JEDDAH/DAMASCUS: Israeli warplanes launched devastating airstrikes early on Tuesday targeting the Syrian port of Latakia, destroying weapons and ammunition storage depots operated by Iran.
The attack set off explosions and a massive blaze that lit up the Mediterranean seafront and sent plumes of dark smoke billowing into the air. Firefighters trained hoses on stacks of blazing containers.
Latakia Gov. Ismail Hilal said civil defense crews had brought the blaze under control by midday, and were dousing the embers.
“The Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression with several missiles from the direction of the Mediterranean ... targeting the container yard in Latakia port,” a Syrian military spokesman said. The strike caused “significant material damage,” the spokesman admitted.
Syrian authorities claimed the blazing containers had carried “engine oil and spare parts for cars and other vehicles.”
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the war monitor based in Britain, said the cargo was “arms and munitions” which had detonated in “powerful explosions that were felt across the city of Latakia and its suburbs.”
Israel has routinely carried out airstrikes on Syria since the civil war began in 2011, mostly targeting Syrian government troops, allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters.
The latest attack was the second time in a month that it has hit the port of Latakia, in the heartland of Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite community. So far this year, Israel has targeted Syria nearly 30 times, killing 130 people including five civilians and 125 loyalist fighters, according to Observatory figures.
On Dec. 7, it carried out a strike targeting an Iranian arms shipment in Latakia, its first on the port since the start of the civil war.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged mounting hundreds since 2011. According to a report by the Israeli army, it hit about 50 targets in Syria in 2020.
In the deadliest operation since the strikes began, Israel killed 57 government troops and allied fighters in eastern Syria in January this year.
The Israeli military has defended the strikes as a necessary measure to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
Israel’s head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, has accused Iran of “continuing to promote subversion and terror” in the Middle East.
In a shadow war, Israel has targeted suspected Iranian military facilities in Syria and mounted a sabotage campaign against Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran finances, arms and commands a number of Syrian and foreign militia groups fighting alongside the regular armed forces, including fighters from Hezbollah in Lebanon.