Report: Series of Blasts Heard Near Assad Arms Depot in Northern Syria

Residents of region report seeing fighter jets near time of blasts; several Assad troops killed in explosions, according to reports.

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Several powerful blasts were heard at a weapons depot belonging to the Syrian military late on Thursday night, according to reports gradually streaming in from Syria. BBC Arabic radio reported overnight Thursday that the explosions took place near the port of Latakia in Syria's north.

Subsequent reports offered few new details and drew limited attention. Among them was a statement by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that "huge explosions shook the area where a large Syrian army base and weapons depots are located."

According to the group, residents in the area where the blasts were heard say they were caused by missile fire of unknown origin. However, according to other reports that have reached the rights group, fighter jets were seen in the skies in the area of the city of Al-Haffah. It was further reported that several troops have been killed and wounded in the explosions. Fires broke out in the region.

A similar report carried by the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar said the blasts were caused by rocket or missile fire at a military base near a village some 20 kilometers from Latakia. Al-Manar cited a "military source" as saying that the fire came from the direction of a northern suburb of the city, where rebels and regime forces have been clashing for days.

The same source said that the base contains large stockpiles of weapons. The anonymous source denied the possibility that the explosions were caused by an air or sea strike targeting the Syrian regime's arms store. It remains unclear whether the source was Syrian.

Opposition websites said the weapons depot was attacked by the Free Syrian Army, and that, according to eye-witnesses, the blasts took place at around 2 A.M. Flames could be seen from afar. There were also reports of heavy exchanges of gunfire in the area after the explosions.

The reports cast blame for the blasts upon Syrian opposition groups. The source of the strike, however, remains unclear, as do the details about the damage that has been caused.

Latakia is located in an Alawite enclave in northern Syria. The city, as well as the nearby port city of Tartus, houses the artificial respiration system that is holding Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime alive despite the bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians over the course of nearly two years.

Recently, at a speech held at the Washington Institute, Israel's defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, had warned that Israel will respond harshly if Assad orders border attacks against the country.

Threat from Sinai

The situation developing in Sinai in the wake of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's ousting is also of concern to Israel. On Friday night a radical Islamist group, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for rockets fired from Sinai toward the Israeli city of Eilat on Thursday night. No rockets were found within Israel's territory after the attack, and it is possible they have landed in Sinai. The sound of the blast echoed in the Eilat.

Meanwhile, Islamist groups have also raided Egyptian army posts near the Sinai town of El Arish, killing a senior Egyptian officer. Israeli officials have postulated that the groups are retaliating against the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo. The Egyptian security forces' may not be able to dedicate as much time and effort to monitor Sinai at this time, and Israel has to take into account that the violence in the peninsula could turn into terror attacks within Israel's borders.

A Google map image showing where the blasts were reportedly heard. Credit: Google Maps
Smoke rises in the city of Latakia, Syria.Credit: Reuters

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