Syria 'intercepts Israeli strikes in Aleppo'

Fifth Israeli attack in two weeks on suspected Iranian targets

epa06724241 Syrian air defense missiles are seen in the sky over the capital Damascus, Syria, 10 May 2018. According to Syrian official media reports, the air defense was responding to a new wave of Israeli missile strikes.  EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
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Syrian air defences foiled an Israeli missile attack on a research centre and a military base in the northern province of Aleppo, state media said on Monday night.

The Syrian army said in a statement that Israel hit military barracks in Al Safirah in the eastern Aleppo countryside. Earlier, state television had said a research centre was targeted. The army said it was now assessing the damage caused by the strikes.

A regional intelligence source said Israel was stepping up raids in Syria at a time when world attention and the region, including Syria, were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.

An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment on the report. If confirmed, it is the fifth Israeli air strike in two weeks on suspected Iranian targets.

Western intelligence sources say Iranian-backed militias have long been entrenched in Aleppo province where they have bases and a command centre and installed advanced weapons, part of a growing presence across government-controlled Syria.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes on Syria since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011, against government troops, allied Iranian forces and Hezbollah militants.

"Syrian air defences intercept an Israeli aggression on a research centre in Aleppo province," the official Sana news agency said.

A military source said the intercepted missiles were aimed at "military depots" in the Safira area south-east of Aleppo city, Sana reported.

The Syrian army said it was assessing the damage caused by the strikes.

The Israeli attacks on Syria come at a time when world and regional attention is on the coronavirus pandemic.

An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Syrian government does not say Iranian bases are targets when it announces details of Israeli raids.

Major blasts in an ammunition depot near Homs city on the same day were also believed to be from an Israeli strike, a war monitor and intelligence sources said.

Western intelligence sources say Iranian-backed militias have long been entrenched in Aleppo province.

They have put up bases and a command centre there, and installed advanced weapons as part of their growing presence across government-controlled Syria.

Israel has struck several military research facilities believed to have been a centre for chemical and biological weapons.

The Scientific Studies and Research Centre is one of several plants where western intelligence sources suspect Syria, with the help of Iranian researchers, works on developing chemical weapons.

Damascus denies using chemical weapons that have killed hundreds of civilians in the course of the nine-year conflict, and blame rebels groups instead.

Israel has acknowledged in recent years that it has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. It regards Iran's presence as a strategic threat.

Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said last week that Israel would intensify its campaign against Iran in Syria.