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Assad: First we’ll deal with the rebels, then Israel

Syrian president indicates there will be no immediate retaliation for last week’s cross-border clashes

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to the BBC in an interview aired February 10, 2015. (screen capture: BBC)
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to the BBC in an interview aired February 10, 2015. (screen capture: BBC)

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday said he would deal with Israel by combating Syrian rebels, whom he termed the Jewish state’s “emissaries,” in remarks that indicated he would not retaliate for airstrikes last week on Syrian territory.

Four rockets were fired on Israel’s Golan Heights and Upper Galilee on Thursday, prompting the largest Israeli assault on Syrian territory in decades. Holding the Syrian government responsible for the rocket attacks, Israel fired artillery shells and launched airstrikes against Assad’s forces, hitting 14 military posts in the Syrian Golan Heights.

On Friday, Israel said it carried out a new raid in Syria, targeting and killing members of the cell responsible for the rocket fire. Syrian state television said six people were killed and seven wounded in the strike on a vehicle some 10 kilometers from the Syrian-Israeli border.

However, on Monday, Assad sought to downplay the Israeli response and highlight the efforts to beat the rebels.

“The real tools Israel uses today, more important than the most recent strikes, are the terrorists in Syria,” Assad told the Al-Manar TV station, run by his Lebanese ally group Hezbollah. “What they are doing is far more dangerous than what Israel has done recently.

“This is the core issue,” he continued. “If we want to fight Israel, we must first deal with its emissaries in Syria.”

Israel said the Iranian Revolutionary Guards planned the Thursday attack, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried it out.

According to a senior Israeli security official, it was Saeed Izadi, the head of the Palestinian Division of the Iranian al-Quds Force, who orchestrated the attack.

Throughout the Syrian civil war, mortar shells have occasionally strayed into Israel, but this was not the case on Thursday when the four rockets struck the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, a defense official said Thursday.

“We understand that this attack was clearly a deliberate one,” he said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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