Syria says Israeli strikes 'co-ordinated with terrorists'

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said Israeli air strikes have "opened the door to all possibilities"

Israeli strikes on Syrian army targets show co-ordination with "terrorists" including al-Qaeda linked militants, the Syrian foreign ministry has said.

The strikes had led to a number of casualties and widespread damage, it reported in a letter sent to the UN.

State media said a research centre and other sites had been hit overnight. Israeli sources said weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon were the target.

The strike, the second in two days, drew condemnation from the Arab League.

Syria's government refers to rebels fighting against it as "terrorists".

On Friday, Israeli aircraft hit a shipment of missiles near the Lebanon border, according to unnamed US and Israeli officials.

The BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the latest developments are a significant escalation in Israel's involvement in the conflict.

Analysis

Israel has consistently said that it does not want to get involved in neighbouring Syria's bloody civil war, but that it will act to stop anti-aircraft rockets and chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremist groups that threaten its national security.

Government and military sources have not officially claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, but Israeli experts suggest there must have been solid intelligence that Hezbollah was receiving a shipment of high-precision Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles from Iran via Syria. These would have been a powerful tool for Israel's sworn enemy with which it fought a month-long war back in 2006.

The threats from Damascus and strong anti-Israeli rhetoric now coming from other Arab capitals are reminders that military intervention carries high risks.

The IDF has now positioned two batteries of its Iron Dome anti-missile defence system in northern Israel in preparation for a possible retaliatory attack. Civilian flights in the area have been cancelled and Israeli embassies around the world have been placed on high alert.

The Syrian foreign ministry statement said three military sites had been hit - a research centre at Jamraya, a paragliding airport in the al-Dimas area of Damascus and a site in Maysaloun.

"The flagrant Israeli attack on armed forces sites in Syria underlines the co-ordination between 'Israel', terrorist groups and... the al-Nusra Front," the statement said, referring to al-Qaeda militants fighting with the rebels.

"The Israeli attack led to the fall of a number of martyrs and wounded from the ranks of Syrian citizens, and led to widespread destruction in these sites and in the civilian districts near to them."

The statement added: "This leaves no room for doubt Israel is the beneficiary, the mover and sometime the executor of the terrorist acts which Syria is witnessing and which target it as a state and people directly or through its tools inside."

The Syrian cabinet held an emergency meeting on the attacks, after which Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi read a statement at a news conference.

He said the attack made the Middle East "more dangerous" and "opens the door wide to all possibilities".

Syria had the right and the duty "to defend its people by all available means," he added.

'Biggest explosion'
Syria map

In the latest attack, Damascus was shaken by repeated explosions coming from the north-western suburbs.

Amateur video footage and eyewitness testimony suggested rocket attacks had hit weapons dumps, triggering dramatic orange-flamed blasts.

The area houses numerous military facilities, including the Jamraya research centre, designated by Syria as a scientific research centre "in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence".

Damascus-based journalist Alaa Ebrahim told the BBC it was "the biggest explosion" the city had seen since the conflict began two years ago.

He said residents living near Jamraya reported feeling a "mild earthquake" just before the blast, indicating that the rockets may have hit an underground facility.

Our correspondent says the Israeli attack is a high-risk strategy, and it has drawn strong reaction from the rest of the Arab world.

Strikes on Syria

  • 30 January - Syria says Jamraya research centre attacked, Israel says target was weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon
  • 3 May - Strike on shipment of missiles near Lebanon border, US and Israeli officials say
  • 5 May - Attack on military sites at Jamraya and Maysaloun, and a paragliding airport in al-Dimas, says Syria. Israel says weapons bound for Hezbollah are the target

The Egyptian presidency said they "violated international law and principles that will further complicate the situation".

"Despite its strong opposition to bloodshed in Syria and the Syrian army's use of weapons against its people... Egypt rejects at the same time the assault on Syria's capabilities, violation of its sovereignty, and exploitation of its internal crisis under any pretext," the presidency's statement said.

And the Arab League, which has given its Syria seat to the rebels, called on the UN Security Council to "act immediately" to end the attacks.

The Jamraya facility was also apparently hit in an Israeli air strike in January.

Israeli officials confirmed the January strike, but insisted trucks carrying missiles to Hezbollah were the target.

After the latest attack, unnamed Western intelligence sources said the target was a weapons cache heading for Lebanon.

Israel has repeatedly said it would act if it felt advanced weapons were being transferred to militant groups in the region, especially Hezbollah.

Correction (7 May 2013): The headline of this report has been amended to make clear that the claim that Israeli air strikes had been co-ordinated with the rebels was made by Syrian officials.

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