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Hundreds of Iranian soldiers have massed in northern Syria to back Syrian forces

Hundreds of Iranian soldiers have massed in northern Syria to back Syrian forces

By Loveday Morris and Thomas Gibbons-Neff for The Washington Post

BEIRUT – Hundreds of Iranian soldiers have massed in northern Syria in recent days and are poised to back Syrian forces in a ground offensive under cover of Russian airstrikes, a senior U.S. defense official and Syrian activists said Wednesday.

The element from Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps has gathered near the Syrian city of Aleppo, said the defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The number is in the hundreds, rather than thousands, as some reports have indicated, he said.

Syrian officials denied the claims, however, while some Syrian rebels said militia fighters from Iraq but backed by Iran were being deployed in the area.

Iran has long had commanders and military advisers on the battlefield in Syria. But the deployment would show a deepening involvement in the four-year civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad as Russia steps up its military intervention, assisting Syrian ground forces with two weeks of airstrikes.

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