Syria says Israeli missiles struck near military airport
BEIRUT (AP) — Syria accused Israel of firing missiles early Friday that landed near a major military base west of Damascus, in the third such reported attack in nearly six weeks to hit near the capital.
The Syrian government was quick to respond, warning Israel of the repercussions of such attacks. But it refrained from saying whether it would retaliate.
Damascus, preoccupied with the country’s civil war for six years now, is unlikely to open a new front with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel has delivered the occasional message to Damascus by targeting shipments of weapons headed to the Lebanese Hezbollah group. The group is a main supporter of Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the civil war, and has sent thousands of fighters to fight alongside his army.
There was no immediate comment from Israel on Friday to the Syrian claims of a strike. Israel is widely believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, as well as Hezbollah positions — but it rarely confirms them.
Israel has largely been spared any spillover from Syria’s war, but it has voiced concerned with the role there of Hezbollah, the guerrilla group with which Israel has fought multiple wars, most recently in 2006.
Assad’s army has relied heavily on Hezbollah and Iranian and Iraqi militias, using their help to achieve a number of victories, most recently last month in Aleppo. Hezbollah, which calls Israel its main enemy, has gained new battlefield experience, but it is likely to continue to be tied down in the Syria conflict.
The missiles fired early Friday fell in the vicinity of the Mezzeh military airport on the western edge of the Syrian capital and sparked a fire, Syria’s state news agency SANA said, quoting a military official.
Residents of Damascus reported hearing several explosions that shook the city.
The statement did not say whether there were any casualties. It said several missiles were launched just after midnight from an area near Lake Tiberias, or the Sea of Galilee.
The Mezzeh airport compound, located on the southwestern edge of the capital, had been used to launch attacks on rebel-held areas near Damascus and has previously come under rebel fire.
“The Syrian army command and armed forces warn the Israeli enemy of the repercussions of this blatant attack and stress that it will continue its war on terrorism,” the military statement on SANA said.
Through such attacks, Israel is assisting “terrorist groups” fighting the Syrian government, it said.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently reiterated his government’s position to not get involved in the Syrian war.
The attack was the third such incident recently, according to the Syrian government.
On Dec. 7, the Syrian government reported Israel fired surface-to-surface missiles that also struck near the Mezzeh airport. A week earlier, SANA said Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace toward the outskirts of Damascus, in the Sabboura area.
Later Friday, the Foreign Ministry condemned the missile attack in two letters to the U.N. secretary-general and the president of the U.N. Security Council, saying such an attack would not have occurred had it not been for the “direct support from the outgoing American administration and French and British leaderships.”
It said it was part of a series of Israeli attacks that started with Syria’s war in March 2011. It called on the international community to “punish the Israeli aggressor.”
Hours before the attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a sports club in another neighborhood of the Syrian capital, killing at least eight.
Associated Press correspondent Zeina Karam contributed to this report.