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Syria says Israel attacked areas around southern Damascus

Israel targets Iran-backed strongholds in second attack in less than a month on outskirts of Syrian capital.

The Syrian army said on Sunday evening that Israeli-fired rockets struck parts of southern Damascus in escalating attacks that regional intelligence sources said target Iran-linked assets.

A Syrian army statement said the attack came from the Golan Heights and that it had brought down most of the missiles, in the second such attack in less than a month on the outskirts of the capital.

Israel has struck a wider range of targets than usual since the start of the year, including a major attack on Iranian-linked strongholds further east, near the Iraqi border.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Friday said Israel was taking action “almost weekly” to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

Regional intelligence sources said Iran’s Quds Force and the militias it backs, whose presence has spread in Syria in recent years, have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighbourhood of southern Damascus where the militias have many underground bases.

Israel has regularly attacked what it says are Iranian-linked targets in Syria in recent years, and stepped up such raids this year in what Western intelligence sources have described as a shadow war to reduce Iran’s influence.

Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi said in December Israel had struck more than 500 targets in 2020.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has never publicly acknowledged there are Iranian forces operating on his behalf in Syria’s civil war, only that Tehran has sent military advisers.

The entry of thousands of Shia militias, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, to fight alongside al-Assad helped the authoritarian ruler survive a widespread armed rebellion that sprang from a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Western intelligence sources say Israeli attacks this year have undermined Iran’s extensive military power in Syria without triggering a significant increase in hostilities.

Iran has built underground tunnels and spread decoys to help mitigate the effect of repeated Israeli attacks on its elaborate military infrastructure in the country, Syria military defectors have said.


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