Israel blamed for missile strike in Syria
BEIRUT - The Associated Press
Russia and the Syrian military blamed Israel for a pre-dawn missile attack on April 9 on a major air base in central Syria that reportedly killed 14 people, including Iranians, while international condemnation grew over a suspected poison gas attack over the weekend that was blamed on the Syrian government.
Opposition activists said 40 people died in the chemical attack, blaming Syrian government forces. The U.N. Security Council planned to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the chemical attack.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli aircraft targeted the T4 air base in Homs province, firing eight missiles. It said Syria shot down five of them while the other three landed in the western part of the base. Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Israeli F-15 warplanes fired several missiles at T4. It gave no further details.
Israel’s foreign ministry had no comment when asked about reports of the airstrikes, which did not appear to be related to the April 8 alleged chemical weapons attack.
Since 2012, Israel has struck inside Syria more than 100 times, mostly targeting suspected weapons’ convoys destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Most recently, Israel hit the same T4 base in February, after it said an Iranian drone that had violated Israeli airspace took off from the base. The base, which was used as a launching pad for counter offensive attacks against Islamic State militants who were at one point stationed close by, is near the Shayrat air base, which was targeted by U.S. missiles last year in response to a chemical weapons attack.
The April 9 missile attack came hours after President Donald Trump warned there would be a “big price to pay” after Saturday’s suspected poison gas attack on the last remaining foothold for Syrian rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed in that assault, including families found in their homes and shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.
Syria’s state news agency SANA initially said the attack on the T4 air base was likely “an American aggression,” but Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood quickly denied the United States was behind the strike and the agency then dropped the accusation, blaming Israel instead.
SANA said the missile attack resulted in a number of casualties but provided no specific figures.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through a network of activists on the ground, said 14 died, including Iranians and also three Syrian officers.
Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s chief, said the assault targeted a mobile air defense unit and some buildings inside the air base. He added that it also hit posts outside the base used by the Iranians and Iran-backed fighters.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on April 9 that that Israel had not spoken to the president ahead of the airstrike even though there may have been Russian military advisers at the base, which he described as “a cause for concern for us.”
The U.S. launched several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last year, after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.