ISTANBUL – A missile attack on an air base in central Syria was perpetrated by Israeli warplanes in the early hours of Monday, causing multiple casualties, according to the Syrian and Russian governments, amid fears of a renewed regional confrontation.
Israeli officials did not comment immediately on the reports. The incursion into the T4 airfield in Homs province comes as tensions rise over possible US military actions in Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on Saturday night.
EE. UU Officials said they were weighing options to attack Syrian government targets and that Syria's state news agency initially blamed Monday's attack on the United States. He backed down after Pentagon denials.
"At this time, the Department of Defense is not carrying out air strikes in Syria," the Pentagon said in a statement.
President Trump had said on Sunday there would be a "great price to pay" for the attack that killed dozens of people in Douma outside of Damascus, according to local medical staff. Both Syria and Russia have denied the Syrian government's participation in that attack.
[Trump condemns Syria chemical attack, saying Putin shares the blame]
A Syrian military source and the Russian Ministry of Defense said that Israeli warplanes carried out Monday's attack from Lebanese airspace.
According to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory based in Britain, most of the 14 deaths were Iranian forces or Iran backed by the Syrian government.
Iran is a firm ally of the Syrian government and has deployed forces and badets within Syria, including a network of pro-government fighters that it uses as shock troops in battles with the Syrian rebels. 19659002] Israel has become increasingly alarmed when Iran and its Lebanese representative, Hezbollah, extend their military reach and influence in the region, including an expanded presence near Israel's northern border.
In February, Israel confirmed that it had attacked the same airfield in Homs, after an Iranian drone aircraft entered Israeli airspace. Eight combat aircraft were used in that attack, said the Israeli army, including an F-16 fighter that was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
"The timing of the strike is not a coincidence," said Michael Horowitz, senior badyst at Le Beck International, a geopolitical and security consultancy based in the Middle East.
"By striking [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and his Iranian allies only one day after Trump warned them of the price they would pay … Israel mitigates the risk of an Iranian response," he said. "Israel has been trying to convince Washington to adopt a more proactive and anti-Iran strategy in Syria, and it certainly sees Trump's rhetoric after the chemical attack as an opportunity."
The strike on Monday also comes amid a report trying to evacuate the rebel fighters of Douma after the alleged chemical attack on Saturday. The militants of Jaish al-Islam had been negotiating their departure with Russian representatives.
Russian news agency Tbad reported on Sunday that 8,000 fighters could leave Douma for other areas controlled by the opposition in northern Syria.
Douma is one of the last strongholds of the opposition near the capital, and had been bombed by the Syrian government and allied forces in recent weeks. According to the United Nations, more than 1,700 people have been killed since February in the eastern part of Ghouta.
[North Korea is quietly increasing aid to Syria’s chemical, missile programs, U.N. says]
On Saturday, Syrian doctors and lifeguards in Douma said at least 40 people died in the apparent chemical attack.
More than 500 people "were taken to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent," according to the Syrian American Medical Society, a nonprofit group based in Washington that supports health facilities in the area.
The images of the area showed bodies scattered on the floor of a shelter air attack. Among them was a young man who seemed to have died foaming in his mouth and clinging to his son. Other images showed piles of bodies inside houses or collapsed on concrete stairs, foam visible in their noses and mouths.
"We tried to send people to the area to rescue the wounded, but even the rescuers began to suffocate," said Mohamed Samer, a medical worker in Douma.
The images recalled previous chemical weapons attacks on civilians in Syria, including those involving the nerve agent sarin. A year ago, about 100 people were killed in an attack in the northern city of Khan Sheikhoun that the United Nations blamed on the Syrian air force.
In 2013, also in Eastern Ghouta, a sarin attack killed more than 1,000 people – an event that led then-President Barack Obama to threaten military action against the Syrian government.
Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Louisa Loveluck in Istanbul and Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.
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