Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 6 News List

US officials confirm Israeli warplanes struck against Syria

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON AND AP, JERUSALEM

After days of silence from the Israeli government, US officials confirmed on Tuesday that Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes inside Syria last week, the first such attack since 2003.

A US Defense Department official said Israeli jets had struck at least one target in northeastern Syria last Thursday, but the official said it was still unclear exactly what the jets hit and the extent of the bombing damage.

Syria lodged a protest at the UN in response to the airstrike, accusing Israel of "flagrant violation" of its airspace, but the Israeli government has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.

Officials in Washington said that the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel's government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's primary benefactors.

US intelligence officials have said a steady flow of munitions from Iran runs through Syria and into Lebanon.

Last year, during fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces, the militant group fired hundreds of missiles into Israel, surprising Israel with the extent and sophistication of its arsenal. Israel has tried repeatedly to get the UN to prevent the arms shipments across the Syria-Lebanon border.

One official in US President George W. Bush's administration said Israel had carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea.

The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.

"The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left," the official said.

He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.

In a letter circulated to members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari said Israel dropped munitions, though they did not cause any "material damage."

Syria made its protest via Qatar, the Arab representative on the Security Council, UN officials said.

UN Security Council representatives discussed the issue on Tuesday, but did not come to any conclusions.

Neither Israel nor the US has spoken publicly on the airstrikes. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack referred all questions to Israel and Syria and a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to respond harshly to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip after an overnight barrage wounded dozens of soldiers as they slept in their tents at an Israeli army base.

Despite the violence, US officials urged Israel to show restraint, fearing heavy action in Gaza could jeopardize new momentum in peace efforts.

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