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BEIRUT, Jan 9 (Agencies): Israeli jets and groundto- ground missiles struck Syria early on Tuesday, Syria’s army said, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated he would do what was needed to stop Hezbollah gaining “game-changing” Iranian weapons.
The Syrian army said in a statement carried by state television that Israeli jets fired missiles at the al-Qutaifa area near Damascus from inside Lebanese airspace at 2:40 am (0040 GMT) and Syrian air defences hit one of the planes. Israel then fired rockets from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but the Syrian defences brought them down, the army said, adding that Israeli jets fired a final barrage of four rockets from inside Israel, one of which was intercepted by Syrian air defences while the others caused material damage
. Israel has pledged to prevent Syrian territory being used for Iran to set up bases or transfer highquality weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which has been helping Damascus beat back a sixyear- old rebellion. The Israeli military declined to comment.
Although the Israeli air force chief last August disclosed that his corps had struck in Syria around 100 times, Israel’s policy is generally not to confirm or deny such operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in answer to a reporter’s question about the strikes that Israel’s policy was to stop Hezbollah moving “game-changing weapons” out of Syria. “We back it up as necessary with action,” he said, without explicitly confirming Israel carried out Tuesday’s strikes.
In its statement, the Syrian army repeated previous warnings of serious repercussions for the strikes and repeated its past accusation that Israel was using attacks to support militant groups in Syria. A European diplomat speaking earlier this week said there was an understanding between the United States and Russia that Hezbollah and other foreign fighters would be removed from the area in Syria close to the Israeli border. “I don’t think that has happened very much up till now and that is a source of concern,” the diplomat said.
Turkey’s military will continue its operation in Syria’s Afrin and Manbij regions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday during a parliamentary address to his ruling AK Party. In 2016, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on its Syrian border to eradicate what it called a “corridor of terror”, made up by the dual threat of Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Meanwhile, air strikes and artillery fire killed at least 15 civilians on Tuesday in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus targeted by near-daily regime bombardment, a war monitor said. Three children were among the dead in Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the air raids were carried out by regime and Russian warplanes.
The deadliest strikes hit the Hammuriyeh district where eight civilians were killed, the Britain-based monitor said. “There are 85 wounded in total, some in critical condition, and the death toll could increase,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The monitor relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used. Eastern Ghouta has been under government siege since 2013 and its estimated 400,000 inhabitants are suffering severe shortages of food and medicine. It is one of the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria, where more than 340,000 people have been killed across the country in nearly seven years of war.