BEIRUT: The Israeli army carried out a missile attack on the Damascus International Airport on Monday that killed four people, including two Syrian soldiers, according to a human rights observer.
This is the second time in less than seven months that Israel has attacked the Damascus airport.
The attack, which occurred around 2:00 a.m. (2300 GMT), put the country’s main airport out of service, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
Israel carried out the attack with “missile barrages, targeting Damascus International Airport and its surroundings,” a military source told SANA, reporting that two Syrian soldiers were killed.
But the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria, said a total of four people had been killed in the early morning attack.
“Four fighters, including two Syrian soldiers, were killed” by the Israeli attack, Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Observatory, told AFP.
The missiles also hit “positions of Hezbollah and pro-Iranian groups in and around the airport, including a weapons store,” Abdul Rahman said.
Since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against its neighbor, targeting government troops as well as allied Iranian-backed forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on specific reports of its attacks, it has repeatedly said that it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.
Monday’s attack comes days after the head of the Israel Defense Forces Directorate of Operations, Major General Oded Basiuk, presented the army’s operational outlook for 2023.
“We see our course of action in Syria as an example of how continued and persistent military action leads to shape and influence the entire region,” the IDF tweeted about Basiuk’s presentation.
“We will not accept Hezbollah 2.0 in Syria.”
The last time the airport was out of service was in June 2022, also after an Israeli missile attack.
The runway, the control tower, three hangars, warehouses and reception rooms were badly damaged in that attack, forcing the airport to be closed for about two weeks and flights to be suspended.
Similar to the attack on Monday, the Observatory said at the time that the attacks had targeted nearby warehouses used as weapons depots by Iran and Hezbollah.
The conflict in Syria began with the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and escalated to attract foreign powers.
Around half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Although hostilities have largely subsided over the past three years, sporadic fighting sometimes breaks out and attacks continue, mainly in the east of the country.
In 2022, Syria experienced its lowest annual number of deaths since the conflict began more than a decade ago.
At least 3,825 people were killed in the Syrian war in 2022, according to figures compiled by the Observatory, up from 3,882 the year before.
Among those killed in 2022 were 1,627 civilians, including 321 children, the Observatory said.
Two Palestinians killed by Israel in the West Bank
In a separate incident, the Israeli army killed two Palestinians in a raid in the West Bank on Monday. The army demolished the homes of two Palestinians accused of killing an Israeli soldier, Palestinian officials said.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced the death of “Mohammad Samer Hoshieh, 22, after being shot in the chest, and Fuad Mohammad Abed, 25, after being shot in the abdomen and thigh” during an army raid. Israeli near Jenin.
Israeli soldiers had entered the village of Kafr Dan “to demolish the residences of the assailants who participated in the firefight adjacent to the Gilboa (Jalame) crossing, in which Major Bar Falah was killed,” the Israeli army said.
Puffs of smoke engulfed the small town as two houses were razed with explosives shortly after dawn Monday.
The army later said a “violent riot was instigated” when troops entered the village.
“The rioters burned tires, fired live ammunition, and hurled stones, Molotov cocktails, and explosive devices at the forces, who responded with riot dispersal means and live ammunition,” the statement said. “Successes were identified,” he added.
The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that another 18 people were arrested by the Israeli army in nightly raids in the West Bank.
Falah, the oldest Israeli, was killed in September 2022 during clashes with Palestinian gunmen at the Gilboa checkpoint between Israel and the occupied West Bank.
After his death, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party, claimed responsibility.
Ahmed Abed, 23, and Abdul Rahman Subhi Abed, 22, whose family homes were demolished on Monday, were also killed in the September clashes that killed Falah.
Israel regularly destroys the homes of people it blames for attacks on Israelis.
Human rights activists say Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of suspected attackers amounts to collective punishment, as it can leave non-combatants, including children, homeless.
But Israel says the practice is effective in deterring some Palestinians from carrying out attacks.
The two deaths are the first in the West Bank by 2023.
According to United Nations data, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since the 2002-2005 uprising, known as the Second Intifada, with at least 150 Palestinians and 26 Israelis killed across Israel and the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem. for Israel.
The new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has raised fears of a military escalation in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Two of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, sworn in on Thursday with the rest of the new government, will take over critical powers in the relationship with the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Bezalel Smotrich will take over Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, and Itamar Ben-Gvir is the new national security minister with powers over the border police, which also operates in the territory.
Both have a history of inflammatory comments about the Palestinians.