Islamist Syrian rebels reportedly seize Scud missiles

Deputy PM says Israel is tracking developments but sees no immediate danger, adds that ‘when we identified a threat, we took action along the border and elsewhere’

File: A screen capture from a video purporting to show the Syrian Army firing a Scud missile (image capture: YouTube)
File: A screen capture from a video purporting to show the Syrian Army firing a Scud missile (image capture: YouTube)

Syrian rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda recently captured a Syrian military depot containing Scud missiles, according to reports in Arab media outlets. The reports differ on whether the site, located in the east of the country, also contained chemical warheads.

Lebanese news website Ya Libnan reported Friday that fighters from the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra captured the long-range missiles in a military complex in Deir al-Zour.

“What you see here are Syrian long-range missiles that were manufactured in Iraq and brought to Syria. Happily, they are now in our hands,” the rebels said in a video posted on YouTube.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an interview with Army Radio Sunday that he was familiar with the reports and that Israel is closely tracking developments in Syria, but sees no immediate danger from that front.

“When we identified a threat, we took action along the border and elsewhere,” said Ya’alon, in possible reference to a reported Israeli airstrike on a convoy carrying advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in January.

Israel has yet to officially confirm it carried out the attack, which Syria claimed targettd a chemical weapons research facility.

Scud missiles, originally developed by the USSR, are ground-to-ground missiles with a potential range of hundreds of miles, which are capable of carrying conventional or nonconventional warheads. The transfer of such weapons from the Syrian government to rebel hands, as a result of the Syrian civil war, is a scenario with great potential threat to Israel. In December, US and NATO officials confirmed rebel reports that Syrian forces had fired Scud missiles at rebel areas in the north. That was the last confirmed use of such weapons.

The US State Department in December called Jabhat al-Nusra, literally the assistance front, “an alias for AQI” — al-Qaeda in Iraq — and added it to the US list of foreign terror organizations, freezing all of its assets and rendering it a crime to provide the organization with any and all aid. According to State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, the organization, representing 9 percent of the rebel forces in Syria, has carried out 600 strikes since November 2011, including “over 40” suicide bombings and a string of successful guerrilla assaults.

Last week, rebels claimed they had taken control of a nuclear facility in the Deir al-Zour area that was bombed by Israel in 2007.

Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Sunday to hit back at Israel for its attack on Syrian soil, though he said it might not be an overt counterattack.

“We retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Times.

On Saturday, three Syrian mortars landed near Moshav Ramat Magshimim in the southern Golan Heights, causing no injuries or damage.

The incident was the deepest and southernmost penetration of Syrian fire into Israeli territory in years. IDF officials believed it to be a case of errant fire, according to a military spokesman who commented on condition of anonymity.

Israel promptly filed a complaint with the UN observer force stationed on the Israeli-Syrian border.

The UN estimates that nearly 70,000 people have died in the 23-month-long Syrian civil war.

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