Israel confirms attacking Iranian ‘Quds’ forces in Syria

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An explosion was heard in the south of the Syrian capital Damascus. (File/AFP)
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Kurds stage protests on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the takeover of the northern Syrian city of Afrin by Turkish-backed forces. The operation evicted Kurdish fighters from the town and displaced tens of thousands of its residents. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019

Israel confirms attacking Iranian ‘Quds’ forces in Syria

  • Airstrikes, rockets and bomb blasts on Syria’s day of violence
  • Syrian military says it thwarted most of the missiles fired by Israelis

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.


Three Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers at Gaza border: ministry

Updated 9 min 59 sec ago

Three Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers at Gaza border: ministry

  • Attack helicopter and tank had fired at ‘armed suspects’ along the barrier that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip, the Palestinian health ministry said Sunday, hours after three rockets were fired at Israel from the blockaded enclave.

The ministry said another Palestinian was hospitalized in the shooting that came after the Israeli army said an attack helicopter and tank had fired at “armed suspects” along the barrier that separates Israel from Gaza.

“We just identified a number of armed suspects from Gaza approaching the security fence with Israel. We fired toward them,” the army said a statement posted on its Twitter account.

The latest violence came after Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired three rockets at southern Israel late Saturday, the Israeli army said, in the second such attack in 24 hours.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The army said two of the projectiles had been intercepted by its Iron Dome aerial defense system but it did not specify what happened to the third rocket.

Air raid sirens had sounded in the southern town of Sderot and its surroundings.

On Friday Palestinians in Gaza fired a rocket at Sderot, in what the army said was the first such attack since July 12.

In response, Israeli warplanes struck at least three targets in the Gaza Strip early on Saturday but caused no casualties, a Palestinian security source said.

The strikes hit a Hamas observation post in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, an unidentified target near Gaza City and open ground near Deir El Balah in the central part of the territory, the source said.

An Israeli army statement mentioned only two strikes, against “underground targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern and central Gaza Strip.”

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, ruled by Islamist movement Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

And since March 2018, regular protests and clashes have erupted along the border of the blockaded coastal enclave.

At least 305 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since then, the majority during demonstrations and clashes.

Seven Israelis have also been killed in Gaza-related violence over the same period.