Six people have been killed in an Israeli air attack on Damascus, a war monitor said on Monday, as Israel confirmed raids on the Syrian capital as well as on the besieged Gaza Strip.
A statement from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group on Monday said two men, who were members of the group, were killed during the “Zionist bombing in Damascus,” which took place late on Sunday night.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, later confirmed that four additional pro-Assad, Iran-backed fighters died in the strike.
At least one of the Iran-backed fighters was Syrian, while the nationalities of the others remained unknown, Observatory head Rami Abdurrahman told AFP.
“This cowardly aggression in Damascus was a reflection of the enemy’s failure to confront our fighters inside occupied Palestine,” the PIJ said.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard several strong explosions shortly before midnight local time (22:00 GMT).
The Syrian Observatory said the attacks were “near the Damascus international airport”.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said “most of the enemy missiles were shot down before reaching their targets,” stressing that “no airport” was struck.
Earlier, SANA said anti-air defences were activated against attacks “in the Damascus area”.
Israel said it launched the attack south of Damascus following rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, Gaza.
“In the Adeliyah region, outside of Damascus, an Islamic Jihad compound was struck, used as a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity in Syria,” the Israeli army said in a statement, while confirming several other attacks in Gaza.
It is rare for Israel to claim such attacks directly.
Al Jazeera also received independent confirmation about the air raids in Gaza. According to a statement by the Israeli army, “Israeli military planes targeted Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza” including the Khan Yunis headquarters of the group and several storage sites in the southern city of Rafah.
Images received by Al Jazeera showed a ball of fire lighting up the night sky in one Gaza neighbourhood, as thick smoke rose. According to the Palestinian news agency, Maan, four people were injured.
The PIJ operates in the occupied Palestinian territories and Syria and fired more than 20 rockets from Gaza throughout Sunday.
The intense bombardment resumed on Monday, as the Palestinian armed group fired a fresh volley of rockets and mortars towards southern Israel.
Israel’s army said in a statement that 20 “projectiles” had been fired from the Palestinian enclave on Monday, 18 of them intercepted by its air defence systems.
The rockets came in response to Israel killing Mohammed Ali al-Naim, a Palestinian member of the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday.
A video showing an Israeli bulldozer dragging al-Naim’s body and mutilating it before moving it to the Israeli side of the fence has sparked outrage among Palestinians.
Israel responds after Iran ‘fires rockets’ at occupied Golan
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of raids in Syria, mainly targeting government forces as well as allied Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters.
A missile attack blamed on Israel in mid-February killed three Syrian and four Iranian fighters in the Damascus airport area, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Iran is an ally of Damascus and has offered military advisers, and sent fighters and material support to help President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces in the nine-year civil war.
Israel considers Iran a national security threat and says it would not tolerate Iran’s presence on its borders.
In November, Israel targeted two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in a simultaneous attack, killing one in the Gaza Strip and missing the second in Syria.
At the time, Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of the Islamic Jihad’s leadership living in exile. He was not harmed, but his son and granddaughter were killed.