Syrian state media: Israeli airstrikes kill 5 in Damascus

DAMASCUS (AP): Israeli airstrikes targeted a residential neighborhood in the Syrian capital of Damascus early Sunday, killing at least five people and wounding 15, Syrian state news reported.

Loud explosions were heard over a central area of the capital around 12:30 a.m. local time, and SANA reported that Syrian air defenses were “confronting hostile targets in the sky around Damascus.”

Syrian state media agency SANA, citing a military source, reported that five people had been killed, among them a soldier, and 15 civilians wounded, along with “destruction of a number of residential buildings.” The news agency also reported that the strikes had damaged a medieval citadel in central Damascus and an applied arts institute housed there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, reported that 15 people, including a woman, were killed in strikes targeting sites connected with Iranian militias and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. They took place in the Damascus countryside and on an Iranian school in the neighborhood of Kafr Sousa in the capital, it said.

Samer Abdo, an engineer living in an apartment building that was struck in Kafr Sousa on an upscale residential street, was picking through shattered glass and broken wood in his apartment Sunday morning. Abdo told The Associated Press that his family had woken up in terror to the building shaking.

“We thought at first that it was an earthquake like the one that happened two weeks ago,” he said.

Mohamad Dulo, another resident of the neighborhood, said, “All the windows fell into the street, and people ran down to the streets as well.”

Dulo said he did not understand why the area was targeted. “It’s a residential area,” he said. “There is nothing (military) here.”

There was no immediate statement from Israel on the attack. A spokesperson for the Israeli military declined to comment.

Israeli airstrikes frequently target sites in the vicinity of Damascus, but it is rare for them to target residential areas in the city. The Saturday night strikes were the first since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6.

The last reported attack on Damascus was on Jan. 2, when the Syrian army reported that Israel’s military fired missiles toward the international airport of Syria’s capital early Monday, putting it out of service and killing two soldiers and wounding two others.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses the operations.

Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The Israeli strikes come amid a wider shadow war between Israel and Iran. The attacks on airports in Damascus and Aleppo were over fears they were being used to funnel Iranian weaponry into the country.

While he did not directly mention the strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel would continue to defend itself from what it sees as Iran’s aggression.

“Iran’s attacks will not discourage us. We will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and we will not allow it to entrench itself along our northern borders. We are doing everything and we will do everything to protect our citizens and we respond with intensity to the attacks against us,” he said.