Syria confirms airstrike outside Damascus, blames Israel

Official says no injuries in attack, claims it was attempt to divert attention from Assad regime’s military successes against rebels

Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)

The official Syrian news agency on Wednesday confirmed there was an airstrike near Damascus overnight, and blamed Israel, saying the attack was an attempt to bolster the morale of rebel fighters as they suffer the successes of regime forces.

Arabic-language media had reported earlier that Israeli aircraft struck a Syrian military target as well as a Hezbollah weapons convoy.

“In an attempt to divert attention from the successes achieved by the Syrian Arab army and to raise the deteriorating morals of the terrorist gangs, warplanes of the Israeli enemy launched two rockets on Damascus countryside at dawn on Wednesday,” SANA reported, citing a military source.

According to the source, the attack caused no casualties. He confirmed reports that said the missiles were launched from Lebanese airspace and hit the al-Sabboura area to the West of the capital, Damascus. He did not specify the target.

The second reported raid, on the Hezbollah weapons convoy, was said to have taken place on the Damascus-Beirut highway. The Syrian official made no reference to it.

As with past claims of Israeli strikes, Israel did not immediately confirm or deny news of the purported attacks. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, a number of airstrikes in Syria or close to the border with Lebanon have been attributed to Israel. According to reports Wednesday morning, Israel requested Russia’s approval before launching the strikes.

News agencies affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad said the air raid on the military compound occurred at 1:15 a.m. local time and that four large explosions were heard in the capital. They further reported that the strikes were carried out by Israeli Air Force planes operating in Lebanese air space.

According to the Kuwaiti news network al-Rai, the warplanes also struck a number of vehicles traveling on the main highway believed to have been part of a weapons convoy led by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has thousands of fighters in Syria, providing military aid to Assad regime and Iranian forces.

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel had carried out dozens of strikes against Hezbollah to prevent the group from obtaining advanced weapons — a rare Israeli admission.

Israel has vowed to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining “game-changing” arms — in particular advanced anti-aircraft systems and chemical weapons.

Earlier this week, the Israeli Air Force struck a military target belonging to the Islamic State terror group on the Syrian side of the southern Golan Heights.

The raid early Monday was the second Israeli airstrike to respond to an attack a day earlier by IS fighters against IDF soldiers. According to an army spokesperson, soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit came under attack from small arms fire after crossing the security fence on the border but remaining inside Israeli territory. They returned fire, but soon came under attack from mortar shells. No Israeli soldiers were injured in the exchange, the army said.

The IDF responded with an airstrike that morning that killed four members of an Islamic State-affiliated terror group that it said had launched the attack. The military said the second airstrike Monday was also in response to the initial attack.

The IDF “will not hesitate to act against terror groups that operate against the State of Israel,” a military statement read.

The Syrian Golan has been the site of intense fighting in recent years between Assad regime forces and the IS-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, though the front on the border with Israel has been relatively quiet in recent months after previous intense bouts of violence.

Israeli officials fear Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds Force, which are allied with Assad, are aiming to use the area to open a new front against Israel in a future conflict.

Since March 2011, when the Syrian conflict began, dozens of mortar shells have landed in Israeli territory as a result of accidental spillover from the fighting. The IDF often responds to fire that crosses into Israel by striking Syrian army posts. Israel maintains a policy of holding Damascus responsible for all fire from Syria into Israel regardless of the source.

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