April 30, 2020 / 9:48 PM / a month ago

Syria says Israeli helicopters strike targets in southern Syria

AMMAN (Reuters) - Israeli helicopters fired several rockets from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on targets inside southern Syria, Syrian state media reported on Friday, in what intelligence sources say is part of an increase in strikes against Iran-backed militias.

People inspect the damage after a blast east of Homs city, Syria in this handout released by SANA on May 1, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Opposition sources in the area said several militia posts near Quneitra were targeted in the attack, which reports said caused only material damage.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.

Bases and convoys run by Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, which has a strong presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, have been hit by Israel in recent years.

A regional intelligence source said Israel was stepping up raids in Syria at a time when world attention and the region, including Syria, were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Separately, the Syrian army said on Friday a series of blasts at an ammunition depot east of Homs had led to casualties but was not caused by an attack as earlier announced.

However, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blasts were caused by Israeli strikes targeting a military base on the Homs-Palmyra road run by Hezbollah.

Two weeks ago, an Israeli drone attack targeted a car carrying forces from Hezbollah in southern Syria along the border with Lebanon without causing casualties.

A few days later, Israel struck central Syria near the ancient city of Palmyra, in what regional intelligence sources said were Iranian-backed outposts and a command centre.

STRATEGIC THREAT

Israel has acknowledged in recent years it has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.

After Syria announced last Monday it had intercepted airstrikes by Israel near the capital Damascus, Israeli defence minister Naftali Bennett told Israeli media that Israel would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria. [L5N2CF05P]

“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.

“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action, We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory,” Bennett said.

The Syrian army said Monday’s strikes had killed three Syrian civilians and injured several others from shrapnel that hit their homes.

Israel says Iran’s military presence in Syria, where its militias are fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces, is a strategic threat and claims Tehran seeks a permanent presence along its northern borders.

The threat of direct confrontation between arch-enemies Israel and Iran has long simmered in Syria.

Assad has said Iranian forces are welcome to stay in Syria after years of military victories in which Iran and Russia have played a key role in bringing back most of the country under his control.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones

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