Syrian air defences shoot down Israeli missiles: state media
Russia says the strike directly threatened two airliners
Syrian air defences shot down Israeli missiles near the capital Damascus on Tuesday, local state media reported, while Israel said it was protecting itself from anti-aircraft fire.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said air defences "intercepted hostile missiles launched by the Israeli warplanes" from over Lebanese territories, citing a military source.
It added that the majority of them were downed before reaching their targets near the capital Damascus. Three soldiers were injured and an ammunition depot damaged.
Israel has previously carried out several bombings in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese group, both enemies of the Jewish state.
Many of them have been in the area south of Damascus.
An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on reports of a strike in Syria when contacted by AFP.
But it added in a statement: "An aerial defence system went off against an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria. No damage or injuries were reported."
Moscow on Wednesday said Israel had violated Syria's sovereignty by launching airstrikes, which threatened two airliners that were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut.
"We are very concerned by the attacks and how they were made. This is a gross violation of the sovereignty of Syria," the Russian ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.
"The provocative actions of the Israeli air force.. directly threatened two airliners," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Mr Konashenkov said Israel launched the raid at the moment when two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a "direct threat" to the aircraft.
He said the Syrian military didn't fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets. He added that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor also reported "an Israeli raid".
"Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted... arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces," said Rami Abdel Rahman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to let Tehran – a supporter of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad – from entrenching itself militarily in the war-torn country.
Experts say Israel is to be greatly affected by US President Donald Trump's announcement of a withdrawal of American forces from Syria, as it would leave the area open to Iran and its partners to develop their military capacity.
There have been warnings from Israel and others that Iran is seeking to form a "land bridge" across to the Mediterranean, and some analysts have said that the US withdrawal could help that effort.
Yet Israeli officials, who have previously applauded Mr Trump's policy in the Middle East, have stressed that it has long managed that front alone.
If confirmed, Tuesday's reported strike would be the first by Israel since the US withdrawal was announced.
At the end of November Syria said its air defences had targeted and downed a number of "hostile targets" over the Kisweh area south of Damascus.
Updated: December 26, 2018 08:48 PM