Israel strikes Iran-linked militia in Damascus as its campaign against proxies continues

Targets with links to Tehran have come under attack since the Iran-Israel escalation in April

Hezbollah supporters at a Shiite shrine in the Sayda Zeinab district of Damascus, in June 2021.
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The Israeli Air Force on Thursday struck and destroyed a building in south Damascus belonging to one of the strongest pro-Iranian militias in the Middle East, pro-Iranian sources said.

The attack, on the Iraqi Al Nujaba militia base in the Sayda Zeinab district, is the fourth known Israeli raid against targets linked to Tehran in Syria since the two countries came close to direct war three weeks ago, amid the war in Gaza.

State media in Damascus quoted a military official as saying “Israeli military aggression targeted one building” on the outskirts of the capital with missiles at 3am local time.

“Our aid defences repulsed the missiles of aggression and brought down some of them,” the official said.

The attack resulted in “material damage”, he said.

In Baghdad, a parliamentarian linked to the Iranian backed non-state groups in the country confirmed that the strike hit a site run by Al Nujaba, saying it caused no casualties.

Photos purportedly showing the rubble of the building, as well as damaged cars, were published online and on Facebook groups loyal to President Bashar Al Assad. They described the building as a liaison centre belonging to Al Nujaba.

The Shiite group is part of a cluster of pro-Iranian players active in Syria that have been frequently targeted by Israel and the US in retaliation for attacks on their own forces in the region.

On January 4, an American strike killed an Al Nujaba commander in Baghdad, in response to an attack on a US base in Jordan.

The years-long, indirect war between Iran and Israel escalated sharply last month when an Israeli air raid on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus killed one of the most senior commanders of the Iranian Quds Force in Syria.

Iran responded by firing 300 missiles and drones on Israel, which were mostly intercepted.

Israel, however, has continued attacking Iran-linked targets in the country, wounding eight Syrian military personnel last week in an air strike near Sayda Zeinab, according to the Syrian army

There have also been two Israeli raids on Iranian-linked sites in the southern Daraa province, according to Syrian opposition sources in Amman

Israel has intensified its air attacks in Syria since Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed to launch multi-pronged attacks using proxies in the region, in reaction to the war on Gaza.

Israel waged a full-scale war on the Strip after Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Around 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the invasion, according to Palestinian health officials.

Israeli military sites in the Golan Heights have come under relatively minor attacks from Syria, as part of the Iranian response.

South Damascus became a main concentration point for Iranian military personnel and militias backed by Tehran after the 2011 revolt against President Assad.

A crackdown on the peaceful protests movement, which was supported by Tehran, led to the militarisation of the revolt. By the end of 2011, Syria was in civil war.

But Iranian and Russian backing was crucial for the regime to maintain its seat of power in Damascus and to claw back initial losses in the war.

Like the majority of Shiite militias in Iraq, Al Nujaba follows Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In 2013, Akram Al Kaabai formed Ammar Ben Yassir Brigade to join the fight in Syria alongside the Syrian army.

That brigade then turned into the Al Nujaba movement and is now seen as the second most powerful Iraqi Shiite militia fighting in Syria, specialising in drone and missile attacks.

Additional reporting from Sinan Mahmoud in Baghdad

Updated: May 10, 2024, 11:23 AM