Israel was reported to have bombed several targets near Damascus early on Thursday, triggering national air defence systems. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the Defence Ministry in the capital said that Syria’s air defences shot down “most of the missiles” before they reached their targets.
The first strikes, which took place at 1:12am local time, targeted military positions around Damascus, while the second wave 30 minutes later targeted army strongholds near Daraa, Quneitra and Reef.
The strikes were reported to be aimed at Syrian positions manned in part by Iranians near the Syrian capital. They were apparently launched from the occupied Golan Heights and southern Lebanon.
— 🇸🇾 NadieHarbieh 🇸🇾 (@HarbiehNadie) February 6, 2020
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said that the air strikes hit Iranian-backed militia and Syrian army positions, including the Mezzeh military air base, located to the south-west of Damascus. SOHR also reported that the Israeli missiles caused a fire at the Scientific Research Centre in the Damascus suburb of Jamraya.
There are contradictory reports about damage and the number of casualties. Israel’s Haaretz reported 12 deaths, and the Jerusalem Post reported that 14 were injured. Syrian state media reported that eight soldiers had been injured. The Haaretz figure was agreed by SOHR.
No party has claimed responsibility for the attacks. A spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces, Hidai Zilberman, declined to comment on foreign reports of the air strikes, the Times of Israel reported.
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However, the self-declared Jewish state has always said that it will take preventative measures against the development of an Iranian stronghold in Syria. Any Iranian or Iranian-backed military presence in Syria would not be tolerated, insist the Israelis, who admitted to carrying out previous air strikes against “legitimate Iranian targets” in the war-torn country over the past seven years.
Last month, Israeli jets attacked the T4 air base in the Homs Governorate, causing material damage after the air defence systems downed the missiles. In December, the Syrian army reported that it intercepted missiles aimed at targets in Damascus which had been fired from Israel.
This escalation comes after the main figure behind Iran’s campaign in Syria, General Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in Baghdad by American forces on 3 January. His key aide, Asghar Bashpour, was killed near Aleppo earlier this week.