Israel said to destroy arms cache in central Syria in rare daytime attack
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Israel said to destroy arms cache in central Syria in rare daytime attack

Damascus denies blast caused by Israel, says it was ‘human error’; Syrian war monitor says strike targeted Hezbollah weapons warehouse, in 2nd alleged IDF attack in under 12 hours

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israel bombed a munitions warehouse in central Syria on Friday morning in a rare daylight strike which sparked a massive explosion, according to reports from Syria.

The attack appeared to be the fifth strike attributed to Israel against Iran-linked forces in Syria in the past two weeks, coming less than 12 hours after Israeli attack helicopters reportedly bombed Iran-backed forces in the Syrian Golan Heights late Thursday night.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the arms cache that was bombed on Friday morning by Israel was located outside Homs and contained missiles and ammunition belonging to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Damascus officially denied that Israel was responsible for the explosion, saying it was the result of “human error” while transporting munitions, Syrian state media outlet SANA reported. This was widely seen by defense analysts as an attempt to cover-up yet another Israeli strike on Syrian soil.

According to Syrian media, the attack triggered huge secondary explosions, apparently as the munitions inside the warehouse detonated. SANA reported that at least 10 people were wounded in the blasts.

Damage caused to a street from secondary explosions after an alleged Israeli attack on a Hezbollah arms cache near Homs in central Syria on May 1, 2020. (Syrian state media SANA)

Photographs and videos from the scene showed massive damage to the surrounding area as shells and other munitions inside the warehouse were set off by the explosion.

The Friday morning attack, which would be a highly irregular though not unprecedented daytime strike, came less than a day after a reported attack by Israel against pro-Iranian forces in southern Syria.

Shortly after midnight on Friday, Syria accused Israeli helicopters of firing at least five missiles at targets on the Syrian Golan Heights, just across the border from Israel.

“From the occupied Golan airspace, enemy Israeli helicopters attacked positions in the southern region with several missiles,” Syrian state news agency SANA said.

SANA said the missile strike in the area of Quneitra caused “only material damage.” It did not report any casualties or specify what was targeted.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on the strikes, saying they targeted military positions of Iranian forces and pro-Iran militias.

The attack follows a series of strikes on Iran-linked forces in Syria in recent weeks.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday appeared to confirm that Israel was responsible for attacks against pro-Iranian forces in Syria, saying that the military was working to drive Tehran out of the country.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.

“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action,” he said. “We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory.”

The airstrike early Monday on a military airfield outside Damascus killed four pro-Iranian fighters, according to the Observatory for Human Rights. Three Syrian civilians were also reportedly killed by shrapnel, though it was not clear if the fragments came from the incoming missiles or Syria’s air defenses.

The Observatory said a number of Iranian-linked command centers were destroyed in the attack.

Bennett did not explicitly confirm Israel’s involvement in that airstrike, though his comments were seen as a clear hint to that effect.

Israeli military officials have warned that acknowledging such strikes adds pressure on Iran and its proxies to retaliate in order to save face.

Jerusalem says Iran’s presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, is a threat, as Tehran seeks to establish a permanent foothold along Israel’s northern borders. Israel has also threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from providing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group with advanced weaponry, specifically precision-guided missiles.

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, but the Israel Defense Forces has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Last week Syria accused Israel of hitting targets also near Homs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the targets were “military posts for Iranian militias in the Palmyra desert.”

On April 15, a car driven by several Hezbollah operatives was targeted in a strike attributed to Israel as it made its way from Syria toward Lebanon. The passengers in the vehicle escaped after an apparent warning shot was fired next to the car.

A private Israeli intelligence firm on Thursday released images showing the aftermath of the Monday airstrike against Iran-backed forces in Syria that was attributed to Israel. The attack targeted a warehouse outside of Palmyra and the entrance to an underground facility near Damascus, according to the satellite images.

TOI staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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