BEIRUT: An Israeli missile strike aimed at Iranian and Hezbollah targets on early Sunday killed 15 people and destroyed a building in a Damascus neighbourhood home to much of Syria’s security apparatus, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike, which hit close to an Iranian cultural centre, had killed 15 people including civilians.
“Israeli missiles targeted sites including Iranian militias and the Lebanese Hezbollah,” it added.
During more than a decade of war in Syria, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against its neighbour, primarily targeting positions of the country’s army, Iranian forces and Hezbollah, allies of the Damascus regime.
But it rarely hits residential areas of the capital.
Sunday’s strike hit Kafr Sousa, home to senior officials, security agencies and intelligence headquarters.
“At 00:22 am (2222 GMT), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights targeting several areas in Damascus and its vicinity, including residential neighbourhoods,” Syria’s defence ministry said in a statement.
In a preliminary toll, it said the strike killed five people, among them a soldier, and injured 15 civilians, some in critical condition.
Israel’s military rarely comments on its strikes against Syria, but regularly asserts that it will not let Iran extend its influence to Israel’s borders.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad receives military support from Tehran and its allied armed groups including Hezbollah, which are declared enemies of Israel.
Deadliest Israeli attack
Footage posted by state media showed that a 10-storey building was badly damaged in the attack, crushing the structure of its lower floors.
Large chunks of the building had been thrown into the street below, which was strewn with cladding and metal fittings.
The images showed several of the building’s windows had been blown out.
“The strike on Sunday is the deadliest Israeli attack in the Syrian capital,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.
The attack comes more than a month after an Israeli missile strike hit Damascus International Airport, killing four people — including two soldiers.
The January 2 strike hit “positions for Hezbollah and pro-Iranian groups inside the airport and its surroundings, including a weapons warehouse”, the Observatory said at the time.
At the end of last year, the head of the Israel Defence Forces Operations Directorate, Major General Oded Basiuk, presented the military’s “operational outlook” for 2023, saying that the force “will not accept Hezbollah 2.0 in Syria”.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global militants.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
The Damascus government is currently seeking to recover from the February 6 earthquake, which did not affect the capital but which has killed more than 45,000 people in the country’s north as well as southern Turkey.