Israel has reportedly bombed a Syrian base to halt an arms shipment to Hezbollah, while the international Syria envoy said yesterday there could be no peace talks without the opposition.
The reported air strike on a military base in regime stronghold Latakia on Wednesday would be the first Israeli strike on Syria since a US-Russian accord on chemical weapons averted punitive US military action last month.
Israel did not comment on the reports that emerged late on Thursday, but it has struck Syria in the past and warned it will continue to take action to prevent sophisticated weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah — a key Damascus ally — and other militant groups.
Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said Israel had targeted a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement fighting alongside the regime.
A US official confirmed that “there was an Israeli strike” but gave no details on the location or the target, while Israeli officials refused to comment.
Syria, which has cooperated with international disarmament efforts, has vowed to retaliate against any attack but did not respond when Israel carried out two air strikes in May against what an Israeli official said were Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah. Hoping to build on the momentum of last month’s US-Russian accord to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal by the middle of next year, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has meanwhile been criss-crossing the region to rally support for the so-called Geneva II talks.
However, Syria’s deeply divided opposition has refused to attend unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation is on the table — a demand rejected by Damascus — and powerful rebel groups have warned that anyone attending the talks will be viewed as a traitor.
“If the opposition does not participate there will be no Geneva conference,” Brahimi told reporters in Damascus.
The veteran Algerian diplomat, who met with al-Assad on Wednesday, said the government had agreed to take part in the talks and that the opposition was “trying to find a way to be represented.”
The main opposition National Coalition plans to meet on Nov. 9 to decide whether to attend the Geneva talks, but at least one key member of the bloc, the Syrian National Council, has said it will leave the umbrella group if it does so.
The reports of the Israeli strike came as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said all of Syria’s chemical arms were under “tamper proof” seals.
About 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and 290 tonnes of chemical weapons “have been placed under seals that are impossible to break,” OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said on Thursday.
The OPCW also said Syria’s chemical arms production equipment had been destroyed.