Israeli missile strikes 'kill six non-Syrian militia fighters' near Damascus
Israeli missile strikes against several targets in Syria killed at least six pro-government fighters on Monday, according to a UK-based war monitor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "six non-Syrian militia fighters were killed" in the Israeli strike, according to AFP.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory, said the strikes had targeted arms depots and missile stores around Damascus.
"Syrian air defences intercepted a sizeable number of missiles, but many hit their targets and caused material damage," said Abdurrahman, who relies on a network of sources inside Syria for his reports.
Earlier on Monday, the Syrian army said it had intercepted Israeli missiles flying over Damascus.
The Observatory said the attacks had begun shortly after midnight and lasted for nearly half an hour. The Syrian army did not specify what had been targeted by Israel, or the number of casualties.
In a statement to state media, Syria confirmed that Israeli warplanes had flown over the Golan Heights and struck areas outside Damascus.
"Our air defences are continuing to repel the Israeli missile attacks over the skies of the capital,” the Syrian army said in a statement.
An Israeli army spokesperson said it "cannot comment on these reports" when contacted by AFP.
A Syrian army defector told Reuters that the Israelis had hit an army division in the town of Al Kiswah, near Damascus, which has a large presence of Iranian-backed forces. Witnesses also told Reuters they had heard large explosions in southern Damascus.
The Israeli army said on Monday that during a surprise drill, which will last until Wednesday, there would be an increase of air traffic throughout the country and that explosions could be heard in northern Israel.
"[The] exercise simulates combat scenarios in the northern front, and will test all components in the [air force’s] core missions, including maintaining aerial superiority, protecting the country’s skies, as well as attacking and gathering intelligence," an Israeli army spokesperson told Reuters.
Israeli officials, however, have acknowledged that the country has been targeting Iranian military installations inside Syria. Last year, Israel's military chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, said Israeli missile attacks had "slowed down Iran's entrenchment in Syria" and struck at least 500 military outposts in 2020.
Israel, which in the past two months has staged some of its biggest strikes yet inside Syria, has concentrated on Al Bukamal, the city that controls the border checkpoint on the main Baghdad-Damascus highway.
The widening military operation was part of a so-called “campaign within wars”, which, according to Israeli generals and regional intelligence sources, has been tacitly approved by the United States.