Car bombing rocks Syrian capital Damascus, state media says

Target unclear, according to government-controlled SANA agency, but area is home to UN headquarters, several embassies; two people lightly hurt

Screen capture from a video showing the aftermath of a reported car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus, April 2, 2023.  (Screenshot/Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from a video showing the aftermath of a reported car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus, April 2, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A car bombing rocked the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday evening, state media said, with no deaths reported and no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack.

“An explosive device detonated in a civilian car, setting it alight without causing casualties,” said state news agency SANA, quoting a police source. The agency did not blame Israel. Syrian state media generally is quick to attribute airstrikes in the country to Israel and has repeatedly done so in recent weeks.

The Syrian Interior Ministry said Sunday “two people were slightly injured” in the blast that targeted a pick-up truck, adding that “investigations are ongoing”.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the rare car bombing attack in the Syrian capital, or who the target was.

The attack took place in an area home to United Nations headquarters, several embassies, and restaurants, according to an AFP correspondent in Damascus.

On February 27, a Syrian officer who worked “in developing weapons” was killed in a car bombing in the Damascus countryside, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Sunday’s bombing attack comes amid increased airstrikes attributed to Israel in Syria in recent days and heightened tensions between Israel and Iran related to Tehran’s presence on Israel’s northern border.

The bombing also came hours after Israeli Air Force combat helicopters and planes downed an unidentified aircraft that appeared to have crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria on Sunday, according to the military.

The unidentified aircraft was tracked by the military and “taken down over an open area,” without posing a threat to residents of the area, the IDF said in a statement.

Hebrew media said the military believes the aircraft was of Iranian origin.

Earlier Sunday, Iran said that a second member of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had died of injuries sustained in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria early Friday. An IRGC adviser, was also killed in the strike Friday.

Late Saturday, SANA said that Israeli jets carried out airstrikes on several targets near the city of Homs, injuring five soldiers. Western intelligence sources told Reuters that Saturday’s strikes hit a series of air bases in central Syria where Iranian personnel are based.

A Israeli intelligence and imagery firm, ImageSat International, published images that it said showed damage caused to the Syrian military airport at al-Dabaa near Homs in the alleged airstrike after midnight on Saturday. ImageSat said the airstrike likely targeted Iranian-backed Hezbollah drone activity, destroying an aircraft shed, a UAV communication station and a communication vehicle.

Some Israeli media outlets on Sunday reported unattributed assessments that the string of airstrikes in Syria — three in four consecutive nights — could be linked to last month’s suspected Hezbollah bombing near Megiddo in northern Israel, which Jerusalem believes was carried out by a terrorist who crossed the Lebanon border fence using a ladder. One man was seriously wounded in the attack.

While many details of the investigation into the Megiddo bombing are barred from publication, Haaretz cited speculation that the series of airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria could indicate that the IRGC was involved in the latest security incidents.

As a general rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but it has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties over the last decade against Iran-backed groups that have been attempting to gain a foothold in the country.

The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly mention the strikes at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, but said Israel was acting against foreign threats.

“We are exacting a high price from the regimes that support terror outside Israel’s borders,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, left, during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Netanyahu said that a major domestic crisis over his government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary has not affected Israel’s ability to strike.

“The internal argument in Israel doesn’t harm and won’t harm our determination or intensity or our capabilities to act against our enemies on all fronts, in any place and at any time necessary,” he said.

Some reservists have pledged not to show up for duty so long as the overhaul moves forward, prompting military and defense officials to warn of damage to the military’s capabilities. Netanyahu has paused the overhaul for now.

Later Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant commented about Syria during a visit to soldiers in the West Bank but did not directly confirm the recent airstrikes.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second from right), during a briefing in the West Bank on April 2, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

“We will not allow the Iranians and Hezbollah to harm us. We have not allowed it in the past, we won’t allow it now, or anytime in the future,” Gallant said. He also accused Iran of seeking to entrench its presence along Israel’s borders.

“When necessary – we will push them out of Syria to where they belong – and that is Iran,” Gallant said.

The latest alleged airstrikes came after two attacks in recent weeks against the Aleppo International Airport, also attributed to Israel. Those attacks temporarily closed the airport’s runway. Also this month, Israel carried out a rare daytime strike against targets in northwestern Syria, injuring three soldiers and causing damage, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

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