Report: Five Killed in Israeli Strike on Iranian-backed Militias Near Damascus

Syrian state media says missiles were fired from the Golan Heights ■ At least seven foreign fighter reportedly wounded in the attack

Jack Khoury
The Associated Press
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An airstrike attributed to Israel near Damascus, Syria, 2019.
An airstrike attributed to Israel near Damascus, Syria, 2019.Credit: SANA / AP
Jack Khoury
The Associated Press

A Syrian war monitor group said Tuesday that airstrikes over Damascus Monday night, which state media attributed to Israel, had killed five foreign fighters and wounded several others while targeting an Iranian-backed militia.

Syrian air defenses responded to the strike Monday, state media reported, in the latest wave of attacks that Western intelligence sources have said were Israeli strikes on a major Iranian-backed ammunition depot on the edge of the capital. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it wasn't immediately clear if the dead were Iranians or members of Iran-backed groups.

The group, which tracks the Syrian civil war through a network of activists on the ground, added that the wounded included four foreign fighters and seven Syrian members of an air-defense unit.

Syria's official SANA news agency announced that its air defenses were activated by "enemy targets" over the capital city. "Our air defenses responded to missiles fired by the Israeli enemy from the area of Majdal Shams in the occupied Syrian Golan," the statement said.

The observatory said that the strikes targeted Iranian-backed militias and regime sites. The Britain-based observatory reported “loud explosions” in the area.

A Syrian military spokesman was quoted on state television as saying its air defenses thwarted most of the missiles that targeted southern Damascus suburbs, areas that Israel had hit in the past, before reaching their targets and inflicted only "material losses".

Syrian military defectors said the strike targeted a major Iranian-run ammunitions depot in Jabal al Mane near the town of Kiswa, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards have long been entrenched in a rugged area almost 15 km (9.3 miles) south of the center of Damascus.

The severity of the blasts were heard in the capital and shook windows of several neighbourhoods there, according to residents.

"The Israelis have targeted a major ammunitions depot. There were several strikes and the blasts were huge. There are reports that Iranian personnel have been killed," said Zaid al Reys, a Syrian analyst in touch with sources on the ground.

Israel rarely comments on such reports but is believed to have carried out scores of raids targeting Iran’s military presence in Syria. In the past two months alone, Syria has accused Israel of carrying out at least eight air raids on its territory. The last reported strikes came in late June.

The bases in eastern, central and southern Syria which Israel had hit in recent months are believed to have a strong presence of Iranian-backed militias, according to intelligence sources and military defectors familiar with the locations.

Syria never publicly acknowledges that the strikes target Iranian assets in a country where Tehran's military presence has covered most government-controlled areas.

Late last month, the observatory said that Israeli airstrikes targeted pro-Iranian militias in Syria near the Iraqi border. According to the report, six militia members were killed, including four Syrian nationals, in the attack east of the city of Deir el-Zour.

Days earlier, the Syrian army said it responded to Israeli strikes on southern, central and eastern Syria in which two soldiers were killed and four were injured. Military defectors and intelligence sources described the strikes as a wave of raids that targeted Iranian bases.

The Syrian human rights watchdog also reported that five Iranian militants were killed in the attacks. 

Regional intelligence sources say that Israel's strikes on Syria are 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.

Israel has acknowledged conducting many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 where it sees Iran's presence as a strategic threat.

Israeli defense officials have said in recent months that the country would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria where, with the help of its proxy militias, Tehran has expanded its presence.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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