Syria says airstrikes hit targets near Damascus
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Syria says airstrikes hit targets near Damascus

State media says country’s air defenses respond to attack, which appears to target weapons shipment flown in from Iran

Airstrikes targeted sites around the Syrian capital of Damascus late Thursday, according to Syrian state media.

“Our air defenses are responding to hostile targets in the sky over Damascus,” Syria’s SANA news outlet reported.

The attack came just over a week after a series of strikes on pro-Iranian militias and bases in the same area that were attributed to Israel.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Israel carried out the Thursday strikes against Iran-backed militias near Damascus.

The Israeli military did not comment on the incident.

The attacks appeared to have targeted a shipment of weapons that was flown into Syria on Wednesday from Tehran.

Though it did not explicit accuse Israel of conducting the attack, which occurred at approximately 11:45 p.m. Thursday, Syrian state media said the incoming missiles appeared to have been fired from the Golan Heights.

Videos posted to social media by residents of the area showed explosions in mid-air lighting up the night, apparently as Syrian anti-aircraft missiles burst in the sky.

SANA said that the country’s air defenses intercepted many of the incoming missiles, an oft-heard Syrian claim that most defense analysts dismiss as false, empty boasts.

Earlier on Thursday, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened to target both Israel and the United States if they “make the slightest error.”

The Israel Defense Forces has not acknowledged carrying out the strikes on several targets near Damascus in the predawn hours of last Thursday morning, which reportedly killed 23 pro-Iranian fighters.

But Syrian state media blamed Israel, and over the weekend Defense Minister Naftali Bennett seemingly took credit for the strike, saying Israel had carried out an attack against Iran in the past week and noting: “Foreign media reported this week that 23 Syrians and Iranians were killed there. Those are large numbers and we will do more and more.”

Israel has long maintained that it will not tolerate efforts by Iran — a close ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad — to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and would take steps to thwart such entrenchment. Israel accuses Iran of seeking to set up a military presence in Syria that could be used as a launchpad for attacks against the Jewish state.

An Israeli military position, right, is seen on the top of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, where the borders between Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

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