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Middle East Amp North Africa
Syria accuses Israel of Damascus strikes
From the Financial Times of Sun, 07 Dec 2014 18:35:52 GMT

The Syrian government on Sunday accused Israel of striking Damascus after a string of explosions in the capital that opposition sources say targeted military sites.

Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said “the Israeli enemy’s sinful aggression” caused no casualties.

The Israel Defence Forces declined to confirm the reported strikes, as in the case of earlier attacks on Damascus in recent years, and in keeping with a policy of maintaining silence over many regional forays.

Anti-government activists reported two air strikes and the sound of ten blasts in a suburb of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“We can’t confirm the source of the blasts but we believe they were two air strikes. One hit the import and export section of the international airport,” said the group’s head Rami Abdelrhaman. “The explosions appear to target military sites, most likely belonging to the 4th Division.”

The 4th Division is one of the most powerful parts of President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces. It has played a critical role in fighting the almost four-year revolt against Mr Assad’s rule.

The Israeli government has repeatedly warned that it will not allow the Assad government or its regional ally in Lebanon, the militant group Hizbollah, to acquire what it calls “game-changing” missiles or other weapons that would tilt the regional balance of power.

Israel’s military has struck Syrian government targets several times over the past year, according to foreign diplomats and news reports outside Israel.

The biggest suspected Israeli strike on Damascus since Syria’s civil war began was in May 2013. Locals say it hit a research facility used for military projects, sending up a fiery orange blaze on Mount Qasiyoun overlooking the city.

The only other force that is likely capable of co-ordinated strikes on Syrian military sites is the US-led coalition that has been striking Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the jihadi group known as Isis that has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq. But US officials have said the coalition strikes will target Isis — not Assad forces.

The Syrian army accused Israel of working against it in co-operation with both the coalition and “terrorist groups”, which is the term it uses not only for Isis and Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, but nearly every rebel group fighting it.

“This aggression confirms Israel’s direct involvement in supporting terrorism in Syria alongside western and regional states to raise the morale of terrorist organisations,” the army said in a statement released on state media. “In particular, Jabhat al-Nusra . . . and the terrorist organisation Isis, especially after the series of strikes the Syrian Arab Army has taken.”

Earlier this weekend, Isis launched an assault against an eastern military air base — the last major military site in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province. If it falls, the Assad government would likely lose control of the entire province, which sits along the border with Iraq.

Israel’s last confirmed strike against Syria was in June, when it bombed several Syrian military targets after an explosion in the occupied Golan Heights that killed a teenaged civilian and injured two others, for which it blamed the Assad government. Unlike the previous suspected attacks, the IDF claimed responsibility.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week sacked two ministers and set the stage for an early election, gave a veiled warning on Sunday that his government remained vigilant in the face of perceived regional risks.

“We are closely monitoring the Middle East and what is happening with open eyes and ears and a lot is happening,” Mr Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting. “We will deal with them with the same responsibility that we have up until now.”

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