Hezbollah and Iranian forces in Syria have boosted their presence in areas south and west of the capital Damascus, an opposition war monitor reported on Sunday, after two strikes attributed to Israel last month targeted Iranian weapons shipments along Syria's Mediterranean coast.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Lebanese Hezbollah forces began work over the past days to expand an old Syrian military base south of the Syrian capital, to be used as a training and operations center for reconnaissance drones.
The work at the compound in the Saydah Zaynab area includes underground construction, which the Observatory said is meant to protect Iranian drones from Israeli strikes. Hezbollah, according to the report, drove out farmers in the area from their lands, in order to prevent them from documenting the construction.
According to the same report, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Iranian-backed militias have assumed near full control of al-Dimas military airbase west of Damascus, once used by the Assad regime, using it to replace the T-4 airbase in the Homs area, which has come under alleged Israeli attacks targeting weapons shipments.
Al-Dimas already started taking in weapons and drone part deliveries, the report said, adding that construction began there, too, to conceal “strategic weapons” smuggled from Iran.
Last week, Syria blamed Israel for an air strike on the port of Latakia, which reportedly targeted containers containing Iranian munitions, in the second such attack within a month attributed to Israel.
The damage to the country's main port could complicate Assad's efforts to rebuild the Syrian economy after a decade of war, particularly as he seeks to regain regional and international legitimacy.
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Saudi network Al Arabiya reported last week that President Bashar Assad wants to regain full control of Syria's coastal region, and has asked the Iranian Guards to limit their presence there.
Saudi Arabia has also been putting pressure on Assad to curb Iran's actions in the country, according to Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, after Riyadh accused Iran and Hezbollah of transferring weapons to Yemen's Houthi rebels via Syria.