Syria Confirms Israeli Strike Hit Military Compound Near Damascus Airport

Strike hits depot supplying arms to Hezbollah, source says, hours after several Iranian cargo planes land in Syria ■ Intelligence minister: Attack consistent with Israeli policy

Flames rising from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017. Israel was blamed for the attack
Flames rising from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017. Syria blamed Israel for the attack SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP

Explosions hit in the area of Damascus International Airport in Syria early Thursday morning. Syria's official news agency confirmed that Israel struck a military compound outside the capital's airport.

Local reports say the airport compound was hit with five strikes at around 3:25 A.M. local time. No injuries have been reported. Video carried on Lebanese TV and shared on social media sites showed the pre-dawn airstrikes caused a fire around the airport east of Damascus, suggesting fuel sources or weapons containing explosives were hit.

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Syria's official news agency blamed the strike on Israel, citing a military source. The report said the attack took place on a military compound southwest of the airport. The blasts were followed by a fire in the same place, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

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Later on Thursday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a Venezuelan television interview broadcast that Israeli military strikes on his army showed Israel was "supporting terrorists" in Syria, state-run Syrian media reported. 

Assad did not directly refer to the earlier strike and Syria's official SANA news agency, which carried quotes from the interview with Venezuela's Telesur channel, did not say when it was recorded. 

An intelligence source in the region told Reuters that an Israeli attack hit an arms supply hub operated by Hezbollah near Damascus airport, where regular supplies of weapons from Tehran are sent by commercial and military cargo planes.

Four cargo planes originating from Tehran landed in Damascus hours before the strike, according to Flightradar24.com.

The source said that the depot handles a significant amount of weapons that Tehran, a major ally of Assad, adding that the arms depot gets a major part of the weapons supplied to an array of Iranian-backed militias, led by Hezbollah, which is engaged in some of the toughest fronts against Syrian rebels.

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on Thursday morning that the attack in Syria was "entirely consistent with our policy to prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah." Katz however did not confirm Israel was behind it.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli military, asked if Israel had been involved in carrying out air strikes targeting Damascus airport, said: "We can't comment on such reports."

Asked about the strike at a daily press briefing on Thursday, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told a reporter, "I'm referring you to the Israelis."

"Israel has its own security concerns - and legitimate ones ... they [the Israelis] are justified in taking action when they see a specific security threat," said Toner, who also serves as a foreign services officer.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to denounce the incident on Thursday, without making any mention of Syrian reports that Israel was behind the strike.

"We consider that all countries should avoid any actions that lead to higher tensions in such a troubled region and call for Syrian sovereignty to be respected," Peskov told reporters, when asked about the attack. 

Peskov added that Russia and Israel were in constant contact about the situation in Syria through various channels. 

Sources in the Syrian opposition say that the attack was on a military airfield near Damascus' international airport that is used by Iranian-supported troops. They say that weapons and an ammunitions depot were targeted.

Local reports note that the compound that was hit includes warehouses, airplane hangers and an industrial zone. 

Lebanon's al-Manar, a television channel affiliated with the Assad ally Hezbollah, said the blast was likely caused by an Israeli airstrike. It said initial indications were that the blast had caused only material damage and no human casualties.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman says the explosion early Thursday was heard across the capital, jolting residents awake. He says the explosion is reported to have occurred near the Damascus airport road.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, says the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now says the explosion was near the city's Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday while on a visit to Moscow that Israel "will not allow Iranian and Hezbollah forces to be amassed on the Golan Heights border."

Lieberman, who is attending a security conference in the Russian capital, met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

A statement issued by the Defense Ministry said Lieberman discussed the situation in Syria and the continued coordination between the Israeli and the Russian armies with the Russian ministers. The statement said that "Defense Minister Lieberman expressed concern over Iranian activity in Syria and the Iranian use of Syrian soil as a base for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon."

On Tuesday a senior Israeli officer said that the Israel Air Force destroyed around 100 Syrian missiles, many of which were due to be delivered to Hezbollah, in an attack last month. This was a rare admission that Israel had taken military action in Syria.