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Syria Today – Syria Caught in Crossfire of Iranian Response

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Syria Caught in Crossfire of Iranian Response

Most of the Iranian drones flying over Syria’s airspace during Tehran’s strikes overnight were downed by Israeli and U.S. jets before reaching their targets in Israel, two Western intelligence sources said on Sunday.

They told Reuters the aerial interceptions shot down dozens of missiles and drones fired by Iran that flew above southern Syria in the Deraa province, the Syrian Golan Heights and several locations in eastern Syria along the border with Iraq.

U.S. air defences operated from the U.S. base in al-Tanf, as well as along the Jordanian border and in eastern Syria, where Washington maintains hundreds of troops in several air bases, one source said.

He could not confirm whether U.S. military aircraft and defence destroyers deployed in the Middle East were used in what he described as a “highly prepared” response based on accurate intelligence on both the timing of Iran’s retaliation and its scope, using a swarm of drones and missiles.

Iran launched its attack in response to a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 that killed officers of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack.

The Pantsir air defence systems that Iran operates from several air bases inside Syria were ineffective in downing any Israeli aircraft, both sources added, without giving further details.

A regional intelligence source said U.S. air defences also helped Jordan to down at least a dozen drones and missiles that were flying over the country towards Jerusalem.

Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted, he added.

US and UK forces help

A hastily assembled coalition including the US and UK has helped Israel shoot down Iranian drones over Jordan, Iraq and Syria in an effort to blunt the attack and prevent an uncontrollable escalation, Reuters reported.

As a mass salvo of Iranian drones and cruise missiles neared its borders, Israel scrambled its fighter jets to intercept the incoming projectiles, according to Israeli news reports, and it was supported in the effort by its partners and neighbours.

Joe Biden said the US had built up its forces in the run-up to the widely telegraphed attack, and that the reinforcements had paid off.

“At my direction, to support the defence of Israel, the US military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers to the region over the course of the past week,” Biden said in a written statement. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles. “

Royal Air Force fighter jets and refuelling aircraft were also involved, taking off from bases in Cyprus. Their role, according to the Ministry of Defence, was to fill in for the US Air Force in the sorties against the Islamic State normally carried out over Iraq and north-eastern Syria, but also to intercept Iranian drones if they came into the UK area of operations.

“In response to increased Iranian threats and the growing risk of escalation in the Middle East, the UK government has been working with partners across the region to encourage de-escalation and prevent further attacks,” a defence ministry statement said.

“We have moved several additional Royal Air Force jets and air refuelling tankers to the region. These will bolster Operation Shader, which is the UK’s existing counter-Daesh operation in Iraq and Syria. In addition, these UK jets will intercept any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions, as required.”

Syria Says Iran Exercised ‘Right To Self-defence’

Syria on Sunday said ally Iran acted in self-defence with a massive overnight attack on Israel that Tehran said was in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, AFP reported.

“Iran’s response… is a legitimate right to self-defence” against Israel, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian by phone, according to a report carried by state news agency SANA.

Mekdad also described the Iranian response as “appropriate”, SANA added.

Iran had vowed to avenge the strike on the consular section of its embassy in the Syrian capital on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards including two generals from the Quds Force, the Guards’ foreign operations arm.

A separate statement Sunday from Syria’s foreign ministry expressed Damascus’s “solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran” and emphasized its “condemnation of the Zionist aggression against the Iranian diplomatic premises”.

Tehran has also said its overnight attack on Israel was carried out in “self-defence”.

Amir-Abdollahian inaugurated a new consulate in Damascus this week and accused the United States of approving the deadly strike.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes in Syria since civil war broke out 13 years ago, targeting Iran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah as well as Syrian army positions and weapons depots.

It rarely comments on individual strikes, and has not done so on the consulate attack, but raids have increased since the Gaza war began in October.

The Syrian foreign ministry statement also condemned “all Zionist attacks” on Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Israel’s attack was a gamechanger

The Guardian published a long article on the escalation of conflict between Israel and Iran, highlighting Israel’s attack on an Iranian consulate in Syria as a critical turning point. 

The attack, which resulted in the deaths of two senior Iranian generals, represented a significant departure from previous covert or proxy confrontations, marking a more direct and open conflict. 

This escalation, the article said,  was provoked by Israel’s strike on what was considered Iranian territory, breaking long-standing unofficial “rules” of engagement. The incident has exposed both nations to the potential for a wider conflict, stretching their military resources and possibly involving other regional players. 

It added that the attack on the consulate has been seen as a test of credibility for Iran, pressuring them to uphold their stance within their regional alliance, the “axis of resistance.” The situation remains tense, with potential repercussions for broader Middle East stability and international diplomatic relations.

Cyprus suspends processing of Syria refugees’ asylum applications

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides announced on Saturday that the Mediterranean country had suspended processing asylum applications from Syrian nationals.

In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), Christodoulides announced that the decision was made “in light of recent mass arrival of Syrian political asylum seekers by sea” to Cyprus. According to UNHCR Cyprus, the number of asylum applications by Syrians has risen to more than 6,000 in 2023, accounting for more than 50% of the total number.

The announcement comes amidst the government’s campaign for the EU to reconsider the status of Syria. On April 5th, Annita Demetriou, President of the House of Representatives, wrote a letter to request greater support from the EU to effectively manage the migration flows to Cyprus. At a meeting amongst European leaders on Friday, Christodoulides called for an immediate review on the status of Syria and the designation of specific safe areas.

The campaign began in 2023 when asylum applications reached a 7-year high. According to the EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA), Cyprus was under the highest pressure from migration flows relative to its population size. At the International Forum for Refugees in 2023, Konstantinos Ioannou, Minister of the Interior, mentioned that the percentage of new asylum seekers and protected persons in Cyprus had reached 5% of the population, far exceeding the EU average of 1.5%. Ioannu said this has exerted substantial pressure on the island nation’s infrastructure and hospital system.

Currently, EUAA designates most of Syria as controlled by armed groups. Although the agency stresses the need to consider protection needs individually, 13 groups of individuals are identified to be at risk under the general guidance framework. Last year, 94% of Syrian asylum seekers were granted subsidiary protection or refugee st

Explosive device blows up car in Damascus, no casualties reported: Syria state media

An explosive device went off in a car in an upscale neighbourhood of Damascus on Saturday, Syrian state media said, quoting a police source and adding that there were no victims, New Arab reported.

Security incidents, including blasts targeting military or civilian vehicles, occur intermittently in the capital. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast or who was the target.

But it came with tensions high in the city after Iran vowed retaliation for an air strike it blamed on Israel.

The April 1 strike destroyed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals.

Syria’s official SANA news agency, quoting a Damascus police command source, said an explosion “in the Mazzeh area resulted from an explosive device detonating in a car in al-Huda square”.

It added that there were no casualties.

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