Explosions rocked a Syrian military airport near Damascus late on Saturday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that it was a “possible Israeli missile,” but state media blaming a technical issue at a munitions depot.
Mezzeh Military Airport, in the west suburbs of Damascus, was hit by a “possible Israeli missile, which hit a munitions store setting off successive explosions,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahmane said.
The airport houses Syrian Air Force intelligence and last year, the Syrian regime accused Israel of bombing the base.
The official SANA news agency on Saturday quoted a Syrian military source as saying that “the Mezzeh airport was not the target of Israeli aggression.”
“The explosions heard were due to an explosion at a munitions deposit close to the airport, which was due to an electrical short circuit,” the source was quoted as saying.
Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the conflict, but acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes in Syria to stop what it has said are deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah.
It has also pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
Earlier this week, Israel reiterated its threat to hit Iranian military targets in Syria.
“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will continue to take strong and determined action against Iran’s attempts to station forces and advanced weapons systems in Syria,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
In July, Syria accused Israel of bombing a military post in the northern Aleppo Governatorate, where the Observatory reported that at least nine pro-regime fighters died.
More than seven years since the conflict began, forces allied with the government have managed to retake entire regions from rebels and Muslim militants, and now control nearly two-thirds of the country.
The Syrian army is supported military by Russia and Iran, as well as by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan militia.
In other news,the Observatory said that a pregnant woman and her daughter were killed Saturday by government-backed artillery fire in the Idlib Governatorate as Damascus prepares an assault on the country’s last major rebel bastion.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been amassing along Idlib’s borders for weeks and shelling rebel-held territory on a daily basis, the Observatory said.
On Saturday near the city of Jisr al-Shughur, “a pregnant woman and her daughter were killed by these regime strikes,” the group said, reporting similar artillery fire in other rebel-held areas.
Experts said that Jisr al-Shughur could be a key target if the government and Russia were to launch an offensive on the region.
Idlib is adjacent to the Latakia Governatorate, the coastal heartland of al-Assad’s Alawite minority and home to the Russian Air Force’s Hmeimim Air Base.
Over the past few days, Damascus and Moscow have stepped up warnings of an imminent assault on Idlib, which shares a border with Turkey and is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Muslim militant alliance led by the former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria.
Turkish troops are also stationed in Idlib and Ankara, which backs the rebels, fears an assault on the region could spark a new influx of refugees.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
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