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Israeli jets bombed targets near Damascus, southern Syria: monitor

This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday.
Syria News, via AP
IDF said on Friday it found the remnants of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile in the Golan Heights

Israeli jets bombed several areas in southern Syria and near Damascus spurring retaliatory Syrian defense fire, a monitor group said Thursday, employing its enhanced Russian-supplied anti-aircraft system for the first time.

"Israeli forces bombarded for an hour positions in the southern and southwestern suburbs of Damascus as well as in the south of Syria at the border of Quneitra province," the Observatory's chief Rami Abdel Rahmane said of the two main areas struck, including one believed to be an Iranian weapons depot near the capital.

The Syrian foreign ministry on Friday said it had complained to the United Nations about "the Israeli aggression yesterday on the area of Kisweh south of Damascus".

The Israeli military had made no comment on the reported strikes during which Syrian air defenses opened fire for the first time since the deadly downing of a Russian transport plane in September, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

But on Friday Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it found the remnants of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile in an open field in the Golan Heights.

"Following last night's report, IDF troops found remnants of what seems to be a Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired during last night's incident," the IDF said in its statement, adding that the findings were still being examined.

Two missiles hit "weapons depots belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah (militant group) as well as Iranian forces" in Kisweh, and another missile hit the area of Harfa, where there is a Syrian military base, the Britain-based monitor said.

In Kisweh, "the depots that were targeted are used to temporarily store rockets until they are taken somewhere else," Abdel Rahman said.

"It appears the Israelis had intelligence that weapons had arrived there recently," he added.

The state news agency said the attack was foiled and did not admit to any losses. The news agency reported that the Syrian air force was responding to "continuous attacks" by enemy forces in the country's south, but did not attribute it to any specific source.

Syria News, via AP

On Friday, a senior Syrian defense official refuted previous reports of air defense hitting an Israeli plane.

"We did not shoot down an Israeli plane," the official said, contradicting reports from Thursday night quoting a Syrian defense official that air defense systems had shot at and downed "hostile targets."

"Our air defenses fired on hostile targets over the Kisweh area and downed them," the official SANA news agency reported, citing a military source on Thursday.

The IDF denied reports that any of its aircrafts had been downed by Syrian air defense.

"Reports regarding an IDF aircraft or an airborne IDF target having been hit are false," a military statement said.

The reported strikes come days after an i24NEWS report that two new Syrian military divisions, trained and led by officers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Al-Quds force, had been mobilized to Syria's borders -- including the frontier with Israel.

Kisweh, where Thursday's strikes were reported, is situated some 35 kilometers west of Israel's northern border and has been targeted by Israel in the past.

In May, Israel struck and Iranian military base in the area killing some 23 fighters, including five Syrian regime troops and 18 other allied forces, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) offered a rare confirmation of the May strike, saying its jets had hit "dozens of military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Forces in Syrian territory."

Israel has since acknowledged carrying out at least 200 air strikes in Syrian territory as it seeks to repel Iranian-backed forces from its border.

Following an incident in October where Syria downed a Russian plane during an Israeli air strike in Syria, Moscow provided Damascus with an advanced S-300 missile defense system.

Moscow pinned responsibility for the downing on Israel, saying its fighter jet used the larger Russian one for cover, an allegation Israel disputed.

Deemed to be more efficient and advanced than any other interceptor missile system currently in Syrian possession, the S-300 can intercept not only planes but also ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 250 kilometers and at a very high altitude. Operation of the system could thus make Israeli jets far more vulnerable in any future missions in Syria.

However, there was no evidence however that the S-300 batteries were used to intercept Israeli missiles overnight, as the defense system is not believed to be operational yet, giving Israel a window of opportunity to strike.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it will act to prevent Iran from consolidating itself militarily in Syria, and continue to strike weapons convoys en route from Tehran to Hezbollah.

AFP contributed to this story.

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