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Israeli airstrikes target Syrian capital

5 killed as residential buildings around Damascus hit, state media says by ABBY SEWELL The Associated Press | February 20, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Syrian security officers inspect the damage in a residential neighborhood after an early morning Israeli airstrike in the capital city of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. Syrian state news reported that Israeli airstrikes have targeted a residential neighborhood in central Damascus. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

BEIRUT -- Israeli airstrikes targeted residential areas in Syria's capital Damascus early Sunday, killing at least five people and wounding 15, Syrian state news reported.

The strikes come amid a wider shadow war between Israel and its archenemy Iran, a close ally of Syria's President Bashar Assad in the country's ongoing war.

Loud explosions were heard over a central area of Damascus around 12:30 a.m. local time.

Syrian state media agency SANA reported that air defenses were "confronting hostile targets in the sky around Damascus." Citing a military source, it reported that five people had been killed, among them a soldier, and 15 civilians wounded.

The news agency also said that the strikes destroyed several residential buildings and damaged areas connected to Damascus' famous medieval citadel and an applied arts institute housed there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, reported that 15 people, including a woman, were killed in strikes targeting sites connected with Iranian militias and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The group said the strikes hit sites in the capital's Kafr Sousa neighborhood, including an Iranian school there, and outlying areas of the city.

There was no immediate statement from Israel on the attack. A spokesperson for the Israeli military declined to comment.

An official with an Iran-backed group denied media reports that the strike on Kafr Sousa targeted Iranian or Palestinian officials.

The strike hit a parking garage under a building and killed 10 civilians and troops, all of them Syrians, he said. He denied that there had been any Iranians or Hezbollah members killed.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

An official with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed militant group, warned Israel in a statement Sunday that there would be "a decisive response without delay to any assassination attempt (on) the leaders of the resistance," and in particular its senior official Akram "Abu Mohamad" Ajouri, whose home in Damascus has previously been targeted by airstrikes.

Israeli airstrikes frequently target sites in the vicinity of Damascus, but it is rare for them to target residential areas in the city. The Saturday night strikes were the first since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6.

Syria's foreign ministry condemned the attack, coming "at a time when Syria was healing its wounds, burying its martyrs, and receiving condolences, sympathy, and international humanitarian support in the face of the devastating earthquake." It called on the United Nations Security Council to condemn it.

Iran's semiofficial Tasnim news agency Sunday said no Iranian nationals were harmed in Israel's strike on Damascus. It said one of the rockets hit the same place where former Hezbollah commander Imad Moghnieh was killed in 2008.

The last reported attack on Damascus was on Jan. 2, when the Syrian army reported that Israel's military fired missiles toward the capital's international airport, putting it out of service and killing two soldiers.

Information for this article was contributed by Abdelrahman Shaheen, Tia Goldenberg and Bassem Mroue of The Associated Press.

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