Israel tight-lipped over air raid on Syrian site
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Israel on Thursday remained tight-lipped over Syrian claims it had bombed a military convoy near Damascus after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” over the incident, which has yet to be verified.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” on Thursday over reports that Israeli jets bombed an apparent convoy of weapons near the Lebanese border and urged respect for the sovereignty of countries in the region.
Diplomats, Syrian rebels and regional security sources said on Wednesday that Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border, apparently hitting weapons destined for militant group Hezbollah.
“The Secretary-General notes with grave concern reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria,” Ban’s press office said in a statement. “At this time, the United Nations does not have details of the reported incident. Nor is the United Nations in a position to independently verify what has occurred.”
The Syrian army said the strike, which took place early on Wednesday, had not targeted a convoy but a “scientific research centre” near Damascus. Local residents told AFP it was a non-conventional weapons research centre.
Russia, Hezbollah react
Meanwhile, Russia warned on Thursday that any Israeli air strike against Syria would be “unacceptable”, with the Russian foreign ministry noting that it was “deeply concerned” by the Syrian claims and was taking “urgent measures” to clarify the situation.
“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 UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motive used for its justification,” said a ministry statement.
Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group also condemned Israel’s air raid, releasing a statement of “full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people” and calling the strike a “barbaric aggression”.
Israel sees ‘red line’ crossed
Israel has frequently warned that if Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would be a casus belli.
But it has also raised the alarm over long-range Scud missiles or other advanced weaponry - such as anti-aircraft systems and surface-to-surface missiles - being transferred to the Lebanese militia.
The strike made headlines across the Israeli press on Thursday, with officials and commentators quick to stress that Israel would never allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a close ally of both Syria and Iran.
“The best thing that Israel has been hoping for for a long time is that the West will take control of these weapons,” said Tzahi HaNegbi, an MP from the ruling Likud party, who is known as a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“But the world is not ready to take such a decision as it did in Libya or Iraq, so Israel finds itself facing a dilemma which we alone can resolve,” he told army radio, indicating that Israel was left with no choice but to take preventative action.
“Israel has always said that if sophisticated weapons coming from Iran, North Korea and Russia fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would cross a red line,” he said.
“Israel cannot accept that advanced weapons fall into the hands of terrorist organisations,” he stressed.
Dan Harel, a former deputy chief-of-staff in the Israeli military, said that if Hezbollah or other militant groups got their hands on such weaponry, it would change the strategic balance of force in the region.
“We are not ready to accept that Hezbollah changes the balance of force,” he told army radio. “We have said it many times in the past. If Israel did do what is claimed, it was to maintain the military balance with Hezbollah,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)