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Syria halts Damascus airport flights after Israeli strikes

Damascus International Airport has been closed to flights after an Israeli strike
— Damascus (AFP)

All flights to and from Syria's capital were halted Friday, the government said, after Israeli air strikes wounded at least one civilian and reportedly caused damage to an airport runway.

Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against its neighbour, targeting government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah, but rarely have such attacks caused major flight disruptions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the latest strike carried out before dawn on Friday hit three arms depots near Damascus airport belonging to Hezbollah, as well as other Iran-backed groups.

Syria's transport ministry later announced the "suspension of incoming and outgoing flights through Damascus International Airport" as a result of technical disruptions.

"The resumption of flights shall be declared once the installations and equipment are fixed to ensure the safety and security of the operational traffic," it said, quoted by the official news agency SANA.

An airport employee told AFP that the Israeli strikes had "affected" the facility.

"We had to postpone all flights for at least 48 hours and some flights have been rerouted through Aleppo airport," the employee said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

An official at an Arab airline said separately that an airport landing strip had been hit during the Israeli assault -- a development the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan also reported.

The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been no departures or arrivals from the airport since the strikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the damaged runway was the only one still operational after an Israeli strike last year put another one out of service.

The 2021 strikes had targeted weapons shipments and arms depots operated by Iran-backed groups, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitor that relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

The airport is located in a region south of Damascus where Iran-backed groups, including Hezbollah, regularly operate.

The vicinity of the facility is favourite target for Israel which has launched 15 aerial attacks on Syria this year alone and regularly accuses Iran of using Damascus airport to send weapons shipments to its allies.

- Arms depots -

The Observatory said the runway hit in the attack had already been in poor condition before the raids.

Syrian state media had reported the Israeli strikes on southern Damascus, saying a volley of missiles were fired from the occupied Golan Heights at around 4:20 am (0120 GMT).

Syrian air defences intercepted most of the missiles, but those that reached their target left at least one civilian wounded and caused material damage, SANA reported.

While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of them.

The Israeli military says the strikes are necessary to prevent its arch foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.

The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.

The war has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country's pre-war population from their homes.