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Mystery Israel strikes hit Syria

IAF jets reportedly bombed Hezbollah and regime missile sites in the Qalamoun region.

Israeli F-16 jets take off. (AFP/Jack Guez)

BEIRUT – Israel announced it foiled a bombing attack along its Golan border with Syria amid reports it had conducted a series of airstrikes against Hezbollah targets further north in Qalamoun.

 

The chain of shadowy incidents began overnight Friday, when Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets bombed Hezbollah and regime positions in the rugged mountain region along the Lebanese-Syrian border, according to Arabic-language media outlets.

 

Al-Jazeera reported that the air raid targeted the bases of the regime’s 155th and 65th Brigades, both strategic missile units stationed outside the Syrian capital.

 

“Several blasts occurred in the center of the town of Qatifa and near the two towns of Qara and Yabrud outside Damascus,” the Qatari-based network cited sources as saying.

 

Hezbollah has been manning the regime’s 155th and 65th Brigade bases since the 2013 Qalamoun offensive in which the Shiite-party seized a number of towns in the area, according to Sky News Arabia.

 

Al-Arabiya, in turn, said the air strikes had hit “Scud-missile caches” in the bases, adding that the purported raid came on the heels of a raid last Wednesday that “targeted a Hezbollah weapons convoy” and “caused at least one casualty.”

 

Meanwhile, a source close to Hezbollah told Lebanon’s Al-Hadath, a pro-Damascus news outlet, that Israel had “targeted an artillery and rocket [launch site] containing mid-range rockets used periodically to target the movements of armed groups in the [mountains].”

 

“This [launch site] was considered one of the most important active [launch sites] in the area and contained heat-seeking observation platforms that monitored the movements of militant groups.”

 

Israel would not comment on whether it had conducted the attack, however the country’s defense minister in unusually timed comments declared that Tel Aviv would not allow Iran to arm Hezbollah with advanced weapons.

 

“We will not allow the transfer of sophisticated weapons to terror groups, and in particular Hezbollah,” the Times of Israel quoted Moshe Yaalon as saying during a speech Sunday afternoon.

 

“We know how to reach [Hezbollah] and those who direct it, at any time and any place.”

 

The Syrian regime, for its part, has not made any official comments on the reported bombing runs, while Hezbollah has also maintained its silence over the matter.

 

Foiling Golan attack

 

Less than 48-hours after the first purported strike, the Israel Defense Forces said they had foiled an attack along the Golan border with Syria.

 

“Terrorists armed w/explosives along the Israeli-Syrian border were en route to imminent attack on our forces. Our air force neutralized threat,” the IDF wrote on Twitter late Sunday.

 

The IDF in a later statement clarified that four militants had approached the border fence between the two countries to plant a bomb at around 9:30 p.m., prompting an Israeli jet to conduct an air strike that left all the infiltrators dead.

 

“The IDF could not immediately identify the militants,” Haaretz reported.                         

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned after the foiled attack that “any attempt to harm our soldiers or our citizens will be met with a decisive response like tonight's IDF operation that prevented a terror attack.”

 

Israeli media outlets noted that the foiled bombing took place near the same area where IDF troops opened fire on Hezbollah militants approaching the border on March 5, 2014, a week after Israel had reportedly bombed one of the Shiite party’s bases on the Lebanese-Syrian border.

 

Second Qalamoun raid

 

Shortly after the Golan border strike, Israel reportedly conducted a fresh set of strikes in the Qalamoun region overnight Sunday.

 

Al-Jazeera reported that IAF aircraft hit rocket-launching sites belonging to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in the Qalamoun region.

 

“A number were injured and killed by Israeli strikes on rocket launchers in the Qadi Sheikh and Abbasiya areas of Qalamoun near the Lebanese-Syrian border,” sources told the station.

 

The pro-opposition El Dorar news outlet also reported on the attack, citing sources as saying that Israeli jets conducted “three airstrikes after midnight [Sunday] on the 155th Brigade [position] in eastern Qalamoun’s Qatifa.”

 

However, major Arabic-language outlets other than Al-Jazeera did not make mention of the purported raid, and in a further twist Israeli media denied Monday morning that IAF jets had conducted the strikes.

 

“Explosions in the early hours of Monday on the Syria-Lebanon border were the work of the Al-Nusra Front militant group fighting the Assad regime, and not Israel,” Israeli YNet news cited “reliable sources” as saying.

 

“The group is apparently trying to make psychological gains that would lead to the departure of the Syrian army and Hezbollah from the region, making them believe that Israel is launching strikes there.”

 

Israel on alert along Lebanon border

 

Following the series of security incidents, Israeli troops tightened security on the border with Lebanon.

 

“The [IDF] has raised the alert level of its troops in the eastern sector axis, especially near the Shebaa Farms,” Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported Sunday afternoon.

 

The NNA added that APCs and infantrymen deployed in “considerable numbers” along the flashpoint border between Ghajar and Abbasiyyeh, while Israeli technicians inspected early warning systems and bulldozers raised earthworks.  

 

On Monday, the NNA reported that IDF troops conducted “combing operations” in the Shebaa Farms amid reconnaissance overflights in the area.

 

Israeli media did not report whether the country had re-deployed any of its Iron Dome anti-missile battalions to the north, as has been usual practice following strikes on Syria.

Israeli F-16 jets take off. (AFP/Jack Guez)

This [launch site] was considered one of the most important active [launch sites] in the area and contained heat-seeking observation platforms that monitored the movements of militant groups.