Middle East

Syria conflict: Israel 'carries out Latakia air strike'

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Media captionIsrael can strike at will and there is very little Syria can do, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville

Israeli aircraft have carried out a strike near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a US official says.

The official said the strike targeted Russian-made missiles intended for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Latakia is a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, where his Alawite community is concentrated.

This is believed to be sixth Israeli attack in Syria this year. Israel does not comment on specific operations.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said it would act if it felt Syrian weapons, conventional or chemical, were being transferred to militant groups in the region, especially Hezbollah.

Reports of the strike came as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said all Syria's declared equipment for making chemical weapons had been destroyed, one day before a deadline.

Action by the OPCW was agreed following allegations, denied by the Syrian government, that its forces had used chemical weapons in civilian areas - and after the US and France threatened military intervention.

Delicate moment

A US official said the Israeli strike took place overnight from Wednesday into Thursday.

Reports circulated on Thursday of explosions near Latakia, but the cause was not clear.

"Several explosions were heard in an air defence base in the Snubar Jableh area," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist network.

Neither Israel nor Syria have commented on the reports. Earlier this year, Mr Assad had promised to respond to any future strikes by Israel.

One unnamed US official told the Associated Press that the missiles targeted by Israel were Russian-made SA-125s.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the reports come at a delicate moment, with the Russians - who apparently made the weapons that Israel is said to have targeted - working closely with the US to get a peace conference on Syria off the ground.

Russia has been a key backer of President Assad's, continuing to supply his government with weapons during the conflict in Syria.

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Media captionLakhdar Brahimi: "We are making progress. Whether that progress will be enough... is not certain"

The UN Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has told the BBC he believes progress was "certainly being made" on preparations for an international peace conference in Switzerland - widely referred to as Geneva 2.

But he said it was not certain if it was enough for the conference to take place, as planned, on 23 November. He said he hoped to announce a date soon.

Speaking in Damascus, at the end of his first visit to the capital since December, he said "people are realising more and more there is no military solution and don't see any way of getting out of this horrible situation except through Geneva".

'Constructive partner'

On Thursday, the OPCW said in a statement that its teams had inspected 21 of the 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria.

It said two sites were too dangerous to visit, but equipment from those sites had already been moved to places where it could be inspected.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that his government was co-operating, and was making a contribution to freeing the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

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Media captionLyse Doucet reports from Damascus

"I hope those who have always thought of us negatively will change their minds and understand that Syria was, is, and will be always a constructive partner," Mr Mekdad said.

Syria's next deadline is mid-November, by which time the OPCW and the Syrians must agree a detailed plan to destroy the country's chemical weapons stockpile.

Syria has until mid-2014 to destroy the chemical weapons themselves.

Syria's arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals, stored at dozens of sites.

The uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011. More than 100,000 people have been killed and more than two million people have fled the country, according to the UN.