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Syria blames Israel for new explosions in Damascus

May 04, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • An Israeli jet is seen in February.
An Israeli jet is seen in February. (JIM HOLLANDER, EPA )

BEIRUT -- Huge explosions were reported early Sunday in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and state-run media blamed Israel for a strike on a defense research facility outside the capital.

State television said Israeli rockets had targeted a research complex in the nearby district of Jamraya. The same complex was reportedly targeted by Israeli warplanes Jan. 30, the first known Israeli aerial  attack in Syria during that nation's civil conflict.

Unverified video released early Sunday showed fireballs soaring into the night sky, accompanied by booming explosions, all said to taking place near the Syrian capital.

The blasts  occurred two days after an apparent Israeli airstrike Friday on a consignment of surface-to-air missiles near the capital. Those missiles were  reportedly  destined for Lebanon and possibly the militant group Hezbollah, a foe of Israel.

There was no immediate comment on the latest strike from Israel or from Washington.

Accounts on opposition social media pages indicated that the attacks targeted not only the Jamraya complex but also several Damascus-area bases of Syria's elite Republic Guard and heavily fortified Mt. Qasion, which overlooks the city and is the site of entrenched artillery emplacements regularly employed against rebels.

Syrian television described the attacks as a response to recent battlefield defeats that the Syrian military has inflicted on rebels. The government has in recent weeks pushed armed opponents back from the capital, the central city of Homs and elsewhere in the country.

"The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups that have been reeling from strikes by our noble army," Syrian television said, according to Reuters news service.

The Syrian government has frequently sought to depict the rebellion against the government of President Bashar Assad as a U.S.- and Israel-led plot.

The type of research done at the Jamraya site outside the capital is unclear, along with whether the facility has anything to do with Syria’s chemical weapons program.

If Israel has stepped up aerial strikes on Syria, the strategy raises the question of whether Syria or its close ally, Hezbollah, will retaliate against Israel.

Israeli officials say they are not taking sides in Syria’s civil conflict, now in its third year. But Tel Aviv says it is determined to protect its border with Syria and avoid the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

 Special correspondent Lava Selo in Beirut contributed to this report.

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