Thursday 14 December 2017

Syria blames Israelis after missiles hit military base

Attacked: President Assad. Photo: Reuters
Attacked: President Assad. Photo: Reuters

Philip Issa, Beirut

An apparent Israeli missile attack on a Syrian military installation near Damascus International Airport shook the capital early yesterday and raised tensions between the two hostile neighbours.

The Syrian military said in a statement that the attack, which could be felt at least 15km away, was carried out by Israel and aimed to "raise the morale of terrorist groups" the government maintains are waging war against President Bashar Assad's forces.

The military said it would continue its "war on terror" - government parlance for the battle against all groups trying to oust Mr Assad.

Israel appears to be striking at military convoys and installations in Syria at a quickening pace, maintaining it has the right to prevent authorities in Damascus from transferring weapons across the border to the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group.

Hezbollah is a staunch ally of the Syrian government, which is mired in a six-year-long civil war, and also an avowed enemy of Israel, which occupied Lebanon for nearly two decades.

Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz would not comment directly on the incident but said any similar strike would be in line with established policy to interrupt weapons transfers.

"It absolutely matches our declared policy, a policy that we also implement," Mr Katz told Israel's Army Radio.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on advanced weapons systems in Syria - including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles - as well as Hezbollah positions. It rarely comments on such operations.

Activists running the widely followed Damascus-focused Facebook page Diaries of a Mortar reported hearing several explosions before dawn, which they said could be felt across the Syrian capital.

Syria's state-run Sana news agency said Israel had fired several missiles from inside the Occupied Golan Heights, 60km south of Damascus, striking a military installation southwest of the airport that serves both military and civilian flights. It reported several explosions and material damage but no casualties. It was not clear how Israel was identified as the culprit.

"The buildings shook from the force of the blast," said a media activist who goes by Salam al-Ghoutawi, of the Ghouta Media Centre, in the city's opposition-held northeastern suburbs, 15km from the airport.

A string of explosions could be seen silhouetted against the night sky in a video published by the centre. Debris is seen flying out as the light of the explosions illuminated a sizeable blast cloud that took shape nearby.

Irish Independent

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