Israeli missile hits building in central Damascus, killing five

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – An Israeli rocket attack hit a building in central Damascus early Sunday, killing five people and damaging several buildings in the densely populated neighborhood, witnesses and officials said.

The attack came near a security complex around which Syria’s ally Iran has built bases, two intelligence sources said.

A spokesman for the Israeli military declined to comment.

Citing a Syrian military source, state media said Israel carried out airstrikes on several areas of Damascus just after midnight, killing five and wounding 15 civilians.

“It caused damage to several civilian houses and material damage in a number of neighborhoods in and around Damascus,” the Syrian Army said in a statement.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the attack should be considered a “crime against humanity” because it came less than two weeks after the Feb. 6 earthquake that killed more than 5,800 people across the country.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the Israeli attack was aimed at a specific individual, but two Western intelligence sources said the target was a logistics center in the building run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Both Iran and Russia have provided military and economic support to help President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide of the country’s civil war in his favor. Tehran and Moscow both condemned the strikes, saying they threatened regional stability.

Edmond Ajji of the Syrian Antiquities Administration told Reuters that the capital’s historic citadel suffered some damage in the incident.

But two Syrian military sources, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said stray anti-aircraft missiles fired in response to the missiles hit near the citadel.

The top commander of pro-Iranian Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh, was killed in a 2008 bomb attack in the same neighborhood of Kafr Sousa, a heavily patrolled area that residents say is home to several Iranian security agencies, including a cultural center.

Though officials rarely acknowledge responsibility for specific operations, Israel has conducted airstrikes against suspected Iranian-sponsored arms transfers and personnel deployments in Syria for nearly a decade.

Israel has also ramped up attacks on Syrian airports and airbases in recent months to disrupt Iran’s increasing use of air supply lines to deliver arms to allies in Syria and Lebanon, including Lebanese Hezbollah.

The attacks are part of an escalation of a low-intensity conflict aimed at slowing Iran’s growing entrenchment in Syria, Israeli military experts say.

Iran’s proxy militias, led by Hezbollah, now control vast areas of eastern, southern and northwestern Syria, as well as several suburbs around the capital.

Assad has never publicly admitted that Iranian forces are operating for him in Syria’s civil war, saying Tehran only has military advisers on the ground.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Firas Makdesi and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Jonathan Oatis, Kirsten Donovan)


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