U.S. suspects Israeli airstrike inside Syria


CAIRO — The U.S. government believes Israel has conducted an airstrike inside Syria, two unnamed officials were reported as saying late Friday.

U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies concluded that Israeli aircraft probably struck targets Thursday or Friday inside Syria, CNN said.

Israeli military aircraft, as in previous strikes against Syria, reportedly fired missiles from outside Syrian airspace against targets on Syrian soil.

Israel issued a statement saying only that it would do “whatever is necessary” to stop transfers of Syrian arms to terrorist organizations.

The U.S. sources said they believed the targets in Syria were not related to chemical weapons, CNN said.

Syrian opposition fighters on Friday attacked Damascus airport, the state-run news agency SANA reported, saying the assault set a fuel tank ablaze and damaged a commercial plane. The agency blamed the attack on “terrorists,” as Damascus labels the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Flights at the airport continued as normal, it quoted an unnamed official saying.

Soldiers reportedly cracked down Friday on areas in the coastal city of Baniyas, one day after rebels accused government troops of a “massacre” in a nearby village.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops, backed by Alawite paramilitaries, clamped down on the mostly Sunni Muslim districts in Baniyas in northwestern Syria.

Sunnis are thought to make up the bulk of the rebels fighting al-Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect of Muslim Shiites.

Activists said troops targeted al-Bayda village near Baniyas after a bus carrying pro-regime militiamen, known as Shabiha, was attacked, killing at least seven and wounding more than 30.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington was reconsidering its opposition to arming Syrian rebels.

“You look and rethink all options,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you do or you will. These are options that must be considered with the international community.”

President Barack Obama said his administration was taking a cautious approach, stressing the need for an “international consensus.”

The West is hesitant about arming the Syria opposition, fearing the weapons would end up in the hands of Islamist militants.

In Rome, Pope Francis met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and voiced concern for the refugees.

“Greater humanitarian aid is called for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and neighboring countries,” he said.

The United Nations warned that the number of Syrian refugees could reach 4 million by the end of 2013 unless a political solution to the crisis is reached.

The conflict has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.4 million Syrians to leave the country since the outbreak of hostilities following anti-government protests in March 2011.