News / Middle East

Israeli Attack Exposes Assad's Air Defense Weakness

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (C) stands in front of an armored personnel carrier (APC) during a visit to a military base near Kibbutz Kissufim outside the central Gaza Strip, May 7, 2013.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (C) stands in front of an armored personnel carrier (APC) during a visit to a military base near Kibbutz Kissufim outside the central Gaza Strip, May 7, 2013.
Reuters
It was too late when air raid sirens wailed at one of Syria's most fortified military compounds. Israeli jets were already attacking the Hameh complex and civilian employees in nearby housing were scrambling for cover with their families.

Around Damascus the warplanes staged a series of raids in the early hours of Sunday including on President Bashar al-Assad's air defenses, opposition and rebel sources said. But none had more devastating results than at Hameh, a high-walled site linked to his chemical and biological weapons program.

"Families ran to basements and stayed there," said one witness of the attack on Hameh that lit up the night sky and shook the ground kilometers [miles] away. "We heard ambulances. There were very few workers at the compound at that time but an attack of this scale must have killed a lot of soldiers among the guards and patrols."

The raids have raised fears that Israel could be drawn into Syria's civil war, in which the United Nations said 70,000 people have died since an uprising against Assad family rule began two years ago. Damascus has accused Israel of effectively helping what it calls al-Qaida Islamist terrorists.

Western intelligence sources said the attacks were designed to prevent Syria sending Iranian-supplied missiles to the Shi'ite Hezbollah group in neighboring Lebanon for possible use against Israel. An Israeli general played down the consequences on Monday, saying: "There are no winds of war."

The witness said windows were blown out in workers' flats several hundred meters [yards] from Hameh's perimeter, even though the center of the blasts was further away on the huge site, which is surrounded by air defenses.

Opposition sources said the warplanes also hit facilities manned by Assad's Republican Guards on Mount Qasioun, which overlooks central Damascus, and the nearby Barada River basin.

The area is believed to be a supply route to Hezbollah, according to residents, activists and opposition military sources. Their statements could not be verified due to restrictions on media operating in Syria.

Right on target

One rebel commander said Assad's forces have been fortifying their positions on Qasioun since the uprising began in March 2011. "The Israelis still managed to get to the weapons stores. The secondary explosions indicate that they were right on target," he said, adding that Syrian air defenses, already weakened by the civil war "could not do anything".

Other opposition sources also said the targets included air defenses comprising Russian-made surface to air missiles and heavy anti-aircraft guns, deployed on Qasioun and overlooking the rebellious Damascus district of Barzeh.
 
"The destruction appeared to be massive. We have heard that the army has asked rank and file personnel based in Qasioun and those on leave to stay away. The military usually does this sort of thing when there is a big mess to sort out," said one activist in Damascus, who did not want to be named.

Assad's forces have fired on rebels from Qasioun, which is largely a closed military zone apart from a strip of restaurants, flattening areas of Damascus below.

However, it was unclear whether Israel was effectively helping the rebels by raiding the Qasioun sites, as Damascus has said, or attacked the air defenses purely to safeguard its own operations against Iranian-supplied missiles.

The Syrian government has said that Israel raided three military sites. Several media published what they described as a photo supplied by the official Syrian news agency showing a huge pile of collapsed concrete at a flattened building in an unspecified site they said was targeted by the Israelis. Reuters could not verify the photo.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a strong opponent of Assad, said on Tuesday the Israeli air strikes had given the Syrian government an opportunity to cover up its own killings.

"The air strike Israel carried out on Damascus is completely unacceptable. There is no rationale, no pretext that can excuse this operation," Erdogan told parliament in Ankara.

Opposition sources familiar with the Hameh site said a large section of the compound housing missile systems appeared to have been hit. Mobile missile launchers, part of a Russian-supplied SA-17 air defence system deployed elsewhere on Qasioun, also appear to have been destroyed, they said

Western intelligence agencies suspect work on chemical weapons has been conducted at Hameh. Assad's government and the rebels have accused each other of carrying out three chemical weapons attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus in March, and another near Homs in December.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 42 Syrian soldiers were killed and 100 others are missing.
Other opposition sources put the death toll at 300 soldiers, mostly belonging to the Republican Guards, an elite unit that forms the last line of defense for Damascus and comprises mainly members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s.

Although casualties among Assad's troops appeared to be high, opposition sources said the raids were mainly targeted on storage facilities. "Whatever they hit, there is little chance that anything was left intact," another source in Damascus said.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs