DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Israel struck multiple targets near the Syrian capital late Sunday, killing two members of a Palestinian militant faction and triggering anti-aircraft fire from the country’s air defenses that shook Damascus. It was the latest attack by Israel on the war-ravaged country.
A Syrian military statement reported an Israeli attack near Damascus International Airport and said its air defenses confronted Israeli rockets coming from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. It said the defenders intercepted or shot down most of them.
In a rare acknowledgment of operations in neighboring Syria, Israel said its warplanes attacked targets of the Palestinian militant Islamic Jihad group south of Damascus in addition to sites in the Gaza Strip. It said the sites attacked were used for “research and development of armaments” that are manufactured in Syria and the Gaza Strip. It said the sites also produce dozens of kilograms of rocket fuel each month.
The military said the attacks “were carried out in response to the attempted attack this morning on the security fence (in Gaza) and the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel.”
Islamic Jihad said in a statement that the airstrikes killed two of its members, identifying them as Salim Salim, 24, and Ziad Mansour, 23. It did not disclose their nationalities or elaborate on their roles. The militant group vowed to respond to the deaths of its members.
Residents said multiple explosions shook Damascus for about 15 minutes as air defenses fired back.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict, said the explosions resulted from Israeli bombing of suspected Iranian-backed militias in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport.
Israel frequently strikes at targets inside Syria, but has largely refrained from public admissions of its covert military operations there.
Iran is an ally of Damascus and has offered military advisers and sent militiamen and material support to help President Bashar Assad’s government forces in the nine-year civil war.
Israel considers Iran a national security threat and says it won’t tolerate Iran’s presence on its borders.
In November, Israel targeted two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in a simultaneous attack, killing one in the Gaza Strip and missing the second in Syria. At the time, Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of Islamic Jihad’s leadership living in exile. He was not harmed, but his son and granddaughter were killed.
Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Akram Fares in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.