BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes struck several military sites in Syria overnight and killed several fighters and civilians, Syrian state media reported on Monday, in what appeared to be a stepping up of Israel's long-running, partly covert campaign to thwart Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and stop weapon transfers to Lebanon.
Sixteen people including a baby were killed and 21 were wounded by the Israeli attack on multiple Syrian and Iranian targets on the outskirts of Damascus and Homs, state-run al-Akhbariya broadcaster reported.
The attack came amid escalating tensions in the region between Iran and the United States over sanctions and the downing of an American reconnaissance drone, and just hours before the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had surpassed a key limitation on how much nuclear fuel it can possess.
The targets included the headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran in the south of the Syrian capital, Damascus; a scientific research center in the countryside around the city; and positions held by resistance group Hezbollah in the mountains near the border with Lebanon, reports said.
Syrian air defenses confronted the attack, which was launched from Lebanese airspace, the Syrian defense ministry said in a brief report on its Telegram feed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 people were killed, among them three children and ten Iranian personnel and Hezbollah members. The observatory added that the Israeli Navy also took part in the strike, targeting ten Hezbollah bases, including compounds that were used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
SANA said the dead included a baby and that other children were among the wounded in Sahnaya. It was unclear whether the civilians were killed in the strike or in the resulting blasts.
Anas Albiat and his wife Rama Arnaout along with their infant son were killed in the strike, according to the reports.
According to the observatory, among the sites hit were Revolutionary Guards' compounds south of Damascus, a strategic research center northwest of Damascus, Hezbollah facilities near the Syrian-Lebanese border, where large fires were reported after several arms depots were hit.
In addition, a research center in Homs was reportedly struck, in addition to an airbase south of Homs that serves Iranian and Hezbollah forces.
Syrian state TV station al-Akhbariya, citing its correspondent, said the pressure of explosions over Damascus had caused damage to some homes in Sahnaya, south of the capital, breaking glass and slightly injuring a number of people.
State news agency SANA reported that Syrian air defenses had brought down a number of the missiles.
In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria that it says have targeted its regional arch foe, Iran, and the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.
Iran and Hezbollah are fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in the Syrian war, and Israel says they are trying to turn Syria into a new front against Israelis.
Speaking on Monday at an annual conference on national security, Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, said that the country had "no interest in a conflict with Syria, but we cannot agree to Syria serving as an arena in which Iranian forces or forces operated by it become entrenched against us."
Without specifically addressing the overnight activity, Mr. Cohen added that Israel would not allow Syria to become a logistical base for the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah and Lebanon.
"Israel has operated in the past four years, overtly and covertly -- only a small part of that has been reported -- to prevent and destroy the entrenchment of Iranian forces in Syria and the infrastructure for manufacturing precision weapons," he said.