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JERUSALEM -- Israeli warplanes struck several military sites in Syria overnight and killed several fighters and civilians, Syrian state media reported Monday, in what appeared to be a stepping up of Israel's long-running, partly covert campaign to thwart Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and stop weapon transfers to Lebanon.

The warplanes fired missiles from Lebanese airspace, according to the official Syrian Arab New Agency, which reported that a baby was among four civilians who were killed. The airstrikes hit a variety of targets, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group identified with the Syrian opposition.

The targets included the headquarters of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in the south of the Syrian capital, Damascus; a scientific research center in the countryside outside the city; and positions held by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese group, in the mountains near the border with Lebanon, the observatory said.

The Hezbollah sites that were targeted included ammunition warehouses, resulting in explosions and huge fires, the observatory reported.

Citing a military source, the Syrian news agency said that Syria's air defense had responded to the missiles fired by Israeli warplanes.

Another individual close to the Syrian government who was briefed on the strikes and who requested anonymity to discuss secret military information put the total death toll from the attacks higher, saying that at least 16 had been killed, including five Syrian army personnel, one Iranian and 10 civilians and that 49 others had been wounded. He added that many of the targets had been vacated because of recent tensions between Iran and the United States and that the civilian casualties had been caused by explosions from munition stores.

Israel has carried out many strikes in Syria. The military and government officials declined to comment, in line with their usual policy.

Speaking Monday at an annual conference on national security, Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, said that the country had "no interest in a conflict with Syria, but we cannot agree to Syria serving as an arena in which Iranian forces or forces operated by it become entrenched against us."

Last week, Israel hosted a meeting of the national security advisers of Israel, Russia and the United States that was planned long before the recent rise in tensions. Iran and Hezbollah, both enemies of Israel, together with Russia, have helped Syrian President Bashar Assad gain the upper hand in a civil war that began in 2011.

Opening that trilateral meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pressed for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria, in particular those of Iran and Iranian proxies near the frontier with Israel. He said Israel had acted "hundreds of times" to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and the transfer of weapons.

The Israeli campaign, however surgical, risks miscalculations and unintended consequences. Last year, Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military plane after an Israeli airstrike on Syrian territory, causing a temporary crisis in Israeli-Russian relations.

Also on Monday, the foreign minister of Turkish-held Northern Cyprus, Kudret Ozersay, said that what appeared to be a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile fired by Syria at Israeli jets had missed its mark and fallen on the island. There were no reports of casualties.

A Section on 07/02/2019

Print Headline: Israeli jets strike military targets in Syria


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