Syria says US air strikes against Iranian-backed militias in the east of the country are a cowardly act and as it urges President Joe Biden not to follow “the law of the jungle”.
An Iraqi militia official close to Iran says the strikes killed one fighter and wounded four.
US officials said on Friday (local time) they were limited in scope to show Biden’s administration will act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.
Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-president Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared and fears of full-scale conflict grew.
“Syria condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly US attack on areas in Deir al-Zor near the Syrian-Iraqi border,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“It (the Biden administration) is supposed to stick to international legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle as (did) the previous administration.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the US strikes, calling them “illegal aggression” and a violation of human rights and international law.
The air strikes, early Friday local time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel and goods.
Western officials and some Iraqi officials accuse Iranian-backed groups of involvement in deadly rocket attacks on US sites and personnel in Iraq over the last month.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also criticised the US strikes and called for “unconditional respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria”.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the air strikes in Syria are meant to send the message that Biden will act to protect Americans.
Future US actions in the region will be deliberative and will aim to de-escalate tensions in Syria, Ms Psaki said.
The Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the strikes targeted positions of the Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the border.
KH later confirmed the death of one of its fighters and identified him as Sayyid Rahi Salam Zayid al-Sharifi.
“The American enemy persists in its criminality and kills the protectors of the nation and the honorable people of the country, not deterred from shedding innocent blood as long as the wages of murder are received from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates,” a KH statement said.
Local sources and a medical source in eastern Syria said at least 17 people had been killed but gave no further details. That toll could not be confirmed.
The Pentagon said it had preliminary information about casualties but did not provide any details.
In recent attacks, a non-American contractor was killed at a US military base at Erbil International Airport in Kurdish-run northern Iraq on February 15 and, in the days that followed, rockets were fired at a base hosting US forces, and near the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq gives Iraq breathing room as it investigates the Erbil attack, which also wounded Americans.
Kataib Hezbollah has denied involvement in recent attacks against US interests. Iran denies involvement in attacks on US sites.