Syrian media is accusing Israel of a rocket attack that set off a major conflagration in the port area of Latakiya early Tuesday, damaging a large number of shipping containers. Arab media claims that Israel destroyed a number of containers transporting Iranian weapons.
Syrian TV showed fire crews trying to extinguish a massive blaze early Tuesday in the port region of the coastal city of Latakiya, after a rocket or missile barrage hit a shipping container depot. Syria accused Israel of the attack. Israel did not immediately confirm responsibility.
Another attack on the same Syrian port facility on December 7 reportedly targeted an Iranian missile shipment, according to Israeli TV. Israel has reportedly struck targets inside Syria at least 31 times during the past year, according to Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV.
Syrian military officials in the region of Latakiya denied that any weapons were struck in Tuesday's rocket attack. Col. Jalal Dawoud, an officer in charge of the area, told state TV the target was mainly economic.
He says the rocket strike is part of an ongoing series of attacks and it is a blow to the economy and the well-being of the Syrian people. He claims the containers that were hit held industrial goods and foodstuffs.
Ramy Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Arab media that some of the shipping containers destroyed in the attack "were filled with weapons, although it was not clear what type."
He also claims that Russia, which has a major airbase 15 kilometers north of Latakiya, "refused to allow its S-300 air defense systems to intercept rockets used in the attack.”
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that Russia "is in tacit agreement with attacks" on the alleged Iranian arms shipments.
He says that Israel's Channel Ten TV reported the December 7 attack on Latakiya was aimed at a container carrying Iranian cruise missiles that had just arrived at the port, hitting it immediately, while Tuesday's attack most likely hit another container with a similar arms shipment. He adds there is a major dispute between Iran and Russia over the use of Latakiya for arms shipments.
Abou Diab went on to say that a number of other suspicious explosions took place Tuesday, although it is not clear who was behind them. One explosion reportedly took place at a Palestinian refugee camp near Homs, while a second reportedly struck an arms depot in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
Al Arabiya TV showed amateur video of an explosion in the pro-Iranian Hezbollah stronghold of Nabichit in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah claimed the blast was caused by a rocket that accidentally detonated.
Former Syrian Army Col. Ahmed Rahhal told Arabiya TV the Bou Kamel Syrian border crossing with Iraq "is becoming a major passageway for incoming Iranian weapons, while Latakiya is becoming a key gateway for Iranian weapons arriving by sea." He asserted the amount of damage to the port of Latakiya Tuesday shows the alleged weapons shipment "must have been pretty large."
Fires burned out of control in Latakiya's port area for nearly eight hours before being extinguished.