A Syrian military source and the Russian Defense Ministry said Israeli F-15 fighter jets carried out Monday’s strike from Lebanese airspace. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)
A missile strike on an air base in central Syria was carried out by Israeli warplanes early Monday and caused multiple casualties, according to the Syrian and Russian governments, amid fears of a wider confrontation between world powers.
Israeli officials did not immediately comment on the reports. The raid on the T-4 airfield in Homs province — believed also to be a base for Iranian and Iranian-allied militias — comes as tensions rise over possible U.S. military action in Syria in response to an alleged chemical strike near Damascus late Saturday.
Syria’s ally, Russia, on Monday called the Israeli raid a “dangerous development” and said reports of a chemical attack near Damascus were also a “provocation,” Reuters reported.
U.S. officials said Sunday that they were weighing options to strike Syrian government targets after at least 40 people were killed in the opposition-held town of Douma, roughly 10 miles from the Syrian capital. President Trump also said Sunday that there would be a “big price to pay” for the attack.
Many of the victims suffocated, and the wounded showed signs of respiratory distress and foaming at the mouth, doctors and rescue workers in the area said.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, said Monday that it was investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in Douma. A spokeswoman for the European Union blamed Syria’s government for the attack.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday that Syrian doctors and other medical staff went to Douma to the site of the alleged attack but could not find evidence any chemical weapons were used. The ministry cited Syrian medical staff as identifying victims’ injuries as having resulted from fractures, gunshot and shrapnel wounds.
The heightened tensions come amid a reported deal to evacuate rebel fighters from Douma following Saturday’s alleged chemical attack. The militants from Jaish al-Islam had been negotiating their exit with Russian representatives. Russia’s Tass news agency reported Sunday that 8,000 fighters would be allowed to leave Douma for other opposition-held areas in northern Syria.
Douma is one of the opposition’s last strongholds near the capital and had come under heavy bombardment by Syrian government and allied forces in recent weeks. According to the United Nations, more than 1,700 people have been killed since February in the Eastern Ghouta area.
Also Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 14 people were killed in the Israeli strike on the T-4 air base, most of them members of Iranian forces or Iran-backed proxies supporting the Syrian government.
Iran’s Fars News Agency, which is close to the powerful Revolutionary Guard, reported that three Iranians were killed in the attack.
A Syrian military source and the Russian Defense Ministry said Israeli F-15 fighter jets carried out Monday’s strike from Lebanese airspace.
Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian government and has deployed forces and assets inside Syria, including a network of pro-government fighters it uses as shock troops in battles with Syrian rebels.
Israel has grown increasingly alarmed as Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, extend their military reach and influence in the region, including an expanded presence near Israel’s northern border.
In February, Israel confirmed that it had targeted the same airfield in Homs after an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace. Eight warplanes were used in that attack, Israel’s military said, including one F-16 fighter jet that was downed by Syrian antiaircraft fire.
“The timing of the strike isn’t coincidental,” said Michael Horowitz, a senior analyst at Le Beck International, a Middle East-based geopolitical and security consultancy.
“By striking [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and his Iranian allies just a day after Trump warned them of the price they would pay . . . Israel mitigates the risk of an Iranian response,” he said. “Israel has been trying to convince Washington to adopt a more pro-active, anti-Iran strategy in Syria, and certainly sees Trump’s rhetoric in the wake of the chemical attack as an opportunity.”
Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Louisa Loveluck in Istanbul, Suzan Haidamous in Beirut and Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow contributed to this report.
On – 09 Apr, 2018 By Erin Cunningham