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Israel targets shipment of surface-to-air missiles in Syria

At least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria so far, including 122 people killed in violence yesterday.

Image: (AP Photo/SANA, File)

ISRAELI WARPLANES HIT a weapons shipment in Syria headed for Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The news came as US President Barack Obama appeared to all but rule out deploying American troops to Syria, and as activists reported an exodus of Sunni residents of the city of Banias after a “massacre” in a nearby village on Thursday.

Western intelligence agencies are now reviewing information suggesting that Israel had launched an overnight air strike on Thursday.

The United States does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace during the raid, it added.

Lebanon’s army said pairs of Israeli planes entered Lebanese airspace three times on Thursday night and stayed for two to three hours at a time.

NBC cited US officials as saying the primary target was believed to be a weapons shipment headed for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group closely allied with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

A Syrian military source denied the raid had taken place at all, and an Israeli defence official would say only the Jewish state “was following the situation in Syria and Lebanon, with an emphasis on transferring chemical weapons and special arms”.

Surface-to-air missiles from Russia

But a diplomatic source in Lebanon said that the operation destroyed surface-to-air missiles recently delivered by Russia that were being stored at Damascus airport.

Amid the speculation, Assad made a rare public appearance at the unveiling of a monument to students killed in the violence that has engulfed Syria since an uprising against his regime began in March 2011.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said hundreds of families were fleeing Sunni districts in the northwest port of Banias.

The exodus comes after shelling on Sunni areas of the city on Friday and reports of a “large-scale massacre” in the Sunni village of Bayda on Thursday. At least 50 people are believed to have been killed in Bayda, many of them in summary executions.

Large-scale massacre

Another 10 people were killed in the Banias district of Ras al-Nabaa on Friday, the group said, distributing grisly footage of dead bodies, including those of children.

Elsewhere, regime forces and Hezbollah fighters advanced towards the town of Qusayr in central Homs, with fighting around the area and air strikes on the town killing at least 16 people, 12 of them rebels.

Rebel prime minister Ghassan Hitto, meanwhile, said he was close to naming an interim government, and warned against “political manoeuvring.”

At least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria, according to the UN, including at least 36 people today.

The group said 122 people were killed in violence throughout the country on Friday -26 soldiers, 56 civilians and 40 rebels.

- AFP  2013

Read: World Press Freedom Day: Syria now most dangerous place for journalists>

More: The UN’s special envoy to Syria is quitting after only eight months>

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