Syria blames Israel for rare air raid on Mediterranean port city of Latakia

Strikes were on the ancestral home region of Bashar Al Assad and close to a Russian airbase

FILE PHOTO: A streak of light is seen in the night sky in the vicinity of the Syrian capital Damascus during what Syrian authorities said was an Israeli air strike, in this handout released by state news agency SANA on February 24, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE/File Photo
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Syrian air defences brought down several Israeli missiles during predawn raids on Latakia, the Syrian army said. One civilian was killed and six injured in one of the strikes, which hit a civilian plastics factory in the Mediterranean port city.

The aerial strikes soon after 2am hit several areas along the southwest coast of Latakia, the Syrian army said.

"Our aerial defences intercepted the aggressors' missiles and downed some of them."

Israel has in recent months escalated a so-called "shadow war" against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, according to western intelligence sources, which say the strikes mainly target research centres for weapons development, munitions depots and military convoys moving missiles from Syria to Lebanon.

The Israeli attack also hit the town of Hifa, east of the port city of Latakia, and Misyaf in Hama province, state media reported. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.

Although Israeli strikes in the past few years targeted many parts of Syria, they have rarely hit Latakia, which is close to Russia's main airbase of Hmeimim.

A senior military defector said the Israeli raid struck several areas in the town of Jabla in north-west Latakia province, a bastion of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's minority Alawite sect that dominates the army and security forces.

Mr Al Assad comes from Qerdaha, a village in the Alawite Mountains 28 kilometres south-east of Latakia, where his father, the late president Hafez Al Assad, is buried.

Iran's proxy militias led by Lebanon's Hezbollah now hold sway over vast areas in eastern, southern and north-west Syria, as well as several suburbs around Damascus. They also control Lebanese-Syrian border areas.

Israel said its goal is to end Tehran's military presence in Syria, which western intelligence sources say has expanded in recent years.