The official Syrian Arab News Agency said that a scientific research facility had been struck by an Israeli missile, and a banner displayed on state television said the attack was intended to relieve pressure on rebel forces in the embattled eastern suburbs. The banner was accompanied by martial music and footage of Syrian soldiers marching, descending from helicopters and firing rockets, indicating that Syria may not shrug off the assault, as it has with some Israeli strikes in the past.
“The Israeli aggression comes at a time when our armed forces are scoring victories against terrorism and al-Qaeda gangs,” state television said.
A subsequent video suggested further strikes were taking place in the same location, although the number was unclear.
An anonymous intelligence official in the Middle East confirmed state media reports that the strikes were carried out by Israeli warplanes, according to the Associated Press. But Reuters news service reported that an Israeli military spokeswoman said, “We don’t respond to this kind of report.”
The attack Sunday came hours after U.S., Israeli and Lebanese officials said Israeli warplanes had struck on Friday a shipment of missiles destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement at Damascus International Airport.
The attacks coincided with mounting pressure on the Obama administration to formulate a response to the growing risk of weapons proliferation in the Syrian war, notably the possibility that chemical weapons are being used in the conflict and could fall into the hands of extremists.
It also came amid renewed reports of sectarian violence in the northern coastal region of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad where his supporters allegedly killed at least 50 and perhaps as many as 100 Sunni Muslim villagers in recent days, drawing a sharp condemnation Saturday from the State Department.
Israeli officials told the Associated Press and Reuters that the target of the Friday airstrike was a consignment of advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles destined for Hezbollah, the political and military organization that dominates Lebanon’s government and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
The shipment did not contain chemical weapons, but the missiles were potentially “game-changing,” one official told the Associated Press.
Details of that attack were sketchy, but it appeared the target was a storage site at an air defense base on the periphery of the Damascus airport, known to be the chief transshipment point for weapons flown into Syria from Iran, both to aid the Syrian government in its battle against rebels and to supply Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.