Israel said it struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday in a “wide-scale” operation in response to rocket fire on the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights the day before.
A Britain-based war monitoring group said the strikes killed at least 23 people, including 15 non-Syrians, some of them Iranians. Syrian state media only reported that two civilians were killed.
The exchange of fire along the increasingly tense frontier comes as Iran and its allies face blowback across the region, with mass protests against Tehran-aligned governments in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as demonstrations in Iran itself over a recent hike in fuel prices.
Israel has repeatedly struck Iran-linked targets in Syria in recent years and has warned against any permanent Iranian presence on the frontier. Last week, Israel killed a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group in the Gaza Strip, setting off two days of heavy fighting. A separate airstrike targeted but failed to kill an Islamic Jihad leader in Damascus, underscoring the risk of escalation at various pressure points across the volatile region.
In the latest incident, the Israeli military said fighter jets hit multiple targets belonging to Iran’s elite Quds force, including surface-to-air missiles, weapons warehouses and military bases. It said a number of Syrian aerial defense batteries were also destroyed after an air defense missile was fired.
The death toll was reported by Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group with a network of contacts across Syria. He said the dead included five Syrian troops, 16 Iranian and Iran-backed fighters, and two Syrian civilians.
The Observatory said the airstrikes targeted Quds Force arms depots in the Damascus suburbs of Kisweh and Qudsaya. Abdurrahman said several other areas were targeted in Wednesday’s strikes, including the Mazzeh air base in Damascus, where air defense units are stationed.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said the two civilians were killed by shrapnel when an Israeli missile hit a house in the town of Saasaa, southwest of Damascus. It said several others were wounded, including a girl in a residential building in Qudsaya, also west of the Syrian capital.
It claimed that Syrian air defenses destroyed most of the Israeli missiles before they reached their targets.
Wednesday’s strikes on Syria were the most intense since Jan. 21, when Israel claimed responsibility for a series of airstrikes on Iranian military targets in the Arab country, including munition storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp, in response to an Iranian missile attack the previous day.
Israel had said the missile, fired by Iranian forces in Syria, was intercepted over a ski resort on the Golan Heights and that there were no injuries. That Iranian launch followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military said it intercepted four incoming rockets from Syria. It said the attack “threatens Israeli security, regional stability and the Syrian regime,” and vowed to “continue operating firmly and resolutely” against Iran in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the significance of the retaliatory operation was the “multitude of targets” hit.
The targets included what he described as the Iranian headquarters at Damascus airport, where senior Iranian officials are based and which is used to coordinate shipments from Iran to its allies in Syria and beyond. He added that Israel also holds Syria responsible for hosting the Iranians.
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