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Amid reports of airstrike, Israel says it's keeping an eye on Syria

May 04, 2013|By Edmund Sanders

JERUSALEM -- Amid reports that Israeli warplanes struck a weapons cache in Syria this week, a senior Israel defense ministry official said Saturday his nation was closely monitoring unrest in its neighbor but remained confident that Syria’s chemical weapons have not fallen into the hands of militants in Lebanon.

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, director of the ministry's policy and political affairs, also questioned media reports quoting an anonymous Israeli official as confirming the country’s involvement in the military strike, which is believed to have taken place early Friday.

Officially, government and military officials in Israel declined to comment Saturday on reports that Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon had struck a target in nearby Syria. The news agency Reuters, however, quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying the attack was aimed at destroying a shipment of conventional ground-to-ground missiles bound for Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Israel would take military action to prevent Syria’s chemical weapons and other dangerous munitions from falling into the hands of militants such as the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.

In January, Israel bombed a target outside Damascus that Western sources identified was a truck convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah but which Syria said was a military research facility.

During a speech Saturday, Gilad said Israel has not detected any loss of Syrian government control over the nation's chemical stockpiles and that he doubted whether Hezbollah was actively seeking such weapons.

“Everything there is under [Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government] control,’’ he said. "Hezbollah does not have chemical weapons. We have ways of knowing."

"The organization is keen to get its hands on the rockets but not on the chemical weapons for fear that those who don't know how to operate them could be killed too," he said.

Hezbollah appears to be interested chiefly in boosting its stockpiles of conventional missiles and rockets that are capable of hitting all parts of Israel, Gilad added.


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