Iranian militias blamed for horrific massacre in eastern Syria
Syrian activists have reported that 21 shepherds were killed in a massacre on Sunday in the Maadan area which is located between Raqqa and Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria.
The massacre took place two days after the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a US airstrike near Baghdad Airport in Iraq.
The area where the massacre happened is under Syrian regime control. Syrian Facebook pages and news websites blamed Iranian militias, who have a significant presence in the regime-held areas of eastern Syria, for the massacre.
The Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently Facebook page said that the shepherds were killed with knives and guns.
It quoted local people as saying that the massacre was carried out in revenge for the death of Soleimani.
He has been described as the "architect" of Syria's conflict - due to the key role his militias have played in supporting Assad - and his death has led to anger in pro-regime circles.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that three children were among the victims.
Syrian regime media, however, blamed the massacre on Islamic State group, which controlled Raqqa province until 2017.
The Maadan area has been described as "chaotic" in terms of security, with IS cells also operating in the surrounding desert.
The German Press Agency (DPA) quoted an anonymous Syrian regime official as saying that the shepherds were looking for high-value desert truffles in the area before they were massacred.
But Navvar Saban, a researcher from the Syrian Omran Centre for Strategic Studies told the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi that Iranian militias were most likely responsible for the massacre.
He said that Iranian militias used to run a crossing point in Maadan between regime-held areas and areas held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and had remained in the area after the crossing point had closed.
Syrian Civil Defence worker and former journalist Asaad Hanna tweeted gruesome video of the bodies of the shepherds with blood around their heads. He also blamed Iranian militias for their deaths.
Soleimani, the commander of the overseas contingent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) played a pivotal role in the preservation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, bringing in Shia militias from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to fight for the Syrian dictator.
Syrians blamed him for the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the country's nine-year conflict and many celebrated his death.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which broke out in 2011 after the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests by the Assad regime.