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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Israeli Warplanes Make ‘Warning’ Flight Over Syria

Damascus, Syria (Reuters): Israeli warplanes flew low over one of President Bashar al-Assad’s palaces on June 28 to warn Syria against supporting Palestinian militants who abducted an Israeli soldier, the Israeli army said.

Israeli media reports said four planes carried out the overflights near the city of Latakia at low altitude, early in the morning, causing several sonic booms.

They said Assad was at the palace at the time.

Syrian state media confirmed the overflights by Israeli planes. "The Air Defence Force then fired at them, dispersing them and making them leave the area," state television quoted a government source as saying.
The Israeli army said it appeared the aircraft had not been fired upon.
A spokeswoman said the planes flew over Assad’s palace "because the Syrian leadership supports and harbors terrorist leaders, among them Hamas, the kidnappers of the soldier".

The armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement was among three factions which took part in a cross-border raid into Israel from Gaza in which the soldier was seized on June 25, but it has not said it is holding him.

Israeli leaders have accused Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal of being responsible for the kidnapping.

Exiled Hamas leaders say they were not involved in the operation to capture the soldier, but are taking seriously Israeli threats to kill them.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for restraint.

"It is very important that we all take very careful steps to de-escalate and not take any action or initiative that would expand or escalate the situation," he said in New York.

Annan said he had been in touch with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well as Assad, before the overflights, to try to calm the crisis sparked by the hostage-taking.

A senior Syrian official told Reuters the overflight was a "provocative action."

Syrian political commentator Thabet Salem said in Damascus: "The Israelis are trying to make their problems into a regional one because the capture of the solider and settler is embarrassing for their military establishment."

Syria and Israel have been arch-foes for decades. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed the territory in a move not recognized internationally.

Tensions have risen during a nearly six-year Palestinian uprising with Israel repeatedly accusing Syria of harboring militants who attack the Jewish state.

In 2003 Israel bombed a militant training base in Syria, wounding several people, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 19 in an Israeli restaurant.
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