Syrian TV: Israeli jets strike sites near Damascus

Military positions hit near Assad’s airport and near major road to Lebanon; speculation that missiles intended for Hezbollah were targeted

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A picture said to show a fireball after an alleged Israeli strike on sites inside Syria on December 7, 2014. (Screen capture: Channel 2)
A picture said to show a fireball after an alleged Israeli strike on sites inside Syria on December 7, 2014. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Israeli fighter jets launched airstrikes on two military sites outside Damascus, Syrian state media and local activists reported Sunday. Israel made no official comment on the reports. Israeli media speculated that missiles intended by Syria for delivery to Hezbollah were targeted.

The Israeli jets hit military sites at Damascus’s main airport and at the town of Dimas on a key road near the Syrian-Lebanese border, the reports stated.

The alleged attack was reported by Syria’s official SANA news agency and by Shiite terror group Hezbollah’s official television station al-Manar, as well as the the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.

“The Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two security areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus International Airport,” said SANA, adding that no casualties were reported.

SANA called the attack “an aggression against Syria.”

Syrian TV and Hezbollah media outlets said the attack was intended by Israel to “help the terrorists” against whom the Assad regime is engaged in a bitter war.

The Syrian armed forces’ general command said Sunday’s “flagrant attack” caused material damage, but did not provide any details.

“This aggression demonstrates Israel’s direct involvement in supporting terrorism in Syria along with well-known regional and Western countries to raise the morale of terrorist groups, mainly the Nusra Front,” the military said in a statement carried by SANA.

There is no evidence Israel has provided any support to the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.

Israeli officials did not respond to the reports or make any comment on the alleged attack. Israel’s policy has been to prevent the transfer from Syria of long-range missiles to Hezbollah.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Dimas was a military position. The Observatory also said the strike near the Damascus airport hit a warehouse, although it was unclear what was in the building. Operations at the Damascus international airport are both civilian and military.

According to the Observatory, around 10 explosions could be heard outside a military area near Dimas. It had no word on casualties in either strike.

Israel has carried out several airstrikes in Syria since the revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Most of the strikes have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group.

Other strikes have been attributed to the IDF, though officials in Jerusalem have not confirmed them.

Several videos uploaded to YouTube Sunday purported to show the alleged Israeli strikes.

During a cabinet meeting earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel was prepared to “deal” with ongoing “threats and challenges,” though he did not specify which threats he was referring to.

“We are closely monitoring the Middle East and what is happening with open eyes and ears, and a lot is happening,” Netanyahu said.

“We will stay informed and we will deal with these unremitting threats and challenges. We will deal with them with the same responsibility that we have up until now.”

Netanyahu’s comment was interpreted in some quarters as a hint at the imminent alleged Israeli action.

Later Sunday, an unnamed diplomatic source was quoted by Israel’s Channel 2 discounting the notion that the timing of the alleged Israeli action was connected to Israel’s election climate, with the Knesset set to approve its own dissolution on Monday and new elections on March 17, 2105. “Without relating to any specific incident,” the source said, “there is no [partisan domestic] political consideration in any of Israel’s military actions.”

Channel 2 speculated that the strike near Damascus airport might have targeted weaponry stored after delivery at the airport, and noted that Dimas target was on a road from Damascus to Beirut — the anticipated potential starting point of weapons deliveries to Hezbollah, it said.

It also quoted Israel’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen saying recently that the “Middle East arms race has heated up” of late.

Israeli analysts noted that neither Syrian or Hezbollah officials threatened to hit back against Israel, but did reiterate their determination to “fight terrorism.”

The last reported Israeli strike on Syria allegedly occurred in July 2014, when a warplane attack was said to have killed 4 in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The reported air raid came after a rocket was fired from Syria hit the Israel side of the Golan Heights, falling on open ground and causing no casualties.

Another Israeli air raid on Syria in March 2014 was confirmed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said that IDF warplanes bombed “several targets associated with the Syrian army and defense establishment.”

According to the IDF, Israel had targeted a Syrian army training facility, military headquarters and artillery batteries that “aided and abetted” a roadside bombing attack on Israeli soldiers one day earlier.

AFP and AP contributed to this report.

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