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U.S. concerned over Hezbollah Scud allegations

Israel says Syria supplied the Lebanon-based militant group with powerful missiles. Syrian officials in Washington say the allegations are false.

April 15, 2010|By Edmund Sanders

Reporting from Jerusalem — The Obama administration voiced concerns Wednesday about Israeli allegations that Syria recently delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, a move U.S. officials warned could destabilize the region.

"We are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that are -- that is allegedly being transferred," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a news briefing. "We have expressed our concerns to those governments and believe that steps should be taken to reduce -- to reduce any risk and any danger of anything from happening."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the issue was raised with Damascus during a regular meeting with the Syrian ambassador in Washington.

"It obviously is something of great concern to us," he said. "If such an action has been taken . . . clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk."

U.S. officials said they have not confirmed the report.

Officials in Israel, which battled Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon war, said arming the militia with Scuds is a "game-changer" and violation of U.N. Resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of hypocrisy.

"Syria claims it wants peace while at the same time it delivers Scuds to Hezbollah whose only goal is to threaten the state of Israel," Peres said Tuesday on Israel Radio.

Syrian Embassy officials in Washington denied the allegations and accused Israel of trying to spoil recent efforts by the Obama administration to improve ties with Syria and dispatch a new ambassador to Damascus.

"If we are to discuss armament in our region, we should begin with Israel's massive nuclear weapons arsenal and continuous arming with top-caliber U.S. weapons," Syrian Embassy spokesman Ahmed Salkini told the Associated Press. "The timing also indicates a sinister attempt to undermine any U.S.-Syrian rapprochement."

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been rising, though experts have said neither side appears ready for renewed fighting. The 2006 war led to the deaths of about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.

Since then, Hezbollah has quietly rearmed itself. Israeli officials estimate the group has more than 40,000 rockets -- 10 times the number it fired in 2006 and capable of reaching all corners of Israel.

The addition of Scud missiles, however, would add a deadly new tool to the group's arsenal, experts warn. Scuds are not only more destructive, but some are also capable of carrying warheads with up to 1 ton of explosives or chemical weapons.

edmund.sanders @latimes.com

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