Israel has implicitly confirmed it staged an air strike on Syria last week, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accusing the Jewish state of trying to further destabilize his war-torn country.
The foreign minister of Damascus ally Iran, meanwhile, said he welcomed Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib’s stated readiness to hold talks with representatives of al-Assad’s regime.
Four days after an air raid which Damascus said targeted a military complex near the capital, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke to reporters in Munich on Sunday, but refrained from explicitly confirming that Israel staged the strike.
Barak told the Munich Security Conference that the strike was “another proof that when we say something we mean it.”
Wednesday’s air strike targeted surface-to-air missiles and an adjacent military complex believed to house chemical agents, according to a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The New York Times, citing a senior US military official, reported on Sunday that the air strike may have damaged Syria’s main research center on biological and chemical weapons.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of waging “state terrorism” as he condemned the air strike.
“We cannot regard a violation of air space as acceptable. What Israel does is completely against international law... it is beyond condemnation,” Erdogan told reporters.
Israeli armed forces chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz on Sunday started a visit to Washington with the Syrian conflict and Iran’s controversial nuclear program on his agenda.
And US Vice President Joe Biden flew to Paris for talks yesterday with French President Francois Hollande also covering Syria.
In Damascus, Assad accused Israel of seeking to “destabilize” Syria, state news agency SANA reported.
The raid “unmasked the true role Israel is playing, in collaboration with foreign enemy forces and their agents on Syrian soil,” he told Saeed Jalili, who heads Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Meanwhile, Syrian “extremists” have released two Russians and an Italian citizen kidnapped on Dec. 12 in the west of Syria, as part of an exchange for militants, the Russian foreign ministry said yesterday.
The two Russians are already at the Russian embassy in Damascus while the Italian will be handed over to Italy’s representatives through the Syrian foreign ministry, it said in a statement, without giving further details on the nature of the exchange.
The statement said Russia had engaged in “intensive contacts” with Syrian government representatives as well as “different opposition forces in Syria and outside” to obtain their release.
Elsewhere, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad was due to begin a four-day visit to China yesterday, Beijing’s foreign ministry said.
“This visit is part of China’s efforts to push for a political resolution of the Syria issue,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said at a regular press briefing.