Ban makes appeal for calm over Syria blasts

Military retaliation against Israel by Syria, Iran or Hizbullah not expected

Free Syrian Army fighters prepare their weapons yesterday before heading towards the front line, where clashes with forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are taking place in the al-Ziyabiya area in Damascus. Photograph: Reuters/Ward Al-Keswani

Free Syrian Army fighters prepare their weapons yesterday before heading towards the front line, where clashes with forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are taking place in the al-Ziyabiya area in Damascus. Photograph: Reuters/Ward Al-Keswani

Mon, May 6, 2013, 06:00

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon last night expressed concern at reports that Israel had struck targets inside Syria but said the United Nations was unable to confirm whether any such attacks had taken place.

Mr Ban “calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict”.

His comments followed Israeli air strikes on a scientific research centre on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Residents reported huge explosions and claimed military bases in the area were also hit.

Several Syrians said the strikes were a signal to the rebels to renew attacks on the army, while the government accused Israel and the rebels of collaborating.

This placed the rebels and their Arab supporters, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in the Israeli camp, it was argued.


Retaliation
Syria, its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, or Iran, the ally of both, are not expected to retaliate militarily against Israel.

The government has its hands full with the struggle against rebel forces.

Hizbullah does not dare jeopardise its political position in Lebanon by attracting a new Israeli campaign that could destroy infrastructure rebuilt since Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. And Iran, under severe western pressure over its nuclear programme, does not want to risk an Israeli attack.

The Syrian opposition coalition also condemned the Israeli intervention, contending that it had “taken advantage” of the conflict to hit Syria and that the attacks have distracted international attention from killings in the north.


No Iranian missiles
Foreign diplomats consulted by The Irish Times refuted Israel’s claim that Iranian missiles en route to the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement were the target of the strikes.

They argued that Israel sought to destroy the scientific site, where chemical weapons have, allegedly, been stored to prevent rebels from gaining control of them.

They said Israel also wished to give the rebels a boost in the battle for Damascus. The army has been rooting out rebel concentrations in the suburbs.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Syria’s foreign ministry said the attacks “give direct military support to terrorist groups” seeking to oust the government. It said Israel had killed and wounded several people and “caused widespread destruction”.

Mass killing claims
Reports by opposition sources that dozens of Sunnis living in the region of the port city of Banias have been killed by pro-government militia have been overshadowed by the Israeli raid. The government denies allegations of mass killings and says it has routed “terrorist groups”.

Washington said it was “appalled by the horrific reports” of the killings of civilians but reiterated its determination not to send US troops to Syria.

One diplomat remarked that “the US has outsourced involvement in the conflict to Qatar and Saudi Arabia”, chief sponsors of the civilian opposition and the rebels.

Syrians and foreign residents alike have said Damascus has become quieter and more stable over the past 10 days because of the army offensive.

This may have prompted President Bashar al-Assad, who appears rarely in public, to meet workers at a power plant on May 1st and to dedicate a statue to student martyrs of the conflict at Damascus University on Saturday.
– (additional reporting Reuters)