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Assad warns Israel against strikes

Posted by Warren Fyfe on May 31, 2013 in Warren Fyfe Site



Bashar al-Assad

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President Bashar al-Assad said that Syria would respond to any future attacks on its territory by Israel

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has warned Israel that it will respond in kind to any future air strikes.

In an interview with a Lebanese TV channel, he said there was “popular pressure” to open a military front against Israel in the Golan Heights.

He also suggested Syria may have received the first shipment of an advanced Russian air defence system.

Israel has warned it would regard the Russian missiles as a serious threat to its security.

Mr al-Assad was speaking to al-Manar TV, which has close ties to the Lebanese Shia militant movement Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government.

Israel has carried out three air strikes on Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan,” Mr Assad said.

Map

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the 1967 war. It annexed the territory in 1981, in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.

Syrian shells have hit Israeli positions on the Golan Heights, though it is unclear whether they were aimed at rebels in border areas, and Israel has returned fire.

Syria and Israel have been in a state of war since 1948 but the border had been relatively calm in recent years.

Russian contracts

Excerpts released from the al-Manar interview ahead of broadcast quoted Mr Assad as saying Syria had already received a first shipment of S-300 missiles from Russia.

But in the interview itself, he said only: “All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts.”

The S-300 is a highly capable surface-to-air missile system that, as well as targeting aircraft, also has the capacity to engage ballistic missiles.

Ahead of the interview, Israeli government minister Silvan Shalom said Israel would “take actions” to ensure that advanced weapons did not reach groups such as Hezbollah, but there was no need to “provoke an escalation”.

He told public radio: “Syria has had strategic weapons for years, but the problem arises when these arms fall into other hands and could be used against us. In that case, we would have to act.”

The military chief of the main umbrella group of Syrian rebels, the Free Syrian Army, has accused Hezbollah fighters of “invading” Syria.

In a BBC interview, Gen Selim Idriss claimed that more than 7,000 Hezbollah fighters were taking part in attacks on the rebel-held town of Qusair.

More than 50,000 residents were trapped in the town and a “massacre” would occur if it fell, he added.

Talks about talks

Mr Assad also said Syria would “in principle” attend a peace conference backed by the US and Russia, if there were not unacceptable preconditions.

The main opposition group outside Syria said it would not join the talks while massacres continued.

Its interim leader, George Sabra, said talk of diplomatic conferences was farcical while Syrian government forces backed by Hezbollah were carrying out heinous crimes.

The opposition has been meeting for more than a week in Istanbul to elect new leaders and devise a strategy.

For his part, Mr Assad said it would not be surprising if the conference failed, and if it did, it would not make much difference on the ground, because what he called the “terrorism” of the rebels would continue.

Russian, US and UN officials will meet next week in Geneva to prepare for the proposed conference in June.

Graphic showing how the Russian S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system works

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22725334#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

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