- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Israeli warplanes targeted weapons destined for Hezbollah guerrillas in a strike last week in northeastern Syria, a U.S. government official said yesterday.

Syria’s envoy to the United Nations called the claim “nonsense.”

The American official said the target of the Sept. 6 attack was a site where Israel thought Syria stored weapons being sent from Iran to the militant Islamic group in Lebanon. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information involved intelligence-gathering and because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Officials in Washington had declined for several days to say whether they were aware of the air strike, then on Tuesday confirmed they had intelligence indicating it took place.

North Korea this week condemned the Israeli attack, calling it a “dangerous provocation.”

That prompted speculation that the target in Syria involved North Korean materials or missiles. North Korea and Syria have a long-standing alliance, and Israeli experts say North Korea and Iran have been major suppliers of Syria’s missile stock.

Reuters news agency quoted a U.S. diplomatic source saying that Deir az-Zor, the northeastern area where Syria said the Israeli bombs hit, was suspected by U.S. officials of being the focus of some form of cooperation on nuclear weapons with North Korea.

However, another U.S. official and former U.S. intelligence officials said this seemed unlikely and technically difficult.

In Vienna, Austria, two senior diplomats familiar with the International Atomic Energy Agency said they knew of no serious suspicions of nuclear links between Syria and North Korea, Reuters reported.

Israel has declined to comment on the air operation, which the Syrians reported last week. Syria said only that warplanes entered its airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks to lighten their loads while they fled.

Asked about the U.S. official’s statement that a Hezbollah weapons shipment was the target, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari scoffed.

“This is, as we say in French, ‘blah, blah,” ” Mr. Jaafari told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. “This is nonsense. This is an unfounded statement.”

But government officials and analysts in Syria would not discuss what exactly happened beyond the official statements.

Syria has called the incursion a “hostile act” and threatened unspecified retaliation, although its only response so far has been to complain to the United Nations. Israeli forces went on high alert in the occupied Golan Heights.

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