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Israel Targets Syrian Military Complex Outside Damascus

May 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Israel today played down a weekend of airstrikes that hit Syria. The Syrians, in turn, threatened to strike back, but there were no signs of new hostilities in the offing.

On Syrian state television today, images of the smoldering remains of a military complex near Damascus. It was hit early Sunday by airstrikes attributed to the Israeli military, the second in three days. Israel didn’t officially claim responsibility, but senior officials there said the targets were advanced Iranian missiles being shipped to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Israeli leaders warned again Sunday that Hezbollah must not obtain — quote — “game-changing weapons.”

UZI LANDAU, Israeli Minister of Tourism: It’s vital for the security and the stability of the Middle East that no weapons of mass destruction will spill over to the hands of terror organizations.

JEFFREY BROWN: A similar Israeli strike last January apparently targeted anti-aircraft missiles that were being shipped to Hezbollah.

On Saturday, President Obama told Telemundo that Israel has the right to protect itself.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they have taken. What I have said in the past — and I continue to believe this — is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Israelis have insisted they are not taking sides in the Syrian civil war, but the regime of President Assad quickly condemned the latest attacks.

OMRAN AL-ZOUBI, Syrian Information Minister: The Israeli invaders committed a blatant act of aggression against Syria. The Syrian military has the right and responsibility to protect its country and people from any form of infringement either at home or abroad.

JEFFREY BROWN: Iran joined in, warning that Israel is — quote — “playing with fire.” And a Syrian opposition group also criticized the Israelis.

RAJAA AL-NASSER, Syrian National Coordination Body: This aggression is an aggression against all Syrian people with all its forces. We call on the international community to prevent the Israeli enemy from using the internal situation in Syria to accomplish its goals.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were no new airstrikes today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to China for an official visit, even as Beijing called for restraint.

HUA CHUNYING, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson: We think the current situation in the region is complicated and sensitive. China has attached great importance to it. We oppose the use of military force and believe any country’s sovereignty should be respected.

JEFFREY BROWN: The weekend strikes came as the U.S. and the international community wrestled with what to do about possible chemical weapons used by the Assad regime.

Carla Del Ponte a leading member of the U.N. commission investigating the issue, said Sunday there is evidence that Syrian rebels have used sarin gas. But the full commission said today it has reached no conclusions on the issue.

And, at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney cast doubt on Del Ponte’s claim.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We find it incredible, not credible, that the opposition has used chemical weapons. Obviously, that’s a matter that’s under investigation, but, you know, we think that any use of chemical weapons in Syria is almost certain to have been done by the Assad regime. But any use would be a red line crossed.

JEFFREY BROWN: All of this as The New York Times reported the U.S., Britain and France have been secretly discussing the use of airstrikes in Syria.

To some, including Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the weekend’s developments suggested Syrian defenses wouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: The fact is, we are capable of taking out their air on the ground with cruise missiles, cratering their runways. And to allege somehow that the United States of America can’t do that means we have wasted a hell of a lot of taxpayers’ dollars.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, it was unclear what happens next. The Israelis deployed Iron Dome rocket batteries to the north of the country in case the Syrians try to retaliate. But a top Israeli commander played down the possibility, saying there are no winds of war.