News Column

Iran: Israel Will regret Airstrike on Syrian Military Site

Feb. 4, 2013

Israel will regret its recent airstrike against a Syrian military facility, Iran's security chief warned Monday, as Israeli jets staged mock raids over Lebanon amid rising regional tensions.

Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in Damascus that Israel "will regret the latest aggression on Syria." Iran has been a stalwart ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through its ongoing crisis.

Syria accused Israel of hitting a military research centre near Damascus on Wednesday. Separate reports stated that the raid aimed at destroying sophisticated weapons before they fall into the hands of Lebanon's militia movement Hezbollah.

Syria denied reports that the target was a convoy carrying weapons for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The New York Times reported that Israel's strike may have damaged Syria's main research centre for biological and chemical weapons.

Al-Assad on Sunday accused Israel of collaborating "with hostile external powers and their tools on the Syrian land to destabilize Syria and weaken it."

Saudi Arabia, a main backer of the Syrian opposition, described the Israeli airstrike as a "flagrant violation" of the war-torn country's territory, the official SPA news agency reported.

In Munich on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak implicitly confirmed that Israel had staged an airstrike against Syria.

Israel also intensified military flights over Lebanon Monday, with unconfirmed reports of an explosion heard overnight in southern Lebanon.

Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for UN forces in Lebanon, confirmed to

dpa that Israeli forces had violated Lebanese airspace - but downplayed the activity as routine and denied claims of an airstrike.

"Our UN sources did not register any blast or strike," Tenenti said.

In other developments, opposition chief Moaz Al-Khatib called on the Syrian regime to answer his call for dialogue to end bloodshed in the country.

In January, Al-Assad offered a national dialogue and a constitutional referendum to end Syria's bloody crisis. However, al-Khatib's call focuses on al-Assad's departure from power

"The regime must adopt a clear stand (on dialogue)... and we are ready to extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully," al-Khatib told the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster.

"The ball is now in the regime's court. They will either say yes or no," al-Khatib said.

Al-Khatib, who was speaking after talks with Russian and US officials in Germany over the weekend, said neither the United states, nor Russia nor Iran has a vision for ending the crisis.

The meetings in Munich was "a positive step and we hope it will lead Moscow to realize that it should exert pressure on al-Assad's regime and help the Syrian people more," Walid al-Bunni, spokesman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, told dpa earlier.

Russia, a key ally of al-Assad, says it welcomes the opposition's willingness to start talks with Damascus.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said President Francois Hollande will travel to Moscow as talks between the opposition and Russia showed al-Khatib was ready to negotiate "not with Bashar al-Assad, who must go, but with certain elements of the regime."

Syria's state television said deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mokdad headed to China for a four-day visit to discuss the current developments with Syria's second main ally,

In Syria, rebels released two Russians and an Italian - who were kidnapped in December in the coastal town of Latakia - in exchange for the release of some jailed fighters, opposition activists said Monday.

The three men, who used to work for the Syrian-owned Hmisho steel plant, were kidnapped December 18.

Nearly two years into the conflict, the death toll stands at an estimated 60,000, according to the UN; there are some 600,000 refugees and millions internally displaced.

In Cairo, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said his country is now hosting more than 240,000 refugees.

"The number of Syrians we accommodate - only in the camps - is now 170,000. And, until now, around 2,700 babies were born in these camps. In addition, more than 70,000 Syrians are living in the cities in Turkey," he said.

He added that Turkey's expenditure for refugees had exceeded 500 million dollars.

Last week, at a donors conference in Kuwait, countries pledged more than 1.5 million dollars in aid for Syrian refugees.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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