By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, July 20 (Reuters) – Syrian air defences on Monday intercepted a new Israeli “aggression” above the capital Damascus, state media said, in the latest wave of attacks that Western intelligence sources have said were Israeli strikes on a major Iranian-backed ammunition depot on the edge of the capital.
State television said Israeli missiles had flown over the Syrian Golan Heights where they conducted raids around the capital and live footage showed blasts across the skies of the capital.
There was no immediate Israeli comment.
A Syrian military spokesman was quoted on state television as saying its air defences thwarted most of the missiles that targeted southern Damascus suburbs, areas that Israel had hit in the past, before reaching their targets and inflicted only “material losses”.
Syrian military defectors said the strike targeted a major Iranian-run ammunitions depot in Jabal al Mane near the town of Kiswa, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards have long been entrenched in a rugged area almost 15 km (9.3 miles) south of the centre of Damascus.
Other strikes hit Muqaylabiya and Zakiya towns near Kiswa where Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia are deployed with other pro-Tehran militias in strength, according to two senior army defectors.
An official in the regional alliance that supports Iran said that there were no Iranian or Hezbollah casualties.
The severity of the blasts were heard in the capital and shook windows of several neighbourhoods there, according to residents.
“The Israelis have targeted a major ammunitions depot. There were several strikes and the blasts were huge. There are reports that Iranian personnel have been killed,” said Zaid al Reys, a Syrian analyst in touch with sources on the ground.
The bases in eastern, central and southern Syria which Israel had hit in recent months are believed to have a strong presence of Iranian-backed militias, according to intelligence sources and military defectors familiar with the locations.
Syria never publicly acknowledges that the strikes target Iranian assets in a country where Tehran’s military presence has covered most government-controlled areas.
Western intelligence sources say Israel’s stepped up strikes on Syria in the last few months are part of a shadow war approved by Washington and part of the anti-Iran policy that has undermined in the last two years Iran’s extensive military power without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
Israel has acknowledged conducting many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 where it sees Iran‘s presence as a strategic threat.
Israeli defence officials have said in recent months that Israel would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria where, with the help of its proxy militias, Tehran has expanded its presence.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Samar Hassan; Additional reporting by Laila Bassan in Beirut, Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)