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Syria responds to suspected Israeli attack

December 25, 2018

Suspected Israeli warplanes have attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets near Damascus. It comes days after Netanyahu said Israel may expand military action against Iran.

Syrian air defenses responding to expected Israeli air raids
Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua/A. Safarjalani

Syrian air defenses "intercepted hostile targets" west of Damascus on Tuesday night, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

There were reports of loud explosions through the Syrian capital and videos shared on social media showed Syrian surface-to-air missiles being fired into the sky. SANA said "most" of the incoming fire was shot down and three Syrian soldiers were injured. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Israeli air raids targeted Iranian and Hezbollah arms warehouses.

"Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted ... arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces," the head of the Syrian Observatory Abdel Rahman said.

Read more: Iran's military power: What you need to know 

The Israeli Defense Forces said later that an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems.

"An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria," the Israeli military said on Twitter.

The Lebanese National News Agency said Israeli warplanes flew over Lebanon to carry out the raids outside Damascus. Citing a military official, SANA said the suspected Israeli missiles were launched "from over Lebanese territories."

There was no confirmation from the Israeli military of an attack on Syria.

Netanyahu vows to hit Iran

The suspected Israeli attacks come two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the US withdrawal of some 2,000 troops from northeast Syria would not change Israel's policy of targeting Iranian forces in Syria.

"The decision to remove the 2,000 US soldiers from Syria won't change our consistent policy," Netanyahu said Sunday. "We will continue to act against Iran's attempt to establish a military presence in Syria, and if the need arises, we will even expand our activities there."

The Russia factor

Israel has carried out scores of air raids on suspected Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, where they are backing the regime of President Bashar Assad.

However, Israel has been constrained from carrying out attacks in Syria since October when Russia provided Syria with its S-300 air defense system.

That came after the September 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike. The friendly fire incident stoked tensions between Russia and Israel, which generally have good relations and have had a degree of understanding over Syria.

Israeli airstrikes are viewed in Moscow as potentially destabilizing for Syria, where Russia seeks to consolidate the Assad regime's gains in the country's civil war. At the same time, analysts say that Russia understands Israel's security concerns over the entrenchment of Iran on its doorstep.

On Wednesday, Moscow accused Israel of putting two civilian flights in danger with its airstrikes. A statement from the Kremlin added that Syria's new defense system destroyed 14 of 15 Israeli missiles launched the day before.

Earlier this year, Russia played a mediating role in ensuring Iran and Iran-backed forces were held back from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as the Syrian army retook the southwest of the country from rebel groups.

cw/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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