May 5, 2013

Israeli warplanes strike Syria in escalation

The airstrikes pose a dilemma for an Assad regime already battling a relentless rebellion at home.

The Associated Press

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Syria's state news agency reported explosions at the Jamraya military and scientific research center near Damascus and said initial reports indicate they were the "result of Israeli missiles." It said there were casualties but did not give a number.

Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami said the strikes occurred around 3 a.m. "Damascus shook. The explosion was very, very strong," said al-Shami adding that one of the attacks occurred near the capital's Qasioun mountain that overlooks Damascus.

He said the raid targeted a military position for the elite Republican Guards that is in charge of protecting Damascus, Assad's seat of power.

Mohammed Saeed, another activist who lives in the Damascus suburb of Douma, said "the explosions were so strong that earth shook under us." He said the smell of the fire caused by the air raid near Qasioun was noticeable miles away.

Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at Israel during the 2006 war, while Israeli warplanes destroyed large areas of southern and eastern Lebanon.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu also was holding an emergency meeting of his inner Security Cabinet. The prime minister's office declined comment.

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel's military intelligence, said the strikes on Syria are a signal to Damascus' ally, Tehran, that Israel is serious about the red lines it has set.

"Syria is a very important part in the front that Iran has built. Iran is testing Israel and the U.S. determination in the facing of red lines and what it sees is in clarifies to it that at least some of the players, when they define red lines and they are crossed, take it seriously," he told Army Radio.

In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned the airstrikes and urged countries in the region to remain united against Israel, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Iranian defense minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as claiming the attacks show a growing alliance of convenience between the Syrian opposition and Israel.

"These vain moves are not a sign of Israel's power," he said. "It rather shows the (Israeli) regime's despair in the face of regional developments."

Iran has provided both financial and military support to Hezbollah for decades, and has used Syria as a conduit for both. If Assad were to fall, that pipeline could be cut, dealing a serious blow to Hezbollah's ability to confront Israel.

The Fateh-110, or "Conqueror" in Farsi, is a short-range ballistic missile developed by Iran and first put into service in 2002. The Islamic Republic unveiled an upgraded version in 2012 that improved the weapon's accuracy and increased its range to 185 miles.

Vahidi said at the time that the solid-fueled missile could strike with pinpoint precision, making it the most accurate weapon of its kind in Iran's arsenal.

An Israeli airstrike in January also targeted weapons apparently bound for Hezbollah, Israeli and U.S. officials have said. The White House had no immediate comment on Sunday's reported missile strikes.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, also reported large explosions in the area of Jamraya, a military and scientific research facility northwest of Damascus, about 10 miles from the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the research center in Jamraya was not hit, but instead an army supply facility that produced food products for the military. It quoted unnamed Syrian security officials as saying that three sites including military barracks, arms depots and air defense center were targeted by the strike.

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