Iranian arms depots hit in alleged Israeli strike on Damascus airport, watchdog says

A Britain-based watchdog said Saturday that an alleged Israeli strike on Damascus airport a day earlier hit three arms depots connected to Iran-backed militia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor of unclear funding, also said that the northern runway at the airport was damaged, as was the observation tower and lighting systems used for planes to navigate.

The group said that old passenger halls were targeted in the strike because they have been repurposed as areas for the unobserved arrival of senior figures from the Iranian military and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

The watchdog posted photos online on Saturday which it said showed some of the damage at the airport. The pictures could not be immediately independently verified.

Syria admitted Saturday that the Friday strike on Damascus International Airport caused “significant” damage to infrastructure and rendered the main runway unserviceable until further notice.

The statement by the Transportation Ministry was the first detailing the extent of damage from Friday’s airstrike.

The ministry confirmed all flights to and from the airport were still suspended because “some technical equipment stopped functioning at the airport.”

Saturday’s statement said the runway had been damaged “in several locations” and that the strike also hit the airport’s second terminal building.

“As a result of these damages, incoming and outgoing flights through the airport were suspended until further notice,” it said.

“Civil aviation and national companies are working… to repair the sizeable damage at the airport,” the ministry said.

Illustrative: This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows missiles in the sky near the international airport, in Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (SANA via AP)

Israel has made no official comment on the incident.

Syria’s state media reported that Israeli jets struck targets south of Damascus at around 4:20 a.m. on Friday, wounding one person and causing material damage.

Israeli satellite intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) said Friday the strikes “completely disabled” operations at both the airport’s runways. Each runway appeared to have been struck three times.

In separate missile strikes in April and May, other sections of one of the runways were damaged in attacks attributed to Israel. According to ISI, those strikes shortened the length of the runway significantly and prevented large planes from landing.

Friday’s strike “disabled the entire airport until repair,” ISI said.

This photo released by ImageSat International on June 10, 2022, shows Syria’s Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel (ImageSat International)

In an unusually bitter condemnation, Russia lashed out at Israel Friday following the strike.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the “vicious practice” of Israeli strikes on civilian infrastructure, which it said were “provocative” and “in violation of the basic norms of international law.”

Israel frequently targets Iran-tied facilities and convoys in Syria, and relies on a “deconfliction mechanism” agreed with Moscow to avoid direct confrontation with Russian forces there. Israel’s ties with Russia are being strained by the Ukraine conflict, however, and Friday’s bitter comments from Russia about the Syrian strike underlined the rising friction.

Israel has repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling weapons and missile-improving systems from Tehran to its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah using civilian flights via Syria.

This photo released by ImageSat International on June 10, 2022, shows Syria’s Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel (ImageSat International)

Last month, the Israel Defense Forces’ Arabic-language spokesperson alleged that the son-in-law of assassinated Iran Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was behind such operations.

Avichay Adraee accused Iran and Hezbollah of “endangering civilians” by smuggling the armaments via civilian flights to Damascus International Airport in order “to maintain secrecy.”

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It says it targets bases of Iran-allied militias, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria backing Assad’s government forces, as well as arms shipments believed to be bound for various proxies.

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent weeks. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

Late Monday night, Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles targeted Syrian army positions south of Damascus, causing damage but no casualties. Also this week, Israeli tanks reportedly shelled a Syrian military position in a demilitarized part of the Golan Heights.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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