The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 5, 2013

Syria news agency: Israel strikes near Damascus

BEIRUT — Israeli missiles struck a research center near the Syrian capital Damascus, setting off explosions and causing casualties, Syria's state news agency reported early Sunday, citing initial reports.

If confirmed, it would be the second Israeli strike on targets in Syria in three days, signaling a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement in Syria's bloody civil war.

There was no immediate Israeli comment. However, Israel has said it will not allow sophisticated weapons to flow from Syria to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a heavily armed foe of the Jewish state.

Two previous Israeli airstrikes, one in January and one on Friday, targeted weapons apparently bound for Hezbollah, Israeli and U.S. officials have said.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported early Sunday that explosions went off at the Jamraya research center near Damascus, causing casualties. "Initial reports point to these explosions being a result of Israeli missiles that targeted the research center in Jamraya," SANA said.

A Syrian activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported large explosions in the area of Jamraya, a military and scientific research facility northwest of Damascus, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Lebanese border.

An amateur video said to be shot early Sunday in the Damascus area showed a huge ball of fire lighting up the night sky. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting.

Israel's first airstrike in Syria, in January, also struck Jamraya.

At the time, a U.S. official said Israel targeted trucks next to the research center that carried SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. The strikes hit both the trucks and the research facility, the official said. The Syrian military didn't confirm a hit on a weapons shipment at the time, saying only that Israeli warplanes bombed the research center.

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