Israel strikes Syria again, says targeting Hezbollah arms

Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital Sunday, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.

The attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement in Syria's bloody civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.

Syria's government called the attacks against against its territory a "flagrant violation of international law'' that has made the Middle East "more dangerous'' and warned it has the right "to defend its people by all available means.''

The generally muted response, read out by the Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, after an emergency government meeting, appeared to signal that Damascus did not want the situation to escalate. Instead, it tried to use the strikes to taint the rebels, claiming the attacks were evidence of an alliance between Israel and Islamic extremist groups trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

A senior Israeli official confirmed that Israel launched an airstrike in Damascus early Sunday. The target was Fateh-110 missiles, which have precision guidance systems with better aim than anything Hezbollah is known to have in its arsenal, the official said.

The White House declined for a second day to confirm or comment directly on the airstrikes in Syria, but said Obama believes Israel has the right to defend itself against threats from groups like Hezbollah. "The Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including some long-range missiles" White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief-of-staff, told Iran's state-run Arabic-language Al-Alam TV that Tehran "will not allow the enemy (Israel) to harm the security of the region'' and that "the resistance will retaliate against the Israeli aggression against Syria.'' Israel's military on Sunday deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket defence system to the north of the country. It described the move as part of "ongoing situational assessments.''

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