Middle East

'Israeli strikes' hit arms depot in Damascus

Arms depot near Damascus International airport goes up in flames after series of overnight strikes blamed on Israel.

Israeli strikes have hit an arms depot operated by the Lebanese Hezbollah group near Damascus airport, Syrian opposition sources told Al Jazeera.

Witnesses said a total of five strikes occurred near the Damascus airport road, about 25km from the capital, early on Thursday.

Syrian state TV quoted a military source saying rockets fired from Israeli territory targeted a military area in the southwestern part of the airport which caused explosions.

Later on Thursday, Israeli military reported shooting down an aerial "target" over the Golan Heights.

Israeli media said residents in the northern Israeli town of Safed reported seeing two missiles being launched and of explosions occurring afterwards. 

Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Beirut, said the missiles were so powerful that the impact was felt several kilometres away in the Damascus countryside.

"In recent weeks, Israel has increasingly carried out a number of strikes against Hezbollah targets for what they describe as a 'red line'," he said.

'We will act'

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, speaking from the United States where he has been meeting US officials, told Israeli Army Radio: "I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel's policy to act to prevent Iran's smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah ... Naturally, I don't want to elaborate on this.

"The prime minister has said that whenever we receive intelligence that indicates an intention to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, we will act." Katz added.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment.

Reuters news agency, citing an intelligence source, said the depot that was targeted handles a significant amount of weapons that Tehran, a major regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sends regularly by air.

The source said the arms depot gets a major part of the weapons supplied to an array of Iranian-backed armed groups, led by Hezbollah, which have thousands of fighters engaged in battle against Syrian rebels.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the blasts were heard across the capital, jolting residents awake.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, said the explosions near the airport road were followed by flames rising above the area.

Previous Israeli strikes

In May 2013 Israel struck three areas in Damascus suburbs, allegedly to destroy Iranian rockets being delivered to Hezbollah. Damascus airport was also hit by Israel in May 2013.

The Syrian army said on January 13, 2016 that Israel had targeted the Mezze military airbase. Mezze airbase is just a few kilometres from the presidential palace.

Israel has in the past targeted Hezbollah positions inside Syria where Iranian backed groups are heavily involved in the fighting.

The Syrian government warned in January that it would retaliate against any attack targeting its own areas.

Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar TV channel said the dawn raid struck fuel tanks and a warehouse near Damascus International Airport and that it was probably the result of an Israeli strike.

It added that initial indications were that the blast had caused only material damage and not deaths.

Source: Al Jazeera News