Israeli strikes said to target pro-Iran stronghold near Damascus

Syria makes regular claim most missiles shot down but admits material losses; attack reportedly takes place in neighborhood where pro-Iran forces thought to have underground bases

Footage of an alleged Israeli strike near Damascus on February 28, 2024. (screen capture: X)
Footage of an alleged Israeli strike near Damascus on February 28, 2024. (screen capture: X)

Israeli strikes caused damage to sites near Damascus Wednesday night, Syria’s defense ministry said, in what appeared to be the latest attack in an intensified campaign against Iran-backed forces in the country.

“The Israeli enemy launched air strikes from the direction of the occupied Syrian Golan, targeting a number of sites in the Damascus countryside,” the ministry said in a statement carried by state media.

It claimed that most missiles were shot down, a regular assertion on alleged Israeli strikes that analysts are generally skeptical of.

“The losses were limited to material,” Syria’s official SANA outlet reported.

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the strike.

An AFP correspondent in the Syrian capital heard explosions followed by the sirens of ambulances.

Pro-Iranian Lebanese television al Maydeen said a large explosion was heard in the heavily fortified Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of the Syrian capital, home to a major Shi’ite shrine. It gave no further details.

Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs, whose presence has spread in Syria in recent years, have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood.

The neighborhood is in southern Damascus, where Iran-backed groups have a string of underground bases.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the Israeli strikes targeted “sites where Iran-backed groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah are based” in two locations near Damascus.

On Sunday, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, according to source close to Lebanese terror group.

A day later, Israel struck a site deep inside Lebanon, in the Baalbek region near the border with Syria, which is thought to be used as a major route for weapons transfers.

A Lebanese army vehicle block a road leading to a destroyed warehouse, background, which was attacked by Israeli airstrikes, on the outskirts of the Hezbollah stronghold village of Buday, near Baalbek town, east Lebanon, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (AP)

Hezbollah has repeatedly barraged northern Israel with rockets since the Monday strike.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against Syria since at least 2013, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Hezbollah.

The strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. More than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

Since the war broke out October 7, Hezbollah has repeatedly fired from Lebanon at northern Israel, drawing retaliatory strikes that have significantly raised tensions along the border.

Israel rarely comments on individual strikes inside Syria but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in the country.

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