Israel Joins Syrian War, Bombs Damascus

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DAMASCUS — Israeli warplanes struck targets deep inside Syrian territory on Wednesday, American officials reported, saying they believed the target was a convoy carrying weaponry on the outskirts of Damascus that was intended for the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syrian state media said that a military research facility and adjacent building had been destroyed. It said two people were killed and five were injured in the pre-dawn attack.

Highlighting the diplomatic and regional stakes, the attack prompted Iran, Russia and Hezbollah to offer support in varying degrees on Thursday for President Bashar al-Assad.

The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Israel had notified the United States about the attack, which the Syrian government condemned as an act of “arrogance and aggression.” 

The predawn strike was the first time in more than five years that Israel’s air force had attacked a target in Syria. While there was no expectation that the beleaguered Syrian government had an interest in retaliating, the strike raised concerns that the Syrian civil war had continued to spread beyond its border.

In a statement, the Syrian military denied that a convoy had been struck. It said the attack had hit a scientific research facility in the Damascus suburbs that was used to improve Syria’s defenses, and called the attack “a flagrant breach of Syrian sovereignty and airspace.”

Israeli officials would not confirm the airstrike, a common tactic here. But it came after days of intense security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the possible movement of weapons around Syria, and warnings that Zionist state would take action to thwart any possible transfers to Hezbollah.

Thousands of Israelis have crowded gas-mask distribution centers over the last two days. On Sunday, Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defense system in the north, near Haifa, which was heavily bombed during the 2006 war with Lebanon.

Syria and Israel are technically in a state of war but have long maintained an uneasy peace along their decades-old armistice line. Israel has mostly watched warily and tried to stay out of Syria’s raging civil war, fearful of provoking a wider confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah. In November, however, after several mortars fell on Israel’s side of the border, its tanks struck a Syrian artillery unit.

Iran said the Israeli regime’s strike on Syria will have serious consequences for Tel Aviv.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that the attack clearly demonstrated that foreign-sponsored militants and Israel pursue the same goals with regard to Syria. 

In Beirut, the Hezbollah condemned the attack in more forthright terms and offered support. “Hezbollah expresses its full solidarity with Syria’s leadership, army and people,” it said in a statement.

The episode illustrated how the escalating violence in Syria, which has already killed more than 60,000, is drawing in neighboring states and threatening to destabilize the region further. Agencies

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