Assad threatens retaliation for alleged Israeli strike

In first reference to reported bombing, Syrian president says his military is prepared to counter ‘aggression’

Bashar Assad delivers a speech to the Syrian nation, January 6. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot/Syrian TV)
Bashar Assad delivers a speech to the Syrian nation, January 6. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot/Syrian TV)

In his first comments since an airstrike reportedly carried out by Israel targeted his country, President Bashar Assad on Sunday said Syria’s military was capable of confronting any “aggression.”

In the aftermath of the alleged attack, Syria said the target was a scientific research center, while US officials indicated that the strike had destroyed a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons bound for the Lebanese Islamist militia Hezbollah.

Syrian state television said Assad spoke during a meeting with visiting top Iranian official Saeed Jalili.

On Sunday morning, Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel was involved in the strike.

Israel has not commented directly on the strike, but in the days ahead of the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials repeatedly warned of the dangers of Syrian weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah and other hostile elements in the region.

Purported images of the targeted site, aired by Syrian state television on Saturday, showed destroyed cars, trucks and military vehicles. One building had broken widows and damaged interiors, but no major structural damage.

Following the attack, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, said Damascus “has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation,” but that it was up to the relevant authorities to choose the time and place.

Syrian opposition leaders and rebels on Friday denounced Assad for not responding to the airstrike, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to the Jewish state. Turkey also derided Assad for failing to hit back at Israel.

The chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said Sunday that Tehran also hoped Syria would retaliate against Israel.

A report by the official IRNA news agency quoted Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying, “We are hopeful that Syria gives an appropriate response to the strike in the proper time.”

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed fears that Assad could lose control of his chemical weapons and other arms.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu, who is in the process of forming a ruling coalition, said his new government would have to deal with weapons “being stockpiled near us and threatening our cities and civilians” — an apparent reference to the deteriorating situation in Syria, among other locales.

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