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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Syria and Israel exchange rocket fire in latest escalation

Both countries said their air defence systems intercepted the attacks

A  missile flys over the Damascus International Airport, in Damascus. EPA/SANA HANDOUT  
A  missile flys over the Damascus International Airport, in Damascus. EPA/SANA HANDOUT  

The Israeli army on Sunday said its air defence systems intercepted Syrian missiles over the Golan Heights.

The announcement came shortly after Syrian state media said that its air defences thwarted an Israeli missile attack, without providing more details.

"Our air defence systems thwarted...an Israeli air aggression...and prevented it from achieving any of its goals," a Syrian military source told state news agency SANA.

Russia's National Defence Control Centre says four Israeli F-16 fighter jets targeted the Damascus airport, southeast of the capital. It says the Pantsir and Buk air defense systems intercepted seven missiles, adding that no damage has been done to the airport.

It also said no casualties were reported.

Citing flight data, the Times of Israel reported that Sunday's strike in Syria came hours after an Iranian cargo plane landed at Damascus International Airport. Israel defence officials have said these types of cargo planes are used to transport advanced weapons to pro-Iranian militias fighting in Syria.

The strike appeared to be the first by the Israeli army on Syria since Gen. Aviv Kohavi assumed the post of chief of staff last week, according to the Times of Israel.

It is also the second Israeli strike on Syria this month.

Shortly after, the Israeli military posted an image of missiles trails over snow-capped mountains, saying it intercepted an attack at the northern Golan Heights.

An army spokesperson said it was not immediately clear if the incoming projectile was a retaliatory attack or a Syrian air defense missile.

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Israel repeatedly targets weapon depots and arm transfers from Iran to Syria or its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Many of the strikes have targeted an area south of Damascus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged an Israeli attack last week on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, where Tehran provides Damascus with vital support.

He told his cabinet Israel had carried out "hundreds" of attacks over the past years of Syria's war to curtail Iran and its ally Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The Golan Heights is a disputed territory first occupied by Israel during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. Since the war, the two countries have fought over the land, with exchanges of fire occasionally, but rarely escalating into full conflict.

Updated: January 20, 2019 06:24 PM

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