Israel strikes pro-Iranian militia stronghold in Damascus

Syrian media attributes the strike to Israel in the latest attack on sites linked to Iran since the start of the war in Gaza

Hizbollah supporters attend ceremony at the Sayda Zeinab Shiite Shrine in Damascus, in June 2021. AFP
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Israeli planes have struck a suburb of Damascus in the latest attack on Iran's area of influence in Syria.

Syrian media quoted a military official as saying that several locations on the outskirts of Damascus were struck by Israel on Wednesday. The strikes “only caused material damage,” the official said.

The Lebanese television Maydeen said one of the strikes occurred in the Sayyidah Zaynab neighbourhood. The Israeli military did not comment on the strikes.

Militias allied with Tehran in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon have increased their attacks on Israeli and US targets since Hamas, a militant group also linked to Tehran and the Muslim Brotherhood, attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people. Israeli retaliation following the attack has killed more than 30,000 people.

Israel has also increased air strikes on Iranian sites and supply lines in Syria since October 7, hitting Damascus and Aleppo airports, as well as sites linked to Hezbollah, the militia backed by Syrian President Bashar Al and allied with Hamas against Israel.

Both the US and Iran have said they do not want to escalate a regional war, but violence has increased since Israel's ground incursion in Gaza.

Sayyidah Zaynab is home to a shrine that contains the grave of Zaynab, the daughter of Ali. It is an important pilgrimage for Shiite Muslims.

The Shiite group Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon but supported by the Iranian and Syrian regimes, cited the protection of the shrine as its initial justification for entering the Syrian civil war in 2011-2012.

The area has since become a centre for Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, many of which are backed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran started increasing its military presence in Syria as the pro-democracy uprisings of 2011 led to a civil war in the country, with regional and international powers offering support to different parties.

Tehran and Moscow played a vital role in supporting the Assad regime and have retained an influential role in Syria.

Iran-backed groups have also been accused of smuggling weapons capable of striking Israel into Syria.

Israel is facing missile strikes from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah on its northern border in Lebanon. It has sought to limit attacks from Syria.

Since 2013, Israel has been carrying out air strikes to destroy such capabilities.

In 2019, Israeli politician Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot acknowledged that Israel had struck “thousands” of targets within Syria, dropping 2,000 bombs in 2018.

Updated: February 29, 2024, 12:54 PM