Syrian army says Israeli jets attacked airbase in Homs

Syrian state media reports no casualties after several missiles hit T4 airbase, causing material damage.

    Israeli jets have attacked the main T4 airbase in Homs province, the Syrian army said, adding that its air defences downed several missiles in an attack that caused material damage.

    An army spokesman told state media on Tuesday that four Israeli missiles did reach the base but said air defences intercepted and destroyed several others.

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    There were no casualties in the attack which occurred at about 10pm (20:00 GMT), according to state news agency SANA.

    "The Israeli air force conducted new aerial aggression and immediately our air defences confronted the enemy missiles," an army statement said.

    The Israeli military did not immediately comment.

    Syrian state television initially did not say who was behind the attack on the major airbase, located some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the city of Palmyra. Israel accuses the base of hosting an Iranian military presence and has targeted it several times in recent years.

    Campaign against Iranian presence

    Tuesday's attack is the first which Syria accused Israel of undertaking since the US assassinated Qassem Soleimani, Iran's most powerful military commander, in a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, on January 3, sparking one of the biggest escalations between Tehran and Washington since 1979.

    The Syrian army statement said Israeli war jets flew from Tanf, to the southeast, where the US has set up a base near Syria's borders with Iraq and Jordan.

    The Tanf base is seen by the US as a bulwark against Iran and part of its campaign against Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria because it lies on the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway, a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria.

    Inside the base targeted by Iranian missiles

    Israel has repeatedly bombed Iran-backed militia targets in Syria, saying its goal was to end Tehran's military presence in the war-torn country.

    Iran-backed armed groups, led by Lebanon's Hezbollah, now hold sway in vast areas in eastern and southern Syria as well as several suburbs around the capital.

    They have also entrenched themselves in the strategically located border town of Albu Kamal on the Euphrates river in Deir Az Zor district in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq where Iraqi Shia paramilitary groups have a strong foothold.

    The Iraqi side of the border had seen the large deployment of Iran-linked Iraqi Shia militias who now de facto control large stretches of the frontier, with posts not far from military bases housing US troops.

    The US military struck the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia in parts of the border area between Iraq and Syria at the end of last month in what US officials said was a response to escalating provocations from Iran.

    Israel in the past has said Iran uses the T4 base to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, with which it fought a month-long war in 2006. Western intelligence sources say it has also been used as a base for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    Israel, which previously has rarely acknowledged attacks in Syria, has become more vocal in pledging it would do what is needed to thwart the entrenchment of Iranian forces or arms transfers to Hezbollah.

    SOURCE: News agencies