At least six people were killed by Israeli missile attacks in the Masyaf area of Syria overnight Thursday into Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog group said.
The strikes destroyed depots and missile production facilities belonging to Iranian militias, the observatory said. The group further said that reliable sources had told it Israeli missiles had destroyed warehouses and headquarters in the area of a scientific research center where Iranian militias are stationed.
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Masyaf is a significant military area for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime that includes a military academy and a scientific research center. Israel has reportedly struck targets there several times in the past.
According to a report by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International – ISI, the strike destroyed four buildings “that were probably used for mixing and casting components of the missile engines and possibly warheads production line.”
One of the four buildings destroyed in the strike, according to satellite images released by the company, had already been destroyed once in an airstrike and rebuilt.
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The Syrian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying Israel “launched an aggression by directing a barrage of rockets” from the north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli towards the Masyaf area. It said Syrian air defenses “confronted the enemy missiles and intercepted most of them.”
In the past few years, Israel has acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes in Syria, most of them aimed at suspected Iranian weapons shipments believed to be bound for Hezbollah – although it rarely acknowledges being behind individual attacks. In recent months, Israeli officials have expressed concern that Hezbollah is trying to establish production facilities to make precision guided missiles.
In November, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israel was behind the airstrike which targeted the eastern Syrian region of Albuqmal, making it the third reported Israeli strike in Syria within a week.
Nineteen pro-Iranian Pakistani militants were killed in that airstrike.
A day eralier, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said that Israel struck two sites in the country's south. The SOHR said eight non-Syrian nationals were killed in the strike, which also destroyed a missile depot affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran near Damascus and Quneitra.
According to Syrian state media, one attack targeted a village south of Quneitra, and the second hit Jebel el Mania, a suburb south of Damascus. It also said that the country's air defenses were activated in response to the strikes.
The Israeli military did not comment on either of the reports, as is routine for strikes in Syria.
A week earlier, in a rare move, Israel said it carried out an airstrike in Syria that targeted an Iranian unit that Israel says is responsible for planting explosives on the Israeli side of the countries' border on two separate occasions.
The attack came one day after the discovery of the second line of explosive devices on the Israeli side of the Syria-Israel border in three-and-a-half months.
Western intelligence sources say Israel's stepped-up strikes on Syria in the last few months are a part of a shadow war, approved by Washington and part of the anti-Iran policy that has undermined in the last two years Iran's extensive military power without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report.