control over neighbourhoods of Deir Ezzor City. According to reliable SOHR sources, the tunnels extend from Al-Omal Neighbourhood towards Al-Omal Mountain and Harabish Neighbourhood and connect with four steel structures of private institutions of civilians in Al-Sina’a Neighbourhood in Deir Ezzor City, where they were confiscated from their owners. The steel structures and nearby houses are used as weapon depots equipped with protection technologies and surveillance cameras.

 

 

Ongoing efforts to recruit more civilians in west Euphrates region

 

The Iranian militias in Deir Ezzor City look for recruiting young people to their ranks, taking advantage of the poverty in the region, and aiming to instil the Iranian ideology in the minds of young people by establishing lectures and trips with chants.

 

It is worth noting that “Karamish” Garden in Huwayjat Sakr is considered a trap to lure young people to be invited to the Iranian Cultural Centre by private buses from neighbourhoods of Al-Joura, Al-Qosour and Al-Mowazafeen, where they are lured by gifts and financial rewards.

 

Also, Iranian militias are still attempting to attract the people and residents of Deir Ezzor to their ranks, as part of their efforts to penetrate the Syrian fabric, through several ways and methods, the most prominent of which is exploiting the catastrophic living situation, the scarcity of job opportunities and the low monthly salaries compared to the high prices. They sometimes launch campaigns to distribute relief aid and sums of money, and sometimes by offering monthly salaries greater than what an individual might obtain in jobs in the public and private sectors.

 

In this context, SOHR activists reported that the Iranian Cultural Center in Deir Ezzor started to receive youth and women between the ages of 20 to 25 years, to work within the medical teams of the Iranian militias, with a monthly salary ranging from 750,000 to 850,000 Syrian pounds. In addition to a monthly food basket, those accepted will be sorted into special barracks for these militias in different areas of Deir Ezzor.

 

Similarly, the Iranian cultural centre announced a free entertainment trip for 150 male and female students, registered by the educational bureau, and their families. According to SOHR sources, the trip was in Karamish park in Huwayjat Saqr in Deir Ezzor city. This came as a part of ongoing efforts to lure young people and their families to follow the Iranians’ Shiaa ideologies through offering financial incentives and rewards and conducting entertainment trips.

 

 

Storing weapons and holding frequent meetings in Rif Dimashq

 

In the first ten days of February, SOHR sources reported that Iranian-backed militias transported weapons and ammunitions from Deir Ezzor to fortified positions in Rif Dimashq near the Syria-Lebanon border.

 

According to SOHR sources, five trucks, three carrying weapons and ammunitions and two empty trucks for camouflage, set off from Al-Mayadeen and Al-Bokamal in the early hours of Friday morning and headed to Rif Dimashq. The ammunitions and weapons were stored in fortified positions in tunnels in barren mountains dominated by the Lebanese Hezbollah in Assal Al-Ward and Al-Tufayl near the Syria-Lebanon border.

 

This coincided with concerns by Iranian-backed militias about renewed airstrikes by US aircraft on their positions in Deir Ezzor in light of the exchange of attacks between the two sides in the recent time.

 

While on February 13, SOHR sources reported that Iranian-backed militias held a meeting in Ain Al-Hour area in Rif Dimashq near the Syria-Lebanon border. The meeting was attended by commanders of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Afghan “Liwaa Fatemiyoun” and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (IPMF).

 

During the meeting, the Iranian-backed commanders discussed the latest developments in the region, the frequent Israeli and US attacks, the attacks by Iranian-backed militias on US bases in Syria and firing shells on the occupied Syria Golan, according to SOHR sources.

 

SOHR activists also reported that the commanders of the Lebanese Hezbollah and IRGC stressed on investigating every commander and members suspected to be in touch with Israel or the USA, especially after the considerable breaches and attacking senior commanders. They also asked other commanders to take care, periodically change their place of residence and secretly transport weapons and ammunitions to highly-fortified positions.

 

 

Reinforcement arrives in Homs, along with intensive military drills

 

In the latest ten days of February, Iranian-backed militias brought in a military convoy of seven trucks carrying weapons, through Al-Bukamal crossing which separates Iraq from areas controlled by regime forces and Iranian-backed militias in eastern Deir Ezzor countryside. It is worth noting that the convoy headed towards Deir Ezzor city.

 

A day later, the Iranian militias transported the weapons trucks outside the province, where four buses left towards locations of the Lebanese Hezbollah near the Syrian-Lebanese border in Rif Dimashq, specifically to Jroud Fleitah, and was stored there in fortified sites of the party. While the rest three trucks that arrived yesterday, headed to the eastern desert of Homs, under stringent security protection, and were stored in underground basements in the vicinity of Palmyra, east of Homs. Syrian Observatory sources added that the seven trucks carry short- and medium-range missiles and rocket launchers, in addition to ammunition, light weapons and logistical equipment as well.

 

While on February 16, SOHE sources reported that the Iranian-backed militias are conducting military exercises about 40 kilometers away from Palmyra city, within Homs desert. The exercises began yesterday, with the participation of dozens of members of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities, within a military field of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the vicinity of Marhatan village, and the exercises are conducted using live ammunition, under the supervision of leaders from the party, where short- and medium-range missile launches at fake targets are conducted, in addition to training on rapid evacuation operations, in order to raise the readiness of the militias in light of the exchanged targeting with Israel and America.

 

 

Demographic change in southern Damascus

 

Six young men from Ain Al-Arab (Kobani) city sustained various injuries and were taken to the hospital, when a group of Iranian-backed militiamen threw a grenade on them following disagreements between the two sides in Kherbet Ward in Sayeda Zeinab area to the south of Damascus city.

 

This came as a part of efforts by the group of Iranian-backed militiamen to force a family from Ain Al-Arab (Kobani) city to sell their house and leave the area over a dispute that erupted between the two sides nearly a year and a half ago. At that time, the family was assaulted by a group of Iranian-backed militiamen who stormed the family’s house in Kherbet Al-Ward, beat women and children and sabotaged the house’s contents, as the owner of the house refused to sell it to that group.

 

 

Ongoing Israeli attacks

 

As Israel continues to violate Syria’s sovereignty, SOHR documented 12 attacks in February: nine airstrikes and three rocket attacks by ground forces. Those attacks destroyed nearly 23 targets, including buildings, weapons and ammunitions warehouses, headquarters, centres and vehicles, and killed 17 combatants and injured 12 others. The fatalities are distributed as follows:

 

  • Two Iranian militiamen of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

 

  • Five members of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

 

  • One Iraqi militiaman.

 

  • Three Iranian-backed Syrian militiamen.

 

  • One Iranian-backed non-Syrian militiamen.

 

  • Five unidentified persons.

 

In addition, eight civilians, including a woman, were killed in Israeli strikes in February.

 

The Israeli attacks in Syrian territory in February are distributed regionally as follows:

 

  • Damascus and Rif Dimashq: Six attacks.

 

  • Daraa: Two attacks.

 

  • Homs: Three attacks.

 

  • Al-Quneitra: One attack.

 

 

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.