Twenty-one shepherds were killed in a massacre on Sunday in the Ma'adan area of eastern Syria in an attack that Syrian activists blame on Iranian militias, according to the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi news site. However, Syrian regime sources blamed the attack on ISIS.
The event took place two days after IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike. Syrian Facebook pages and news sites quoted locals as saying that that the shepherds were killed in revenge for the assassination of Soleimani.
Navvar Saban, a researcher from the Syrian Omran Centre for Strategic Studies, told Al-Arabi that Iranian militias were likely responsible for the attack. Syrian Civil Defense worker and former journalist Asaad Hanna also blamed Iranian militias for the massacre.
Syrian regime media blamed the massacre on ISIS, as ISIS cells operate in the surrounding desert, according to Al-Arabi.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that 19 civilians were killed and five others were missing in the attack in the Al-Sabkhah Desert in Raqqa by unknown assailants on Sunday. The victims were reportedly shot after being shackled.
According to the SOHR, the site of the attack is far away from where ISIS cells operate, but there are also no headquarters or centers of Syrian regime forces or militias nearby. The only military presence in the area are military convoys usually affiliated with the AL-Katerji militia. This militia was founded by Syrian businessman and lawmaker Hossam al-Katerji, according to Reuters.
Multiple ISIS attacks on Iranian militias and regime forces were reported in recent days.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that members of ISIS intensively shelled positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias in the Deir Ezzor area where Albukamal is located on Monday evening. Regime forces responded with heavy artillery and flares. It is unclear if the exchange of fire is connected to the explosions reported by Deir Ezzor 24.
A bus carrying regime forces was ambushed on the International Highway in the Deir Ezzor area on Monday, according to SOHR. At least seven soldiers were killed and 14 others were injured in the attack.
Last week, a number of IEDs planted by ISIS members exploded on a highway in Deir Ezzor, injuring multiple soldiers. SOHR described the attack as part of ISIS's "continued growing activity" in the area.