Israel hits Syria after rare rocket attack; 10 killed

BEIRUT: Israel carried out air strikes in Syria yesterday in response to rare rocket fire from the neighboring country, its military said, with a war monitor reporting 10 killed including Syrian soldiers and foreign fighters. Israel’s army said two rockets were fired from Syria at Mount Hermon in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights late Saturday and one had been “located within Israeli territory.”

In response, the army attacked “two Syrian artillery batteries, a number of observation and intelligence posts on the Golan Heights, and an SA-2 aerial defense battery,” its statement said. The Israeli attack left three Syrian soldiers and seven foreign fighters dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. According to the Britain-based war monitor, which did not specify the nationality of the foreign fighters, they died in missile strikes close the capital Damascus where Syrian troops, Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters are stationed.

Syrian anti-aircraft defenses fired against “enemy missiles” from Israel targeting positions in southwest Damascus, the official SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying. The Israeli army said its own aerial defense systems were activated due to the Syrian anti-aircraft fire, but none of the Syrian fire hit Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the strike. “We won’t tolerate fire at our territory and will respond forcefully to any aggression against us,” he said.

Hundreds of strikes
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets. Israel says it is determined to prevent its arch foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where Tehran backs President Bashar Al-Assad in the country’s eight-year war which has killed more than 370,000 people.

The Jewish state insists that it has the right to continue to target positions in Syria held by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah out of self-defense. On May 27 Syria said Israel carried out a missile attack in Quneitra, in what the Israeli army said was retaliation for anti-aircraft fire targeting one of its fighter jets. Syrian air defense batteries also intercepted projectiles from Israel and downed a number of them on May 17, according to SANA. The Syrian province of Quneitra includes the Golan Heights, most of which is occupied and annexed by Israel.

In January, Israel hit Iranian positions in Syria, saying it was in response to Iranian missile fire from the war-torn country. According to the Observatory, 21 people, mainly Iranians, were killed in those raids. The latest reported strike comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and the United States. The stand-off had been simmering since the United States last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear treaty which Iran reached with major world powers. In recent weeks the United States has accused Iran of alleged threats and deployed an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf.- AFP