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Syria claims Israel bombed military facility

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:12 p.m.
 

JERUSALEM — Syria's state media reported on Wednesday that Israeli warplanes destroyed a military research center outside the capital of Damascus amid rising international fears that Syrian President Bashar Assad could lose control of his nation's stockpiles of chemical and advanced weapons.

The reports, which could not be immediately confirmed, followed earlier stories by international and Arab media outlets that the Israelis attacked a weapons convoy along the Syrian-Lebanese border as it attempted to deliver cargo to the militant group Hezbollah. Those reports were unconfirmed and roundly denied by Syrian officials as “baseless.”

Military and government officials in Israel and the United States declined to comment.

If it occurred, the airstrike would mark Israel's most aggressive military action inside Syria during the nearly two-year uprising against Assad's rule.

Israeli officials have been sounding alarms in recent days that Syria's weapons might fall into the hands of militant groups that could use them against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised those concerns during a cabinet meeting this week, and officials have repeatedly said that any transfer of Syria's dangerous weapons outside the country might trigger a military response.

According to Syrian TV, the research facility and an adjacent building were destroyed in the dawn attack. Two people were killed, and five were injured, Syrian media reported.

It was unclear what sort of military research was being carried out in the facility, located in Jamraya, northwest of Damascus, the capital. There were no initial reports of chemical contamination in the area.

Syrian officials in a statement characterized the facility as “scientific” and said Israel's “blatant aggression” proved that it has been behind the effort to oust Assad.

“It has become clear to everyone that Israel is the motivator, beneficiary and sometimes executor of the terrorist acts which target Syria and its resistant people,” said the statement.

To date, Israel has tried to steer clear of the Syrian conflict, fearing any actions it might take, such as supporting opposition forces or launching a military strike, could backfire or become a propaganda coup for Damascus. Syrian officials have long charged that U.S. and “Zionist” forces are behind the rebellion against Assad. Each side in the Syrian conflict has portrayed itself as an implacable enemy of Israel.

There are also fears that an Israeli strike could draw others into the Syrian conflict. Iran, Syria's close ally, said this week that any foreign attack against Syria would be regarded as an attack on Iran.

In addition to chemical weapons, Israeli officials have been particularly worried about Syria's stockpile of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. If such weapons were obtained by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, it could weaken Israel's regional military power and hinder its ability to launch airstrikes in Lebanon.

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