BEIRUT  - Eight Iranians were among 15 foreign pro-regime fighters killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Syria on a weapons depot of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, a war monitor said Wednesday. 

The raid struck the area of Kisweh south of Damascus late Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. 

Syria's official news agency SANA said the army had intercepted two Israeli missiles fired towards Kisweh, with state television broadcasting images of fires in the nearby area. 

"The death toll of the missile strike has risen to 15 pro-regime fighters - eight from Iran's Revolutionary Guards and others not of Syrian nationality," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. 

The monitor previously reported nine pro-regime combatants had died in the raid, without specifying their nationality. 

SANA quoted a medical source saying that two civilians had died on a highway linking Damascus with the southern city of Deraa as a result of an explosion linked to "the Israeli aggression". 

Late Tuesday, the Israeli-occupied section of the Golan Heights was placed on high alert due to "irregular activity by Iranian forces" across the demarcation line in Syria. 

It is not the first time that Kisweh has been targeted. In December, Israel reportedly bombed military positions in the area south of Damascus, including a weapons depot. 

Since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011, Israel has repeatedly targeted positions of the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement backing it inside the country. 

On April 29, missile strikes - "probably Israeli" - fired on regime military positions killed at least 26 mostly Iranian fighters, according to the Observatory. On April 9, missiles targeted the T-4 air base in the central province of Homs, killing up to 14 fighters, including seven Iranians, two days after an alleged chemical attack carried out by the Syrian regime. Damascus accused Israel of carrying out the strike. Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war, though the armistice line on the sector of the Golan Heights which the Jewish state seized from its Arab neighbour in 1967 was largely quiet for decades until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. 

Rocket fire kills four in Damascus 

Rocket fire in the Syrian capital killed four people and wounded dozens of others on Wednesday, state media said. 

State news agency SANA said four people were killed and 24 wounded in "attacks on the Damascus Tower and Maysat Square". 

"A rocket fired by terrorists on Damascus city struck a car crossing Maysat Square, killing two civilians and wounding 11 others," SANA reported a source in the Damascus police as saying. 

"Another rocket fired by the terrorists fell on the high floors of the Damascus Tower in the Marjeh area, killing two people and wounding 13 civilians," the source said. 

State television had earlier reported shelling on the tower in central Damascus and suggested the car in Maysat Square in the northeast of the city could have been booby-trapped. 

It was not immediately clear who was responsible. The attacks came as regime forces battle to oust Islamic State group jihadists from the southern districts of the capital, including Yarmuk and the adjacent Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood. 

An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard two large explosions. 

State television broadcast images of security forces gathering around the mangled, burnt-out skeleton of a car in Maysat Square. 

A few metres away, the metal shell of a small bus also appeared blackened. 

Bassam al-Dahni, a government employee, said he had run to the scene after hearing what he described as a "large blast". 

Those who arrived found "wounded on the ground and we helped to get them to a hospital", he told AFP, blood visible on his hands. 

The body of the car's driver was found burnt through, he said. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, says IS fighters have previously targeted the capital in recent weeks. 

"IS in southern Damascus has fired rockets intermittently on the capital" since April 19 when pro-government forces ramped up their fight against the jihadists, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. 

The Damascus regime set its sights on Yarmuk and nearby areas after retaking the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta east of the capital last month. 

 

 

IS leader travels in east Syria with tight-knit group

Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding in eastern Syria and moves around with only a small group of followers, including one of his sons, an Iraqi intelligence official said Wednesday.

IS retains territory in the desert plains along the Iraqi frontier despite losing the vast bulk of its cross-border "caliphate" to various military offensives.

The senior Iraqi official said Baghdadi was in the Hajin, Shaddadi, Suwar and Markadah areas and "travels accompanied by four or five people, including his son and son-in-law".

"His movements are discreet and he never travels in a convoy," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Originally from Iraq, Baghdadi has been dubbed the "most wanted man on the planet" and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.

The intelligence official said the noose was closing around the jihadist leader after Iraqi forces captured five top IS commanders in an unprecedented raid into war-torn Syria on March 24.

"Officers from Iraqi intelligence entered Syrian territory and gained access to the zones controlled by IS," he said.

The five men had featured in IS execution videos filmed while the group ruled over vast swathes of Iraq, the official said.

One of those detained, former Syrian anti-government fighter Saddam al-Jamal, allegedly confessed to Iraqi forces that he had supplied IS with arms stolen from the Syrian army.

The official said 39 IS fighters had been killed in cross-border air raids by Iraqi forces in Syria over the past few weeks and that the group had seen a "sharp decrease" in numbers.

Iraq's interior ministry said in February that Baghdadi was being treated at a field hospital for wounds sustained in an earlier air strike.

In mid-2017, Russia said it had probably killed Baghdadi in a late May air raid near Raqa in Syria, but later said it was still trying to verify his fate.

In September, an American military chief said the jihadist chief was still alive and probably hiding in eastern Syria's Euphrates Valley.