Israel carried out its second air strike in days on Syria yesterday in an attack that shook Damascus with a series of powerful blasts and drove columns of fire into the night sky, a Western intelligence source said.
Israel declined to comment, but Syria accused the Jewish state of striking a military facility just north of the capital — one which its jets had first targeted three months ago.
Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and an archenemy of Israel, urged states in the region to resist the Israeli attack.
People living near the Jamraya base spoke of explosions over several hours in various places near Damascus, including a town housing senior officials.
The Western intelligence source told reporters the operation hit Iranian-supplied missiles headed for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a similar target to the two previous strikes this year, which have been defended as justifiable by the US
“In last night’s attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah,” the intelligence source said.
An Israeli official had confirmed a similar raid on Friday. In Lebanon, Hezbollah declined to comment.
Video footage uploaded to the Internet by activists showed a series of explosions. One lit up the skyline of Damascus, while another sent up a tower of flames and secondary blasts.
Syrian state media accused Israel of attacking in response to al-Assad’s forces’ recent successes against rebels who, with Western approval, have been trying to topple him for two years.
For 40 years since a war with a Syria then ruled by al-Assad’s father, Israel has been locked in a cold standoff with Damascus, fought Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and is threatening to attack Iran, accusing Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
However, it is wary of instability in Syria, has long viewed Hezbollah as the more immediate threat and has shown little enthusiasm for US and European calls for al-Assad’s overthrow.
The raid follows intense debate in the US over whether the use of chemical weapons by Syrian troops might push US President Barack Obama to intervene more forcefully on the rebel side, but Western powers remain concerned at the presence of anti-Western Islamist fighters among al-Assad’s opponents.
It was unclear whether Israel sought US approval for the action; in the past, officials have indicated that Israel sees a need only to inform Washington once a mission was under way.
At a routine public appearance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no direct reference to the strikes, but spoke pointedly of his responsibility to ensure Israel’s future.
He maintained a plan to fly to China later in the day, suggesting a confidence that, as with the raid in January, al-Assad — and Hezbollah — would limit any reprisal. However, an Israeli military source said the army had deployed more anti-missile defense systems near the northern borders in recent days.
“The sky was red all night. We didn’t sleep a single second. The explosions started after midnight and continued through the night,” said one man from Hameh, a short distance from the Jamraya military research facility.
“There were explosions on all sides of my house,” he added, saying people hid in basements during the events.
Another witness spoke of fire near Qura al-Assad, a town around 5km west of Jamraya where many high-level government officials live. In the center of Damascus, people said their first thought was that there was an earthquake.
Identified by Syrian media as the Jamraya military research center, the target was also hit by Israel in another assault on Jan. 30. Jamraya, on the northern approaches to Damascus, is just 15km from the Lebanese border.