Israeli jets ‘launch Syria strike to destroy missiles’
Israeli military targets port city of Latakia to prevent missiles being transferred to the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, reports suggest
By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent
9:11PM GMT 31 Oct 2013
An explosion at a missile base to the south of the regime-held port city of Latakia on Syria’s north-west coast was first reported by Syrian activist groups.
But the Lebanese government was also reporting that Israeli Air Force jets flew over its territory on Wednesday afternoon. Both CNN and the Saudi-backed news channel Al-Arabiya reported anonymous sources saying that the two events were connected.
The Israelis have launched several raids over Syria, including since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad started.
In May this year, a major attack north of Damascus sent up fireballs that were seen all over the capital. Again, the targets were said to be surface-to-air missiles intended to be delivered to Hizbollah, a Shia militia backed by Iran and Syria based in Lebanon.
In Wednesday’s raids, the targets were said by Washington officials to be SA-125 missiles.
One Syrian opposition source quoted by Reuters said Israel struck a strategic missile battery near a village called Ain Shikak where Assad’s forces keep long-range Russian missiles that are among their most powerful weapons.
Citing unnamed sources, Al-Arabiya said: “The bombing targeted a shipment of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that was headed for Hizbollah in Lebanon.”
Israel has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to use force to prevent advanced weapons reaching Hizbollah, which hit northern Israel with hundreds of rockets during a month-long war in 2006.
Earlier, chemical weapons inspectors confirmed that the regime had destroyed all its equipment for making chemical weapons, meeting a second major deadline agreed under the terms of a deal for Syria to declare and destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.
A statement by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said: “Syria has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.” The target date for this phase of the operation was November 1.
The regime was set three phases under the deal forced on it by Russia after the chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs of East and West Ghouta in August which killed hundreds of people.
The first phase, a full declaration of its chemical weapons programme, it met by the last week in September. The final phase is the destruction of the chemical agents, a more complex task which is set to happen by next summer.
The main impediment is the continuing civil war. Two of the regime’s 23 main chemical weapons sites could not be reached by inspectors because of the fighting, but the inspectors said their contents had already been moved elsewhere.
In addition, they said the already declared stocks of prepared chemicals, consisting of 1,000 tons of the most serious agents such as sarin and 290 of less serious “category two” agents were now under tamper-proof OPCW seals.
The organisation said its inspectors had observed the destruction of the manufacturing processes.
The deal’s many critics say it leaves Mr Assad in place and ignores the many more deaths attributable to non-chemical means. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from Britain, on Thursday said the number of dead had reached 120,000, half of them non-combatant.
They also question whether Mr Assad might be able to preserve some of his chemical weapons programme without declaring it. “Syria likely assesses there is little chance that lack of candour in their declaration will be discovered in the short-term,” said David Reeths, an expert with IHS Jane’s.
However, a congressional hearing in Washington was told the Obama administration was confident the deal would be a success. “I am increasingly confident that we will be able to complete this task, the elimination of the Syria’s chemical weapons programme, within the target date of June 30th of next year,” Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary for non-proliferation, said.