Groups Claim 42 Syrian Soldiers Killed in Weekend Air Raids
Opposition groups in Syria said that 42 top soldiers in Bashar Assad's army were killed in the air raids on Damascus over the weekend. Another 100 soldiers are said to be missing. There was no confirmation of the numbers from the Syrian government. Earlier, the groups had said that 15 Syrian soldiers were killed in the raid.
World news media continued to implicate Israel in the attack, although neither the government nor the IDF have confirmed that Israeli planes bombed weapons convoys in Damascus that were transporting advanced weapons, most likely to Hizbullah terrorists. Earlier, a Syrian official was quoted in the media as saying that Damascus' revenge would come in time. “Syria will respond to the Israeli aggression and will choose the moment to do so,” the official close to the regime, who was speaking from Damascus, told AFP in Beirut. A government statement earlier said that the attack “opens the door to all possibilities.”
UN leader Ban ki-Moon on Monday warned against any escalation of the conflict in Syria, in which more than 70,000 people have died since it erupted in March 2011."The secretary-general calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict," his spokesman Martin Nesirky said."The secretary-general urges respect for national sovereignty andterritorial integrity of all countries in the region, and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions."
Ban spoke by telephone with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, whose 22-member bloc demanded UN Security Council intervention to stop alleged Israeli attacks. Egypt condemned the raids as a "violation" of international law, Britain warned of "increasing danger" to the Middle East, and France called for a political solution to the conflict.
The EU also said it feared recent developments "risk dragging the region into an expanding conflict."
A Russian government statement Monday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin held telephone talks wit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Syrian conflict. Putin and Netanyahu discussed the "situation in the region and the situation around Syria," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement to Russian news agencies, without giving further details. The Russian foreign ministry had earlier expressed concern over the air strikes.
Meanwhile, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday he regretted Syria's refusal to authorize access to UN inspectors probing the possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict. “It's very important that UN inspectors get full and free access to Syria to investigate what has actually happened, and it is regrettable that so far the Syrian authorities have denied the UN such access," Rasmussen said at a news conference.
He said he had no conclusive information on the use of chemical weapons after human rights investigator Carla del Ponte said there was evidence rebels may have used the deadly nerve agent sarin against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. “I would like to stress that the use of chemical weapons is a breach of international law whoever uses them," Rasmussen said. "We are very deeply concerned" about the situation in Syria, he added. "We call on the international community to find a political solution as soon as possible."
Rasmussen refused to comment on reports of Israel's weekend strikes against targets in Syria.