Israel has targeted Syrian missiles of Russian origin in the coastal city of Latakia, complicating efforts to find a peaceful solution to the festering crisis in the embattled Levantine state.
Officials from the United States claim that the Israeli aircraft attacked stocks of Russian missiles that were bound for Hizbollah — the Lebanese militant group that is allied with Damascus and Iran. Latakia is a major Syrian city, which is an established stronghold of President Bashar Al Assad.
U.S. officials said Israel carried out the airstrikes overnight between Wednesday and Thursday. The timing of the attack, which poses a military challenge to the government, and drags Russia deeper in the Syrian quagmire, is particularly delicate, as it can impede efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the bloody and prolonged conflict. In an important confidence-building measure, Syria has destroyed its declared equipment to manufacture chemical weapons — a step that has been verified on Thursday by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body that keeps an eye on chemical weapons worldwide.
Syria’s compliance with its September pledge to destroy its chemical weapon stocks and infrastructure to manufacture them has added positive momentum to talks to resolve the crisis. Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that Syria was making a contribution to free West Asia of mass destruction weapons — a formulation that may not necessarily please Israel which is known to possess a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Analysts point out that Israel’s provocative attack could hamper feverish efforts by Russia and Lakhdar Brahimi — the U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria — to stage the Geneva-2 talks to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict.
On Friday, Mr. Brahimi said at a press conference in Damascus that the participation of the opposition is necessary, if the Geneva talks are to be held.
“If the opposition does not participate there will be no Geneva conference,” said that veteran Algerian diplomat before heading to Beirut as part of a regional tour to canvass support for the conference.
“The participation of the opposition is essential, necessary and important,” he observed.
The latest strike is apparently the sixth that Israel has carried out in Syria this year. In July, reports citing U.S. officials said that Israeli planes had struck a missile warehouse, also in Latakia.
Two months earlier, Israeli planes had attacked the Jamraya military complex, north-west of Damascus.
This article has been edited to correct an error