REPORT: Israeli airstrike in Damascus injures senior Hezbollah leaders

U.S. Dept. of Defense source to Newsweek: Several leaders of Hezbollah have been hit during the Israeli airstrike on Damascus, “Israel’s air strike was conducted minutes after the leaders boarded a plane bound for Iran”



Israel’s air defense system – likely the Arrow – was activated late Tuesday night against a Syrian anti-aircraft missile, following an alleged Israeli air strike over the capital of Damascus. Media reports claimed that Israel struck weapon warehouses near the Syrian capital.

There were no damages or injuries to Israeli troops, the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.

According to unconfirmed Israeli reports, the launch was carried out from the northern city of Hadera, with pictures published on social media of a large tail of smoke heading into the sky and residents in the Hefer Valley Regional Council also reported hearing the sound of loud explosion.

It is still unclear whether any Syrian missiles were intercepted from the IDF’s reported perspective.

Syrian state media reported Tuesday night that regime air defenses intercepted “hostile targets” west of Damascus during an alleged Israeli air strike, which according to local reports involved 22 missiles targeting sites including weapons depots belonging to pro-Iranian militias in Damascus.

Other locations reported by Syrian media to have been struck during the strike are as follows: pro-Iranian military positions located in the suburbs of Damascus, air defense facilities and headquarters of the 68th Brigade and the 137th Brigade of the Syrian Army in the Damascus area, a military headquarters belonging to the 4th Division of the Syrian Army in the Al-Muna area surrounding Damascus and military Unit 10 in the district of Qatana.

The IDF destroyed a cache of Iranian Fajr-5 missiles stored in a weapons depot near Damascus this evening that had the potential to threaten the area surrounding the Galilee, according to Israeli news agency

A second report released by Nziv, says that a delegation of senior Hezbollah figures who arrived in Damascus came under Israeli attack during the airstrikes.

According to Newsweek, the senior Hezbollah leaders were injured during the strike. A US Defense Department official with access to top Israeli military officials who are privy to the situation, allegedly told Newsweek that  the senior officials were targeted in an attempted assassination plot. According to the official, the airstrike was conducted minutes after the group boarded a plane headed for Iran.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported that a Syrian military official claimed, “Israeli air force planes attacked tonight, most of the missiles were intercepted before hitting targets.” Later it was reported that three Syrian soldiers were wounded and that an ammunition depot was damaged in the attack.

Several people on the ground filmed the rockets shooting skyward, thought to be S-200 air defense, which is the main system Syria uses. Locals reported debris and missile strikes near Dimas, Qatana, Saboura and near Mazzah all west of Damascus. Some of these areas have been targeted in the past.

In September, Syrian air defense shot down a Russian Il-20 during an Israeli air raid in Latakia and Russia blamed Israel for the mistake. Since then the number of incidents in which Syria has alleged Israeli air strikes has decreased. Syria was given the S-300 more advanced system by Moscow, but it is not clear if the system is operational.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lebanese media reported that Israeli Air Force jets had been circling over the southern part of the country before the strike on the Syrian capital.

KAN reporter Amichai Stein wrote that this is a “possible strike in west Damascus…heard all across the city.” Israeli media cited accounts of eyewitnesses who claimed to see a column of smoke in the air over Hadera. Additional reports were cited of people hearing loud explosions in northern Israel.

Lebanese media claims the target was unit 10 in the district of Qatana and that the Israelis passed Lebanese airspace to reach their goal.

Syrian Arab News Agency SANA said this is an Israeli attack against Iranian assets in Syria.

Hezbollah news channel Al Manar claimed IAF jets staged false strikes to distract from the real goal of the operation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the security cabinet visited the North on Tuesday to receive an update on the IDF operation to destroy Hezbollah’s terror tunnels discovered along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The alleged attack came a week after the White House announced that American troops would withdraw from Syria. After the announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would expand military operations against Iran following the withdrawal.

“The decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated earlier this week that the American withdrawal would not affect the IDF’s ability to act against Iran and Hezbollah.

“The American decision to withdraw troops is significant, but it should not be exaggerated,” Eisenkot said at a conference honoring former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on Sunday. “For decades, we have dealt with this front alone. That’s also how it has been over the past four years, during the American and Russian presence [in Syria]. We have been acting in support of Israel’s security interests,” he said, adding that the Americans make the decision when the relationship between the armies is at its peak.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders, and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.

With the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces, Israel’s northern front has become the IDF’s No. 1 priority. Working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, the Israel Air Force has admitted to carrying out hundreds of air strikes in Syria.In a related development, two suspicious Iranian planes left Damascus on Tuesday night just prior to reports of airstrikes.

Details from flight monitoring sites show that a Fars Air Qeshm 747 cargo plane left Damascus International Airport at 9:28 in the evening, just half an hour before reports emerged of air strikes in Syria on Tuesday night.

According to the site, the Boeing 747-281F left Damascus and flew due east towards Tehran, climbing to 30,000 feet and then crossing into Iraq after ten in the evening.

By midnight it had entered Iranian airspace and began a beeline for Tehran. A second Tehran bound flight, Maham Air took off at 10:04 in the evening and flew precisely the same route. The Far Air Qeshm flight has been in the news in the past in relation to alleged smuggling of arms to Syria and also to Damascus. Al-Arabiya claimed that it transferred weapons to Hezbollah in early December.  In October, FoxNews carried a similar report.

Similarly Mahan Air has been targeted by the US Treasury Department for links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, making its departure right after the Fars Air Qeshm suspicions. Although the Fars Air Qeshm flight appears to have left before the airstrikes began, the Mahan Air flight seems to have left around the same time.

In the past reports have indicated that airstrikes targeted Damascus after suspicious flights landed and allegedly disembarked cargo for arms smuggling to Hezbollah factions.

This is a developing story. The Jerusalem Times reporter Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report and is updating live on Twitter.


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