The Kremlin on Thursday called for restraint after Syria accused Israel of firing several missiles at a military position near Damascus airport.
“We continue to consider that all countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region and call for respect of the sovereignty of Syria,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russia, which has deployed its forces to back up the Syrian regime, has a hotline set up to avoid clashes with Israeli jets in the skies over the war-torn country.
Peskov did not confirm if Israel had warned Moscow of the strike, saying only that the two nations’ “defense ministries are in constant dialogue.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later went further than the Kremlin and slammed the alleged Israeli strikes.
“Gross violations of Syrian sovereignty — no matter how they are justified — are unacceptable,” she said in a televised briefing. “Moscow condemns acts of aggression against Syria.”
In line with its usual practice, Israel’s military declined to comment on the latest blast, which created a huge explosion.
Earlier Thursday, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz appeared to confirm that Israel was behind the overnight strike.
Katz, who is also transportation minister, told Army Radio in an interview that “the incident is completely compatible with our policy of preventing weapons transfer to Hezbollah,” the Lebanon-based terror group supported by the Syrian regime and Iran.
“Every time we receive intelligence information on plans to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, we will act,” the minister added. “We must prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.”
After the strike, explosions rocked the area around Damascus’s airport, setting off fires. Syria’s state media SANA said Israel fired several missiles from inside the Golan Heights south of the capital at a military installation near the capital’s main airport, triggering several blasts and causing damage.
One unconfirmed report by an Israeli Channel 1 journalist said a commander in Hezbollah and an unspecified number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members were killed in the strike. But reports from Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese television outlet al-Manar said there was only material damage from the strike, with no casualties.
An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.
Al-Manar also attributed the raid to the Jewish state, saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.
Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.
Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.
Video shows moments explosions start near Damascus airport tonight. Local media attributing to Israel. More details likely to emerge later. pic.twitter.com/jhiOZjUHnV
— Israel Breaking (@IsraelBreaking) April 27, 2017
In April 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.
Late last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.
The alleged Israeli strike on Thursday came a day after Liberman met with Russian ministers in Moscow. Despite Russia’s alliance with both Iran and Hezbollah, Israel and Russia have maintained a level of security coordination in order to prevent conflicts between their two militaries in Syria, where Moscow is fighting against opponents of the Assad regime.
AP contributed to this report.