As world reacts to strike, Hezbollah hints Syrian target was military

Shiite group, reported to have received chemical weapons from Assad, condemns Israeli attack, as do Russia and the Arab League

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Armed Lebanese movement Hezbollah seemingly acknowledged on Thursday that a site destroyed outside Damascus, reportedly by Israel, was responsible for “military and technological development.”

Hezbollah was one of a number of bodies on Thursday to condemn the reported attack by Israeli planes, calling the action “barbaric.”

In a statement issued on its website Al-Manar, the Shiite organization — a close ally of the Assad regime in Syria — condemned the attack, claiming that it was intended to stunt “Arab and Islamic technological development.”

“In line with its inherent spirit of aggression and criminality, and in accordance with its policy of preventing any Arab or Islamic power from developing technological and military capabilities, Israel perpetrated a barbaric attack against a Syrian installation for scientific research on Syrian territory, causing the death of a number of Syrians, the injury of others, and the destruction of the installation,” the statement read.

According to foreign media, Israel attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons en route to Hezbollah near the Lebanon-Syria border Wednesday, although neither Hezbollah nor Syrian media would confirm those reports.

However, the Syrian Army issued a statement Wednesday accusing Israel of bombing a “scientific research center” in the Jamraya area just northwest of Damascus.

Israel has not commented on the reports. A Western official told The Wall Street Journal that the two reports may not be mutually exclusive.

On Thursday, Russia issued a statement condemning the “unprovoked” attack on the territory of a sovereign country, “no matter the motives to justify it.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr said his country condemned the “illegal attack” on Arab soil and called on the international community to also condemn it.

“Such an assault on Arab land is entirely rejected and represents a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law,” said Amr.

In a statement to the state-run news agency MENA on Thursday, Amr called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for attacks on Arab land, describing the airstrike as a danger to regional security and Middle Eastern sovereignty.

The Arab League, which has been harshly critical of Syrian president Bashar Assad, also rebuked Israel Thursday, calling the bombing a “glaring violation” of an Arab country’s sovereignty.

“Silence of the international community about Israel’s bombing of Syrian sites in the past encouraged it to carry out the new aggression, taking advantage of the political and security deterioration in Syria,” League head Nabil al-Arabi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Saudi-daily Al-Watan reported on Thursday that the Assad regime had transferred some two tons of mustard gas to Hezbollah in early 2012. The daily, which serves as the official voice of the Saudi regime — a staunch opponent of Bashar Assad — was quoting unnamed sources in Syria’s opposition.

Syria also transferred long-range missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads and traveling 300 kilometers (186 miles), Al-Watan added, claiming that the transfer to Hezbollah lasted 40 days, from mid-February to March 2012.

Evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in sending gunmen to fight alongside Assad forces has emerged in recent months, with the Shiite organization conducting secret funerals in Lebanon for fallen operatives killed in battle.

Hezbollah claimed in its statement that the attack on Tuesday confirmed that it was Israel which stood behind the anti-Assad opposition over the past two years, “aiming to destroy Syria and its army and to topple its pivotal role in the resistance.”

The Shiite organization — which is facing mounting domestic pressure to disarm — also took the opportunity to reassert that armed resistance was the only effective method to confront Israel.

“Some must take heed of the dangerous attack on Syria and use this strike as an opportunity to reconsider their position, which regards political dialogue [with Israel] as the only means for a solution.”

The Thursday statement said Hezbollah “expresses full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people,” and called the strike “barbaric aggression.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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