damascus • Syria said its air defences opened fire on Israeli warplanes
which had violated Syrian airspace at dawn yesterday, ratcheting up the tension
between the neighbouring foes.
A Syrian cabinet minister warned that the nation’s leadership was considering
its response to the Israeli “aggression” while in Israel the military
declined any comment.
“Enemy Israeli planes penetrated Syrian airspace from the Mediterranean
Sea heading towards the northeast, breaking the sound barrier,” a Syrian
army spokesman told the official Sana news agency. “Our air defences repulsed
them and forced them to leave... after the Israeli planes dropped munitions,
without causing human or material loss,” he said, without giving further
information on what exactly was dropped.
Syria’s allegations came amid a war of words with Israel, with each blaming
the other for stoking regional tensions and for the failure to revive peace
talks that have been stalled for seven years. Information Minister Mohsen Bilal
told Al Jazeera that Syria’s leadership was “giving serious consideration
to its response... to this aggression.”
In Israel, the military refused to comment on Syria’s claims, saying:
“We do not comment on such reports.” Former major general Uzi Dayan
said the military’s silence was an indication of Israel’s eagerness
not to allow the incident to stoke tensions with Syria.
“Israel is active on many fronts in the Middle East but we have no intention
to bring about a deterioration in the situation. That is why the Israeli reaction
was so short and restrained,” he told private Channel Two television.
A Syrian minister admitted to Al Jazeera’s English-language channel that
it remained unclear whether the Israeli aircraft had actually carried out an
attack. “They intervened in our airspace... which they should not do —
we are a sovereign country and they should not come into airspace,” Expatriate
Affairs Minister Bussaina Shaaban said. “We do not know yet” if
the aircraft dropped anything. “The investigation is still going on on
the ground,” she said.
In June 2006, Israeli warplanes flew over President Bashar Al Assad’s
palace in northern Syria while he was inside, an action Damascus condemned as
an “act of piracy”. Over the past few months, Israeli and Syrian
leaders have both said their countries do not want a war, but were preparing
for any possibility while each side has accused the other of arming for a conflict.