Washington warns Syria not to transfer weapons to Hezbollah
WASHINGTON / UNITED NATIONS - Agence France-Presse
"We have been very clear beyond that that we're closely monitoring Syria's chemical weapons as well," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security advisor. AP photoWhile not confirming the targets of the Israeli air raid, the White House warned on Thursday that Syria's government should not transfer arms to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia.
"We've been very clear that Syria should not further destabilize the region by transferring, for instance, weaponry to Hezbollah," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security advisor.
"We also, of course, have been very clear beyond that that we're closely monitoring Syria's chemical weapons as well," he said.
Rhodes, asked about Iranian and Syrian threats to retaliate against Israel, said that such rhetoric from Tehran showed how concerned leaders there were about the prospect of President Bashar al-Assad's regime falling.
"What we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgment that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government," said Rhodes.
Washington has denounced Russia's opposition to UN Security Council efforts to reach a global consensus on the need for Assad to leave.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that Vice-President Joe Biden will discuss the conflict in Syria in meetings on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Syrian opposition chief Moaz al-Khatib, the White House said.
Biden will hold the meetings, and also see UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi at the Munich Security Conference on a trip that will also include talks with leaders of Germany, France and Britain.
UN chief has 'grave concern' over reported Israeli raid
UN leader Ban Ki-moon is gravely concerned about reports of the Israeli air strike on Syria but cannot independently verify what happened, a spokesman said Thursday.
On top of a protest to the United Nations, Syria has also complained to the UN Security Council about the raid, diplomats said.
"The secretary general calls on all concerned to prevent tensions or their escalation in the region," said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
Syria, threatening retaliation, says the raid targeted a military research center while other reports have claimed it hit an arms convoy. Israel has not commented.
"The secretary general notes with grave concern reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria," the spokesman while stressing that the United Nations has no details of the incident nor could it "independently verify what has occurred." Syria made its formal complaint to the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which monitors a ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.
"UNDOF did not observe any planes flying over the area of separation and therefore was not able to confirm the incident. UNDOF also reported bad weather conditions," del Buey said.
The UN mission in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, had also been unable to confirm any Israeli air strike, del Buey said earlier. But the Lebanon force "can certainly confirm that there were a high number of Israeli overflights that UNIFIL recorded on Tuesday." Ban called on all sides to "strictly abide by international law, in particular in respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region." Syria said it has protested to the United Nations over the incident. The UN secretariat, however, has not confirmed the protest.
The UN Security Council is "monitoring" the heightened tensions, however, Masood Khan, Pakistan's UN ambassador and president of the council for January, told reporters.
"Things are developing very rapidly, this incident has taken place. We have received a communication from the permanent representative of Syria," Khan said.
He gave no details of the Syrian letter, but said there was no request for a special meeting of the 15-country council. "They would give due consideration to this development," Khan added.