Wednesday 21 February 2018

Syria warns after Israel air raid

There are fears president Bashar Assad's regime is providing weapons to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah
There are fears president Bashar Assad's regime is providing weapons to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah
Israeli jets have targeted a convoy reportedly carrying weapons for Hezbollah (AP)

Syria has threatened to retaliate for an Israeli air strike and its ally Iran said there will be repercussions over the attack.

US officials said Israel launched a rare air strike inside Syria yesterday targeting a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran. Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said Damascus "has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation".

In Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the raid on Syria will have significant implications for Israel. Hezbollah condemned the attack as "barbaric aggression" and Syrian ally Russia said it appeared to be an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.

In Israel, an MP close to hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of confirming involvement in the strike. But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future.

The Syrian ambassador said he could not predict when Damascus would retaliate. He told Hezbollah's al-Ahd news website that it was up to the authorities to prepare the retaliation and choose the time and place. Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi condemned the air strike on state television, calling it a clear violation of Syria's sovereignty. Iran has provided President Bashar Assad's government with military and political backing for years.

Russia, Syria's strongest international ally, said Moscow is taking "urgent measures to clarify the situation in all its details." "If this information is confirmed, we have a case of unprovoked attacks on targets in the territory of a sovereign state, which grossly violates the UN Charter and is unacceptable," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Whatever the motives, this is not justified."

The Syrian military denied the existence of any weapons shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit by the Israeli warplanes. It said the target was in the area of Jamraya, north-west of Damascus and about 10 miles from the Lebanese border.

Regional security officials said the targeted shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which if acquired by Hezbollah would enable the militants to shoot down Israeli jets, helicopters and surveillance drones.

Israeli MP Tzachi Hanegbi, who is close to the prime minister, said pinpoint strikes are not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria. "Israel's preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems," Mr Hanegbi said. "But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to," he added.

Israel this week moved a battery of its new Iron Dome rocket defence system to the northern city of Haifa, which was battered by Hezbollah rocket fire in the 2006 war. The Israeli army called that move "routine."

Press Association

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