DAMASCUS: An Israeli air strike hit a military research centre near Damascus at dawn on Wednesday, the Syrian army said, denying reports that the raid targeted a weapons convoy near the Lebanese border.
Residents who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, however, said the strike targeted a non-conventional weapons research centre some 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of the Syrian capital.
“Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence,” Syria’s army said.
The raid came “after terrorist groups made several failed attempts in the past months to take control of the site,” its general command said, referring to rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The warplanes entered Syrian airspace via Mount Hermon, or Jabal el-Sheikh in Arabic, at low altitude and under the radar, the army said in the statement carried by state media.
“They… carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building,” state television quoted the military as saying.
Two site workers were killed in the strike, said the army, while denying reports Israel had launched a strike overnight on a weapons convoy near Lebanon.
Residents told AFP that six rockets hit the complex, leaving it partially destroyed, causing a fire and killing two people.
The attack came after Israel expressed concerns that Damascus’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, an ally of Assad’s regime.
Israel, whose officials have said such that a transfer would be a casus belli and likely spark an attack, refused to comment on the attack.
The United States, which is currently hosting Israeli military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi, also declined to comment.
As well as concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, Israel has accused Syria of supplying long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah.