UPDATED AT 7:01pm 5/5/13 Syria says Israel has Declared War

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Updated at 7:01pm by CBN

AP

JERUSALEM, Israel — GOP Sen. John McCain said Israel’s second airstrike Sunday in Syria could be the incentive President Obama needs to take action in the wartorn country.

“We need to have a game-changing action, and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting, obviously, for the things we believe,” the Arizona lawmaker told “Fox News Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad said the Israeli airstrikes constitute a “declaration of war.”

Mekdad told CNN Sunday the airstrikes prove that Israel has allied itself with Islamist rebels trying to bring down the government, warning that Syria would retaliate in its own way and own time.

The Foreign Ministry in Damascus said the attacks aimed “to give direct military support to terrorist groups” fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry made similar threats last year when Israel struck a weapons convoy near the Lebanese-Syria border.

Mekdad filed a complaint with the United Nations, with Lebanon saying it will also file a complaint against Israel’s “repeated violations” of its airspace.

Syrian officials claim Israeli rockets struck the site, destroying Iranian-made Fateh 110 missiles to be delivered to the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror organization.

“In last night’s attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah,” Reuters quoted a Western intelligence source.

Israel had no immediate comment, with an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokeswoman telling Reuters, “We don’t respond to this kind of report.”

On Saturday, an unnamed Israeli government official confirmed an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian missiles shipment headed to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Reuters reported. No chemical weapons were targeted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the strike Thursday in a secret meeting with his security cabinet, the official added.

Earlier, CNN’s Jerusalem-based correspondent, Sara Sidner, quoted an Israeli defense official saying “We will do whatever is necessary to stop the transfer of weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations. We have done it in the past and we will do it if necessary in the future.”

 

Updates at 3:43pm 5/5/13 by Israel National News:

The Syrian foreign ministry statement said Sunday that three military sites had been hit in an Israeli nighttime aerial raid: a “research center” at Jamraya, a “paragliding airport” in the al-Dimas area of Damascus, and a site in Maysaloun.

“The flagrant Israeli attack on armed forces sites in Syria underlines the co-ordination between ‘Israel’, terrorist groups and… the al-Nusra Front,” the statement said, referring to al-Qaeda terrorists fighting alongside the rebels against the Assad regime.

“The Israeli attack led to the fall of a number of martyrs and wounded from the ranks of Syrian citizens, and led to widespread destruction in these sites and in the civilian districts near to them,” Syria added.

“This leaves no room for doubt Israel is the beneficiary, the mover and sometime the executor of the terrorist acts which Syria is witnessing and which target it as a state and people directly or through its tools inside,” the official statement charged.

Jamraya is “the highest profile research centre in Syria,” and the workplace of many of the country’s top scientists, according to the BBC. “It is also one of Syria’s most secretive institutions, with employees banned from communicating with any foreign agencies or foreigners especially during time of war and crisis, like now.

“It is believed that Syria’s most important research is carried out at the site, while weapons are developed and stored there.”

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Updated at 7:31am 5/5/13 by Israel National News:

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal al-Mekdad on Sunday called Israel’s bombing of a weapons transport in Syria a “declaration of war.” Speaking in an interview on CNN, al-Mekdad said that Israel was siding with “Islamist terrorists” to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, and that Syria would respond “at the time and in the manner that it chooses to.”

Updated by Israel National News:

A series of explosions were heard in Damascus overnight Saturday, as the official Syrian news agency SANAclaimed that Israel carried out a rocket attack on the Jamraya scientific research center in Damascus.

The agency did not say whether there were any wounded or dead.

Syrian television said “the Israeli attack aims at loosening the noose around the terrorists in the eastern Ghouta” region, near Damascus. “Terrorists” is the word used by the Syrian media to describe the rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.

If confirmed, the attack would be Israel’s second this week against Syria.

U.S. media reports over the weekend said Israel targeted a weapons shipment to Hizbullah in neighboring Lebanon overnight Thursday. Israel has so far refused to confirm or deny the bombing.

A diplomatic source in Lebanon told AFP that the operation destroyed surface-to-air missiles recently delivered by Russia that were being stored at Damascus airport.

Another report in the New York Times suggested that the “game changing” weapons destroyed in an Israeli airstrike were sent by Iran.

The strike reportedly targeted Fateh-110 missiles. The Fateh-110 has a range of up to 300 kilometers.

Syrian sources gave the New York Times similar information, saying that Iran had sent arms and rockets to Damascus International Airport and planned to ship them on to Hizbullah.

Israel implicitly confirmed it staged an air strike on Syria in late January as President Bashar al-Assad accused the Jewish state of trying to further destabilize his war-torn country.

That air strike targeted surface-to-air missiles and an adjacent military complex believed to house chemical agents, a U.S. official said at the time.

Speaking after Friday’s alleged Israeli airstrike, U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that Israel is justified in protecting itself from advanced weapons shipments to Hizbullah.

Obama joined Israeli officials in declining to comment on the reported strike, saying he would let Israel “confirm or deny whatever strikes they have taken.”

“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hizbullah,” the president told Spanish-language Telemundo television during a trip to Mexico and Central America.

“We coordinate closely with the Israelis, recognizing that they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.”

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By Robert Windrem, Jim Miklaszewski and Andrea Mitchell, NBC News

Israeli jets bombed a military research facility north of Damascus early Sunday, a senior official told NBC News — the second Israeli attack on targets in Syria in recent days.

 

Heavy explosions shook the city, and video shot by activists showed a fireball rising into the sky after Sunday’s strikes, according to Reuters.

 

On Friday, Israeli warplanes launched strikes against targets inside Syria, U.S. officials told NBC News. It’s believed the primary target was a shipment of weapons headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, they said. A senior U.S. official said the airstrikes were believed to be related to delivery systems for chemical weapons.

 

An Israeli spokesman in Washington said that Israel would not comment specifically on the reports but said that “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

 

It wasn’t clear whether the Israelis alerted the U.S. before the attack. White House officials referred all questions to the Israelis.

 

Syrian government sources denied having information of a strike. Bashar Ja’afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters: “I’m not aware of any attack right now.”

 

But Qassim Saadedine, a commander and spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, told the news agency: “Our information indicates there was an Israeli strike on a convoy that was transferring missiles to Hezbollah. We have still not confirmed the location.”

 

Rebel units were in disagreement about what type of weapons were in the convoy, Reuters reported. A rebel from an information-gathering unit in Damascus that calls itself “The Syrian Islamic Masts Intelligence” said the convoy carried anti-aircraft missiles.

 

In an interview with Telemundo, President Obama says that while he won’t comment on reported Israeli airstrikes over Syria, he backs Israel’s efforts in guarding against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

 

The rebel, who asked not to be named, added: “There were three strikes by Israeli F-16 jets that damaged a convoy carrying anti-aircraft missiles heading to the Shi’ite Lebanese party (Hezbollah) along the Damascus-Beirut military road. “One strike hit a site near the (Syrian) Fourth Armoured Division in al-Saboura but we have been unable to determine what is in that location”.

 

However, Saadedine told Reuters he did not think the weapons were anti-aircraft. “We have nothing confirmed yet but we are assuming that it is some type of long-range missile that would be capable of carrying chemical materials,” he said.

 

In January, Israeli fighter jets attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles believed on their way to Hezbollah.

 

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon publicly acknowledged the January airstrike inside Syria in a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Tel Aviv on April 22. Ya’alon said any Syrian delivery of sophisticated weapons to rogue elements like Hezbollah would be a “red line” for Israel and “when they crossed this red line, we operated. We acted.”

 

Syria is in the middle of a civil war pitting rebels against the regime of President Bashir Assad. Tens of thousands have already died, and the possible use of the nation’s stockpile of chemical weapons has been of grave concern to the U.S. and other nations.

 

Last week, the White House said there was evidence that Syria’s government may have used chemical weapons against its own people. But President Barack Obama has cautioned against rushing to action against Assad’s government, saying that the U.S. required more evidence before getting involved in the civil war there.

 

The U.S. has long believed that Syria was stockpiling chemical weapons. Intelligence reports indicate that it has sarin and the nerve agent tabun along with traditional chemicals like mustard gas and hydrogen cyanide. A 2011 CIA report said Syria was also developing the potent nerve agent VX, which could render a city uninhabitable for days.

 

Syria has said that it hasn’t used and will not use chemical weapons.

 

On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s leader warned the rebels that his militia was ready to intervene on Assad’s side in Syria’s civil war. There have been concerns that Syrian SCUD missiles that might be capable of carrying chemical weapons could be transferred to Hezbollah.

 

NBC News’ Kristen Welker, and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

Related video: Syrian government used chemical weapons 4 times, rebels say