Photos purporting to show infamous Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Syria are making waves online this week, just as confirmation rolls out of new Iranian ground troops arriving in the country for an offensive with the Syrian army and Hezbollah.
Mumblings of foreign ground troops dropping into Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad have been on the rise ever since warplanes from Moscow entered the confict earlier this month. But in an exclusive report Tuesday, Reuters said two senior officials confirmed on the condition of anonymity operations by the Syrian army and allied Hezbollah and Iranian forces for an upcoming offensive in Aleppo.
Backed by Russian strikes, the ground operation is an expansion on an attack launched last week against rebel groups in the Hama province, officials told the news agency, adding that 1,000 Iranian troops had arrived in Syria for the battle.
Nothing about Soleimani's purported visit to Syria has so far been confirmed, but photos circulated social media Tuesday showing the Iranian general among fighters with blurred out faces dressed in fatigues. These images first appeared on Beirut-based Al Matadeen TV, whose chief correspodent Ali Hashem shared them on Twitter.
Soleimani rose to international attention as the powerful leader of the Quds wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the brigade that's purportedly been playing a role alongside the Syrian government and Hezbollah in the conflict. Though it's largely believed he's overseen ground operations in Iraq and Syria before, a Reuters report earlier this month detailed his growing stategic seat in joint Iran, Russia and the Syrian govenrment operations after a pivotal meeting in Moscow in July.
Now some social media users are musing on whether the loss of top Hezbollah commander Hassan al-Haj, who died earlier this week during clashes with rebels in Qalamoun, might have pushed Soleimani into heading into Syria himself. Here's some of those responses below.
@alihashem_tv ah man, the great Solimani. What a legend, sending all those Hezbollah into battle for a thankless regime.— DegusLocke (@DegusLocke) October 13, 2015
@alihashem_tv his presence shows the difficulty of ongoing battle. As well as the series of casualties by IRGC and hezb— Hassan Jawad (@HassounPrince) October 13, 2015
Among his many special powers, Qassem Suleimani can appear more in focus than people around him. pic.twitter.com/lGizhawt6p— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) October 13, 2015
I'm sure Qassem Suleimani appearing at the front in #Syria has nothing, at all, to do with the losses of senior IRGC + Hizballah personnel.— Kyle W. Orton (@KyleWOrton) October 13, 2015
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