Beirut: Israeli warplanes struck a military position near the Mediterranean coast in western Syria early Thursday, killing two soldiers and causing material damage, the Syrian army said.
The air strike targeted a facility near the town of Masyaf that some said was tied to Syria’s chemical weapons programme, in a stronghold of President Bashar Al Assad that is also heavily protected by the Russians.
In a statement, the Syrian army said Israeli warplanes fired several missiles while in Lebanese air space, and warned of the “dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region.”
Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser and a former general, said the strike targeted a weapons development and manufacturing site that was producing arms for Hezbollah.
Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin wrote on Twitter that the facility reportedly struck by Israel produces precision missiles, chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Such a strike is “exceptional,” he said, and shows that “Israel won’t allow the stockpiling and production of strategic arms.”
In 2013, Syria said Israeli warplanes carried out an air raid on a scientific research centre in the Damascus suburb of Jamraya.
While largely staying out of the Syrian civil war, Israel has carried out a number of air strikes against suspected arms shipments believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which is fighting alongside President Bashar Al Assad’s forces. Israel has also struck several Syrian military facilities since the conflict began, mostly near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Al Assad has never responded.
Thursday’s air raid came a day after a UN probe found the Syrian government responsible for a chemical attack in April in northern Syria that killed more than 80 people, saying it was one of 20 chemical weapons attacks in the past four years carried out by the Syrian government. The US fired missiles at a Syrian air base in response to April’s attack.
It was not immediately clear if the facility struck Thursday was used for the production or storage of chemical arms. Syria denies having or using such weapons.
Rami Abdul Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said two facilities were hit in Thursday’s air strike, a scientific research centre and a nearby military base where short-range surface-to-surface missiles are stored. He said the attack killed two people and wounded five.
“Many explosions were heard in the area after the air raid,” said Abdul Rahman, whose group relies on a network of activists across the country. He said some of the blasts may have been secondary explosions from a missile storage facility being hit.
He said Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Iranian military officials often visit the site, adding that those killed and wounded were Syrians.
A local opposition media activist said the facility that was struck is a factory that produces missiles under the supervision of Iranian experts. He said those killed and wounded were Syrian soldiers guarding the facility, and that he did not know if any Iranians were wounded. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.
Days after the April 4 chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaikhoun, the US Treasury sanctioned 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre. Washington said the agency is responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them. It was not immediately clear if that centre was the target of Thursday’s air raid.
The air strike is the furthest north since Russia joined the war in September 2015 with a major air campaign to aid Al Assad’s forces.
In October 2016, Russia deployed a battery of S-300 air defence missile systems to protect a Russian navy facility in the Syrian port of Tartus and Russian navy ships in the area. Moscow also has long-range S-400 missile defence systems and an array of other surface-to-air missiles at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.