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False alarm, not outside attack, sets off Syria air defenses

False alarm, not outside attack, sets off Syria air defenses
People walk among damaged buildings in the town of Duma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, on April 16. (Hassan Ammar / Associated Press)

A false alarm set off Syrian air defense systems early Tuesday, the military said, denying earlier reports of an "outside aggression" and incoming airstrikes and underscoring the chaotic nature of the multiple actors in Syria's theater of war.

Syrian state media reported hours earlier that the country confronted yet another assault, shooting down missiles over the central region of Homs and a suburb of Damascus before dawn.

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The reports did not say who carried out the alleged strikes, adding to Mideast jitters only days after the United States, Britain and France conducted airstrikes targeting Syria's alleged chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that they blamed on the Syrian government.

The Syrian Central Media said six missiles targeted the Shayrat air base in Homs on Tuesday, adding that Syrian air defenses shot down most of them. The Syrian outlet also reported another, separate airstrike on the Dumayr air base, in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

The Pentagon denied any American military activity in the area. There was no comment from Israel, which frequently carries out airstrikes in Syria but rarely acknowledges them.

Hours later, Syrian TV carried a military statement saying that air defenses fired a number of missiles because of a "false alarm," without providing more information.

The report came as experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog agency were in Damascus, waiting to visit the site of the suspected chemical attack in the town of Duma, just east of Damascus.

On Monday, Syrian and Russian authorities prevented investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from going to the scene, the head of the agency said, blocking international efforts to establish what happened and who was to blame.

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