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Israeli warplanes over Lebanon, official says

Syria’s army chief of staff warns Tel Aviv after air strike

Gulf News

Beirut: Israeli warplanes flew over southern Lebanon on Friday, two days after an air strike near Damascus, as Syria’s army chief of staff warned against testing his country’s capabilities.

Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub made his comments Thursday during a visit to some military units in the country. The Al Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of President Bashar Al Assad’s ruling party, quoted Ayoub as saying Syria will never change its stance “no matter how much the enemy carries out provocative and hostile acts.”

The latest overflights came after officials said Israel launched a rare airstrike Wednesday inside Syria, targeting a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran.

The general’s comments reflected increased tensions between Syria and Israel, which up to now has refrained from actions that could be interpreted as intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Israel had no comment on Lebanon’s description of its air force flights over the border region Friday. There were no reports of airstrikes. Israeli planes frequently overfly south Lebanon, and Lebanon often files complaints with the UN over the incursions into its airspace.

According to a US official, the Israeli airstrikes Wednesday targeted trucks containing SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. The trucks were next to the research centre the Syrians identified, and the strikes hit both the trucks and the facility.

Advanced anti-aircraft missiles like the SA-17 in the hands of Hezbollah could change the strategic equation, which so far has allowed Israel to send warplanes over Lebanon practically unopposed.

The Syrian military denied that the target of the attack was a weapons convoy. It said low-flying Israeli jets crossed into the country over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and bombed a scientific research centre.

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on Israeli media reports that its embassies were instructed to be alert of threats after Syria’s warnings. Syrian-allied Hezbollah has been accused by Israel of staging deadly attacks against its citizens abroad in past years.

In Lebanon, the security official said the Israeli fighter planes were seen heading from southern Lebanon toward the eastern Bekaa Valley that borders Syria. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Butros Wanna, a resident in the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun, near the border with Israel, said Israeli flights have been intense for the past four days.

“There is something not normal going on. Warplanes are always in the air,” said Wanna.