Israel launches second Syria strike in two days, sources say
Only a few days after an alleged Israeli strike, Syrian media reports IAF struck a military research center; Western intel sources say target was a Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missile shipment; Israel declines to comment; Syria state TV: Israeli strike a desperate attempt to raise rebels' morale.
Large explosions rocked Damascus early Sunday morning, Syrian media reported. The Syrian news outlet blamed Israel for the rocket strike, which targeted a military research center in Jamraya near Damascus.
The reports followed confirmations by anonymous Israeli officials on Saturday morning that the Israel Air Force had carried out a strike against Syria early Friday that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles bound for Hezbollah. U.S. officials said the strike targeted Iranian Fateh-110 missiles headed for Hezbollah, according to a New York Times report.
On Sunday, Western intelligence sources said that both strikes over the weekend targeted Fateh-100 missile shipments sent from Iran for Hezbollah in Lebanon. U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday said Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
9:30 P.M. Israel's air strikes on Syria could add pressure on the Obama administration to intervene in Syria, Republican Senator John McCain said. "We need to have a game-changing action, and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting, obviously, for the things we believe," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Every day that goes by, Hezbollah increases their influence and the radical jihadists flow into Syria and the situation becomes more and more tenuous," he said. (Reuters)
8:53 P.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday voiced alarm at reports that Israel struck targets inside Syria, but said the United Nations was unable to confirm whether any such attacks had taken place. "The Secretary-General expresses grave concern over reports of air strikes in Syria by the Israeli Air Force," Ban's press office said in a statement. "At this time, the United Nations does not have details of the reported incidents," it said. "Nor is the United Nations in a position to independently verify what has occurred." It added that Ban "calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict." (Reuters)
6:30 P.M. Three-hour cabinet meeting on the tensions along the Syrian border, convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, closes. (Barak Ravid)
6:20 P.M. The Arab League, which, like Egypt, sides with Syrian rebels, demanded the UN Security Council "act immediately to end Israeli attacks on Syria," calling the alleged strikes a "dangerous violation of an Arab state's sovereignty." (AFP)
5:27 P.M. Egypt's president condemns the alleged Israeli airstrikes against Syria, calling them a violation of International law and warning they complicate the ongoing civil war in that country. Sunday's statement Sunday from President Mohammed Morsi's office says Egypt "strongly objects" to the bloodshed and the use of Syria's military against its people. But it also rejects the violation of Syrian sovereignty and "exploiting its internal crisis under whatever pretext." It says the Israeli attacks "increase the complexity of the situation." Egypt launched an Arab bid to bring a peaceful end to the 2-year-old civil war that pits President Bashar Assad against rebels trying to oust him, but little came of it. Morsi's office says the Israeli attacks are a "real test" for the international community's commitment to respecting international law. (AP)
5:25 P.M. Airspace over northern Israel and Haifa area closed off to civilian flights (Zohar Blumenkrantz)
5:12 P.M. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, speaking for the first time since the alleged Israeli strike, said "The State of Israel is protecting its interests and will continue doing so. I am not confirming or denying the reports." In an interview with Army Radio, Danon continued, "We have said on various occasions in the past that we will do everything anywhere in order to protect those interests.'
4:53 P.M. Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi says Israeli air strikes against three targets on the outskirts of Damascus "opens the door to all possibilities." The minister's comments at a press conference came after an emergency cabinet meeting organized to respond to alleged Israeli strikes. (Reuters)
4:11 P.M. Free Syria Army spokesman Loay al-Mikdad: We condemn Israeli aggression in Syrian territory, but have no connection to it … The regime will continue making idle threats like it has done so for 42 years … The Assad regime is on its way out despite all its efforts to divert attention away. (Jack Khoury)
3:49 P.M. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter Sunday to the United Nations and the UN Security Council that "Israeli aggression" killed and wounded several people and "caused widespread destruction." It also condemned the alleged Israeli airstrikes, saying the attacks aim "to give direct military support to terrorist groups" fighting the government. Syria's government refers to rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad's regime as "terrorists." (AP)
3:38 P.M. Iran's ground forces commander, General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, was quoted on Sunday saying that the Islamic Republic would support Syria's army with assistance in training, Al Arabiya reported. “As a Muslim nation, we back Syria, and if there is need for training we will provide them with the training, but won’t have any active involvement in the operations,” the Iranian IRNA news agency quoted him saying. (Haaretz)
2:56 P.M. Lebanese media quotes Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, saying: "Resistance forces will respond to the Israeli aggression… Iran will not allow Israel to destabilize the region." (Jack Khoury)
2:52 P.M. Residents in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona express concern over the tensions. No security alert has been issued, however, and people are continuing their daily routine. "There is a feeling of tension when we hear about what is happening in the area," says Kiryat Shmona Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka. "Residents are calling the municipal hotline and asking questions like 'are the shelters open' or 'are classes being held as usual'? We are calming everyone who calls and continuing daily routines. The IDF is doing its work and we will continue with our lives."
Mayor Malka also says the city's soccer team will compete in the national cup this week as planned, adding: "We will win the national cup and show it to [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah, to show him that life goes on as usual." (Eli Ashkenazi)
2:39 P.M. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday that although there has been no official confirmation that the attack in Syria was carried out by Israel, the U.K. understands Israel's need to defend itself. "Israel has made very clear that it will act if it believes that important weapons systems are being transferred to Hezbollah," Hague told Sky News. "Israel will act to protect its national security, we do have to respect that," he added. Hague warned of the growing threat to peace in the region as a result of the crisis in Syria and said that the "longer this [civil war] goes on, the stronger the case becomes for lifting the arms embargoes" against the Syrian opposition. (Haaretz)
2:25 P.M. Foreign reports claimed Israel carried out the attacks against Syria from Lebanese airspace in order to reduce the attacking aircraft's exposure to Syrian air defense systems. In such cases, the Israel Air Force can use so-called standoff missiles that it possess. (Gili Cohen)
1:47 P.M. Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad told CNN that the attack on a Syrian military facility near Damascus is a 'declaration of war' by Israel. In an interview with CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in Damascus, al Mekdad, an official considered close to President Assad, said the attack is evidence of an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel. He added that Syria would choose when and how to retaliate. (Haaretz)
1:30 P.M. Lebanon's Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour condemns "the Israeli aggression and the silence of the international community." Mansour added: "It's time for the Arab League to take a clear stand in light of the repeated Israeli aggression against Arab countries." (Jack Khoury)
1:00 P.M. Sky News reports that Syria senior officials are holding a security assessment meeting in Damascus, discussing possible reactions to weekend strikes. (Jack Khoury)
12:44 P.M. Netanyahu convenes a special security cabinet meeting at 2:30 P.M. for a final security assessment before setting out for China. Due to the meeting, the prime minister's flight will be delayed by 2 hours and is scheduled to depart at 7 P.M. In Netanyahu absence, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon will serve as acting prime minister. (Barak Ravid)
12:15 P.M. Despite tension along the northern border Netanyahu is still scheduled to set out for China on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister's Office confirmed Sunday morning. (Barak Ravid)
12:00 P.M. Kadima leader MK Shaul Mofaz said that the Israeli line is to prevent advanced weapons from falling in the hands of Hezbollah. Mofaz said that military operations such as the alleged strikes send a message of deterrence to Iran and to other enemies of the State of Israel. The former IDF chief and defense minister said that Iran is trying to help Hezbollah strengthen its influence in the region now that the Syria regime is collapsing. (Israel Radio)
11:30 A.M. IDF deploys two Iron Dome rocket defense batteries near the cities of Haifa and Safed in northern Israel, amid tension along Israel's northern border. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement: "Iron Dome batteries are deployed from time to time in different locations across the country according to security assessments. The system is currently being deployed in the northern region." (Amos Harel, Gili Cohen)
11:20 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no comment on the alleged Israeli strikes on Syria at the opening of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, only reiterating that he is committed to the security of Israel. This was the first time the Israeli prime minister has spoken in public since the alleged Israeli strikes over the past two days. (Haaretz)
11:08 A.M. Syrian TV reports that people were wounded in the overnight strike, without providing further details. According to the report, loud explosions were heard at a scientific research center in the Jamariya area, and the explosions were the result of Israeli fire. The report said that Israel is starting to get directly involved in Syria. (Jack Khoury)
11:07 A.M. Lebanon's Al-Manar TV reported Sunday morning that the Israeli attack hit weapons and ammunition warehouses and air defense centers. The Hezbollah backed news channel said that the research institute was not damaged, but that a logistics warehouse belonging to the Syrian military was hit. Al-Manar also reported that Syrian air defense succeeded in hitting an Israeli plane over Jamariya. (Jack Khoury)
11:01 A.M. Iran condemned an Israeli attack on Syria and urged countries in the region to stand against the action, the Fars news agency reported on Sunday.
The report paraphrased Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying Iran condemned the strike and said it was part of an effort by Israel to create instability and insecurity in the region. He urged countries in the region to stand against the "assault," Fars reported. (Reuters)
10:55 A.M. IDF Home Front Command postpones nation-wide defense exercise due to reports of strike in Syria. (Gili Cohen)
10:51 A.M. Syria state TV claims the alleged strike was designed to support the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad. "The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups which have been reeling from strikes by our noble army," it said. The report added that the time of the strike was coordinated with the rebels. (Jack Khoury)
10:30 A.M. A report by AFP quotes a senior Israeli source confirming the overnight attack. The source was speaking on condition of anonymity. (Haaretz)
10:11 A.M. For more than two years, Israel has avoided the troubled waters of the changing Arab world, Haaretz analyst Amos Harel writes. The two recent attacks in Syria may herald the end of this period.
9:30 A.M. "What we see in Syria, if indeed it occurred, shows a very high level of intelligence and military capabilities," former IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin told Army Radio.
Yadlin justified the attack, saying that both Iran and Hezbollah violate UN Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War. "The strikes allow the Syrians to say that the attack isn't targeting them, but Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah, and Hezbollah can say that the attack was in Syria and not on their land. The fact that no one is taking responsibility [for the strikes] allows room for deniability. The [Syrian] regime knows that he is threatened by rebels, a confrontation with Israel would put it in a very tough spot. The rebels hate Assad much more than Israel."
Yadlin said that he doesn't expect Syria to retaliate. "A confrontation with Israel would bring more danger, not responding would let Assad maintain the upper hand in the fight against the rebels." (Haaretz)
9:10 A.M. An intelligence official in the Middle East has confirmed that Israel launched a second airstrike in just the past days Syria and confirmed that the target was a shipment of advanced guided Iranian-made missiles. (AP)
8:48 A.M. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the scale of the attack meant it was beyond the military capability of Syrian rebels, and quoted eyewitnesses in the area as saying they saw jets in the sky at the time of the blasts.
The Observatory said the blasts hit Jamraya as well as a nearby ammunition depot. Other activists said a missile brigade and two Republican Guard battalions may also have been targeted in the heavily militarised area just north of Damascus. (Reuters)
7:20 A.M Western intelligence sources confirmed on Sunday morning that both the overnight strike and Friday's attack on Syria targeted an Iranian missile shipment intended for Hezbollah. (Gili Cohen)