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Syria accuses Israel of bombing its territory

Reuters | September 6, 2007
Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria accused Israel of bombing its territory on Thursday and said it could respond to the Jewish state's "aggression and treachery."

Israel declined to comment on the charge by Syria, which said no casualties or damage were caused. The Syrian accusation was partly responsible for triggering a rise in world oil prices of more than $1.40 a barrel.

"It appears that the Israeli planes were on a reconnaissance mission when they got caught by Syrian defenses and were forced to drop their bombs and extra fuel tanks," said a Western diplomat in Syria's capital Damascus. He declined to be named.

After months in which talk of reviving long-stalled peace negotiations between neighboring Israel and Syria has been mixed with speculation on both sides that the other was preparing a surprise attack, Syrian officials hit out.

"This shows that Israel cannot give up aggression and treachery," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Al Jazeera television.

Another Syrian official said: "They dropped bombs on an empty area while our air defenses were firing heavily at them." The official news agency SANA said Syria "reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit."

The Israeli military spokesman's office said in a statement: "It is not our custom to respond to these kinds of reports."

The office has typically commented on such charges, but a security source said the government had imposed a news blackout on the issue. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would be no comment beyond the military statement.

In Washington, the White House declined to comment.

Russia urged Israel to respect international law.

"The reports have caused extreme concern in Moscow," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. "Particularly troubling is that this is the Middle East, a region already heavy with serious conflicts and tension."

Iran again criticized its foe Israel.

"The aims of that ... provocative move by the Zionist regime was to shift its domestic crisis into areas other than Palestine, spreading insecurity in the region and covering up its failure in the 33-day war against Lebanon," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Iran's ambassador to Damascus had contacted Syrian security officials and said that "Iran is ready to provide every kind of assistance to Syria," the official IRNA news agency reported.

RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS

It is more than a year since Syrian guns opened fire on Israeli aircraft and Israeli jets last struck in 2003 across a border that remains tense but largely quiet 34 years after the last war between the two neighbors ended in an edgy ceasefire.

Military analysts said Israel has conducted reconnaissance flights over Syria to probe its defenses.

Witnesses said several planes crossed deep into Syrian territory and flew over the oil centre of Deir al Zor on the Euphrates river.

Residents in the Tal al-Abiad area on Syria's border with Turkey said they spotted several fuel tanks.

Turkish and Israeli officials denied a report from an Israeli military source that the Israeli air force had trained in Turkey as recently as this week. The last exercises concluded last month, officials in Ankara said.

Tensions between Israel and Syria have been high in the past few months.

Some Israeli intelligence officials have suggested Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government might be ready to try to take by force parts of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the war of 1967 and held on to in fighting in 1973.

Syrian officials have said Syria was seeking peaceful means to liberate the territory, although some have also suggested force remained an option if diplomacy failed.

Some Israeli military officials have expressed alarm at what they say are reinforcements of Syrian posts and arms purchases.

But Olmert, who launched his forces against Syrian-allied Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon a year ago, has been at pains to say he has no hostile intentions toward Damascus.

He has also said he would like to reopen peace negotiations that have been stalled for seven years. Syrian officials too have said they would like peace. But there has been little sign of any concrete steps towards rapprochement.

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