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Cryptic Report Places Iran Quds Force Commander In Syria Recently

Gen. Ismail Qaani speaks in a meeting at the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran, May 24, 2017

A semiofficial Iranian news agency issued a rare public announcement on June 27 of a visit to wartorn Syria by the commander of Iran's elite Quds (Qods) Force, Ismail Qaani, before deleting the report.

Reuters reported that the hard-line Tasnim news outlet initially said Qaani had traveled to Abu Kamal, a Syrian town near the border with Iraq, in the past several days.

It said Tasnim offered no explanation of the deletion, and other Iranian media never reported it.

Hours later the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London reported airstrikes on Abu Kamal, presumably by Israeli aircraft. Israeli and Syrian armed forces have not commented.

It is possible that the report was intended to send a message to other parties to the conflict in Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are supported by Russian and Iranian forces and opposed by Turkish and some U.S.-backed forces.

Qaani's predecessor, Qasem Soleimani, was killed along with several other people by a U.S. air strike in January at Baghdad airport during a visit to Iraq.

The Quds Force is believed to be providing significant assistance to Assad as his forces and its allies battle a yearslong insurgency.

The force is also thought to be arming and aiding anti-Western militias in Iraq.

The U.S. State Department recently said in its annual report on terrorism that Tehran has continued to allow an Al-Qaeda "facilitation network" to operate in Iran, "sending money and fighters to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it still allowed [Al-Qaeda] members to reside in the country." It also said the "Iranian regime continued to foment violence, both directly and through proxies, in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen."

Israel has conducted numerous military strikes on what it says are positions of Iran and its allies inside Syria.

On June 23, Assad's forces said they had responded to Israeli strikes that had killed at least two soldiers in several parts of Syria.

Based on reporting by Reuters