DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syrian state media said Sunday (Dec 9) that air defences had opened fire near Damascus airport, before withdrawing the report after what appeared to be a false alarm.
“Our air defences engaged hostile aerial targets in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport,” the official Sana news agency said, without providing more details.
But the report was later withdrawn by both Sana and state television without explanation. Sana then quoted sources at the airport as saying that “there was no aggression” and that “traffic was normal”.
A well-informed source told AFP that “there was evidently a false alarm”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the sound of explosions rocked an area close to the airport and fire from air defences was also heard. The latest incident comes just over a week after Syria accused Israel of striking south of the capital.
The Britain-based Observatory said those were the first missiles to hit Syria since an air defence upgrade after the downing of a Russian plane in September.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in neighbouring Syria against what it says are Iranian targets, many of them in the area south of Damascus.
Iran and Russia are the government’s key allies in the civil war that has raged Syria since 2011, and Moscow’s intervention in 2015 dramatically turned the tables against the rebels.
The accidental downing of a Russian transport aircraft by Syrian ground batteries during an Israel air strike on Sept 17 killed 15 service personnel. Moscow pinned responsibility for the downing on Israel, saying its fighter jet used the larger Russian one for cover, an allegation Israel disputed.
Russia subsequently upgraded Syrian air defences with the delivery of the advanced S-300 system, which Damascus insisted would make Israel “think carefully” before carrying out further air raids. The move raised fears in Israel that its ability to rein in its arch foe Iran’s military presence in Syria would be sharply reduced.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russia that Israel would continue to hit hostile targets, while also maintaining “security coordination” with Moscow.