Syria Strongly Denies Supplying Scud Missiles To Hezbollah


SYRIA strongly denied on Thursday Israeli accusations that it has been delivering Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

‘For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon,’ a foreign ministry statement said.

‘Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region,’ the statement added.

‘Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace.’

The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at ‘significant risk’.

‘If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyse this issue, it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honour UN Security Council Resolution 1701,’ State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Crowley was referring to a 2006 truce resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah.

‘And clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,’ he added.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria on Tuesday of supplying the Scuds but a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear if the transfers had yet taken place.

‘We are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that is allegedly being transferred,’ White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

‘We have expressed our concerns to those governments and believe that steps should be taken to reduce any risk and any danger,’ Gibbs said, apparently referring to the Israeli and Syrian governments.

Another US official said that there was concern the missile delivery was ‘under consideration, but it’s unclear whether or not the missiles have been transferred’.

Crowley said that Washington had been so concerned that US officials had brought up the alleged transfer in one of their regular meetings with the Syrian ambassador in Washington.

Obama in February nominated career diplomat Robert Ford as the first US ambassador to Syria in five years, seeking to energise his thwarted Middle East peace push.

If confirmed by the Senate, Ford would be the first US ambassador to Damascus since Washington recalled its envoy after Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed in February 2005 in a bombing blamed on Syria.

Crowley said that the administration was keen to get an ambassador in place partly so it could raise such concerns with Syria on a continual basis.

Peres told public radio on Tuesday: ‘Syria claims it wants peace while at the same time it delivers Scuds to Hezbollah whose only goal is to threaten the state of Israel.’

He made the comments just hours before flying to Paris, where he is expected to discuss the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai declined to go into details of the alleged Scud shipments, but said ‘Hezbollah’s firing capacity has significantly improved’.

Israel estimates Hezbollah’s arsenal at some 40,000 rockets, a significant rise from the group’s 14,000 rockets in 2006, when a 34-day conflict killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Hezbollah is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organisation, although it is part of a Lebanese national unity government formed in November.

Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai declined to go into details of the alleged Scud shipments, but said ‘Hezbollah’s firing capacity has significantly improved’.

Hezbollah, originally a resistance group formed to counter an Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, forced the Israeli military out of Lebanon in 2000. Israel, however, continues to occupy the Lebanese Shabaa Farms.

Israeli flights over Lebanon occur on an almost daily basis and are in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1710, which in August 2006 ended the war.

l US President Barack Obama, during this week’s nuclear summit, put no pressure on Israel to shift away from its policy of deliberate ambiguity on its atomic programme, an Israeli minister said on Wednesday.

‘The policy of ambiguity is the foundation of Israel’s security; it has always been and will continue to be. President Obama did not ask [us] to change it in the current period,’ Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told public radio.

He spoke following the international nuclear summit Monday and Tuesday in Washington, which Ayalon said saw ‘no changes in policies towards Israel and no new demands from Israel’.

Asked about Obama’s statements that Israel should sign the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Ayalon said the request was not pressing.

‘When all threats, from near or far, against Israel will be definitely removed, then we can consider this question in a positive manner,’ he said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had announced at the last minute he would not take part in the conference, sending instead one of his deputies.

The Maariv newspaper said Netanyahu was pleased with his decision not to attend.

‘His satisfaction stems from the fact that the attention of the summit’s participants was diverted from his presence and from Israel’s nuclear policy,’ it said.

‘Israel did not stand at the centre of the events,’ Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who headed the Israeli delegation, was quoted as saying.

‘We weren’t mentioned by any of the speakers, even those who we feared would talk about us.’

Foreign military experts believe Israel has an arsenal of several hundred nuclear warheads, but Israel has never publicly acknowledged having atomic weapons, maintaining a policy of deliberate ambiguity since it inaugurated its Dimona nuclear reactor in 1965.

In 1969, Israeli leaders undertook not to make any statement on their country’s nuclear potential or carry out any nuclear test, while Washington agreed to refrain from exerting pressure on the issue.

Analysts at British defence specialists Jane’s believe Israel has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, putting them among the more advanced nuclear weapons states and roughly on a par with Britain.

According to Jane’s, the Israeli strategic force could be deployed by the Jericho 2 missile, which has a range of up to 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles), or the five-year-old Jericho 3, which reaches up to 7,800 kilometres.