At least two members of a pro-government militia were killed in Tuesday’s alleged Israeli strike on the Syrian port of Latakia, according to a war monitor.
The strike before dawn marked the second time Israel has allegedly hit the key cargo hub since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011. The attack caused significant damage with stacks of containers catching fire.
“Two members of a pro-regime militia were killed in the Israeli strike,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked monitoring group with questionable funding. “They had suffered serious wounds and succumbed to their injuries” in a hospital in Latakia earlier today.
Three other militia fighters were also wounded. Syrian state media said the containers hit in the strikes carried “engine oil and spare parts for cars and other vehicles.”
But the Observatory says the cargo was “arms and munitions.”
Israeli warplanes allegedly fired a number of missiles at the port of the coastal city of Latakia early Tuesday, causing large explosions and fires, in the second alleged Israeli strike in a month on the key facility.
The other alleged strike took place on December 7, when Syrian media reported Israeli warplanes hit the container terminal at Latakia, also igniting a major fire.
For years, Israel avoided conducting strikes against the Latakia port due to the large presence of Russian forces nearby, despite Iran allegedly using the terminal to transport advanced munitions through it to its proxies in the region, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.
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Iran condemned the airstrikes, describing them as “inhumane and immoral” and an example of Israel’s “provocation of crisis in the region.”
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused Israel of “making a mockery of all international laws, regulations and norms by carrying out repeated attacks on Syrian territory on false pretexts.”
Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Israel has routinely carried out airstrikes on its strife-torn neighbor, mostly targeting Syrian government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters.
So far this year, Israel has targeted Syria nearly 30 times, killing 130 people including five civilians and 125 loyalist fighters, according to Observatory figures.
The strikes are generally believed to be part of the wider Israeli effort to prevent its foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
While the Israeli military has declined to specifically comment on the reported strikes in Syria, in a year-end statement issued by the military, IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi boasted of success in disrupting weapons shipments to Israel’s enemies in the region.
“The increase in the scope of operations over the past year has led to a significant disruption of the movement of weapons into the various arenas by our enemies,” he said. The statement did not elaborate.
In its year-end assessment, the Israeli military confirmed carrying out strikes on dozens of targets in Syria in what it called “the campaign between the wars.” Three targets also were struck in Lebanon, it said. It gave no further details.
It also reported about 100 operations by the Israeli Navy, including dozens of “special operations.” It did not elaborate, but the navy operates in both the Mediterranean and Red seas.
Until earlier this month, strikes on the port of Latakia were highly unusual. The port is a vital facility where much of Syria’s imports are brought into the war-torn country and through which Iran reportedly brings in weapons and other equipment to its militias.
Though Israel has regularly conducted raids against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, it rarely strikes close to Latakia, let alone inside the terminal, as the Russian military maintains a base of operations nearby. Due to its delicate relationship with Moscow, Israel typically refrains from carrying out attacks against targets if there are Russian troops nearby, though Israel believes that this well-known policy has led Iran to seek to protect its arms transfers by conducting them near Russian-controlled areas.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.