Israeli airstrikes said to hit Hezbollah targets near Damascus

Strikes are first since Russia publicly carried out joint air-defense patrols with Syrian air force; state TV says attack caused ‘material damage’

Illustrative: Missiles in the sky near the international airport, in Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (SANA, Syria's official news agency, via AP/ FIle)
Illustrative: Missiles in the sky near the international airport, in Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (SANA, Syria's official news agency, via AP/ FIle)

Israeli jets carried out airstrikes against targets near the Syrian capital of Damascus early Monday morning, Syrian state TV reported.

The pro-opposition group, the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, said the targets of the attack were Hezbollah positions, outposts and weapon depots, northeast of Damascus.

The alleged strikes were the first since Russia announced last week it was carrying out joint military jet patrols with the Syrian air force of the airspace along Syria’s borders, including in the Golan Heights area.

Syrian state media SANA said the strikes caused “material damage,” but did not elaborate further. Israeli airstrikes generally target arms shipments from Iran to its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, notably the Hezbollah terrorist militia.

There were no official reports of casualties, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory said it suspected that there were some, without offering a precise figure or their nationalities.

According to SANA, the Israeli missiles were fired at approximately 3 a.m. from aircraft flying near Beirut.

The SANA report said the Syrian military’s air defenses were activated in response to the strike. The state broadcaster alleged that several of the incoming missiles were intercepted, but analysts generally dismiss such claims — heard after nearly every Israeli airstrike — as false, empty boasts.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses specific operations. Many of the strikes in the past targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus, through which Iran is believed to transfer advanced arms to its proxies.

Israel has acknowledged that it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-allied terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups.

Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the decade-long civil war.

In December, Israel reportedly carried out two high-profile strikes on the Syrian port of Latakia.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, flames rise from containers at the scene of missiles attack, at the seaport of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, early December 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)

Last week Russia carried out a joint air patrol with the Syrian air force along the border with Israel, prompting speculation that Israel would be more hesitant to strike Syria.

Following the patrol, Ynet reported that Israeli military officials were holding talks with Russian army officers to calm tensions.

According to the report, Israeli officials were struggling to understand why Russia, which announced that such joint patrols were expected to be a regular occurrence moving forward, had apparently changed its policy toward Israel.

The report claimed, without citing a source, that Israel may limit its air campaign in Syria as a result of Russia’s move, even after discussions end.

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