Israel conducted a rare airstrike on a military target inside Syria, foreign officials and Syrian state TV said today, amid fears President Bashar Assad’s regime is providing weapons to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

A statement from the Syrian military read aloud on state TV confirmed the strike, saying the jets bombed a military research center in the area of Jamraya, northwest of the capital, Damascus.

The statement said the center was responsible for “raising the level of resistance and self-defense” of Syria’s military.

It said the strike destroyed the center and a nearby building, killing two workers and wounding five others.

US and regional security officials reported the strike earlier today but did not say exactly where it took place.

Regional security officials said Israel had been planning in the days leading up to the airstrike to hit a shipment of weapons bound for Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful military force.

Among Israeli officials’ chief fears is that Assad will pass chemical weapons or sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah, something that could change the balance of power in the region and greatly hinder Israel’s ability to conduct air sorties in Lebanon.

The regional officials said the shipment Israel was planning to strike included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be strategically “game-changing” in the hands of Hezbollah by enabling the group to carry out fiercer attacks on Israel and shoot down Israeli jets, helicopters and surveillance drones.

Hezbollah has committed to Israel’s destruction and has gone to war against the Jewish state in the past.

A US official confirmed the strike, saying it hit a convoy of trucks.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strike.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Syria has long been among the militant group’s most significant backers and is suspected of supplying with funding and arms, as well as a land corridor to Iran.

This strike, however, comes as Assad is enmeshed in a civil war with rebels trying to oust him.

The rebels have seized a large swath of territory in the country’s north and established footholds in a number of suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, though Assad’s forces still control the city and much of the rest of the country.

(This article was published on January 31, 2013)
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