May 5, 2013

Israeli strike hits missiles shipped to Damascus airport

The advanced long-range missiles were bound for the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

By WILLIAM BOOTH AND LIZ SLY The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

Israel and Hezbollah fought a fierce but inconclusive war in the summer of 2006, and many in Lebanon and Israel have long predicted that a replay of Israel's effort to vanquish the Shiite militia is inevitable.

Since then, Hezbollah has significantly shored up its arsenal of rockets capable of hitting Israel, and the fact that it now appears to be trying to further boost its arsenal suggests that it is preparing for such an eventuality.

Israel is also concerned that Assad could use Hezbollah to lash out against Israel if he feels his regime is in danger of collapse, thereby fulfilling his predictions of regional chaos if he is toppled. Such a move also could deter international support for the rebels.

The strike coincided with an upsurge of violence in the coastal region of Latakia, Assad's stronghold, where at least 50 people, and perhaps as many as 100, were reportedly killed Thursday in the mostly Sunni village of Baida, allegedly by Assad loyalists from his minority Alawite sect.

On Saturday, hundreds of Sunnis fled the area around the nearby town of Baniyas after reports of another incident overnight Friday, in which at least eight deaths have been confirmed, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A video posted online showed the bloodied bodies of a man, several children and a baby with blackened legs.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying it was "appalled by the horrific reports" from the Baniyas area. Government forces and Alawite irregulars known as shabiha attacked the area with mortar fire, "then stormed the town and executed entire families," the statement said.

"We will not lose sight of the men, women and children whose lives are being so brutally cut short," the statement added.

Also Saturday, Assad made his second public appearance in three days, visiting a Damascus university to inaugurate a statue dedicated to students who have died in the violence. Footage aired by state television showed him being mobbed by cheering, waving supporters.

Assad rarely appears in public, and his visibility this past week suggests his confidence has been buoyed by recent gains by his forces in some parts of the country and by indications that the international community remains reluctant to involve itself in the Syrian conflict, despite the reports that his regime has used chemical weapons.

 

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