Israel hits Syrian arms convoy

Israeli warplanes bombed a convoy near Syria’s border with Lebanon, sources said, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in what some called a warning to Damascus not to arm Israel’s Lebanese enemy.

Syrian state television accused Israel of bombing a military research center at Jamraya, between Damascus and the nearby border, but Syrian rebels disputed that, saying their forces had attacked the site. No source spoke of a second Israeli strike.

“The target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from Syria to Lebanon,” said one Western diplomat, echoing others who said the convoy's load may have included anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets. Several sources ruled out the presence in the convoy of chemical weapons, about which Israel has also raised concerns.

Diplomatic sources from three countries told Reuters that chemical weapons were believed to be stored at Jamraya, and that it was possible that the convoy was near the large site when it came under attack early on Wednesday.

However, there was no suggestion that the vehicles themselves had been carrying chemical weapons. The raid followed warnings from Israel that it was ready to act to prevent the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad leading to Syria's chemical weapons and modern rockets reaching either his Hezbollah allies or his Islamist enemies.

A source among Syrian rebels said an air strike around dawn (0430 GMT) blasted a convoy near the border. “It attacked trucks carrying sophisticated weapons from the regime to Hezbollah,” the source said, adding that it took place inside Syria.

Syrian state television said two people were killed in a dawn raid on the military site at Jamraya, which lies in the 25-km strip between Damascus and the Lebanese border. It described it as a scientific research centers “aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense”.

It did not mention specific retaliation but said “these criminal acts” would not weaken Syria’s support for Palestinians and other groups engaged in “resistance” to Israel.

Several rebel sources, however, including a commander in the Damascus area, accused the authorities of lying and said the only attacks at Jamraya had been mortar attacks by insurgents.A regional security source said Israel's target was weaponry given by Assad’s military to fellow Iranian ally Hezbollah.

“This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,” the source said. Few details were corroborated by  sources.

Meanwhile, Moscow expressed deep concern over reports of Israeli air strikes and said it was seeking confirmation of what could be a serious violation of the UN charter, the Russian foreign ministry said Thursday. If the reports of “unprovoked strikes” hitting a sovereign country’s territory are confirmed, this would constitute a violation of fundamental UN principles, the ministry said.

Demand for gas masks on rise

The demand for gas masks almost tripled in Israel in January amid concerns about the safety of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile, reports agencies from Tel Aviv. The Israel Postal Service, charged with free distribution of non-conventional warfare protection equipment, said the number of Israelis who decided to update their gas masks has almost tripled in the past month, according to the Ynet news portal. The postal service said the  daily orders has spiked from 200 a day to 500.

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