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Israeli missile strikes building in central Damascus, five dead

Israeli missile strikes building in central Damascus, five dead

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - An Israeli rocket strike early on Sunday hit a building in central Damascus, killing five people and damaging several buildings in the densely populated district, witnesses and officials said.

The strike hit near a security complex around which Syria's ally Iran has installed bases, two intelligence sources said.

An Israeli military spokesperson declined to comment.

Citing a Syrian military source, state media said Israel had carried out air strikes targeting several areas of Damascus l shortly after midnight, causing five deaths and 15 injuries among civilians.

"It caused damage to several civilian homes and material damage to a number of neighbourhoods in Damascus and its vicinity," the Syrian army said in a statement.

Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said the strike should be considered a "crime against humanity" given it took place less than two weeks after the Feb. 6 earthquake that left more than 5,800 dead across the country.

It was not immediately clear whether the Israeli strike was aimed at a specific individual, but two Western intelligence sources said the target was a logistics centre in the building run by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iran and Russia both helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide of the country's civil war in his favour with military and economic support. Tehran and Moscow both condemned the strikes and said they threatened regional stability.

Edmond Ajji from Syria's antiquities directorate told Reuters the capital's historic citadel had suffered some damage in the incident.

But two Syrian military sources, speaking anonymously because they were not authorised to speak to press, said stray anti-aircraft rockets fired in response to the missiles hit the vicinity of the citadel.

Pro-Iran Hezbollah's top commander Imad Moughniyeh was killed in 2008 in a bombing in the same neigbourhood, Kafr Sousa, a heavily policed area where residents say several Iranian security agencies are located, including a cultural centre.

Although officials rarely acknowledge responsibility for specific operations, Israel has been carrying out air strikes against suspected Iranian-sponsored weapons transfers and personnel deployments in Syria for almost a decade.

Israel has also in recent months intensified strikes on Syrian airports and air bases to disrupt Iran's increasing use of aerial supply lines to deliver arms to allies in Syria and Lebanon, including Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The strikes are part of an escalation of what has been a low-intensity conflict whose goal was to slow down Iran's growing entrenchment in Syria, Israeli military experts say.

Iran's proxy militias, led by Hezbollah, now hold sway in vast areas in eastern, southern and northwestern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital.

Assad has never publicly acknowledged that Iranian forces operate on his behalf in Syria's civil war, saying Tehran has only military advisers on the ground.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Firas Makdesi and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Jonathan Oatis, Kirsten Donovan)