JEDDAH: Syria exploded into new violence on Sunday with an Israeli airstrike on a military base near Damascus, a rocket attack aimed at the occupied Golan Heights, and bombings in the capital and the northern Syrian town of Afrin.
Four Israeli F-16 jets launched six missiles on Sunday afternoon targeting the base in the Kisweh area south of Damascus.
“Warehouses containing weapons for Hezbollah and Iranian fighters are located in that area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
The Israeli military later confirmed that it attacked Iranian military targets in Syria, hours after carrying out a rare daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.
“We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory,” the military statement said in an extraordinary statement. “We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory.”
The statement was issued hours after Israeli missile defenses intercepted an incoming missile over the Golan Heights in the wake of the airport raid.
Until now Israel has largely refrained from public admissions of its covert military operations in neighboring Syria, in order to avoid large-scale involvement in the eight-year civil war.
“We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier.
The Israeli military had initially declined to comment on the airstrike, though it said a rocket fired at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
Israeli warplanes have used Lebanon’s airspace recently to strike deep inside Syria, including attacking a warehouse near Damascus International Airport earlier this month, according to Syrian state media.
The Syrian military said Israel carried out intensive airstrikes with successive waves of guided missiles shortly after 1 a.m., but added that Syrian air defenses destroyed most of the missiles before they reached their targets.
Israel has pledged to stop Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. It has carried out hundreds of airstrikes there against Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah, but rarely confirms the strikes.
A Syrian military source told state TV: “Our air defense systems thwarted an Israeli air aggression and prevented it from achieving any of its goals.”
He said five missiles were shot down and one diverted to nearby empty farmland. It was a rare daytime raid, as most previous strikes have been at night.
Damascus residents said they heard five explosions early on Sunday afternoon, apparently the sound of air defenses firing into the air.
Earlier on Sunday the Observatory reported a “huge explosion” near a military intelligence office in southern Damascus that left a number of people dead or injured.
“The explosion took place near a security branch in the south of the city” and was followed by shooting, said the monitor. “There are some people killed and injured but we could not verify the toll immediately.”
The explosion in Damascus came as a bomb blast in a bus killed three civilians in the northern Syrian city of Afrin on the first anniversary of a Turkish attack on the Kurdish-majority region. Nine other people, including fighters, were injured.
“The explosion was the result of a bomb that was placed in a bus in the center of Afrin,” Abdel Rahman said.