Assad warns Israel against future air strikes
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has warned Israel that it will respond in kind to any future air strikes.
President Assad gave his warning in an interview with al-Manar TV, a Lebanese television channel owned by Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government.
The Syrian president said: “We have informed all the parties who have contacted us that we will respond to any Israeli aggression next time.”
He added: “There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan.”
Israel and Syria have been in a state of war since 1948 and the Golan Heights have been occupied since 1967 by Israel who later annexed the territory in 1981, although this has not been internationally recognised.
Syrian shells have hit Israeli positions in the Golan, but it is unclear if these were aimed at rebels in border areas. Israel returned fire.
In the TV interview, president Assad also discussed a contract with the Russian government for air defence missiles.
Initial reports ahead of broadcast quoted Mr Assad as saying the S-300 surface-to-air missile system had already arrived. However, in the interview itself, he said: “All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts.”
Israel has warned it will attack any new system and will carry out strikes to stop weapons reaching groups such as Hezbollah. Israel has already carried out three such attacks, one striking targets just outside Damascus, reportedly destroying Iranian missiles destined for Hezbollah.
Prior to the interview, Israeli government minister Silvan Shalom said: “Syria has had strategic weapons for years, but the problem arises when these arms fall into other hands and could be used against us. In that case, we would have to act.”
The shipment of S-300 missiles by Russia to Syria, if confirmed, has been seen as retaliation by the Kremlin for the EU’s recent decision to lift an arms embargo on Syria.
The Foreign Office has called Russia’s move “unhelpful” and said that the focus should be on the political process.
Attempts at a peace conference have, however, been thrown into doubt after Syria’s opposition said it will not take part while Assad’s government continues to massacre Syrian civilians.
Mr Assad said he would “in principle” attend a peace conference, so long as there were no unacceptable preconditions.