Damascus airport reopens after Israeli raid kills Syrian soldiers

Syrian army says Israeli missiles killed two soldiers and had put Damascus airport out of service for second time in a year.

A SyrianAir Airbus A340-300 at Damascus International Airport.
The Damascus International Airport was closed for weeks in June of last year after Israeli air raids caused significant damage to infrastructure and runways [File: SANA/Handout via Reuters]

Syria’s military says Israeli missiles have killed at least two Syrian soldiers and temporarily put the country’s main international airport out of service.

The volley of air-launched missiles came from the direction of Lake Tiberias in Israel at about 2am local time on Monday (23:00 GMT Sunday) and targeted the Damascus International Airport and its surroundings, the military said in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.

The attacks resulted in the “death of two soldiers, the wounding of two others, some material losses” and put the airport out of service, the statement said.

SANA later reported that the Syria’s transport ministry had announced the reopening of the airport at 9am local time (0600 GMT).

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based monitoring group, reported that the Israeli raids hit the airport as well as an arms depot close to the facility south of Damascus. It said at least four people were killed in the attack.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The incident marked the second time the Damascus International Airport was put out of service in less than a year.

On June 10, Israeli air raids that hit the airport caused significant damage to infrastructure and runways.

It reopened two weeks later after repairs.

Israel has also hit other Syrian airports, including a raid in September on the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once commercial centre, also putting it out of service for days.

Israel has carried out hundreds of raids on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Israel has said, however, that it targets bases of Iran-allied armed groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Rami Khouri, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative, said the latest Israeli attack could be a bid “by the new government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu to signal to the Iranians, Syrians and the Russians that Israel is going to maintain this policy of striking any target that it thinks is a danger to its own security”.

Netanyahu, who won a November election, was sworn in as Israel’s prime minister for his sixth term on December 29.

“The important thing here to remember is that the United States government, through the Congress, passing laws years ago guaranteeing that Israel will be militarily superior to any combination of foes or enemies around them. So Israel has impunity to carry out attacks anywhere it wants in the region and nobody has been able to stop them,” said Khouri.

“The Israelis and the Russians, who are close allies with Syria and fought in Syria to keep the Assad regime in power, have an understanding that Israel can attack certain positions in Syria, but should not hinder Russian military activities there,” he said, adding that this means such raids will likely continue in the future.

Monday’s attacks come days after the head of the Israeli military, Major General Oded Basiuk, presented the army’s operational outlook for 2023.

“We see that our course of action in Syria is an example of how continuous and persistent military action leads to shaping and influencing the entire region,” Basiuk’s presentation said, according to tweets by the Israeli military.

“We will not accept Hezbollah 2.0 in Syria,” it said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies