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Syria blames Israel for missile attack near Damascus International Airport

Syria blames Israel for missile attack near Damascus International Airport
Flames rise in the distance, believed to be coming from Damascus International Airport following an explosion Thursday morning. (Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP/Getty Images)

It's another in a series of attacks whose aftermath has solidified into a routine diplomatic dance.

Syria's army accused Israel of "launching several missiles from inside the occupied territories at dawn on Thursday," which struck a "military position" near Damascus International Airport, according to an unnamed military source speaking to Syrian state media.

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The attack, said the source, resulted in explosions and left "some material losses."

"The Israeli aggression comes as a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of terrorist groups due to the Syrian army's blows," continued the source, using the government's routine term for the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"This aggression will not dissuade the army from continuing the war against terrorism and crushing it."

According to a report by the pro-opposition watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the blast from the strikes "could be heard all through Damascus and its suburbs," and fire was seen rising near the airport.

The observatory group said sources thought the large explosion had occurred because ammunition depots, believed to be for the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, had been targeted.

Israel, as has been customary after similar strikes in the past, neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

But Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, in an interview with Israel Army Radio, broadly hinted that Israel was involved.

"I can confirm that the incident in Syria is entirely consistent with the policy of Israel to operate to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon," he said. "This is a declared policy that we are also carrying out."

Official statements by the Syrian government did not mention if there would be any retaliation. But later on Thursday, an Israeli patriot missile shot down a drone over the Golan Heights, according to Israeli media.

The drone was said to have been launched from Syrian territories.

An agency affiliated with Hezbollah, the Central Combat Media, quoted a report from the Israeli outlet Yediot Ahronot that a Patriot missile had shot down a drone launched from Syrian territories.

According to the report, the drone had flown over parts of the occupied territories in Israel's north.

Hezbollah is a staunch battlefield ally of Assad's. Its cadres often have been the spearhead of ground assaults against the rebels — a development that Israel believes will make the Lebanese Shiite group a hardier adversary in a potential future conflict.

Israel has been carrying out strikes in Syria throughout the civil war to block the transfer of what has been described as game-changing weapons to Hezbollah.

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Thursday's attack comes after Russia, Iran and other pro-government allied forces had vowed to respond forcefully to any "aggression … by anyone" in the wake of a U.S. cruise missile strike on Syria earlier this month. They added they would increase support to the Syrian army in "a number of ways."

Yet despite Moscow's condemnation in the aftermath of the attack, it was unclear whether it had been aware of the strike. Russia has provided Damascus with sophisticated air defense systems that presumably could deter such attacks from Israel.

Special correspondents Bulos reported from Beirut and Mitnick from Tel Aviv.

UPDATES:

11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with new details that Israel shot down a drone over the Golan Heights.

This article was originally published at 10:25 a.m.

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