BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes flew over southern Lebanon today, two days after an airstrike near Damascus, as Syria’s army chief of staff warned against testing his country’s capabilities.
General Ali Abdullah Ayoub made his comments yesterday during a visit to some military units in the country. The Al-Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of President Bashar Assad’s ruling party, quoted Ayoub as saying Syria will never change its stance “no matter how much the enemy carries out provocative and hostile acts.”
The general’s comments reflected increased tensions between Syria and Israel, which up to now has refrained from actions that could be interpreted as intervention in Syria’s civil war. Israel had no comment on Lebanon’s description of its air force flights over the border region. There were no reports of airstrikes.
According to a US official, the Israeli airstrikes on Wednesday targeted trucks containing SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. The trucks were next to the research centre the Syrians identified, and the strikes hit both the trucks and the facility.
Advanced anti-aircraft missiles like the SA-17 in the hands of Hezbollah could change the strategic equation, which so far has allowed Israel to send warplanes over Lebanon practically unopposed.
The Syrian military denied that the target of the attack was a weapons convoy. It said low-flying Israeli jets crossed into the country over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and bombed a scientific research centre. At home, Israel positioned an additional “Iron Dome” rocket defence system in northern Israel yesterday, security officials said, after moving another to the northern city of Haifa earlier this week.
Ayoub, the Syrian military commander, said the “battle with the Zionist enemy continues and did not stop.” He said rebel gunmen fighting against his troops are “tools of the Zionist entity.” Israel and Syria have been bitter enemies for six decades.
“We know our capabilities and readiness to use all these capabilities at the suitable time,” Ayoub said. “Those who think they can test our armed forces are mistaken.”
In Lebanon, the security official said the Israeli fighter planes were seen heading from southern Lebanon towards the eastern Bekaa Valley that borders Syria.
Butros Wanna, a resident in the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun, near the border with Israel, said Israeli flights have been intense for the past four days.
“There is something not normal going on. Warplanes are always in the air,” said Wanna.