The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 5, 2013

Syria news agency: Israel strikes near Damascus

(Continued)

Assad "is not provoking Israel and the incidents along the border (between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan) are coincidental," Gilad said.

With Israel apparently enforcing its red lines, much now depends on the response from Hezbollah and Syria, analysts said.

Israeli officials have long feared that Assad may try to draw Israel into the civil war in hopes of diverting attention and perhaps rallying Arab support behind him.

But retaliation for Israeli airstrikes would come at a high price, said Moshe Maoz, an Israeli expert on Syria.

"Bashar has his own problems and he knows that conflict with Israel would cause the collapse of his regime," Maoz said. "He could have done that long ago, but he knows he will fall if Israel gets involved."

Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Assad's troops, appears to have linked its fate to the survival of the Syrian regime. Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, said this week that Syria's allies "will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel."

On the other hand, Hezbollah could endanger its position as Lebanon's main political and military force if it confronts Israel, and it's not clear if the militia is willing to take that risk.

The U.S. concerns have focused on Syria's chemical weapons.

Obama has said the use of chemical weapons would have "enormous consequences," but has also said he needs more definitive proof before making a decision about how to respond.

Obama said Friday that he didn't foresee a scenario in which the U.S. would send troops to Syria. Instead, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said Washington is reviewing its opposition to arming the opposition.

The U.S. so far has balked at sending weapons to the rebels, fearing the arms could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups or other extremists in the opposition ranks.

Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, is heading to Moscow next week to try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to support, or at least not veto, a fresh effort to impose U.N. penalties on Syria if Assad doesn't begin political transition talks with the opposition.

Russia, alongside China, has blocked U.S.-led efforts three times at the United Nations to pressure Assad into stepping down.

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