Damascus International Airport Syria
While Israeli strikes have repeatedly caused the grounding of flights at the government-controlled airports in the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, it is the second time since this month’s conflict between Israel and Hamas began that the two sites have been struck simultaneously. Image Credit: AFP file

BEIRUT:  Israeli strikes killed eight soldiers in southern Syria on Wednesday, later returning to bomb Aleppo airport for the fourth time in a fortnight, the defence ministry in Damascus said.

Israel said the first strike was in response to earlier rocket fire.

Hours later, Israeli forces struck Aleppo airport in the north, the Syrian defence ministry said as regional tensions simmer over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

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The fighting erupted on October 7 after Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border and went on a rampage, kidnapping some 220 hostages and killing more 1,400 people, mostly civilians, Israeli officials say.

The worst-ever attack in Israel’s history, it prompted a ferocious Israeli bombing campaign that Gaza’s Hamas rulers say has so far killed 6,546 people, mostly civilians.

Persistent rocket fire and artillery exchanges across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia and allied Palestinian factions, have raised fears of a new front in the war.

Pro-Hezbollah fighters in Syria’s south have also exchanged cross-border fire with Israel several times since last week.

“Around 1:45 am (2245 GMT Tuesday), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression from the occupied Golan Heights,” the defence ministry said of the strikes that killed eight soldiers and wounded seven others.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with a wide network of sources on the ground in the war-ravaged country, put the number of dead soldiers at 11, including four officers.

The strikes “destroyed arms depots and a Syrian air defence radar” and also targeted an infantry unit, it said.

On Tuesday evening, the Observatory had said “fighters loyal to Hezbollah,” which fights alongside government forces in the Syrian conflict, had “launched two rockets towards the occupied Syrian Golan” from Syria’s southern province of Daraa.

Israel’s army said its “fighter jets struck military infrastructure and mortars belonging to the Syrian army in response to the launches towards Israel” on Tuesday.

‘Iron fist’

After the strike, residents in Daraa province told AFP Israeli planes dropped leaflets warning the Syrian army and Palestinian factions not to attack.

“Syrian commanders... bear full responsibility for operations... from Syrian territory,” they read warning that every attack “on the state of Israel will be met with an iron fist”.

On Wednesday afternoon, Israel struck Aleppo airport with Syria’s defence ministry saying the strike came “from the direction of the Mediterranean sea, west of Latakia”.

Transport ministry official Suleiman Khalil said the runway had been targeted by a strike, but without specifying the source.

“The same Aleppo airport runway that was targeted before was struck again,” he said.

“The airport was about to finish repairs and schedule flights, but it was once again put out of service.”

Israeli strikes had already put Syria’s two main airports in Damascus and Aleppo out of service several times in the past two weeks.

During more than a decade of civil war in Syria, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on its northern neighbour, primarily targeting Hezbollah fighters and other Iran-backed forces as well as Syrian army positions.

Israel rarely comments on individual strikes on Syria, but it has repeatedly said it won’t allow arch-foe Iran, which backs President Bashar al-Assad’s government, to expand its presence there.

Israel occupied much of the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the United Nations.