At least three people died when an Iranian tanker was attacked off Syria’s coast on Saturday last week, in the first assault of its kind since the war started a decade ago, a war monitor said.
“At least three Syrians were killed, including two members of the crew” in the attack that sparked a fire, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was not clear who carried out the attack, the war monitor said.
“We don’t know if this was an Israeli attack,” Abdel Rahman said. “The Iranian tanker came from Iran and was not far from the Port of Banias.”
It was also not clear whether a drone or a missile was used in the attack, the Observatory said.
The Syrian Arab News Agency, quoting the Syrian Ministry of Oil and Mineral Reserves, said that the fire erupted after “what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters.”
The flames were later put out.
In a report published last month that cited US and Middle East officials, the Wall Street Journal said that Israel had targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil since late 2019.
Hundreds of Israeli air strikes have also struck Syria since the war began in 2011, mostly targeting Damascus regime allies from Iran, as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Syrian government troops.
The Banias oil refinery is in the regime-controlled coastal province of Tartus.
“It’s the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Banias terminal has been targeted in the past,” Abdel Rahman said.
Early last year, Damascus said that divers had planted explosives on offshore pipelines of the Banias refinery, but the damage did not halt operations.
In February last year, four oil and gas sites in the central province of Homs were attacked by armed drones, sparking fires and causing material damage.
Saturday’s attack came after a Syrian officer was killed and three soldiers wounded on Thursday in strikes launched by Israel, after a missile was fired toward a secretive nuclear site in the Jewish state.
The Israeli army said at the time that a surface-to-air missile had been fired from Syria toward the southern Negev desert, where the Dimona nuclear reactor is.
The exchange of fire came less than two weeks after Iran accused Israel of “terrorism,” following an explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility.
Israel is considered the leading military power in the Middle East, and is widely believed to possess the region’s sole nuclear arsenal.
It has never disclosed its atomic arsenal, but foreign experts have said that the Jewish state has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties or damage on the Israeli side.
Israel has long sought to prevent Iran from establishing itself in Syria.
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