Israel army has claimed several rockets were fired at its territory from Syria by an Iranian-backed force in what would be a rare incident, but they all fell short. “Earlier this morning, a number of rockets were launched from Syria towards Israel, all failed to hit Israeli territory,” a statement from Israel’s military said on Monday.
“The rockets were launched from the outskirts of Damascus by Shiite militia operatives operating under the Iranian Quds Force (the elite wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards),” it said. The statement came after overnight air strikes in Syria hit positions of pro-Iranian forces in eastern Syria, killing 18 fighters, according to a war monitor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK based monitoring board, did not immediately identify who carried out the strikes. Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in neighbouring Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets, but rarely acknowledges them.
An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Israel was behind the latest strikes. Israel has vowed to prevent Iran, its arch enemy, from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. Iran, its allied militias and Russia have backed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the country’s devastating eight-year civil war.
Hence Israel has sought to thwart, what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On Monday Hezbollah said it shot down an “Israeli drone” as it crossed the border into Lebanon, a week after a flash confrontation between the arch-foes. Fighters from the Lebanese Shiite movement “confronted with the appropriate weapons an Israeli drone” heading towards the border village of Ramyeh, a statement said.
The drone is now in the hands of Hezbollah, it added. Israel did not immediately comment. The incident follows an escalation in tensions between the two, which included an exchange of fire on Sunday, September 1.
The Iran-backed Shiite movement said it had fired anti-tank missiles into Israel, destroying a military vehicle and killing or wounding those inside. Israel’s army said it had responded with around 100 artillery shells after Hezbollah targeted a battalion headquarters and military ambulance, hitting both. Israeli officials denied claims of casualties.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah later said his organisation would respond to any further Israeli attacks with strikes “deep inside Israel” and not just along the border. Iran-backed Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, is a major political actor in Lebanon and a key government backer in war-torn Syria.
The flare-up was sparked by an Israeli strike in Syria which killed two Hezbollah fighters on August 24 and was followed by what the movement described as an Israeli drone strike on its Beirut stronghold. Israel has not acknowledged that attack, but accused Hezbollah and Tehran of colluding to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, vowing to prevent its arch-foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the neighbouring country. But a drone attack by Israel inside Lebanon would mark a departure from, what Nasrallah labelled the first such “hostile action” since a 2006 war between them.
The 33-day war killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The flaring tensions come just a week ahead of Israel’s September 17 election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as wanting to avoid a major conflict ahead of the vote.
(With inputs from agencies)