Israel launches second airstrike in Syria, targeting weapons shipment
Israeli warplanes have attacked a shipment of missiles at Damascus International Airport that was bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, officials from the United States, Israel and Lebanon told reporters Saturday, Washington Post reported.
The attack Friday coincided with mounting pressure on the Obama administration to formulate a response to the growing risk of weapons proliferation in the Syrian war, notably the possibility that chemical weapons are being used in the conflict and could fall into the hands of extremists.
It also came amid renewed reports of sectarian violence in the northern coastal region of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad where his supporters allegedly killed at least 50 and perhaps as many as 100 Sunni Muslim villagers in recent days, drawing a sharp condemnation Saturday from the State Department.
Israeli officials told the Associated Press and Reuters that the target of the airstrike was a consignment of advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles destined for Hezbollah, the political and military organization that dominates Lebanon's government and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
The shipment did not contain chemical weapons, but the missiles were potentially "game-changing," one official told the Associated Press.
Details of the attack were sketchy, but it appeared the target was a storage site at an air defense base on the periphery of the Damascus airport, known to be the chief transshipment point for weapons flown into Syria from Iran, both to aid the Syrian government in its battle against rebels and to supply Iran's ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.
A senior Lebanese security official who was in Damascus at the time said the strike took place about 4 a.m. and targeted a large quantity of missiles stored at the site. The official, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, did not know the origin or the destination of the missiles.
There were reports Friday that an overnight rebel mortar attack had caused a huge blaze at the Damascus airport, with a video posted online showing at least two locations on fire. But the Lebanese security official said the blasts, which woke him up, were bigger than those caused by mortar shells and that his Syrian counterparts had confirmed to him that the source was an Israeli strike.
The attack appeared to be similar to one in January in which Israeli jets hit a convoy carrying weapons intended for Hezbollah, the official said, with the warplanes firing from a location over Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
His claims could not be independently confirmed, but a Syrian opposition Web site also said that the Damascus airport was the target, according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper. Lebanese authorities and residents had reported unusually intense Israeli overflights during the previous 48 hours, suggesting the warplanes may have struck their target from Lebanese airspace.
A U.S. official in Washington confirmed that the strike had taken place but refused to provide details. Spokesmen for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the reports.