Syrian air defense systems said activated against ‘hostile target’

Unidentified aircraft reportedly penetrates country’s airspace west of Damascus

Illustrative - The Damascus sky lights up missile fire, as the US launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Illustrative - The Damascus sky lights up missile fire, as the US launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Syria’s air defense systems were activated overnight Friday-Saturday against a “hostile target” that penetrated the Syrian airspace west of Damascus, the country’s official news agency reported.

The report did not state if a strike on the capital had actually taken place.

The incident came eight days after Syria said its air defenses destroyed an unspecified enemy target during an attempted airstrike west of Damascus, as residents reported a series of loud explosions around the Syrian capital.

The pro-government al-Masdar news service said August 2 that air defenses fired several missiles to fend off an attack near the el-Kisweh region and that it was not clear if the Syrian missiles were fired at an aircraft, drone or incoming rockets.

Israel has been blamed for previous attacks on a suspected Iranian military base in the el-Kisweh area. An attack in May killed at least nine Iranians.

In February of this year, the Syrian military shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it was taking part in a bombing raid against an Iranian-linked airfield in central Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace, according to the IDF. The F-16’s pilot and navigator were injured as they bailed out of the aircraft, which crashed to ground in northern Israel.

Last month, Syrian government forces reached the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights after capturing territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters.

It was the first time government forces had taken up positions along the frontier since an uprising against Assad swept through the country in 2011, becoming a seven-year civil war. Islamic State fighters later seized territory from rebels along the frontier region.

Syrian troops raise the Syrian flag in the border town of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Youssef Karwashan)

Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian conflict but acknowledges carrying out dozens of airstrikes there to stop deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.

It has also pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.

With Syrian forces now in close proximity, there have already been clashes between the two armies and Israel has insisted that the Syrian military respect the 1974 ceasefire agreement reached between Jerusalem and Damascus after the previous year’s Yom Kippur War. The agreement limits the forces each side can keep in the border region.

On July 24, a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, traveling approximately two kilometers (one mile) before it was downed when the IDF fired two Patriot interceptor missiles.

View of the trail left in the sky by a Patriot missile that was fired to intercept a Syrian jet entering Israel from Syria, as seen in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

On July 13, the system shot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

On Tuesday, a senior official from a Middle East intelligence agency pointed the finger at Israel’s Mossad for the killing of a top Syrian chemical weapons and rocket scientist over the weekend, The New York Times reported, reinforcing accusations from Syria.

Aziz Azbar (via Facebook)

Aziz Azbar was killed when his car exploded in the northern city of Masyaf late last Saturday night. The unnamed official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the paper that Israel was behind the attack and said his own intelligence agency had been informed of the Israeli operation.

A senior Israeli government official declined to comment on the report Tuesday, but noted it was “a good thing” that Azbar was dead.

The Syrian regime has been accused of dozens of gas attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians during the war, even after it said it was giving up its stockpile.

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