Israel strikes Syria, explosions rock Damascus like ‘an earthquake’

Israel/Palestine
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A huge explosion shook Damascus early Sunday morning, widely reported as Israeli strikes on the outskirts of the city.  Al Jazeera spoke with a Damascus resident who described the blasts as feeling like “an earthquake” and “unprecedented.” Syrian State TV announced Israeli rockets struck a military and scientific research center on Mount Qassioun, outside the capital city. 

(Update below)

The missile strikes have spiked international tensions.




Here is Reuters’ initial report: Explosions shake Damascus, Syria blames Israel

Explosions shook Damascus early on Sunday and Syrian state television said Israeli rockets had struck a military research centre on the outskirts of the capital.

The blasts occurred a day after an Israeli official said his country had carried out an air strike targeting a consignment of missiles in Syria. The research centre hit on Sunday was also targeted by Israel in January.

“The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups which have been reeling from strikes by our noble army,” Syrian television said, referring to recent offensives by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against rebels.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials on Sunday’s explosions. “We don’t respond to this kind of report,” an Israeli military spokeswoman told Reuters.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment and the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined comment.

….

Video footage uploaded onto the Internet by activists showed a huge ball of fire rising into the night sky on the edge of the Syrian capital.

In oddly timed synchonization, 30 minutes prior to Reuter’s initial breaking report of the Sunday morning strike, both the New York Times and the Washington Post published reports of Israel attacking Syria on Friday, mirroring their earlier attack in January,  allegedly aimed at ‘shipment of missiles bound for Hezbollah.’

The Washington Post reports Friday’s attack , Israel launches second airstrike in Syria, targeting weapons shipment:

Israeli warplanes have attacked a shipment of missiles at Damascus International Airport that was bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, officials from the United States, Israel and Lebanon told reporters Saturday.

The attack Friday coincided with mounting pressure on the Obama administration to formulate a response to the growing risk of weapons proliferation in the Syrian war, notably the possibility that chemical weapons are being used in the conflict and could fall into the hands of extremists.

Their report has now been updated with coverage of Sunday’s attack, citing the official Syrian Arab News Agency:

“The Israeli aggression comes at a time when our armed forces are scoring victories against terrorism and al-Qaeda gangs,” state television said……..An anonymous intelligence official in the Middle East confirmed state media reports that the strikes were carried out by Israeli warplanes, according to the Associated Press.

After Friday’s attack Obama justified Israel’s right to defend itself. AP:

President Barack Obama said Saturday, before the latest incident, that it was up to Israel to confirm or deny any strikes, but that the U.S. coordinates very closely with Israel.
“The Israelis, justifiably, have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” Obama told the Spanish-language TV station Telemundo.

Israel has yet to confirm they are responsible for Sunday’s attack– although it has confirmed its Friday attack on Syria. Al Jazeera:

There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials on Sunday’s explosions.

“We don’t respond to this kind of report,” an Israeli military spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.

The US State Department had no immediate comment and the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined comment.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based watchdog group, has also reported several explosions in the capital and its surrounding countryside.

The Syrian state media claims, reported by the Reuters news agency, come after Israel confirmed that its air force hit a shipment of missiles in Syria bound for Hezbollah.

Update: The National Coalition of Syria Revolution of Opposition Forces (NCS) have released a statement condemning the Israeli attacks, holding the Assad regime “fully responsible for weakening the Syrian Army” and asserting they are “suspicious of the timing of this attack”:

Media Statement
Syrian Coalition Media Office
Istanbul, Turkey
May 5, 2013

The Syrian Coalition condemns the Israeli attacks on the Syrian Center for Scientific Research in Jamaraya near Damascus. The Coalition holds the Assad regime fully responsible for weakening the Syrian Army by exhausting its forces in a losing battle against the Syrian people; who are the reason for its existence.

It is clear that the regime, which claims to be an opposing force, is instead weakening Syria in the face of an enemy. Until this point, the regime has worked at maintaining the best interests of the Assad family and the Assad rule. This has lead to wasted human capacity, a declining economy and weakened national foundations, which are gradually bringing the nation closer to total collapse.

The Syrian Coalition is suspicious of the timing of this attack. These strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast. It is not unlikely that as a result of these attacks, and world distraction, more crimes will be committed.

We call on the Syrian people to hold steadfast onto the revolution, and to reject the regime’s consistent aggression against the interests of the country and its people. We ask the Syrian people to continue working towards our goal of ridding the country of the destruction and chaos created by the Assad ruling family, who has consistently allowed its interests to take precedent over national interests.

The Syrian Coalition deeply regrets the deafening silence and powerlessness of the international community in the face of such grievous violations of international laws, continued by the Assad regime and taken advantage of by Israel in order to fulfill clear objectives. We urge the Security Council, with the support of the international community, to fulfill their duties to save the Syrian people in this time of crisis; and we renew our call for them to do whatever necessary to save the Syrian people.

We ask for Mercy for our martyrs, health for our wounded and freedom for our prisoners.

Long live Syria and its people, free and with honor.
 

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