Israel 'carries out air strikes in East Aleppo'

Air strikes were aimed at the Sheikh Najjar area in Aleppo

FILE - In this Monday, Nov 25, 2013, file photo, technicians inspect an Israeli air force F-16 jet at the Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel. The Israeli military says it has shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country and has struck Iranian targets in Syria that launched it. The military says that as part of the unusual event one of its F-16 jets crashed in northern Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

The Israeli air force has carried out strikes near the northern city of Aleppo overnight Wednesday, targeting a government arms depot, the Syrian military said.

The attack occurred around 11pm local time and targeted an industrial zone in north-east Aleppo, a statement from the Syrian army said.

Unlike comments on previous airstrikes where the culprit was not identified, the Syrian news agency said the area was the target of an “air aggression by Israel”.

"The Israeli aggression targeted some positions in Sheikh Najjar industrial zone and a number of enemy missiles were brought down," an army statement said.

While Syrian state media said the attack left only material damage, locals reported a different story.

Khaled, a local resident of Aleppo who was in the Al Razi Government Hospital at the time of the strikes, told The National that the blasts caused the windows to shake and minutes later the emergency room became hectic.

"It filled with military and police running around and telling people to get out of their way," he said.
"I was told by one of the doctors, a friend, … that they were receiving military injuries from where Israel has attacked us, which was shocking. I was horrified as I could see the military members running like mad, swearing at the staff and telling everyone to get on their way."

Opposition groups said that the site was used by Iranian backed forces to store ammunition and an airfield used by Tehran.

Abo Al Tayab, a member of a rebel group near the targeted site at Shiek Najjar in the countryside of western Aleppo, said that Iranian militias have had a large number of troops in the area since the regime recaptured Aleppo.

"Many [of the Iranian units] were removed from Damascus after Russia-regime pressure on them to evacuate south Syria in order to avoid being hit [by Israel]", he told The National.

He said the area’s strategic location had made it a forward base for Iranian backed groups looking to operate in the north of the country.

Mohammad, a resident of Aleppo’s Al Rashideen district said that the city is filled with checkpoints run by Iranian-backed forces. He said Wednesday night’s attack was unlike the sporadic shelling and clashes between regime forces and nearby rebel groups.

"We usually hear explosions and clashes coming from the rebel pocket near Al Zahraa, but yesterday evening the explosions we heard with something else, they were not the normal mortar attack we are used to," he said.

"I stayed up last night as we had electricity running, [something] unusual these days, then heard and felt the ground shaking from the explosions,” he said. “Right after there were massive explosions and clashes broke out for nearly half an hour.” The power, he said, flicked out. From his balcony on the fifth floor of his building, Mohammad said he couldn't see lights on anywhere in the city.

Military experts say Aleppo is one of the main areas where Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have a strong military presence supporting local militias that have for years been fighting alongside the Syrian army to defeat insurgents.

Two opposition sources familiar with Tehran's military presence in the area said large ammunition depot and a logistics hub that belonged to Iranian-backed militias inside the industrial zone received direct hits.

Other strikes hit the vicinity of Nairab military airport on the outskirts of Aleppo in the second such strike on the installation used by Iranian troops in less than a year, they added.

Israel, which considers Iran its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Earlier this year Israeli military said they had attacked Iranian targets that included munitions stores in Damascus International Airport.

This is the first reported attack by Israel in Syria since January 20, and one of a very few that Israel has carried out as far north as Aleppo.

Ahmad Rahal, a former colonel in the Free Syrian Army turned military expert, said that the strikes were an escalation after repeatedly targeting Iranian positions in southern and central Syria.

"Israel wants Iran out of Syria thus they have relentlessly attacked them over the past few months,” he said. “But more importantly, Russia is also setting up these attack with Israel in order to kick them out from Syria."

Mr Rahal said this latest strike was a warning.

"Israel is sending a message to Iran and Syria that the remote bases they have [away] from Israel will also be targeted, and even if [Iran] withdraws from Damascus, which they did after Russian pressure, they will also be targeted everywhere in Syria."

It came following an escalation between Syria and Israel after the administration of US President Donald Trump recognised the occupied Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty.

The strike coincided with an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council that was held at Syria's request over Mr Trump's recognition of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. 

On Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a key backer of Damascus, rejected the US move and called for “resistance” against Israel.

With an election approaching, Israel’s government has increased its attacks in Syria and has taken a tougher stance towards Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.

Iran has warned Israel it would respond if it continued attacking targets in Syria and repeatedly said its military presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Assad government and it has no immediate plans to withdraw.