Israel launches Christmas Day airstrikes on Damascus as Turkey masses tanks on the border following Trump’s announcement that US troop will withdraw from Syria
Israel has carried out Christmas Day airstrikes against targets around the Syrian capital Damascus, according to the country’s state-run media.
Israeli warplanes flying above Lebanon reportedly launched missiles at multiple targets, prompting Syrian air defences to fire back.
One of the incoming missiles hit an arms dump injuring three soldiers, according to Syria. Israel has not acknowledged any strikes took place.
Meanwhile Turkey began massing tanks along its border with Syria as countries moved to fill the power vaccum that will be left after America withdraws its troops.
Turkey has long threatened to purge Kurdish forces – which it regards as terrorists – from norther Syria and began attacks in Afrin province earlier this year.
The US had partnered with Kurdish peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS and threats from Washington had so far kept Ankara’s troops at bay.
But following Trump’s announcement last week that all 2,000 US soldiers will shortly be returning home – prompting the retirement of Secretary of Defense James Mattis – Turkey now appears to be preparing for a full-frontal assault.
The shock announcement has also stoked fears that Iran and Hezbollah will exploit the situation to further entrench themselves in Syria, something which Israel views as an existential threat.
Against that backdrop, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israeli warplanes carried out strikes against three arms depots used by Iranian and Hezbollah forces on Christmas Day.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would ‘continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there.’
Nearly an hour after the attacks began, Damascus residents could still hear the air defense units firing toward targets in the air.
‘The aggression is still ongoing,’ said a presenter on state TV, which interrupted its programs to air patriotic songs.
Later the TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Syrian air defenses ‘shot down most of the missiles before reaching their targets and the aggression damaged an arms depot and wounded three soldiers.’
It added that the Israeli warplanes fired the missiles from Lebanese airspace.
Israel’s military spokesman’s unit did not confirm the raids, but said in a statement that ‘an aerial defense system was activated against an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria.’
No damage or injuries were reported by the Israeli military.
Elsewhere, Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces sent extra troops towards the city of Manbij as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said they were preparing to attack it.
The deployment was coordinated with the U.S.-backed militia in Manbij, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council said.
It is part of the wider buildup of forces in the area.
‘The battle will soon start,’ Major Youssef Hamoud, spokesman for the National Army, the main Turkish-backed rebel force in the area, told Reuters.
‘What we see on the front now is reinforcements to all forces to reach full preparedness for the battle.’
Turkey is determined to cross to the east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria as soon as possible, Ankara’s foreign minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Ankara regards the YPG as terrorists and has been infuriated by U.S. support for the group in the fight against Islamic State.
Trump’s abrupt decision to pull troops out of Syria has handed the fight against Islamic State over to Turkey – and effectively given Ankara the green light to push into remaining Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.