Israeli hit damages Syrian chemical, biological research site

Syria airstrike

Israel's recent daring air strike inside Syria may have damaged the Arab country's main chemical and biological research center, according to US officials.

While the attack targetted Russian-made SA-17 missiles and their launchers, video shown on Syrian television backs up assertions that the research center also suffered moderate damage, US officials said.

The complex, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, located north of Damascus has been the target of American and Western sanctions for more than a decade because of intelligence suggesting that it was the training site for engineers who worked on chemical and biological weaponry.

A senior US military official said any damage (to the complex) was likely "due to the bombs which targetted the vehicles" carrying the anti-aircraft weapons and from "the secondary explosions from the missiles".

The official said "the Israelis had a small strike package", meaning that a relatively few fighter aircraft slipped past Syria's Russian-made air defences to hit the target. "They clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks," the official said.

There is still much that is not known about the attack, and there have been contradictory descriptions of it. Initial reports suggested that the anti-aircraft missiles -- which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon - were hit near the Lebanese border.

Subsequent reports suggest there were multiple attacks conducted at roughly the same time, a media report said.

Israel, which had been silent on the issue, yesterday gave the first indirect confirmation of the attack.

Speaking at a security conference in Munich, outgoing Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak referred to the attack as "another proof that when we say something we mean it".

Israel had warned that if it saw Syrian chemical weapons on the move, it would act to stop them.

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