Syria’s army accused Israeli warplanes of hitting one of its positions in Hama province early Thursday, killing two people in an attack, and a war monitor said the target could be linked to chemical weapons production.
The site near the Syrian town of Masyaf, between the central city of Hama and a port used by the Russian navy, is reportedly used by forces from Syria’s allies Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.
Israel has previously carried out strikes believed to be targeting the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, which fought a deadly war with the Jewish state in 2006.
Thursday’s strike hit a training camp and a branch of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), an institution that Washington and former Israeli officials accuse of helping develop the sarin gas used in a deadly attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun in April.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government has blasted such accusations as “fabrications,” and Syria’s army on Thursday did not mention the SSRC in its statement on the Israeli strikes.
“Israeli warplanes at 2:42 am today fired a number of missiles from Lebanese air space, targeting one of our military positions near Masyaf, which led to material damage and the deaths of two members of the site,” the statement said.
“Syria’s army warns of the serious repercussions of such acts of aggression on the security and stability of the region,” it added.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group confirmed that the strikes hit the SSRC, though it could not confirm what weaponry is produced there.
It said Hezbollah fighters and Iranian military personnel were known to use the site at Masyaf.
“There are Iranian experts using the research centre there. Hezbollah also uses the facility,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
“The research centre was definitely damaged in the strikes. There is a huge fire emanating from a weapons warehouse where missiles were being stored,” he added.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the raids on Thursday.
Former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin said the site “produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”
He stopped short of saying Israel had carried out the raids but said that if it did, they would show “Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them.”
And Israel’s former national security advisor Yaakov Amidror described the facility as a key centre for the research and development of arms including chemical weapons.
“It is the first time that the target which was attacked is a formal Syrian facility, not just a warehouse but a centre of R&D and… responsible for producing the chemical weapons in the past and many other weapons systems,” he told journalists.
“We will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to build the capabilities which allow them to attack Israel from Syria,” he added.
“And we will not allow them to build the capabilities of Hezbollah under the chaotic umbrella of Syria.”
Israel sees red lines in the shipment to Hezbollah of anti-aircraft missiles, precision ground-to-ground missiles and chemical weapons.
Some Israeli commentators saw the latest strike – a departure from the previous pattern of attacks on weapons convoys – as a show of Israeli dissatisfaction with the United States and Russia.
Last month, Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin but came away without any public statement from Moscow that it would curb Iranian influence.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a brief war in 2006 in which more than 1,300 people died. Both have suggested that any new conflict between them could be on a larger scale than that one.