Syria accused Israel of carrying out airstrikes early Thursday that left two dead and caused “material damage” to a military base in Hama province, close to the border with Lebanon. A war monitor reports the attack targeted a facility that the U.S. government believes developed both chemical weapons and the missiles needed to launch them.
The strikes are seen as part of Israel’s efforts to curb the number of weapons getting into the hands of the Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah. The weapons are thought to be supplied by its arch-enemy Iran – and both factions are fighting alongside government forces in Syria.
A Syrian army spokesperson told the state-run Sana news agency that Israeli warplanes “fired a number of missiles from Lebanese air space targeting one of our military positions near Masyaf, which led to material damage and the deaths of two members of the site” at 2:42 a.m. local time (6:42 p.m. ET Wednesday). The spokesperson added that the “aggressive action” would lead to “dangerous repercussions to the security and stability of the region.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said the rockets hit a Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) facility, as well as a nearby military camp used to store ground-to-ground rockets.
The U.S. has previously accused the SSRC of developing the nerve agent sarin, which was used in a chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. On Wednesday, the U.N. published a report that claimed a Syrian Air Force jet had dropped a bomb containing sarin on the rebel-held town, killing at least 83 people.
Syria’s President Bashar Assad has consistently denied these accusations, labeling them “fabrications” and claiming that his government destroyed all chemical weapons as part of a 2013 deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.
Israel has so far declined to comment on Thursday’s airstrike, with an army spokeswoman saying the army does not comment on operational matters. However, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, tweeted that the strike was “not routine,” and that it targeted “a Syrian military-scientific center for the development and manufacture of, among other things, precision missiles.”
Yadlin claimed the factory hit in the attack produced the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians. “If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” Yadlin said.