Israeli fighter jets targeted a military research center near Damascus early Wednesday, the Syrian army has revealed. In press remarks, US officials claimed the Israeli attack struck a convoy carrying Syrian weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Syrian army’s general command issued a statement saying that the airstrike was launched by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) against a military research center in Jamraya, rural Damascus.
“Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research center in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defense,” SANA quoted the army statement as saying.
Four warplanes took part in the assault and dropped nine rockets, Lebanese TV station Al-Manar reported, citing military sources.
The strike caused material damage to the center and a nearby building, killing two workers and wounding five others, the statement added. The Israeli warplanes flew low to evade radar detection, and “snuck in from the north of Al-Sheikh Mountain” according to the report, which called the strike a “blatant act of aggression” against Syria and accused Israel of supporting terrorism in the country.
Anonymous US officials told both the AP and the New York Times that Israeli jets had hit a convoy carrying Syrian weapons to Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The NYT also reported that Israel had warned the US prior to the attack, citing anonymous officials.
The Syrian military has categorically denied there was an attack on a weapons convoy, despite Reuters reports that chemical weapons are stored in the area. However, it was “possible” that the convoy was near the large military site when it came under attack, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
Hezbollah also stated that the attack targeted a Syrian research center and was an attempt to cripple Syrian military capabilities. It declared its full solidarity for Syria’s “leadership, army and people” in a statement.
Israel had reported planned the airstrike for several days and intended to hit a shipment of sophisticated weaponry bound for Hezbollah, which allegedly included chemical weapons and Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles.
“This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,” a regional security source told Reuters.
The IDF has refused to confirm or deny its involvement in the strike.
As news broke of the airstrike in Syria, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned that Tel Aviv would not compromise on Syrian threats to Israeli security.
"The entire world has said more than once that it takes developments in Syria very seriously, developments which can be in negative directions," Shalom told Israel Radio, adding that US President Barack Obama had warned of possible American military action should President Assad’s forces use chemical weapons.
Russia was the first nation to react to news of the Israeli airstrike, and said it was taking urgent action to verify the reports.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website that Moscow was "deeply concerned" by the reports of the Israeli strike, which could be considered a violation of international law.
“If these reports are confirmed then we are dealing with an unprovoked attack on sovereign territory which is a flagrant violation of the UN charter and is unacceptable no matter what the justifications may be,” the statement read.
Furthermore, the Arab League slammed the airstrikes, decrying them as flagrant aggression and an affront to Syrian sovereignty.