Explosions rock Damascus in suspected Israeli air strike

Israel frequently targets suspected weapons depots in Syria, linked to Iran-backed groups

An explosion in Damascus during an Israeli air raid in 2021. EPA
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Loud explosions were heard around Damascus on Sunday morning, amid reports of suspected Israeli air strikes around the capital. Several war monitors on social media said the explosions were probably Israeli air strikes, after at least 22 Israeli air attacks on Syria this year so far.

The state-linked Sana news outlet reported the explosions but said the cause was currently unclear, while several images on social media showed a large fiery blast, said to be in Qudsaya.

Qudsaya is a neighbourhood on the edge of the capital that has been the target of several Israeli air strikes in recent years.

Residents of the Damascus region heard the blasts which came from "the warehouses of pro-Iran militias" in a mountainous area east of the capital, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

"We don't know if it was from an air strike or ground operation," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Last week, heavy Israeli air strikes, reportedly targeting ammunition storage warehouses, killed at least four Syrian soldiers and according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor with sources across Syria, two Iran-linked militia fighters.

Since 2012, the Israeli air force has conducted hundreds of air strikes in Syria, mostly attacking suspected storage sites for Iranian missiles supplied to allies of Tehran, including the Syrian army and allied Iraqi Shiite militias. The Israeli military acknowledges the air campaign, but rarely comments on individual air strikes.

Analysts say Iran has been trying to open a third "missile front" against Israel over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, presenting a new challenge to the Israeli army, which faces Lebanese Hezbollah on its northern border.

The Lebanese militia is thought to possess at least 100,000 rockets, while to Israel’s south, the Hamas-run Gaza enclave has been the site of numerous rounds of violence, including rocket fire and Israeli air strikes.

Israel has lost one F-16 jet to enemy fire during its air campaign over Syria, in February 2018. Before the onset of the Syrian civil war, which saw much of the country fall under the control of rebel groups, including militant Islamists, Syria had a substantial air defence network, thought to comprise 150 units of surface-to-air missile systems, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

The war and concurrent Israel air strikes have severely weakened this defence system.

Updated: August 13, 2023, 11:14 AM