January 9, 2018 / 6:50 AM / 9 months ago

Syria says Israel hits its territory with jets, missiles

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli jets and ground-to-ground missiles struck Syria early on Tuesday, Syria’s army said, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated he would do what was needed to stop Hezbollah gaining “game-changing” Iranian weapons.

The Syrian army said in a statement carried by state television that Israeli jets fired missiles at the al-Qutaifa area near Damascus from inside Lebanese airspace at 2:40 a.m. (0040 GMT) and Syrian air defenses hit one of the planes.

Israel then fired rockets from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but the Syrian defenses brought them down, the army said, adding that Israeli jets fired a final barrage of four rockets from inside Israel, one of which was intercepted by Syrian air defenses while the others caused material damage.

Israel has pledged to prevent Syrian territory being used for Iran to set up bases or transfer high-quality weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which has been helping Damascus beat back a six-year-old rebellion.

The Israeli military declined to comment. Although the Israeli air force chief last August disclosed that his corps had struck in Syria around 100 times, Israel’s policy is generally not to confirm or deny such operations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in answer to a reporter’s question about the strikes that Israel’s policy was to stop Hezbollah moving “game-changing weapons” out of Syria.

“We back it up as necessary with action,” he said, without explicitly confirming Israel carried out Tuesday’s strikes.

In its statement, the Syrian army repeated previous warnings of serious repercussions for the strikes and repeated its past accusation that Israel was using attacks to support militant groups in Syria.

A European diplomat speaking earlier this week said there was an understanding between the United States and Russia that Hezbollah and other foreign fighters would be removed from the area in Syria close to the Israeli border.

“I don’t think that has happened very much up till now and that is a source of concern,” the diplomat said.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Paul Tait and Robin Pomeroy

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