Israel will continue to defend its citizens, says UN envoy in response to Syria threats

Danon fires back at Syrian ambassador who called Friday’s raid on Hezbollah arms transfer a ‘terror operation’ and warned Syrian retaliatory missile launches were ‘game-changer’

Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon at an anti-BDS conference held at the UN headquarters in New York on November 17, 2016. (Harel Rintzler)
Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon at an anti-BDS conference held at the UN headquarters in New York on November 17, 2016. (Harel Rintzler)

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon hit back at the Syrian envoy to the world body on Monday, calling him hypocritical for describing Israel’s airstrike Friday on a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syrian territory as a “terrorist operation” while boasting of Syria’s retaliatory missile attacks as a game-changer.

“It is the peak of hypocrisy for the ambassador of a regime that massacres its own people to level such accusations at us,” said Danon in a statement early Monday.

“Israel will continue to defend its citizens and will act against any attempt to harm them,” he vowed.

In an early Friday morning operation, Israeli jets hit an arms transfer meant for Hezbollah near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the planes. One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system. It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, right, listens to speakers during a meeting of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations Friday. The General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the Syrian crackdown. (photo credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Bashar al-Jaafari (right) at the UN General Assembly at the United Nations (AP/Kathy Willens)

Speaking on Syrian state TV on Sunday, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the Syrian response was “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again],” according to a translation cited in Ynet.

“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” he said.

The comment emphasized the escalating tensions between Damascus and Jerusalem in recent days and came hours before Israel reportedly carried out a number of strikes overnight Sunday-Monday, including on yet another Hezbollah weapons convoy.

Syria media reported early Monday that Israeli jets took out a number of targets near the Lebanon-Syria border. The reports have not been confirmed.

This came hours before an Israeli drone strike reportedly killed a member of a Syrian pro-regime militia on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems for targeting the Israeli aircraft during the bombing run Friday.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.

Israeli officials have warned of the possibility Hezbollah and Iran could attempt to set up a base to attack Israel near the border with the Israeli Golan Heights.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow, where he asked the Kremlin to make sure Iran does not gain a foothold in the area.

Israel has also repeatedly vowed to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring any advanced weaponry and several strikes on such convoys over the years since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 have been attributed to Israel. Jerusalem has also claimed several of the raids, including Friday’s.

“Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise,” Liberman said Sunday.

“The Syrians must understand that they are held responsible for these arms transfers to Hezbollah and that if they continue to allow them then we will do what we have to do.”

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