At least 14 people, including three civilians, were killed in Israeli strikes on Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria in the early hours of Wednesday, a war monitor group and Syrian health sources said.
The “wide-scale” strikes were aimed at targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force, a force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and the Syrian military, the Israeli military tweeted.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said 11 Iranian and allied militia members, as well as Syrian army personnel, were killed in the strikes in and near the Syrian capital Damascus.
The dead included seven foreigners, the watchdog said without elaborating.
A Syrian military source told dpa that the fatalities also included six Syrian soldiers. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in figures.
While health authorities in rural Damascus put the civilian deaths at three, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that two civilians were killed after shrapnel from an Israeli rocket hit a house in the town of Saasa, south-west of Damascus.
The Israeli strikes targeted an arms depot belonging to the al-Qudus Brigades, located south and south-west of Damascus, the observatory said. It added that the attack also hit Syrian army posts.
Israeli army spokesman Hidai Zilberman told the Israeli radio broadcaster Kan that most of the targets were in the Damascus area and included a headquarters of the Iranian militias.
Zilberman added that a Syrian anti-aircraft battery was destroyed after Israeli aircraft came under fire from surface-to-air missiles.
Israel was responding to rockets that it said were fired in its direction by Iranian forces in Syria the previous day. All those rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defence system.
“We hold the Syrian regime responsible for the actions that take place in Syrian territory and warn them against allowing further attacks against Israel,” the Israeli military tweeted.
“We will continue operating firmly and for as long as necessary against the Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”
The army added that it was prepared for a possible Iranian response.
Russia condemned the Israeli strikes as a violation of international law.
“The strikes on the territory of this [Syrian] sovereign state completely violate international law,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.
Russia, the main military backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has managed to maintain close ties with both Syria and Israel throughout the Syrian civil war.
Israel’s attacks “will lead to an escalation of tensions,” Bogdanov said.
Earlier this month, three Israeli rocket attacks west of the Syrian capital Damascus targeted the house of Akram al-Ajouri, a top leader of the Quds Brigade, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Al-Ajouri was not killed in the attack, although his son and another died.
The Israeli army has in the past targeted Shiite militias, including operatives from the Quds Force, which it says were responsible for attacks from Syria aimed at Israel.
Israel defends the strikes by saying it is trying to prevent Iran from building up its military influence in the region.