Syria's residents were startled by heavy blasts that shook Damascus early Sunday when Israeli warplanes targeted a military research center in the capital’s suburbs, Syrian state television reported.
The TV reported the explosions that rocked Jamraya were caused by an Israeli missile strike on the research center that took place at 1:56 a.m. local time.
“Everything was quiet and suddenly we saw this bright orange light in the sky followed by a very loud explosion,” said Tarek Hillnawi, a Damascus resident who was sitting on his balcony chatting with his friends when the blast occurred.“I felt that it was over for us, that all of Damascus is set on fire.”
According to Reuters, a western intelligence source said on Sunday that the overnight attack targeted a missile shipment that was “in transit” from Iran to Hezbollah.
An hour following the large blast, Al Samaa Syrian TV released a photo allegedly showing the moment the Syrian army launched an attack targeting an Israeli warplane. Unconfirmed news circulated that the Syrian army took down an Israeli jet.
At least 40 blasts were heard across the capital following the alleged Israeli attack, which according to activists, targeted the Syrian government’s security forces sites in Damascus, including the Maher al-Assad Fourth Division Military Group and the weapon depot of the Syrian Republican Guard in Jamraya. Syrian state media denied these attacks.
Residents were frightened after witnessing the large fire covering the capital’s largest landmark.
Syrian activists immediately uploaded videos to YouTube showing the numerous explosions in the capital from behind Qasioun Mountain, where a high military base overlooks the Syrian capital.
Damascus resident Maisoon al-Abed said she heard a loud noise in the sky followed by complete silence.
“When the sky lit, I thought warplanes targeted the Qasioun Mountain,”al-Abed said.
The Syrian government has concentrated many military bases on Qasioun Mountain.
According to a Syrian official who spoke to Al Arabiya English on the basis of anonymity, the Syrian regime and has heavily used its bases on the mountain to fire missiles at different neighborhoods in the capital.
“The mountain is a very strategic site that oversees all of Damascus,” said the source. “There is a heavy presence of the Assad forces in the mountain because they are always on-call to launch any possible attack towards the people of the city.”
Prior to the conflict, the Qasioun Mountain used to be a popular tourist attraction with a wide range of restaurants.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday that the apparent Israeli air strikes on Syria showed that peace across the whole region was under threat, and reinforced the need to lift an arms embargo on Syrian rebels.
Hague’s comments came after a senior Israeli official said that the Jewish state carried out a pre-dawn attack near Damascus on Sunday targeting Iranian missiles destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“We don’t have any official confirmation but of course there have been some sources in Israel saying that this has been an Israeli airstrike -- I will wait before commenting in detail on that for official confirmation,” Hague told Sky News.
“But what I can say is that these events, and many other events of recent days, do show increasing danger to the peace of that entire region from the Syria crisis just getting worse and worse.”
Hague added: “Lebanon is constantly threatened by being destabilised, huge numbers of refugees are crossing the border, Jordan is under incredible strain.
“And Israel has made very clear that it will act if it believes that important weapons systems are being transferred to Hezbollah.”
Hague said that “Israel will act to protect its national security, we do have to respect that.”
Previous Israeli attacks
Al Arabiya reported late Saturday that Israeli officials confirmed a recent airstrike that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles headed for Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
According to Lebanese security, there were intensive Israel Air Force activities in Lebanese airspace on Thursday and Friday.