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Syria: Latakia port hit by 'Israeli air strikes' for first time since 2011

UK-based activist group reports 'huge material losses' but says there were no immediate reports of casualties
Syrian state news agency Sana said that a number of containers caught fire in the strike (Twitter)

An Israeli air strike hit a shipment of Iranian weapons in the Syrian port of Latakia on Tuesday, in the first such attack on the key facility, according to a UK-based activist group.

The Israeli raid "directly targeted an Iranian weapons shipment in the container yard," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian state media reported the strike on the container yard at Latakia port without specifying what was targeted.

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The Observatory, which has a wide network of sources on the ground across Syria, said the raid triggered a series of explosions.

It reported "huge material losses" but added there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Citing a military source, Syria's state news agency Sana said Israel had mounted an "aerial aggression" at 1.23 am, firing a number of missiles targeting the container storage area at the port and setting some on fire.

A source familiar with port operations said it was the first time Israel had attacked the facility on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Latakia, Syria's main commercial port, brings in a considerable amount of cargo from Iran, the source told Reuters.

"Our air defences repelled the Israeli aggression in Latakia," Sana said.

Photos and footage posted by Sana showed flames and smoke in the container area and a fire truck at the scene.

Ismail Hilal, the governor of Latakia, said firefighters had put out the flames and were working to cool the site, Sana reported. State television said five explosions rocked the city.

Blaze under control

Latakia is the northernmost of Syria's main ports, and lies around 230km north of Damascus.

Israel rarely comments on the air strikes it carries out in Syria but has said repeatedly it will not allow its regional rival Iran to extend its footprint in Syria.

Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory, targeting government positions as well as allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters.

On 24 November, Israeli missile strikes in the west of Homs province killed five people, according to the Observatory.

In two separate Israeli attacks in October, five pro-Iranian militiamen were killed near the Syrian capital Damascus while nine pro-government fighters were killed near the T4 airbase east of Palmyra in central Syria, the Observatory said.

Iran has been a key backer of the Syrian government in the decade-old conflict.

It finances, arms and commands a number of Syrian and foreign militia groups fighting alongside the regular armed forces, chief among them Hezbollah.

Tuesday's strike came as Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad wrapped up a visit to Tehran, where he met with top officials to discuss deepening ties.

In 2019, Syria announced it was planning to turn over the container terminal at Latakia port to Iran, AFP reported.

Earlier this year, Iran said it was planning to establish a direct shipping line between Latakia and one of its southern ports.