Syria threatens retaliation for Israeli airstrike

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Syria threatened today to retaliate for an Israeli airstrike and its ally Iran said the Jewish state will regret the attack.

Syria sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General stressing the country’s “right to defend itself, its territory and sovereignty” and holding Israel and its supporters accountable.

“Israel and those who protect it at the Security Council are fully responsible for the repercussions of this aggression,” the letter from Syria’s foreign ministry said.

US officials said Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria yesterday. The target was a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran.

In Israel, a lawmaker close to hard-line 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 attack has inflamed regional tensions already running high over Syria’s 22-month-old civil war.

Israeli leaders in the days leading up to the airstrike had been publicly expressing concern that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be losing his grip on the country and its arsenal of conventional and nonconventional weapons.

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

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

The Syrian military denied there was any weapons convoy and said low-flying Israeli jets had crossed into their country over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to bomb a scientific research center near Damascus.

It said the target was in the area of Jamraya, northwest of Damascus and about 15 km from the Lebanese border.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, who in December became one of the most senior Syrian army officers to defect, told The Associated Press by telephone from Turkey that the site they said was targeted is a “major and well-known” centre to develop weapons known as the Scientific Research Centre.

Al-Shallal, who until his defection was commander of the military police, said no chemical or nonconventional weapons are at the site. He added that foreign experts, including Russians and Iranians, are usually present at such centres.

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