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Airstrikes from unknown source cause massive explosions at Iranian weapons depot in Syria

A Syrian army-organized tour on April 20 shows a member of the Syrian government forces walking past a Syrian government flag with a portrait hanging nearby of President Bashar al-Assad, in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

A missile attack in Syria on Sunday killed 26 pro-regime fighters, most of whom were Iranian, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Only four of the dead were Syrian. An additional 60 fighters were wounded.

An Iranian-backed Iraqi militia official from Syria put the number at 36, and claimed that only 10 of those were Iranian, according to the Washington Post.

The strikes targeted Iranian Shiite militia outposts near the village of Maarin al-Jabal. The strikes hit an arms depot and military compounds, causing an explosion so large that it triggered a 2.6 magnitude earthquake. There was also a second strike against another Iranian complex near Aleppo.

Syrian state TV called it a “new aggression on military positions.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a statement after the attacks, saying that the time when enemies of the Iranian state can launch "hit and run" attacks is over. Even though the statement was made after the strikes, Khamenei did not specifically mention the strike.

Who is responsible for the airstrikes?

Nobody has taken credit for the attack yet. Syrian rebels have been attacking regime positions for more than seven years now, and some rebel groups have claimed responsibility.

However, the Syrian regime claims that Russian forces were monitoring the air near rebel positions and that the rebels could not have carried the strikes without their knowledge.

Israel could also feasibly have carried out the strikes. The Israeli government does not generally take credit for airstrikes, and Israel and Iran are sworn enemies.

The same day as the attack, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that his country would not "interfere in domestic Syrian issues" but that "[w]e will keep our freedom of operation in all of Syria." He also said that Israel “will prevent Iran from establishing a forward base in Syria at any cost.”

What about the U.S.?

The U.S. government also has the weapons and intelligence capabilities to have carried out the strike. The state-owned Syrian newspaper Tishrin claimed that the missiles came from military bases controlled by the U.S. and the British in Jordan, citing “sources on the ground.”

The American government has not taken responsibility for this attack, and the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian governments have not yet directly accused the U.S. of orchestrating it.

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