Iranian-backed militias have been shuffled throughout Syria since a series of airstrikes targeted Iranian and Syrian targets in the country in recent weeks, according to local reports.
The Liwa Fatemiyoun and Brigade 313 militias were transferred out of the Deir Ezzor area of eastern Syria on Saturday, according to local news source DeirEzzor24.
The Fatemiyoun forces were transferred to the militia's headquarters in Palmyra in central Syria. Brigade 313 was transferred to the militia's headquarters in the Set Zaynab area in Damascus. Both militias were transferred on civilian buses without weapons or escorts in order not to draw attention, according to DeirEzzor24.
Both Palmyra and Set Zaynab have been targeted by alleged Israeli airstrikes in the past two weeks. At least four Iranian militants and three civilians were killed during strikes targeting Set Zaynab and nearby areas in Damascus in April, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). A week earlier, at least nine Iranian militants and members of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in the Palmyra area of Syria.
The formerly Iranian-backed and currently Russian-backed Palestinian Liwa al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade) militia which was located in Aleppo entered the city of Al-Bukamal in the Deir Ezzor area on Saturday in order to take over the headquarters of Iranian militias in the city after a request by Russia, according to the opposition-affiliated Halab Today TV.
Russian leadership requested that Iranian militias in Al-Bukamal withdraw all of their forces in the Al-Bukamal area and redistribute them to the headquarters of Iranian militias in the region.
The move comes a week after Iranian militias in the Deir Ezzor area were targeted by alleged Israeli airstrikes within hours of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a research center and base in Aleppo.
“Powerful explosions” were heard from the city of Al-Mayadeen to Al-Bukamal and over 15 explosions were heard east of the Euphrates in strikes by unidentified aircraft last week, according to DeirEzzor24.
Fourteen Iranians and Iran-backed militants were killed in the alleged Israeli airstrikes in Deir Ezzor, according to SOHR. The death toll was expected to rise as injuries were reported with some in critical conditions.
Multiple airstrikes have targeted Iranian forces and militias in eastern Syria in the past few months. A strategic border crossing between Iraq and Syria and the Iranian-controlled Imam Ali military base is located in the border town of Al-Bukamal.
Brigade 313 was established by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in south Syria. The Fatemiyoun are a group of Afghan Shi’ites recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to fight in Syria on the side of the Syrian regime.
For the first time since Iran entered Syria with thousands of troops and militia fighters, the Islamic Republic is reducing its forces and clearing out from bases in the war-torn country, a senior defense source said Tuesday. The Iranian nationals in Syria are said to be leaving because of the series of Israeli airstrikes. The Iranian-backed militias are leaving because the civil war is winding down.
The SOHR, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey all denied that Iran was showing signs of withdrawing from Syria, stressing that Iran merely moved around troops from time to time.
The SOHR reported last week that Brigade 313 continues to recruit new operatives in eastern and southern Syria and near the Israel-Syria border. The number of operatives has grown to over 6,250 and nearly 4,700 Syrians have recently been recruited by Iranian and pro-Iranian militias in the west Euphrates region, according to SOHR.
Airstrikes targeting Iranian and Syrian targets have killed dozens of Iranian troops and destroyed an immeasurable amount of advanced weaponry. Over the last six months Iran has also significantly reduced the number of cargo flights into Syria which are used to smuggle weapons into the war-torn country.
At least five airstrikes targeting Syria have been blamed on Israel in the past two weeks.
Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.