- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

JERUSALEM — Israel yesterday eased a strict news blackout on an air strike in Syria last month, allowing the first publication of reports that it struck an unspecified “military target” deep inside Syrian territory.

Israel’s military censor had imposed a total blackout on coverage of the Sept. 6 air strike. But yesterday, the office allowed preliminary details to be published after Syria’s president, Bashar Assad confirmed the air strike in a televised interview.

“Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today,” Israel’s Army Radio reported. The headline on the Web site of the Ma’ariv newspaper was, “Now it can be revealed: Israel attacked in Syria,” while the Ha’aretz newspaper led with the military’s permission to publish “the fact” of Israel’s attack.

The censor continued to bar publication of other key details, including the target of the raid, which forces participated in the mission and whether the operation was successful.

Foreign reports, quoting unidentified U.S. officials, speculate that Israel attacked a weapons shipment destined for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, or attacked a nuclear facility built with North Korean technology.

North Korea, which provides missile technology to Syria, denied any nuclear link. Syria also denied receiving North Korean nuclear help.

Journalists in Israel are required to submit articles related to security and military issues to the censor, which can make changes to stories or bar publication altogether. In a rare move, the censor’s office issued a special directive about the Syrian air raid, specifically prohibiting publication of any details.

Violation of the censorship orders can result in the loss of press credentials or other sanctions.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday, Mr. Assad said Israeli warplanes attacked an “unused military building,” the first time Syria officially acknowledged an air raid occurred.

Previously, Syrian officials said only that the Israeli warplanes entered the country’s airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks over northeastern Syria to lighten their loads while they fled.

Mr. Assad said the raid last month showed Israel’s “visceral antipathy towards peace.”

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