Israeli missiles strike near Damascus airport, Syrian state media claims

Observer group says reported attack targeted Hezbollah arms depots; Assad forces ‘failed to intercept the missiles’

Illustrative: Smoke plumes rising from regime bombardment on the town of Al-Mulayhah al-Sharqiyah in the eastern Daraa province countryside in southern Syria, June 21, 2018. (Mohamad ABAZEED/AFP)
Illustrative: Smoke plumes rising from regime bombardment on the town of Al-Mulayhah al-Sharqiyah in the eastern Daraa province countryside in southern Syria, June 21, 2018. (Mohamad ABAZEED/AFP)

Syrian state media said early Tuesday that two Israeli missiles struck near Damascus International Airport, without adding any details.

In a report in the early hours of Tuesday, Syria’s state news agency said “two Israeli missiles came down near Damascus international airport.”

The head of monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, also said that “the Israeli missiles hit arms depots for Hezbollah near the airport.”

Meanwhile, the German DPA news service, citing opposition sources, reported that the target of the strike was an incoming Iranian cargo plane, which was landing at the airport. This would be a highly irregular, as Israel has not generally been known to target these flights directly, but rather is said to strike the military equipment that they were transporting after the fact.

According to the Observatory official, the airstrike took place at 1 a.m. local time “without causing huge explosions” even though they hit the weapons stores.

The observatory added that the Syrian air defense “failed to intercept the missiles.”

Israeli and American officials have repeatedly said that Iran is using purportedly civilian cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment into Syria, flying the goods from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.

In the hours before the reported strike, a cargo plane that took off from Tehran landed in the Damascus aircraft. According to publicly available flight information, the plane was flown by the Syrian air force. It was not clear if this was the plane to which the opposition sources were referring, misidentifying it as an Iranian cargo plane.

Israel has warned of a growing Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria, which it sees as a threat to its safety.

A UN post in the demilitarized buffer zone between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights reportedly taken over by pro-Assad troops in June 2018. (Kan screen capture)

Its military has been carrying out strikes on Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria, with a US official saying it was Israeli forces that carried out a deadly strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria on June 17.

On Sunday, forces loyal to the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad reportedly took control of an abandoned UN post in the no-man’s land between the Israeli and Syrian areas of the Golan Heights.

The post, abandoned by United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) troops on the Golan, is meant to be free of both Israeli and Syrian troops, according to the cessation of hostilities agreement between the two countries that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

According to the report, UNDOF has identified ongoing infrastructure work at the site.

The IDF said in a statement that it was “aware of what is taking place, and views [the takeover of the site and] the infrastructure work at the post as a serious and flagrant violation of the separation-of-forces agreement.”

The IDF statement suggested Israel might act to remove the forces from the post by force. Officials told the Kan broadcaster that Israel “sees UNDOF as responsible for tracking and acting against military forces in the separation zone, and is determined to prevent military entrenchment in that area.”

The televised Kan report showed footage of the post.

The report came just less than a day after an Israeli Patriot missile was fired at a drone that approached from Syria toward Israel’s airspace. Israeli officials believe the drone belonged to regime forces.

According to Hebrew-language reports, the IDF is bracing for an uptick in fighting in Syrian areas adjacent to the Israeli border, and expects incidents of stray fire to enter Israeli territory.

As fighting between the main factions in the Syrian civil war threatened to overwhelm UNDOF positions, the UN troops left the demilitarized buffer zone for Israel in 2014.

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