Israel in deadliest strikes in Syria this year

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Beirut (AFP) – Israeli airstrikes near Damascus on Wednesday killed nine fighters, including five Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest raid since the start of 2022, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an ammunition depot and several positions linked to Iran’s military presence in Syria were among the targets.

State media in Syria confirmed four of the five victims of the strikes, on which Israel has not commented.

“The Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault at dawn… targeting several positions around Damascus,” a military source was quoted as saying by the official SANA news agency.

“The investigation indicated that four soldiers were killed, three others injured and material damage noted.

The latest strike follows another near Damascus on April 14, with no casualties, according to SANA.

The UK-based Observatory, which relies on an extensive network of sources in all parts of Syria, said eight people were also injured in the strikes.

The other four killed were not members of the Syrian army but belonged to Iran-backed militias, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that he could not verify their nationality.

He said at least five separate sites were targeted in the latest Israeli raid.

AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard loud explosions.

Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes inside the country, targeting government positions as well as allied forces backed by Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

“Not Frozen”

In early March, two Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers were killed in Israeli strikes against targets in Syria.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the ideological arm of the Iranian military and wields considerable political and economic influence in the country.

The elite Quds Force is the foreign operations arm of the Guards and is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.

While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has admitted to mounting hundreds since 2011.

The Israeli army has defended them as necessary to prevent its nemesis, Iran, from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.

The conflict in Syria began with the brutal suppression of peaceful protests and escalated to attract foreign powers and global jihadists.

It killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half the country’s population.

During a briefing at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, UN special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen warned that the conflict in Ukraine should not distract from the dire situation in Syria.

“Syria is a hot conflict, not a frozen one,” he said.

He listed incidents in Syria this month involving the armed forces of Israel, Turkey, Russia and the United States.

“I fear that one of these hotspots is further exacerbated by heightened geopolitical tensions outside of Syria,” Pedersen said.

Washington has signaled it is ready to give Ukraine the means to fight off the Russian invasion, prompting Moscow to warn that arms deliveries to kyiv risk triggering World War III.

Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict in 2015 is what turned the tide in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces once controlled only a fifth of the country.

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