Israel hits Syria target reportedly linked to chemical weapons

Syrian army warns of ‘repercussions’ as two soldiers killed in strike on military site

Israeli soldiers manoeuvre a tank during a military exercise in the northern part of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on Thursday. An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to discuss reports of a strike in Syria. Photograph:  Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli soldiers manoeuvre a tank during a military exercise in the northern part of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on Thursday. An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to discuss reports of a strike in Syria. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Syrian army has warned Israel of “dangerous repercussions to the security and stability of the region” after a Syrian military facility in Hama province was hit early on Thursday, killing two people and causing material damage.

The Syrian military said Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles from Lebanese air space at a site near the town of Masyaf, about 40km north of the Lebanese border. The facility was identified by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based observer, as belonging to the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (CERS), Syria’s chemical weapons manufacturer, according to western sources.

The observatory also said that a military camp next to the centre was used to store ground-to-ground rockets and was frequented by Iranian personnel and members of the pro-Iranian Hizbullah militia, Tehran’s key ally in Lebanon.

Syrian opposition forces have in recent months claimed the Masyaf site, and other CERS facilities, have been working on joint projects with Iranian specialists to develop chemical weapons capabilities for missiles

Israel has repeatedly hit targets in Syria during the country’s six-year civil war, mostly Hizbullah weapons convoys, and Thursday’s attack follows warnings from Israeli leaders that they will act to prevent precision weapons reaching Hizbullah.

A former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, said the latest strike was “not routine”.

“The factory that was targeted produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians,” he said.

The strike sent a message that Israel would not let Syria produce strategic weapons, would enforce its own red lines, and would not be hampered by Russian air defence systems in Syria, he added.

UN accusations

The air strike came a day after a United Nations commission accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in an attack in April that killed dozens in the village of Khan Sheikhoun – an attack which led US president Donald Trump to order cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base. Damascus denies the allegations that it used chemical weapons.

An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to discuss Thursday’s incident, saying the army does not comment on operational matters.

The Syrian military said the attack was “a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale” of Islamic State “after the sweeping victories achieved by the Syrian army” and affirmed Israel’s “direct support” for Islamic State and “other terrorist organisations”.

Israel’s former national security adviser, Maj Gen (ret) Yaakov Amidror, said the air strike may have been a consequence of the visit to Damascus last week by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The facility may not only have been producing weapons systems for Hizbullah, Mr Amidror speculated, but was actually going to be handed over to the group.

Israel and Russia, a key Assad ally, maintain regular contact to co-ordinate military action in Syria, but Israel has repeatedly stated that it will act to thwart the transfer of precision weapons to Hizbullah, which fought a bitter one-month war with Israel in 2006 that left more than 1,300 people dead.