Russia condemns Israeli strike on Syria as ‘flagrant violation’ of international law

Moscow urges Jerusalem to ‘refrain from steps that are fraught with dangerous consequences for the entire region,’ after attack on Damascus leaves 5 dead

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A large hole is seen in the Kafar Sousah neighborhood of Damascus, after an alleged Israeli airstrike on Syria, February 19, 2023. (SANA)
A large hole is seen in the Kafar Sousah neighborhood of Damascus, after an alleged Israeli airstrike on Syria, February 19, 2023. (SANA)

Russia on Sunday condemned an airstrike blamed on Israel that killed five people and injured 15 in Syria’s capital Damascus the previous night.

Moscow, a key backer of the Syrian regime in the over decade-long civil war, called the Saturday night attack on the Kafar Sousah neighborhood in Damascus a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Israel’s need to coordinate with Russia — which largely controls Syrian airspace — to carry out strikes has been cited as a chief reason for Jerusalem’s reluctance to supply Kyiv with weaponry amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

“We strongly urge the Israeli side to stop armed provocations against the Syrian Arab Republic and refrain from steps that are fraught with dangerous consequences for the entire region,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to Reuters.

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, in line with its policy of not generally commenting on air raids in Syria. Israeli officials have previously said the IDF does not target civilians and seeks to avoid damage to residential areas as much as possible.

Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that the strike in Kafar Sousah killed four civilians and one soldier, and wounded another 15 civilians. It said several of those wounded were listed in critical condition.

The scene of an alleged Israeli airstrike in the Kafar Sousah neighborhood of Syria’s capital, Damascus, early February 19, 2023. (Social media)

The airstrike also inflicted heavy damage on a number of residential buildings in Kafar Sousah, SANA said. According to Reuters, the targeted area was near a large and heavily guarded security complex and close to Iranian installations.

Imad Mughniyeh, a notorious Hezbollah terror chief, was allegedly assassinated by Israel in a 2008 bombing in Kafar Sousah, close to where Saturday night’s strike took place.

Orient News, a Syrian opposition media outlet, claimed the strikes targeted Iranian militia officials at the so-called Iranian school in Kafar Sousah.

Separately, the Israeli jets targeted Iranian and Syrian regime military sites near Damascus International Airport, as well as in Sitt Zaynab and al-Kiswah, a town and a city just south of the capital, Orient News said.

The outlet also claimed the damage to the residential buildings in Kafar Sousah was caused by a misfired Syrian anti-aircraft missile, not an Israeli strike.

SANA claimed Syrian air defenses managed to intercept “most” of the missiles launched by IAF jets from over the Golan Heights in the strike. Syria regularly claims to intercept Israeli missiles, though military analysts doubt such assertions.

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

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

Last week, the Saudi-owned Elaph news site cited an Israeli military official as saying if Iran shipped weapons to its regional proxies under the guise of humanitarian aid to Syria following the major earthquake there, the IDF would not hesitate to strike.

The unnamed official said “there is information indicating that Iran will take advantage of the tragic situation in Syria” and ship weapons to Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups in Syria.

Several Iranian cargo planes carrying aid have landed in Syria since a major earthquake struck the country and areas in southeast Turkey on February 6.

Illustrative: Workers unload aid from a plane sent by Iran, at the airport in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, early on February 8, 2023, following a deadly earthquake. (AFP)

In recent years, several airstrikes against alleged Iranian weapon shipments disguised as seemingly harmless products have been attributed to Israel, including one incident last month.

Generally, relatively large weapons are thought to be smuggled via Syria on Iranian cargo airlines, which frequently land at Damascus International and the Tiyas, or T-4, airbase, outside of the central Syrian city of Palmyra.

The weaponry is then believed to be stored in warehouses in the area before being transported to Lebanon.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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