Israeli planes strike Syrian military base, U.S. official says
LATAKIA, Syria — Israeli warplanes struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia on Thursday, an Obama administration official told CNN.
An explosion at a missile storage site in the area was widely reported in the Israeli press, but an attack has not been confirmed by the Israeli government.
The target, according to the Obama administration official, was missiles and related equipment the Israelis felt might be transferred to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. The official declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information.
When asked for comment, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman told CNN: “We don’t refer to foreign reports.”
Israel has been accused several other times this year of launching airstrikes inside Syria, including once in January. In the January incident, a U.S. official said Israeli fighter jets bombed a Syrian convoy suspected of moving weapons to Hezbollah.
Israel’s military did not comment on any of the allegations at the time, but has long said it would target any transfer of weapons to Hezbollah or other groups designated as terrorists, as well as any effort to smuggle Syrian weapons into Lebanon that could threaten Israel.
Thursday’s reports of a blast come amid a Syrian civil war in which Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim militant group, has been helping Syrian government forces. Syria’s government is led by Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shiite offshoot Alawite sect; the rebels and other militants fighting al-Assad’s forces and Hezbollah are largely made up of Sunni Muslims.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 after government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters during the Arab Spring movement and is now a full-blown civil war. The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict.
International inspectors are trying to ensure that Syria eliminates its chemical weapons stockpile by the middle of next year. Syria agreed to the program under international pressure earlier this year.
One of the monitoring groups, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Thursday that Syria has destroyed all its declared chemical weapons mixing, filling and production facilities, and all of the chemical weapons at 21 inspected sites have been placed under seal.
The watchdog body’s announcement of the facilities’ destruction meant that Syria met a key deadline in the elimination program.