US officials: Israelis launch airstrikes into Syria
Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes against targets inside Syria on Friday, as the United States continued to weigh its options for action in the country. However, President Obama said that U.S. troops on the ground was unlikely. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes against targets inside Syria on Friday, U.S. officials told NBC News.
It's believed the primary target was a shipment of weapons headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, they said. A senior U.S. official said the airstrikes were believed to be related to delivery systems for chemical weapons.
An Israeli spokesman in Washington said that Israel would not comment specifically on the reports but said that "Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon."
It wasn't clear whether the Israelis alerted the U.S. before the attack. White House officials referred all questions to the Israelis.
Syrian government sources denied having information of a strike. Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters: "I'm not aware of any attack right now."
But Qassim Saadedine, a commander and spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, told the news agency: "Our information indicates there was an Israeli strike on a convoy that was transferring missiles to Hezbollah. We have still not confirmed the location."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports on the breaking news that Israel has launched airstrikes inside Syria, hitting at least one military target.
Rebel units were in disagreement about what type of weapons were in the convoy, Reuters reported. A rebel from an information-gathering unit in Damascus that calls itself "The Syrian Islamic Masts Intelligence" said the convoy carried anti-aircraft missiles.
The rebel, who asked not to be named, added: "There were three strikes by Israeli F-16 jets that damaged a convoy carrying anti-aircraft missiles heading to the Shi'ite Lebanese party (Hezbollah) along the Damascus-Beirut military road. "One strike hit a site near the (Syrian) Fourth Armoured Division in al-Saboura but we have been unable to determine what is in that location".
However Saadedine told Reuters he did not think the weapons were anti-aircraft. "We have nothing confirmed yet but we are assuming that it is some type of long-range missile that would be capable of carrying chemical materials," he said.
This would be the second time this year Israel conducted airstrikes inside Syria. In January, Israeli fighter jets attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles believed on their way to Hezbollah.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon publicly acknowledged the January airstrike inside Syria in a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Tel Aviv on April 22. Ya'alon said any Syrian delivery of sophisticated weapons to rogue elements like Hezbollah would be a "red line" for Israel and "when they crossed this red line, we operated. We acted."
Syria is in the middle of a civil war pitting rebels against the regime of President Bashir Assad. Tens of thousands have already died, and the possible use of the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons has been of grave concern to the U.S. and other nations.
Last week, the White House said there was evidence that Syria's government may have used chemical weapons against its own people. But President Barack Obama has cautioned against rushing to action against Assad's government, saying that the U.S. required more evidence before getting involved in the civil war there.
The U.S. has long believed that Syria was stockpiling chemical weapons. Intelligence reports indicate that it has sarin and the nerve agent tabun along with traditional chemicals like mustard gas and hydrogen cyanide. A 2011 CIA report said Syria was also developing the potent nerve agent VX, which could render a city uninhabitable for days.
Syria has said that it hasn't used and will not use chemical weapons.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah's leader warned the rebels that his militia was ready to intervene on Assad's side in Syria's civil war. There have been concerns that Syrian SCUD missiles that might be capable of carrying chemical weapons could be transferred to Hezbollah.
NBC News' Robert Windrem and Kristen Welker, and Reuters contributed to this report.