Israeli military strikes Iranian targets inside Syria

Israel has struck several targets in Syria as part of its increasingly open assault on ’s presence in the country, shaking the night sky over Damascus with an hour of loud explosions in a second consecutive night of military action.

Damascus did not say what damage or casualties resulted from the strikes, but a war monitor said 11 people were killed, while Syria’s ally Russia said four Syrian soldiers died.

The threat of direct confrontation between Israel and Iran has long simmered in Syria, where the Iranian military built a presence early in the civil war to help Bashar al-Assad fight Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to oust him.

, regarding Iran as most dangerous enemy, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, without claiming responsibility for the attacks.

But with an election approaching, and with the US vowing more action on Iran, Israel’s government has lifted the lid on strikes that it would previously have preferred to keep quiet, and has also taken a tougher stance towards Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.

It blamed Iran for a rocket attack on Sunday.

In Tehran, the air force chief, Brig Gen Aziz Nasirzadeh, said Iran was “fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth”, according to the Young Journalists Club, a website supervised by Iranian state television.

Assad has said Iranian forces are welcome to stay in Syria after years of military victories brought most of the country back under his control, though two large enclaves are still held by other forces.

His other main ally, Russia, worried about the consequences of Israeli strikes on the wider pursuit of a war that is entering its ninth year, has provided Syria with air defence systems.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is hoping to win a fifth term in elections on 9 April, last week told his cabinet Israel had carried out “hundreds” of attacks over recent years to curtail Iran and Hezbollah.

 

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