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article imageSyria accuses Israel of strike near Damascus airport

By Maher Al Mounes with Rana Moussaoui in Beirut (AFP)     Apr 27, 2017 in World

Syria accused Israel of firing several missiles Thursday at a military position near Damascus airport, triggering a huge explosion and prompting a call from regime ally Russia for restraint.

Israel has carried out multiple air strikes in Syria since the country's civil war erupted in 2011, most of which it has said targeted arms convoys or warehouses of its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which is a key supporter of the Syrian regime.

In line with its usual practice, Israel's military declined to comment on the latest blast.

But Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said it was consistent with his government's policy to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah, while stopping short of confirming his country was behind any attack.

Syria's state news agency SANA said several Israeli missiles hit near the airport causing material damage.

"A military position southwest of Damascus International Airport was targeted at dawn today by an Israeli aggression using several missiles fired from occupied territory, sparking explosions in the area," SANA said, citing a military source.

In the terminology of the Syrian regime, occupied territory can refer to Israel inside its internationally recognised borders.

The source did not specify whether the military position belonged to the Syrian army or one its allies.

- 'Huge fireball' -

Earlier, Hezbollah said the blast was "probably" the result of an Israeli air strike.

Vincent LEFAI, Jean Michel CORNU, AFP

The Lebanese militant group's Al-Manar television said the raid hit a warehouse and fuel tanks, without specifying whether they were its own or belonged to the Syrian army or another of its allies.

Al-Manar said preliminary reports suggested the blast caused only material damage and no casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the warehouse was largely empty and "probably" belonged to Hezbollah.

A resident of the Dawwar al-Baytara neighbourhood in the southeast of the capital, who lives in a tower block that looks towards the airport area, said he had seen an immense fireball.

"Around 4:00 am (0100 GMT), I heard an enormous explosion," Maytham, 47, told AFP.

"I ran to the balcony and looking towards the south, in the direction of the airport, I saw a huge fireball," he said.

"There was a power cut and it was pitch black, and the fireball was clearly visible."

- Kremlin calls for restraint -

In Moscow, the Kremlin called for restraint and the foreign ministry condemned the attack.

"We continue to consider that all countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region and call for respect of the sovereignty of Syria," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov did not confirm if Israel had warned Moscow of the strike, saying only that their defence ministries "are in constant dialogue".

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said: "Gross violations of Syrian sovereignty -- no matter how they are justified -- are unacceptable."

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz says an April 27  2017 blast near Damascus Airport was &q...
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz says an April 27, 2017 blast near Damascus Airport was "totally consistent" with his government's policy. This file photo taken on September 4, 2016 shows him attending a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem

The Israeli intelligence minister said the blast was in line with his government's policy of preventing advanced weaponry from reaching Hezbollah.

"We are acting to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran," Katz told army radio.

"When we receive serious information about the intention to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, we will act. This incident is totally consistent with this policy."

Israeli warplanes have hit the airport and other bases around the capital in the past, targeting what it said were weapons stockpiles destined for Hezbollah.

The airport lies about 25 kilometres (15 miles) southeast of the city centre.

It was hit by Israeli air strikes in December 2014, Syrian state media reported at the time.

Israel does not usually confirm or deny each individual raid it carries out.

But last month, it said it had carried out several strikes near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, targeting what it said were "advanced weapons" belonging to Hezbollah.

The strikes prompted Syria to launch ground-to-air missiles, one of which was intercepted over Israeli territory in the most serious flare-up between the two neighbours since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed those strikes and vowed there would be more if necessary.

On January 13, Syria accused Israel of bombing Mazzeh airbase in the western suburbs of the capital. There were several strikes near the same base last year.

Israel and Syria are still technically at war, though the armistice line had remained largely quiet for decades until the Syrian conflict began.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006 which killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

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