War of words follows Israel’s Syria air attack
DAMASCUS / TEHRAN
REUTERS photoSyria and Iran have raised the stakes over a reported Israeli air raid near Damascus, threatening to retaliate as Israel remains mum and President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Hezbollah condemned the rare strike.
Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said yesterday Damascus had “the option and the surprise to retaliate,” adding that he could not predict when the retaliation would be, saying it was instead up to the relevant authorities to prepare for any response.
An Israeli air strike hit a military research center in Jamraya, near Damascus, at dawn on Jan. 30, the Syrian army said, denying reports that the raid targeted a weapons convoy near the Lebanese border.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry has lodged an official complaint with the United Nations over the matter, invoking a 1974 disengagement agreement between the neighbors because the countries are still officially at war, state news agency SANA said.
In Iran, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying the raid on Syria would have significant implications for the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Earlier in the day, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi condemned what he called Israel’s “brutal aggression” against Syria.
The warplanes entered Syrian airspace via Mount Hermon at low altitude and under the radar, the army said in a statement carried by state media.
U.S. officials said Israel launched the airstrike inside Syria, targeting a convoy believed to contain anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah. The Syrian military denied the existence of any such shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit.
Israel, however, said it would not comment on the claims. “We, as you noticed, did not make any statement at all. We are not commenting as a national policy,” Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday via telephone. Commentators said the strike was very similar to the 2007 bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility, widely understood to be an Israeli strike but never acknowledged by the country itself, which remained silent over the raid.
Turkey has no official information on the alleged Israeli attack, a Turkish official said while underlining that the incident showed how the situation in Syria was negatively influencing the region.
“This indicates once more that the situation in Syria has now become complicated and bad, threatening regional and international peace,” Selçuk Ünal, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said yesterday at a press conference. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) condemned the reported strike, saying it could further deepen regional conflict.
Syria’s opposition chief also condemned President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its failure to take action. “Shame on you, O regime of Bashar al-Assad, that the Israeli warplanes have come and your jets are only focused on destroying mosques and universities, and to kill civilians,” Syrian National Coalition chief Moaz al-Khatib said.
Russia warned that any air strike against its ally Syria would be “unacceptable.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was deeply concerned. “If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked strikes against targets located on the territory of a sovereign state, which brazenly infringes on the U.N. Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motive used for its justification,” Moscow said in a statement.
Hezbollah, closely allied with Syria and Iran, condemned the strike and said it “expresses full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people.” Hezbollah did not mention any convoy in the statement but said the strike aimed to prevent Arab and Muslim forces from developing their military capabilities.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, who became in December one of the most senior Syrian army officers to defect, told The Associated Press by telephone from Turkey that the targeted site is a “major and well-known” center to develop weapons known as the Scientific Research Center.