Damascus : Syria and its Russian ally accused Israel on Monday of carrying out a deadly dawn bombing raid on a military airbase, as global outrage mounted over an alleged poison gas attack outside Damascus.
US President Donald Trump and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had vowed a strong response to the suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma and the UN Security Council was expected to discuss the crisis later today.
Syrian state media reported “several missiles” had hit the T-4 base in central Syria just before dawn on Monday. Washington and Paris denied any involvement, and Damascus later blamed Israel.
“The Israeli attack on the T-4 airport was carried out with F-15 aircraft that fired several missiles from above Lebanese territory,” state news agency SANA reported, quoting a military source. The Russian army also accused Israel, saying two Israeli F-15s had fired eight missiles at the base and that five were destroyed by air defence systems but three hit a western part of the facility.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the countrys conflict, said 14 fighters had been killed, including Syrian army officers and Iranian forces.
Forces from regime backers Russia and Iran, as well as fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, are known to have a presence at the base, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman denied it was involved, saying: “At this time, the Department of Defence is not conducting air strikes in Syria.”
US forces a year ago fired a volley of cruise missiles at the governments Shayrat air base in retaliation for another suspected chemical attack in April 2017.
The Shayrat airport lies just 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of T-4, also known as the Tiyas base.
French army spokesman Colonel Patrik Steiger also denied France carried out the strike, telling AFP: “It was not us.” A military spokeswoman for Israel, which has hit Syrian military positions several times in recent years, declined to comment.
Israel has repeatedly warned it will not accept its arch-foe Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria.
In February, it accused Iranian forces at the T-4 base of sending a drone into Israeli territory. After targeting Iranian units in Syria in retaliation, an Israel F-16 was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire in one of the conflicts most notable escalations.
Israel then carried out what it called “large-scale” raids on Syrian air defence systems and Iranian targets, which reportedly included T-4.
Nick Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, said it Israel had a vested interest in bombing T-4. “The Israelis, well aware of the importance of the T-4 base for Iran to apply strategic military pressure on Israel, would have ample reason to strike the base hard,” he told AFP.
Lebanon’s National News Agency on Monday said Israeli warplanes were flying near the countrys border with Syria. AFPs correspondent in eastern Lebanon said a plane could be heard flying towards Syrian border around 3:30 am local time (0030 GMT).
Trump had reacted with fury to Saturdays apparent chemical attack in Douma — the last rebel-held area of the onetime opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta — lashing out at President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump warned on Sunday. Syria and Moscow denounced the allegations as “fabrications” and warned against using them to justify military action. Backed by Moscow, Assad has waged a seven-week assault to dislodged rebels from Eastern Ghouta.
The onslaught killed more than 1,700 civilians, displaced tens of thousands, and left Islamist rebels cornered in their last holdout of Douma, Ghouta’s largest town.