Daniella Cheslow Multimedia Journalist

Daniella Cheslow
Israel unleashes more strikes on Syria

Print published by The Times of London.
Israel staged a series of airstrikes against military targets in Syria early yesterday, raising concerns that the bloody uprising against the Assad regime could widen into a regional conflict.

Nicholas Blanford, Beirut, Daniella Cheslow, Tel Aviv and Hugh Tomlinson, Dubai.

Israel staged a series of airstrikes against military targets in Syria early yesterday, the second such attack in as many days, raising concerns that the bloody two-year uprising against the Assad regime could widen into a regional conflict.

The air raids reportedly targeted a consignment of Iranian guided missiles that was intended for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah militia, as well as other Syrian army facilities a few miles west and northwest of Damascus.

Syria denounced the Israeli “aggression” and a top military official in Iran — a close ally of Damascus — warned that “resistance forces” would respond.

The White House refused to comment on whether it knew about the strikes, but added that President Obama was concerned about Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including missiles.

Josh Earnest, the White House deputy press secretary, added that the US was “in very close contact” with the Israeli Government on a range of issues.

The Israeli Army reportedly banned commercial flights in northern Israel and deployed two additional anti-rocket Iron Dome batteries to Haifa and Safed in anticipation of a possible escalation of hostilities with Lebanon and Syria.

Israeli aircraft continued to patrol Lebanese airspace throughout yesterday, the rumble of jets being audible in Beirut.

Israeli aircraft struck several targets, including a research centre at Jermaya, four miles northwest of Damascus, the facility that was hit in an air raid in January. Syrian opposition activists said that two other sites housing the Syrian Army’s Presidential Guard and a special forces regiment were also bombed.

Witnesses reported seeing flashes and hearing explosions in the night sky. One video posted online shows fires burning on the skyline and a series of small explosions. Then comes an explosion that sends a fireball and a huge mushroom cloud into the air.

Another video claims to show a fire at a weapons depot at Sabboura, eight miles west of Damascus. At least six missiles are seen launching from the flames, presumably “cooking off” in the fire. The hills on the west flank of Damascus contain numerous military bases, including ammunition storage depots and the headquarters of the 4th Armoured Division, a unit at the vanguard of efforts to crush the rebellion.

It was unclear whether Israeli aircraft penetrated Syrian airspace to carry out the strike. Attacks on Friday and in January on Syrian targets near Damascus were conducted from Lebanese airspace to lower the risk posed to Israeli jets. Lebanon’s border lies less than 12 miles from the locations of the military facilities that came under attack. Israel’s air force possesses a number of stand-off guided missiles with ranges close to 50 miles that could be launched from inside Lebanese airspace and glided on to their target.

Najib Mikati, the caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister, condemned the attack on Syria and Israel’s “continuous aerial violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and its threats against Lebanon”.

There was no immediate confirmation of the airstrike from Israel, although Israeli officials have repeatedly said that they will act to prevent “game-changing” weapons being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah.

“The State of Israel is protecting its interests and will continue doing so. I am not confirming or denying the reports,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister, on Israel Radio. “We have said in the past that we will do everything, anywhere, in order to protect those interests.”

A Syrian government statement warned that the Israeli attacks “open the door to all possibilities”. “It is Damascus’s duty to protect the State from any domestic or foreign attack through all available means,” Omran al-Zohbi, Syria’s Information Minister, said following a Cabinet meeting.

Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, was quoted as warning that the “resistance forces will respond to the Israeli aggression”. “Iran will not allow Israel to destabilise the region,” he said.

Egypt and the Arab League also condemned the airstrike, with the latter saying it was a “dangerous violation of Arab sovereignty”. Syria was expelled from the Arab League in 2011 and its seat has been offered to the opposition Syrian National Council.

Despite the formal condemnation of Israel’s action, few Arab countries have any sympathy for Mr Assad. “What has happened during the Syrian crisis has changed the face of the Middle East,” said a Saudi official, who did not want to be named.

“Bashar [Assad] lost the hearts and minds of Arab people long ago.”

Photo by AFP/Getty Images.