Israel strikes airbase near Damascus, Arab media reports

Reports say Israeli airstrike caused five explosions and an unknown number of casualties at Mezzeh airbase near the Syrian capital.

An Israeli jet flying during an airshow. Source: Flash90.
An Israeli jet flying during an airshow. Source: Flash90.

A series of five explosions that rocked the Mezzeh ‎airbase southwest of Damascus late Saturday night was caused by an ‎Israeli airstrike, Arab media reported on Sunday.‎

Several reports said the strike had caused an unknown number of ‎casualties, while others said Syrian air ‎defenses countered the strike. ‎

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights ‎said an Israeli airstrike had caused an unknown ‎number of‎ deaths and injuries.‎

According to Arab social media, Maher Assad, the ‎younger brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad, was ‎wounded in the strike and an unnamed Iranian general ‎was killed. ‎

Maher Assad‎, 50, is considered the second most ‎powerful man in Syria. He is the commander of the ‎Republican Guard and the Syrian army’s elite 4th ‎Armored Division. ‎

The reports were not corroborated by any ‎‎Israeli ‎source. A military spokesperson said the IDF ‎‎does ‎not comment on foreign media reports.‎

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV station showed what appeared to be footage shot by residents of a string of bright explosions lighting up the night sky.

Citing an unnamed military source, the station reported that the explosions did not come from inside the airport, but from a nearby munitions depot. One resident told the BBC that the explosions lit up the night’s sky, saying, “It felt like the sun was shining for five minutes.”

Syrian state media denied that the explosions ‎were caused by an Israeli raid, saying they were the ‎result of an electrical ‎failure in one of the base’s ‎munitions dumps. ‎

The Syrian Arab News Agency quoted a senior military ‎source as saying, “Mezzeh airbase has not been ‎exposed to any Israeli aggression.”

The ‎airbase houses elite Syrian units, Iranian ‎troops and ‎‎Revolutionary Guards-backed Shiite ‎militias, and ‎is ‎‎considered a strategic Syrian asset.‎ ‎It was targeted by U.S.-led coalition forces in ‎April in ‎retaliation for a deadly chemical attack the ‎Syrian army carried out in ‎ Douma, in ‎eastern Ghouta, earlier that month. ‎

Israel rarely acknowledges strikes inside Syria but has consistently pledged to use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies. Israel is alarmed by the expansion of operations by Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to support Assad in Syria’s seven-year-long civil war.

The blasts come at a tense time, as Syrian government forces prepare to attack the last refuge of the opposition in the northwest of the country. The United States is warning Damascus against using chemical weapons in the battle, while Damascus claims that America is preparing to falsify a chemical attack to justify military operations on Syria.

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