Lebanon state media denies reports of Israeli attack

Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lebanon's state-run news agency has denied a widely-circulated Reuters report on Wednesday that Israel attacked a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight.

Reuters cited an unnamed Western diplomat and three regional security sources.

The sources were said to have no further information about what might have been hit or where precisely the attack happened.

AFP also reported the story, citing an unnamed security source.

It reported that the strike was carried out by the air force against a convoy believed to carry weapons, inside Syria and near the Lebanese borders.

The Lebanese army reported a heavy presence of Israeli jets over its territory throughout the night.

"There was definitely a hit in the border area," one security source said. A Western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said "something has happened", without elaborating.

An activist in Syria who works with a network of opposition groups around the country said that she had heard of a strike in southern Syria from her colleagues but could not confirm.

Israel's Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said on Sunday that any sign that Syria's grip on its chemical weapons was slipping, as President Bashar al-Assad fights rebels trying to overthrow him, could trigger Israeli intervention.

Israeli sources said on Tuesday that Syria's advanced conventional weapons would represent as much of a threat to Israel as its chemical arms should they fall into the hands of Syrian rebel forces or Hezbollah guerrillas based in Lebanon.

Israel has sent its national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, to Russia and its military intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi to the United States for consultations, Israeli media said.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli military declined any comment.

"We do not comment on reports of this kind," an Israeli Defence Force spokeswoman said.

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, on Israel Radio, was asked if there was unusual activity on the northern front.

"The entire world has said more than once that it takes developments in Syria very seriously, developments which can be in negative directions. And therefore the world, led by President Obama who has said this more than once, is taking all possibilities into account and of course any development which is a development in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping and prevention."

Earlier on Wednesday, the Lebanese military that Israeli warplanes have sharply increased their activity over Lebanon in the past week, including at least 12 sorties in less than 24 hours in the country's south.

Among Israeli security officials' chief fears is that Hezbollah could get its hands on Syrian chemical arms and SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. If that were to happen, it would change the balance of power in the region and greatly hinder Israel's ability to conduct air sorties in Lebanon.

Israel believes that Damascus obtained a battery of SA-17s from Russia after an alleged Israeli airstrike in 2007 that destroyed an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor.

Earlier this week, Israel moved a battery of its new "Iron Dome" rocket defense system to the northern city of Haifa, which was battered by Hezbollah rocket fire in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. The Israeli army called that move "routine."

A Lebanese army statement said the last of the sorties took place at 2 a.m. local time Wednesday. It said four warplanes which flew in over the southernmost coastal town of Naqoura hovered for several hours over villages in southern Lebanon before leaving Lebanese airspace.

(Reuters, AP, Al-Akhbar)

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