DEIR EZ-ZOR, Syria
Iran-backed terrorist militias in Syria are hiding among civilians to avoid possible U.S. airstrikes, amid rising tensions between Tehran and Washington following the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, local sources said on Monday.
Soleimani, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force, was killed in a U.S. drone airstrike outside Baghdad airport on Friday.
Sources told Anadolu Agency that Iran-backed militias in Syria have made major movements following Soleimani's killing.
"Iranian militias in [eastern city of] Deir ez-Zor have hid their sites and military checkpoints in the towns of Al-Bukamal and Al-Mayadin," one of the sources said.
"Militias that vacated their bases are now hiding inside houses in residential neighborhoods," the source added.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Deir ez-Zor are reported to have reinforced security measures and erected new checkpoints in the wake of Soleimani's death.
Soleimani's slaying marked a dramatic escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which have often been at a fever pitch since President Donald Trump chose in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a nuclear pact world powers struck with Tehran.
On Friday, Iran's top security body has vowed "harsh retaliation" at the "right time and right place" to the general's killing.
The Pentagon accused Soleimani of plotting an attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, and planning to carry out additional attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members in Iraq and the region.
*Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara