The Herald Bulletin

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January 31, 2013

Israeli jets bomb military target in Syria

BEIRUT — Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria, U.S. officials said Wednesday, targeting a convoy believed to contain anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The attack adds a potentially flammable new element to tensions already heightened by Syria's civil war.

It was the latest salvo in Israel's long-running effort to disrupt the Shiite militia's quest to build an arsenal capable of defending against Israel's air force and spreading destruction inside the Jewish state.

Regional security officials said the strike, which occurred overnight Tuesday, targeted a site near the Lebanese border, while a Syrian army statement said it destroyed a military research center northwest of the capital, Damascus. They appeared to be referring to the same incident.

U.S. officials said the target was a truck convoy that Israel believed was carrying sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the operation.

Regional officials said the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which if acquired by Hezbollah would be "game-changing," enabling the militants to shoot down Israeli jets, helicopters and surveillance drones. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

In a statement, the Syrian military denied the existence of any such shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit by the Israeli warplanes.

The Israeli military declined to comment. However, many in Israel worry that as Syrian President Bashar Assad loses power, he could strike back by transferring chemical or advanced weapons to Hezbollah, which is neighboring Lebanon's most powerful military force and is committed to Israel's destruction.

The airstrike follows decades of enmity between Israel and allies Syria and Hezbollah, which consider the Jewish state their mortal enemy. The situation has been further complicated by the civil war raging in Syria between the Assad regime and rebel brigades seeking his ouster.

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